Marriage of European and North American PR thought leadership

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Fraser Likely,  President and Managing Partner, Likely Communication Strategies Ltd
Fraser Likely, President and Managing Partner, Likely Communication Strategies Ltd

By Fraser Likely

Even for those in the public relations and communication management field who paid the slightest bit of attention to international developments over this past summer, the Stockholm Accords and the Barcelona Principles came as a surprise. Certainly, for those of us based in North America, the surprise may have had an element of shock to it.

I am not talking about the content of each of these documents. There is considerable comment already on whether the text of these documents is:

– revolutionary

– simply stating the obvious

– missing in so much substance and breadth as to be meaningless

– badly written; or

– all of the above

I come down squarely on the fence.

For example, stating in the Barcelona Principles that measurement must be about outcomes and not outputs could put many a measurement company out of business. Revolutionary indeed! On the other hand, reference to employee communication in the Stockholm Accords is as if the statements came from a textbook published…in 1970.

Meaningless, indeed!

Surprises yes, but the shock I am talking about concerns the conceptualization process that led to these draft documents. The shock – for North Americans surely and perhaps for others – is that these documents were a mixture of European and North American thoughts. That is, these documents represent the “coming out” of European public relations and communication thought leadership, not to mention further representing its public marriage with North American thought leadership.

Allow me a few points in support of this hypothesis.

1. Stockholm and Barcelona vs. New York and San Francisco

Why Stockholm and Barcelona and not New York and San Francisco? The short answer might address the levels of provincialism in the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and of the internationalism in the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

The long answer might address the source of the profession’s thought leadership today and the role of organizations such as the:

An even longer answer might explore the continued hegemony of the North American/American model of public relations/communication practice vis-à-vis other models, in particular what is seen as a European model.

If anything, Stockholm and Barcelona represent the acknowledgement of a shift in influence. That is not to say a new dominance: the shift is recognition that there is more than one model.

A few examples of a shift would include:

  • the increased international importance of the BledCom and Euprera conferences
  • that AMEC is becoming the organization for measurement and evaluation experts
  • that the first “International History of PR” conference was held this year on the east not west side of the Atlantic
  • that the GA is based in Europe (Lugano, Switzerland); and
  • the continued success of Strategic Communication Management magazine (published by Melcrum, which is headquartered in London, England)

2. Denouement of North American public relations/communication imperialism over PR language

The second point is the reflection of this shift in influence on the substance of the Stockholm Accords. In particular, the shift can be examined in how internal and external communications are approached in the Accords. One can see the butting of heads between the American and the European models of practice and the necessary saw-off or compromise.

The American model for internal communication has been driven by its style of democracy, especially its pluralistic perspective on political power. The European model is more affected by a corporatist or societal corporatist perspective on political power, particularly in Germany, Scandinavia and the former Eastern Block countries.

This plays out in real life.

For example, the worker/employee–management relationship in organizations is not the same in Europe as in America. This compromise over substance is also reflected in the language used in writing the Stockholm Accords. From a North-America perspective, if one is not current with European choice of wording (how often have you read the term “communicative organization” in American publications?) – the language chosen for the Accords may grate in places.

The strength of the Stockholm Accords is the attempt to find generic principles that bridge different:

  • models of practice
  • political systems; and
  • cultures

This same butting of heads may be seen in the Barcelona Principles around the concept of Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs), a measurement practice employed on both sides of the Atlantic, but one that is much more prevalent in Europe, particularly the UK.

The weakness of the Stockholm Accords and the Barcelona Principles is that for many practitioners and academics, they did not go far enough; namely, in forcing compromise they limited the ability to be far-reaching, to be truly innovative.

At the very least, the Stockholm Accords and Barcelona Principles should be recognized as a first step at universality. For the substance may also be seen as the articulation of the denouement of North American public relations/communication imperialism over PR language.

3. Institutionalization by the extended family on both sides of the Atlantic

Finally, the third point to explore is the idea of input, participation and engagement in the development and acceptance of the Stockholm Accords and Barcelona Principles.

