Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Educating for Complexity - the best way forward for PR education?

The US-based Commission on Public Relations Education (Commpred) recently produced a report on standards for Master’s degrees in PR. Titled “Educating for Complexity”, it discusses two models of degrees – Professional Graduate and Academic Graduate - in terms of their outcomes and curricula. This post summarises the findings but detail can be found in the report:
1)    Professional Master’s program
“teaches the nuances of public relations and management techniques as well as leadership, business and communication skills … (it will provide)
·         An appreciation for the importance of globalization, entrepreneurship and technology in today’s business environment
·         An understanding of the interactions of the key functional aspects of an organization
·         An understanding of the role of communication in society and the ethical challenges of global public relations
·         Well-developed leadership skills and understanding of business
·         An understanding of, and the skills necessary to participate in, effective teamwork
·         Improved critical thinking and problem-solving skills
·         Social science research and evaluation knowledge and skills
·         Cutting edge communication management abilities

2)    Academic Master’s program
“build(s) on the same outcomes of a professional master’s program … (with) additional understanding of theory and social science methods so that (students) will be prepared to enter doctoral programs”. The additional outcomes would be:
·         Thorough knowledge of public relations theories and principles
·         Advanced critical thinking skills
·         Social science research skills to test new theories
·         Skills to work in applied public relations research
·         Skills to teach undergraduate public relations
·         Preparation to enter and succeed in public relations doctoral programs

However, the report found that employers:

·         Emphasized “characteristics of applicants” when hiring rather than knowledge or skills
·         Considered the Master’s degree was preparation for entry level jobs but expected professional experience (internships, etc) in addition to the degree
·         Tended to hire people who understand the management of public relations and not just its tactics
·         “Although they stress the need for writing skills, advanced positions on public relations involved setting strategy based on understanding of client needs, the client’s competition and the specific business settings. Because of this, they continued to express preferences for hiring people with degrees in the humanities and business and/or seeking people with “intellectual capabilities, leadership potential, that would make them ‘critical thinkers’ and ‘creative and innovative’.”
·         Called for a better brand for graduate PR education
Master’s degree core curriculum
Five curriculum areas should form the core of the two models of PR Master’s programs
·         Strategic public relations management
·         Basic business principles and processes
·         Communication/public relations theory and research methods
·         Global influences on the practice of public relations
·         Ethics
The Commpred report gives more detail on the content of each of these elements. After completing the core units, students would a make a “fork in the road” choice of either the Professional or Academic program.
For the Professional path, they would undertake
·         Courses in areas of PR specialization, e.g. healthcare promotion, sports PR, etc or units from other academic programs which align with PR and communications studies.
·         An internship or “co-operative education experience” for those without a UG degree or professional experience prior to study; or a more advanced experience for students who are already working professionals.
For the Academic path, in preparation for doctoral studies, they would undertake:
·         Additional research courses
·         A thesis
The report is soundly researched and written by experts but is it really what the PR industry wants and universities can provide?
What’s missing? My suggestion is that it is a very corporatist in its outlook and hasn’t taken on board the impact of social media and PR 2.0.

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Melbourne Mandate – another missed opportunity?

