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Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category

The call for papers for the ICA Pre-conference on Global Capabilities for Public Relations and Communications Management is available here: pc-building

The half day session will hear presentations from Huddersfield and our research partners and invites extended abstracts from others in this field, as well as welcoming interested attendees. Hope to see you in San Diego in May.

sdiego

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Reflecting on two days’ discussion of PR/Strat Comms as a research field, I observe a profound tension between

a) scholars who wish to constrain the research objects to something manageable, measurable and scientific which will help define the field for reserchers and enhance understanding of practice – theories which are observable in the material world. The strength of this desire is the search for core concepts/models through rigorous scientific method; the weakness is that it tries to put vagaries of human communication into boxes too small to contain them; and

b) scholars who embrace multi perspective/interdisciplinary approaches and consider pursuit of Truth as futile or phantastical – they have a more playful sense of research which undermines the foundational claims commonly made in PR/SC research. Their strength is the richness of ideas and imagination they bring to traditionally rather applied research; the weakness is that as perspectives multiply, the field itself could easily scatter beyond recognition or identification.

I belong to group b – with its roots in critical thinking and engagement with postmodern theory – but am aware that this has dangers.

My book proposal illustrates this: I presented ideas for a volume that combines social theory, PR theory, cultural studies, psychologies of persuasion, Jungian concepts and current PR practice. There is a central argument that weaves these strands together which, phew, was comprehensible to those present who gave the ideas a very warm welcome. So the weakness could be that the macro-level discussion of PR’s impact on society becomes too abstract; the strength lies in my experience of practice and ability to ground wilder theories in the everyday.

I greatly appreciated the opportunity to test these ideas and their relevance to the question of where PR research is going – it may have taken a lot of airmiles and a massive drop in Centigrade to get there, but I reckon one hour’s discussion has saved me 6 months’ solitary head banging. So, thanks to Howard Nothhaft and Sara von Platen from Lund University and Jens Seifert from U of Vienna for organising this event.fdf_ss24522

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Privileged to have been invited to participate in this small research symposium concerning the future research directions of PR/strategic communication. The emphasis on sharing developing ideas & emerging thoughts not just presenting finished work was irresistible. I am bringing half-formed ideas for my next book to this gathering and look forward to their feedback later this morning.

We are a small, select group, mainly from German and Scandinavian universities – and an unusually youthful gathering. It is exciting to see a new generation of researchers coming through with a completely different academic and practice background from my generation. They may not have the grounding in practice common to my lot but they bring a new agenda informed by contemporary research in sociology, applied science and philosophy.

So, yesterday’s highpoint was a passionate conversation between those who embrace a post structural world of unknowable uncertainties and those who want to know that the plane will fly. I observed that these are not entirely incompatible in that science agrees that time cannot be linear but I still need to be at the airport tonight. The bridge is our reliance on stories to manage the complexities of the quantum universe.  Which brings us back to PR/strat comms.

Much of the discussion centred on – what stories do we tell in our conceptualisation of the field, in our teaching, in our selection of methods?? Are we just telling ourselves comforting lies or can we embrace something more robust. Is progress as illusory as linear time?

I was v taken by Peter Winkler’s (U of Vienna) presentation of competing paradigms in social thought and PR, highlighting the tropes and fallacies of each before identifying new combinations which might frame emerging researching directions – we plan to return to this at the end of the symposium this pm.

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I have participated in several joint sessions between academics and practitioners of public relations in the past few weeks: at the Euprera conference in Brussels, I facilitated a Q & A between leading representatives from practice and the academics attending the conference (details here: See Professional Voices #2); the same conference also heard a keynote address from Brendan Hodgson, Director and Head of Digital Practice, Hill & Knowlton Brussels; and the World PR Forum Research Colloquium was attended by approximately 50% practitioners and academics, leading to a range of discussions, including a special session on undergraduate curriculum design.

The following observations are based on these experiences.

1) The first event, a discussion panel of senior practitioners, illustrated the difficulties faced in trying to raise ethical awareness in practice. The participants found it very hard to shift from their corporate positions – understandable given their roles and responsibilities – but disappointing as the focus was on learning from experience.  When I gave examples from my own time as a practitioner, distance was swiftly placed between my experience and theirs, even though questions from the floor suggested that most PR academics hear student reports from their internships every year,  revealing widespread routine abuses of trust and power.  The panelists were unable to accept the reality of such claims., reverting to the old ‘bad apples’ defense. There was also a common reduction of ethics to decisions about which clients to accept;  some defended their right to represent tobacco or arms manufacturers, as long as individual employees were free to opt out of such campaigns. One interesting example of an agency exercising its right to reject a client on ethical grounds seemed (details were obviously withheld) to concern a country in the middle east demanding work was completed according to their values rather than those of the agency. Overall, the discussion was lively but demonstrated a determined avoidance of reflexivity. The questions we were asking, as academics at this conference on communication ethics, were clearly not being addressed in contemporary workplaces, on this evidence.