For example, the conceptualization of the Accords was done by individuals, as practitioners and academics working in this professional field, not as members or representatives of a professional association or institution. That is, they spoke for themselves, not as an authorized spokesperson for a particular group.

And, participation in this conceptualization was open to all – no matter where in the world one was located. In other words, if you wanted to be part of the conceptualization process, joining up was easy. Anyone who didn’t participate at the conceptualization stage can only cite one barrier to their engagement in the process: him or herself.

It’s interesting then, that it was a self-selected group of “keeners” who debated and wrote the Stockholm Accords. (For anyone interested, there is an extended electronic trail as to how the wordings of the various sections came to be.)

Isn’t that what modern communication/relationship building is all about –

  • diffused power
  • stakeholder strength
  • influencers who are “people just like you and me?”

With the Barcelona Principles, they were driven more than the Stockholm Accords by an organization, in this case the AMEC, although debate occurred in a forum where members and non-members participated.

However, ratification and conceptualization are different.

The attendees of both the World Public Relations Forum in Stockholm, Sweden, and the AMEC’s 2nd European Conference on Measurement in Barcelona, Spain (both held in June 2010), had the opportunity to first debate and then accept the submitted draft documents. Most importantly, though, attendees represented themselves. They did not speak for nor vote on behalf of any association in which they were a member.

What next?

The delegates of the two conferences, however, carry no institutional weight. The Stockholm Accords, for example, remain a “living green” document, now housed for ongoing discussion in its own electronic “Hub” on the GA’s website.

Who actually ratifies the Accords and how it is done are the next questions. If national PR and communication associations only represent 10 per cent of all practitioners in any given country, does this carry the critical mass required if a national (or international) association signs on?

And if individual practitioners, regardless of whether they are an association member or not, voted electronically and 70 per cent of all practitioners in a given country or across the globe voted in the affirmative, how do stakeholders proceed so that the Stockholm Accords are actually institutionalized?

With regard to the Barcelona Principles, AMEC is a growing association, but as yet it does not include all measurement experts, companies or individuals. Again, nothing has been finalized.

And, this is the most important next step: how in fact will both documents be moved forward and made operational? Who will drive the agenda?

  • individuals?
  • public relations and communication membership associations?
  • PR/communication “thought leader” institutions?
  • the United Nations?

How does this marriage of thought – or, more aptly, of thought leadership – receive the blessing of the extended family on both sides of the Atlantic?

In conclusion

Again, for those of us based in North America, the Stockholm Accords and Barcelona Principles were a revelation. We now understand and appreciate better that there is European thought leadership – one that has its own take on PR thoughts.

Mixing these thoughts – be they academic-generated scholarly theories and principles or practitioner-generated operational theories, working principles and best practices – with those of North America is at times attempting to push a square peg into a round hole. The Stockholm Accords and the Barcelona Principles are the attempts to smooth down the sharp edges of any square pegs.

Look at the people who worked on both documents; they are a mixture of thought leaders from both sides of the Atlantic. Thought leadership in public relations and communication management is not moving to Europe from its long-standing base on the western side of the Atlantic; rather, it is now a blending of both. Even more so, our disciplines’ thought leadership is becoming a marriage on many levels: North American-European; membership association-research organizations; and even scholar-practitioner. If the Stockholm Accords and the Barcelona Principles are to bear happy children, these marriages must be consummated.

*  *  *

Thanks are extended to Celia Sollows, APR, for beginning a discussion on a LinkedIn Group about the Barcelona Principles. Fraser Likely commented upon her discussion post (including some of what he’s written here). The comment led to a request for an expanded “essay” by Fraser Likely here on PR Conversations. JG

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Fraser Likely, who founded Likely Communication Strategies (PR/communication management and performance consultants) in 1987, is based in Ottawa, Canada. He has been an university adjunct professor at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, is an accredited Fellow of the Canadian Public Relations Society and currently co-leads a major international IABC Research Foundation-sponsored study on the factors that influence the choices of organizational structure for communication departments.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Fraser. Thank you for helping us to understand the significance of this work and helping us to understand that it needs to continue. I’m hoping to hear more on this from you in person, here in Edmonton. Thanks to Judy too … for starting the conversation.