The major outcome of the World Public Relations Forum in Melbourne (November 18-20) is to be the ‘Melbourne Mandate’, a four-page document that is presented as “A call for action for new areas of value in public relations and communication management”.
I have been sent a late consultation draft for review. Overall, there's nothing offensive in it but it has a limited perspective. There is much Excellence Theory crossed with relationship management and CSR but also some ethical relativism that could be eliminated by stronger statements.
My research over 20 years has found that (a) 75-80% of PR practitioners are essentially one-way communicators, either performing an informational or a publicity/marketing "PR" roles and (b) there are many ethical dilemmas that face younger practitioners, which PR codes of conduct and practice overlook.
The model on which the Mandate is based is essentially that of the senior corporate communicator who has the ear of senior management or, in a limited number of cases, is a member of the management team (the Grunigian "dominant coalition"). It doesn’t address the bulk of junior and mid-level practitioners who make up GA's 160,000 members.
 There has been much discussion over the past 20 years ranging from Harold Burson to Jim Grunig to Derina Holtzhausen about the PR practitioner at the centre of the business, its "conscience" or in Holtzhausen's model, a post-modern activist who is the advocate of voices and stakeholders (internal and external) to senior management.
The Mandate "sort-of" positions the PR practitioner as a credible intermediary but it is primarily to achieve the organisation's aims. For example, it says PR practitioners have a mandate to "help leaders best communicate these beliefs to inspire stakeholders to follow, support, or change behaviour".  But, where is the fundamental imperative to ‘bring organisations and stakeholders together to create mutual benefit'? I'd prefer to see the PR practitioner more clearly positioned as the activist intermediary.
I consider the Mandate needs absolute values to be expressed, such as 'PR practitioners will tell the truth in all personal and written communication (Ivy Lee stated this in 1906 but never really delivered on it) and 'they have the imperative to do good and create mutual benefit throughout their working lives.'
There are weasel words expressed, such as "be guardians of the organization's character and values" (but what if it is a rapacious corporate raider?) and "build trust through enduring and respectful relationships with internal and external relationships".
I have hinted at relativism, e.g. the promotion of organisational values that are dubious. Many CEOs, for example, still adhere to the Milton Friedman and Martin Wolf views of CSR that the company's prime responsibility is to its shareholders, whilst operating within laws and regulations. That may be unfashionable in PR/Corpcomms but it is widely held. The Mandate could be reads as if it endorses that view, which could also be the "authentic organisation", beloved of the Arthur W. Page Society.
There should be another imperative that managers will not use their power to distort the ethical compass of junior staff by asking them to undertake activities or prepare communication which they know are not truthful. When students come back from placements or as young graduates speak with me and colleagues, we are often disappointed that employers put pressure on them to "gild the lily" or to engage in unethical practices (e.g. write fake consumer feedback on websites), with the implied pressure that "it's my way or the highway". Either do what you're told or get another job. This is rife.
 As for the bulk of practitioners who engage in publicity activities, the Mandate should be saying that "communication on behalf of employers, clients and brands should not over-state the value of products and services that distorts the expectations of consumers and other stakeholders."
 My final thought is that the Mandate should be openly discussing the impact of social media upon organisations, PR practitioners and communications practices. There are elements such as the emphasis on relationships, the "culture of listening and engagement" but social media has changed the rules. As we all know, the notion of control (if it ever existed) over communication has gone forever. That means that transparency and ethical behaviour are not optional but central to the organisational 'licence to operate' and credibility.
 In summary, the Mandate needs to be shortened, made ethically tighter and more explicitly expressed. It also needs to have a commitment from GA members that it will be enforced. I have reviewed the IPRA archive and found that from 1965 when its Code of Athens ethical statement was adopted to 2002, there were no actions against members. 37 years and no unethical behaviour? It appears to have been talk and nothing more. The Mandate should aim to avoid a similar fate.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

PR wedded to tactics

Every year when Bournemouth University PR undergraduate students come back from their year-long industry placements, they submit a report for assessment. And every year, it's the same old picture of a PR industry wedded to tactics, media relations, occasional stunts and no attempt at measurement and evaluation.

Sure there are some students who go to exceptional placements which believe in research, planning, strategy and measurement but they are few. So after analysing several placement reports and discussing the rest of the 65 reports with colleagues, what "state of play" emerges about PR in the UK?

The good news first:
  • Students enjoy the placements and are usually very well supported by industry employers.
  • They get responsibility quite early in the placement for delivery of media relations and events.
  • There are many standing offers to come back to their jobs after graduation.
  • Social media is increasingly used, although with doubts over its effectiveness.
The less good news:
  • Students are still teaching some employers about social media. The CEO of one major services company asked the PR intern for advice on how the quoted company could "stop online criticism."
  • There is little evidence of strategic thinking at account manager level. It's all busy, busy, busy.
  • Far too many PR "campaigns" are essentially tactical and based on guesswork. Objectives are fluffy and unmeasurable. Outcomes are couched in terms of media coverage, not impact or creation of value.
  • Even major international PR firms with trumpeted commitments to measurement and evaluation regularly sidestep them for volume coverage.
But the one common factor from the placements was that all but the smallest operations use Gorkana. That company must be making a bomb.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Top website for Creative Enterprise Bureau

Excellent work from Bournemouth University's Creative Enterprise Bureau where students and staff work together on consultancy projects, and support research and learning.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Welcome to FiftyOneZeroOne

This blog is the successor to DummySpit, my WordPress blog that was started in 2007. It will comment on public relations, history, politics and Winchester.

Why FiftyOneZeroOne? It's geographical as Winchester, where I live is 51N, 1W when latitude and longitude are taken into account. I've lived here for nearly 35 years, so it's now "where I am from", although I doubt I'll ever become a Wintonian.

So keep in touch and I look forward to your comments and dialogue.