Is it enough for us to simply ‘accept’ that practitioners do not get involved in formative and evaluative research (a sort of ‘research-phobia’) because of lack of time and its prohibitive costs? For researches and academics, these are only outright excuses as low and even no-cost evaluation methods are widely available. Instead they cite practitioner lack of interest, commitment and knowledge, as the real underlying reason….Of course this is not sufficient for anyone interested in governed change! As change happens anyway, whether we like it or not, we should try to at least govern that change which mostly affects the dynamics of our profession!
And this is where Jim Macnamara – the highly reputed senior Australian professional, academic and researcher- is in the final stages of refining an articulated and stimulating paper, for the moment entitled ‘the fork in the road’, in which he convincingly argues that, at a certain point, driven by market pressures rather than managing the market, the public relations profession took a wrong turn principally focussing on outputs while leaving outcomes far behind. But -he also implies- we must not miss the great opportunity that is now offered to us to u-turn and get back on the right track.He goes on to say:we are witnessing the beginning of a new era in public communication and the birth of new media as significant as, or even more significant than, the development of television.
Web 2.0 applications…..represent a fundamental shift because they enable the long-held view that communication should be two-way. In (these)… the operative concepts are conversations and communities, occurring through online forums, chat rooms, blogs and collaborative Web sites….These new networks are rewriting the rules of media relations, community relations and stakeholder communication. One-way media such as traditional newspapers, brochures, non-interactive Web sites and newsletters including static e-newsletters are side roads and, in some cases, dead-ends in communication. New routes to audiences are being constructed; new social networks are being built. We face a necessity and a great opportunity to chart a new course.
If this is the challenge, Macanamara contends that ….
Even though public relations has evolved to be much broader than ‘journalism for hire’ and press agentry, it has continued to focus on practice and, particularly, on the production of outputs. While modern academic thinking and research in media and communication departed substantially from the direct effects approach and made new discoveries about how people learn (eg. social learning theory, social cognitive theory, social comparison, situational theory, and an increasingly integrated view of how communication works), mainstream public relations continued down its practical path – or straight ahead based on outdated assumptions about the effects of communication.
Jim insists that Academia together with Professional Associations are the principal actors on whose shoulders resides the required turnaround effort from that ‘fork on the road’. …many courses for public relations… focus on writing press releases, dealing with journalists, producing newsletters, making videos….. Universities have to play a lead role in ensuring that future graduates emerge with a sound, broad understanding of social sciences and, specifically, of communication and media theory. They need to teach communication practitioners about audiences and audience reception theory, about social cognitive theory and social learning theory, about media effects, about semiotics, and about modern models of public relations such as Two-Way Symmetric views…while ….PR bodies worldwide have focussed largely on getting members jobs and running endless workshops at which editors and journalists launch tirades at PR and tell us what we need to do to get 10 paragraphs in The Smithtown Weekly….
Well, this was refreshing…..now where do we go? Let’s open a discussion on this so that we might supply more thoughts to Jim for his final edit….