  2. Thanks for an unemotional analysis of the shiftinng tectonic plates of the PR landscape. We need leaders like you who have both the intellectual and practical maturity to think and lead beyond their immediate silos.

    A look at the discussions that took place in the period running upto the Stockholm Accords, shows that a good number of discussions produced more heat than light.

    I hope and wish that the PR organizations named above invite you to their conferences to share your views with their members

  3. Fraser,

    An interesting view of the two projects, but I feel your title is something of a misnomer, particularly with regard to the Stockholm Accords. The Accords are not simply a ‘marriage’ between North American and European thinking. The development involved practitioners and academics from around the globe and the considerable involvement and contribution from Oceania, Africa and South America – to name but a few others – seems to have escaped your notice. The perception of US hegemony in the public relations universe may be deeply ingrained in the USA and some parts of the Northern Hemisphere, but elsewhere in the world other models of public relations practice exist – and have existed in both practice and theory for decades with the US model certainly not the dominant paradigm. Heather’s recent post here at PRC “Never kiss an alligator and other lessons from PR history” provided a very substantial snapshot of the first International History of PR Conference held at Bournemouth University which, as she said, “proved the importance of discovering and analysing the *many* histories of public relations”.

    The Accords are, as you say, a starting point. Perhaps even a starting point for a new shared history that has some future relevance. My personal hope is that as the Accords evolve, a platform for the common areas of professional practice will be created – no matter our location or cultural environment. In the long term, this should provide a cohesive explanation and rationale that can be shared with those external to the profession who may have a confused understanding or perception of the role of public relations, its contribution to societal good and its importance in realising sustainable organisational success.

    Generally, it is hoped that as a starting point, the Accords will, at the very least, provide professionals with a core explanation that can be developed and implemented within their operational and cultural spheres. The Hub provides a platform where progress, experiences, ideas and all the challenges of implementation can be shared. Those involved in public relations and communication management are urged to develop and implement as much – or as little – of the Accords as they feel able. As a living document, I suspect that the expressions of activity will change over time, and indeed, the plan is to evaluate how useful or successful the Accords have been when the next World Public Relations Forum is convened in two years time. Once again, I would stress ‘World’ Public Relations Forum – not just North America and Europe. Equally, the Accords are hosted by and developed under the auspices of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, representing professional associations from every continent, not just the two you mention.

    As to the Barcelona Principles, as I wrote here just after their launch, they too are a ‘starting point’, even though much falls into the category of stating the blindingly obvious as well as raising a chorus to two of disbelief that in this day and age somebody had to state that AVE was not a credible measure – a bit like an official decree that the world is indeed round, not flat – shocking as that might seem.

  4. As a (slightly self-serving) aside, the idea of a shift in the centre of gravity in transatlantic PR/Comms thinking is being driven as well by a disproportionately large number of expat North Americans who are plying our trades as communicators in Europe.

    I don’t think this is peripheral. When you speak of the difference between the North American and European social and employment constructs, it takes people who have seen their positives and their total absurdities to understand what remains common and powerful. It also takes an openness to examine the world as it is, as opposed to seeking to defend an outmoded model at all costs.

    Now, the real challenge is to solidify a network of professionals who share a commitment to advance our profession in a way that uses these principles as its core building blocks and recognises that a communicator’s role can move beyond advice into the realm of tangible action and direct influence on outcomes. Such a move needs to be the next thing to grow out of Stockholm and Barcelona…because it is most unlikely to grow out of San Francisco and New York.

  5. Hold on to your hats, but the wind is blowing in the other direction to the Stockholm Accords. When Fraser Likely talks of the “corporatist or societal corporatist perspective on political power, particularly in Germany, Scandinavia and the former Eastern Block countries”, he fails to recognize that that model is dying even in its stoutest strongholds, such as Sweden.

    The old post-war European social democratic model is on its last legs. With it goes the the so-called unique model of capitalism it bred. Across Europe the differences between US capitalism and European capitalism in practice is narrowing substantially. The old welfare-state and so-called European socialistic state is being deconstructed. There’s a new new deal in the air. This has implications for PR and one of them is that the old assumptions no longer apply.