2) The keynote speech from Brendan Hodgson of Hill and Knowlton offered an interesting overview of the wholesale relocation of PR to the digital environment and introduced me to rather scary concepts such as native advertising where the traditional indicators dividing ads from print copy are completely invisible, though Hodgson suggested that it was an insult to the consumer to suggest they couldn’t recognise when online copy in a digital newspace is paid for. One strand of his narrative was the inordinately hard time multinational companies, such as oil and related industries, have when ambushed by dastardly activist groups who distort the whole information process to challenge the assertions published by corporations. Interesting to see them portrayed, over and over, as victims. This was not the only point where the 5:1 (or higher) ratio between PR: journalists was mentioned. The consequences for democracy rarely featured in such discussions.

However, the aspect which drew most ire from the audience was the continual reference to ‘you academics’ and the somewhat patronising tone in which the practices of PR were patiently spelled out. He berated us for obtuse language in a section called Beyond Jargon, which explored the ‘purchasing decision journey’! After one heated exchange, I just asked the audience to indicate how many had practitioner backgrounds; Hodgson seemed very taken aback when about 80% of those present raised their hands. Later, in conversation he was passionate that students should have access to real world practice, apparently unaware that almost all PR courses have mandatory workplace elements.

3) This knowledge was also absent from the discussion on curriculum in which practitioners repeatedly urged academics to move away from theory and make sure students were fully skilled on entry. This discussion was framed almost entirely as a menu of skills required by employers, following on from the US Committee on Public Relations Education reports, most recently The Professional Bond (2006); one comment that the requirement to write, think and communicate were actually those of any competent adult made little impression, nor did contributions about changing frameworks in the UK and Australia for example, which require a range of graduate competence regardless of degree subject, including those prescribed by the report.

Conclusions:

1) Practitioners are still fixated by education as a supplier of skilled entrants, with little regard for the needs of the profession for long-term leadership, acquired through reflection and engagement with a wide range of thought,  not just the ability to write a blog.  I imagine sometimes the cohorts we could have produced, not so long ago, who were completely up to speed with MySpace.

2) Practitioners seem to have limited time or inclination to reflect on practice, leading to shallow, defensive positions when challenged.  This has serious implications for ethics, suggesting that the short term, concrete demands of clients will always win over longer term reflection on values.

3) Academics have failed to explain the realities of the educational world, including the  constraints and demands of our institutions and journals, and the opportunities we offer for reflection and engagement with deeper issues of relevance to practice. Given the excellent mix of practice and academics at the WPRF, it might have been helpful to have offered a simple introduction about academic language and the peer review process, for example.

4) Academics have also not clearly explained the actual content of most PR degrees, with their mix of theory and practice, the balance of workplace and classroom (and online) learning and the emphasis on problem solving, team work and project management which will be of far more long term value to employers than technical know how.

Finally, Betteke van Ruler once suggested that practitioners were from Venus, academics from Mars (van ruler 2005) ; in the past decade it does not appear that these bodies are any closer.

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Conference started with generous words for book from Prof Ron Arnett and now I leave with Best Paper prize (slides here Euprera2014). Official announcement here Euprera prize winners.

Good trip, eh? And now off to swanky dinner @ Maison du Cygne

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Amazing experience listening to keynote speaker Prof. Ron Arnett build speech around my book, revealing depths I didn’t know it had. He talked about the ground of ethics, about communication as secondary to content and the need not for more dialogue, which can lead to empty engagement, but capacity to,listen to monologue, to hear the other.
In particular he highlighted book’s acceptance of fallibility and multiplicity as opposed to modernity’s unipolar linear insistence on one positive narrative. Role of shadow strongly welcomed as counter balance to this story. Really wonderful to hear my work reflected back with such depth of reflection.

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The book is now published Public relations ethics and professionalism: the shadow of excellence

and my copies have arrived in Australia. It looks sort of ordinary – perhaps I envisaged some illuminated gold-leaf manuscript, commensurate to the effort involved.

But it already has a kind of life – hence the invite to University of New South Wales seminar series,

10_2014_sam_seminar_Fawkes

and, rather excitingly, a heads-up that the book will get a mention in Professor Ron Arnett’s (Duquesne University) keynote address to the forthcoming Euprera conference in Brussels this September.

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