    PR does not need a new model to frame or define or codify its practice. What it needs is critical thinking about how the world is changing. We need more discussion about reality, narratives and messaging and less puff about models, which are overloaded with 20th-Century assumptions about how the world once functioned.

    http://www.economist.com/node/17039151?story_id=17039151

    • Paul Seaman says: “when Fraser Likely talks of the “corporatist or societal corporatist perspective on political power, particularly in Germany, Scandinavia and the former Eastern Block countries”, he fails to recognize that that model is dying even in its stoutest strongholds, such as Sweden.”

      As a political observer on the scene in Scandinavia and Northern Europe over the last several years, I would say that the “model” Seaman seeks to bury is softening rather than dying.

      Indeed, the political impetus in Holland, Denmark and now Sweden has not been a rush to embrace American-style cowboy capitalism but to see if the finer points of social democracy can be selectively saved for the native-born population. Likewise, in the US, while American companies are hardly embracing the more benign practices of their Continental cousins, the sustainability of gulag-style workplaces is nonetheless being questioned, particularly in industries where talent is crucial, expensive, and mobile.

      There is a new deal in the air all right. And part of this new deal is that old school, defensive, financial-markets-driven-Black-Amex-card-PR is toast. And a new model for its replacement–combining official and unofficial voices, and recognizing that communication drives as well as frames action–could actually represent a massive leap forward, particularly for agile and skilled professionals.

  6. Mike, I don’t share your view of US bosses as a bunch of cowboys running gulags. Moreover, you talk about the Swedes wanting to keep the “finer points” of social democracy – but the Economist says: “Sweden is generally known for two things: social democracy, and the books of Stieg Larsson. That may change, for if the polls in the run-up to the election on September 19th are correct, the first may end up looking like one of the corpses so often found in the second.” [the actual election on Sunday did more or less confirm that outcome – though I accept that most Swedes remain a moderate bunch].

    But their old-economic and social model is being demolished step by step; as are similar models across Europe, not least in Britain. In addition, in a sentence I could have written about the Accords, the Economist remarked: “Yet three deeper factors should give Social Democrats everywhere pause for thought. The first is that voters seem to value competent government above ideology…”

    I’ll miss ideology in politics, that’s a shame. But it never had a place in corporations in business…

  7. How true it is that we never seem to learn, and that each day something happens in our life to make it seem like big bang day!

    Also, is not amazing to see daily evidence of how difficult two way communication is when the subjects involved do not listen carefully, before expressing themselves ?

    This happens to me all the time -somewhat lost… in transition…- so, it is hardly surprising that even highly respected friends and visionaries like Fraser occasionally appear to stumble….

    As he knows better than I, the listening process implies gathering evidence and leaving pre-judgments aside, understanding the gathered evidence also through the opinions voiced by others, and only then interpreting the evidence by reintroducing one’s own pre-post judgments.
    In the case of the first part of his post, Fraser seems to have jumped the first phase (gathering evidence).

    It is certainly true that American and European thinking were relevant in the Accords process, but if one only reads the inception of ‘process’ description in the HUB (www.stockholmaccords.org) , it is easy to appreciate that the two principal sources which led to the Accords have nothing or very little to do with either the North American, or with the Bled/Euprera-based European thinking.
    And, if this is true… many of the following arguments fall short.

    The first source was South Africa (the King 3 Report on corporate governance) and the second was the Swedish 5 year communicative organization research led by prof. Sven Hamrefors on behalf of the Swedish Pr Association. The latter, of course, is also a member of Euprera, but the research is a typical product of the Scandinavian Management School.

    The stakeholder relationship governance and the communicative organization concepts come directly from those sources.

    Furthemore, as Catherine Arrow appropriately points out in her comment, much of the work during the process was influenced by non European and non NorthAmerican professionals and scholars.

    I dare not speak for others, but if I reflect on my own experience, the Rome (2003), the Bled Manifesto (2004), Trieste (2005), Capetown (2007), Milano (2008), Stockholm (2010) and Bournemouth 2010 (sadly I was not there..) were the platforms of this decade from which our body of knowledge found its more golden and innovative veins….

    Yes, IABC was relevant for the internal communication part of the Accords.

    By the way, Fraser, is it really from a 1970 text book? Do please indicate one, even more recent text, that states internal communication must expand its 1970’s consolidated concept of internal publics; the role of internal communicators is to create a listening culture; or to evaluate how processes, policies and leadership are being interpreted by internal publics….

    If one reads the discussion going on specifically about this part in the CIPR website, the interpretation seems certainly very, very different…

    Even my beloved Paul Seaman is correct(!) when he cautions Fraser –helas for reasons I disagree with!– against the corporative and liberal stereotypes of mainstream north American and European corporate cultures.

    If ever there has been a predatory, undemocratic, and short sighted corporate leadership one only needs to read this: http://www.instituteforpr.org/digest_entry/when_is_csr_a_manifestation_of_corporate_lip_service_and_political_correctn/.

    As for Europe’s corporatist stereotype it is sufficient to see how the private as well as the trade union sectors in France and Italy went suddenly mute over their government’s racism….

    Neither of these worst practices could have possibly happened only ten years ago….

    Yes, also CPRS contributed greatly with the concept of sustainability as a transformative opportunity, and other valuable inputs from Jean Valin and Dan Tisch… while PRSA contributed with its ‘business case’ work and, most importantly, with the continued support and fine tuning action by GA Chair John Paluszek and past Chair of the PRSA. The final text also benefitted in Stockholm from the input of Gary McCormick, the current PRSA Chair.

    I certainly do agree with Fraser that the centre of gravity of the profession and of the research has vastly moved from the USA elsewhere: but this is hardly new and has now been going on for at least 15 years. From Oceania to Southern Africa, from Iran (yes!) to Southern Europe, from China and India, New Zealand and Australia today come the most interesting and innovative professional practices and case studies.

    North America lags way behind….

    The fact that Anglo Saxons in general are usually highly unskilled and/or disinterested in relating with other languages is certainly a strong handicap…but mostly for them, not for the others… who normally can at least read English.

    As some would certainly say, how ethnocentric to presume that North America is today still at the centre of any universe, beyond its own.

    The progress Google translator has been making over the years might suggest some experimenting…?

    As for the second part of Fraser’s post I entirely agree with his perspective with minor additions:
    a) in Stockholm many official association representatives not only approved but are now implementing the Brief in their own countries (see the hub for continued monitoring of these actions);
    b) I am not aware of any significant professional (or social…) change that has been advocated by more than 10% of its universe;
    c) public relations is by nature today a global profession.

    Even if you are working for a butcher in a Chicago neighbourhood, you leave a competitive advantage to your local competitor if you are not dialoguing with a colleague in Delhi…. Or in Abu Dhabi….

    Thank you, Fraser, for your interest and attention and I sincerely hope you will want to continue this dialogue.

  8. I appreciate the feedback and kind words.

    Catherine, I know full well that some non North Americans and Europeans thought leaders participated in the drafting of these two documents. Simply, for example, long ago I put such South African thought leaders as Benita Steyn, Ronel Rensburg and Estelle de Beers high on pedestals. But, my big butt here, given who led and participated in the creation, what the sources for the materials under consideration were and who the leaders who stepped forward to direct follow-up committees are, I still see these documents collectively as more the thought leadership marriage I’ve described than some global agreement. I don’t think this is a bad thing, nor was I implying anything negative the opposite. It is a good and profound first step. I’ve been an observer of the GA, at times from fairly close up, since the late 1990s. Moving the GA beyond its NA and European thought leadership has not been easy. You rightly state that there are many models of practice and I agree, being a friend and follower of your world renowned fellow countryman Professor Krishnamurthy Sriramesh of Massey University. I’m sure you are a devotee as well. He would happily support what you’ve written about American and other models. I was in Bournemouth for Tom Watson’s excellent PR history conference this summer and that experience plus the opportunity to judge papers and master theses in competition for the likes of the Institute for PR, the International Public Relations Research Conference and Bledcom has given me a deep appreciation of the many “histories” as you state. That said, the words “world” and “global” may be used, but these documents collectively do suggest a two-some marriage. Which is a good thing and a milestone and a step forward to a three-some, four-some or sixty-six some marriage of thought leaders and histories.

    Paul, I’m more than inclined to support Mike’s less dramatic and more incremental stance. The same could be said perhaps for the other side of the coin – pluralist, even populist, capitalist countries.

  9. Toni, I’ll not weep over the corpse of social democracy; good riddance, say I.

    Fraser: incremental? More like melt-down. Five years ago, Britain’s leftish Guardian newspaper called Sweden “the most successful society the world has ever known”. Eras are ending and new ones being forged. Yet it remains unclear how things will look in five years’ time. Today, Sweden still thrives on a Big State spend and on consensus, though the former is declining slightly and the latter shifting “rightwards”. It might look gradual on the surface, but its radical and happening at speed in reality. But now social democracy is dead….who knows what comes next.

    This is game-changing for PRs. And this discussion is useful, as is the fact that we all disagree about much of it.

  10. I think that Fraser is right to raise the issue of hegemony of the US model of PR which has become a dominant paradigm in many countries – not least in terms of education of those entering the profession. Recognition by North American academics that there are different models is to be welcomed – not least, because there seems to have been little critical reflection arising from that part of the world on the history, development and “best practice” as is still evident in the majority of accessible PR textbooks.

    Indeed, what I would consider the first major criticisms of the Model of Excellence approach (eg Pieczka and L’Etang) in the late 1990s, were in turn dismissed by those who did perhaps not understand the value of critical reflection in developing a wider perspective and body of knowledge.

    Although PR history in many countries has half a century or more behind it (if we accept its modern development), it is probably only in the last 15 years or so that a wider web of thought leadership has gained some traction. Even then, a lot of this work is referenced against the US-originated model – regardless of cultural, political and other differences elsewhere in the world.

    Arguably a lot in the Stockholm Accords derives from the dominant idea of “best practice” (especially dialogic communications) whilst the Barcelona Principles reflect a 20th century management perspective being predicated on the concept of management as a logical and predictable process.

    I also feel that a lot of this “thought leadership” has failed to extend beyond the academic PR community either into mainstream PR practice or into wider communications/management study. So we are still faced with practitioners and marketing colleagues who position PR within the promotional mix – and hence, not surprising that we have the ongoing AVE debate. At the same time, PR has failed to look outwards and bring in thinking (academic and/or vocationally-derived) from other areas.

    Whether or not thought leadership in PR is shifting from its text-book dominant US models and perspectives to one where (at least) European viewpoints are considered relevant seems to me to be more evidence of an insular profession.

    We need thought leadership in PR from many different geographical, and even more important – cultural and generational perspectives. But that thinking needs to seek to be more influential in terms of reaching practitoners, as well as other professions/academic disciplines and in turn, be more open in learning from the thought leadership that is evident outside the positive perspective that stil predominates PR’s “body of knowledge”.

    • Heather,

      The reason why the North American PR model has hitherto been the dominant is that they’re the ones who have been writing the textbooks. When I was developing my PR curriculium in the mid 90s,
      the most readily available literature was Grunig, Cutlip and Center and other American text book writers.

      I know the situation may be different now, but we must never forget where we came from. If Europe and other parts of the world wish to make a claim to “thought leadership” they have to lay the foundation for such leadership by writing textbooks. Or as an American would probably have put it to whining Europeans: “Put up or shut up.”

      • Don,

        Two questions. Given that L’Etang, Pieczka, Moloney, Miller, etc wrote in English (just so we avoid the language issue that would affect accessiblity of international work in North America) – why is criticism of the dominant model still largely lacking in NA textbooks some 15 years later? Also, given that there are now that textbooks available expressing other viewpoints/locations etc, are North American PR academics (and students) being directed to read these?

        The rest of the world has been putting up – not just criticisms, but alternative perspectives – but it seems quite often the attitude of those behind the dominant ideas is still to shut up! That’s why I find it refreshing that there is acknowledgement of a shift from North America – something I heard from other major US academics at the International History conference at Bournemouth in the Summer.

        Your comments also raise the issue that we need to question the ongoing dominance of the NA textbooks going forward. There are good alternatives available now, but undoubtedly the traditional texts still have influence on reading lists for numerous PR courses.

  11. Heather makes some good points about PR needing to look outwards by bringing in thinking (academic and/or vocationally-derived) from other areas. However… the debate about European models versus US models misses the point. Models – full of jargon – don’t equal thought leadership. But even if we removed the jargon, I say PR is not an art form or trade (or profession if you must) that can be constrained by or subject easily and meaningfully to models. The search for the ideal model (best practice even) is a search for a closed mind in a creative and ever-changing field that delves in the realm of perceptions and communication on a worldwide scale. What’s really “really” missing from much of what passes for discussion about PR is critical thinking about this multi-faceted subject (call it a shortage of historical, sociological, contemporary criticism, insight and debate).

    Before somebody else accuses me of it; I’m not saying saying all models are useless etc.

    • Heather,

      I assume your two questions are rhetorical. But the issue you raise is important — the dominance of NA texts in textbooks.

      A lot has indeed happened here in Norway with the folks at the Instititute of Media & Communications at the University of Oslo and ata The Norwegian School of Management (BI) doing a great job to introduce local texts — not just translation of the dominannt NA paradigm.

      For some reason the PR courses seem to divided into two segments: 1) the practical “how to” segment that relies on accessible “populist” American texts and 2) the critical higher section, usually courses at the University that question the relevance of the dominant models. I guess your questions above refer to this section.

      Now, the issue of weaning the rest of the world from the NA models, should be a long term project, preferably anchored in a global organisation like the Global Alliance for PR and Comms Management (GA). The goal should be ideally to build on, critique and expand on the existing NA models. It is a case of evolution nott revolution. Whether we like it or not NA still wields nfluence over many spheres of the world.

      The above cannot be achieved by cantankerous rants and flashes of hyperbole in blogs and discussion forums, but by tedious and hard work in international forums and serious scholars in the PR Comms field writing textbooks for teaching.

      There are clearly three segments for this task; the easily accessible (linquistically) “how to” segment for practitioners, the intermediate crtical segment for those who want to go directly into couselling. And finally the upper critical level for those who want to end up in academia.

      • Don – thanks for the response to my questions. Whilst I appreciate that practitioners tend to prefer “how to” books, I believe that these should not be considered in isolation to more critical reflection normally seen in academic textbooks. I believe that “why to” has to underpin “how to” – and again, it feels that PR is side-stepping theory/models/reflection whereas many marketing or indeed, management texts manage to combine both and ensure greater understanding and adoption of thinking as part of doing.

        So although I can see how there can be three perspectives as you indicate, wouldn’t it be beneficial to have practitioners, consultants and academics equally engaged in understanding/developing/challenging both theory and practice?

    • Paul – I won’t accuse you of dismissing models per se, but they can certainly be a key aspect of thought leadership. Developing one’s ideas into a theoretical proposition is a valid reflective practice and helps others to understand what you are suggesting with externalisation of thinking. My issue with the Model of Excellence in particular (but not restricted to this conceptualisation) is that it is as you suggest presented as an normative ideal or positivist best practice.

      I feel models should be viewed with an open mind, to be critiqued and considered as part of developing thought leadership. I don’t see the model as an end goal, but part of the process of critical thinking.

      I believe models can be useful in terms of the multi-faceted challenge as you indicate by also encouraging PR practitioners to engage with models in other disciplines, from other times/places and so forth.

      • Heather — I do agree that the foundational textbooks should be targeted to students who aspire to be practitioners, consultants and academics. This sounds reasonable i therory — but in practice, numerous commercial colleges offer “instant-job-qualification” one year courses aimed at youngsters who just want to qualify for their first job.

        Trying to induct these youngsters into the finer points of Marxist media analysis is for all practical purposes a non starter. While accepting the desirability of a critical approach to the subject, I also acknowledge the reality on the ground. Of course there are reputable Universities across Europe that offer PR Comms courses based on critical curricula.

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