Dear Toni,This comment really bounces across several of your recent posts as there are certain threads of thought which criss-cross and intersect. I don’t know if you have come across a fascinating article by Greg Leichty,(2003, Journal of Public Relations Research 15 (4), 277–304), which looks at the cultural tribes of public relations….He suggests that five distinct cultural voices can be recognised in conversations about public relations, but these competing cultural visions cannot be united into one coherent one. He concluded at the time that public relations is a multicultural field constituted by this on-going dialogue.
A year later I tested this out in some research I was doing into the definition of public relations, part of which involved listening to the emergent public relations ‘voices’ utilising social media to extend the reach of the conversation.
The ‘voices’ were in conflict from the word go – US based public relations bloggers favoured (and still do to a large extent) media relations as the defining purpose, while others felt that the very technologies they were getting to grips with offered the opportunity of a ‘New PR’. One thing was common to all the ‘voices’ – they collectively fell into the trap of aligning themselves with the tools they were using, rather than the job they were there to do.Look to other countries and the dynamic of the ‘voices’ is quite different, with some countries basing practice on a type of evolved Confucianism (“…philosophy of human nature that considers proper human relationships as the basis of society”, Yum, 1988, p. 377, cited by Yunna Rhee Journal of Public Relations Research, 14(3), 159– 184) with others using public relations as a means towards their desired outcome of greater democratic freedoms.All of which relates to the discussion on personal influence, if you wondered where I was going with this!I would agree that some historic areas of public relations practice relied on the ability of the individual practitioner to personally influence the publics they were engaging with, just as other ‘older’ approaches saw a disproportionate use of media relations as an influencing tactic. However, the good practitioner should be able to facilitate organisational influence – understanding the identity, personality, sphere of influence, reach and impact of their organisation and where those items intersect with the communities served.
A few posts ago, you discussed the difficulty faced by the practitioner when the CEO leaves the organisation. In the same way that the practitioner represents the organisation and not the CEO, the practitioner must build spheres of organisational influence, not personal influence, so that when they move on, the organisational relationships remain intact and solid and not reliant on the presence of one individual. The personal dimension should be concentrated on the practitioner’s ability to listen, identify, manage and implement a programme that facilitates the construction of good relationships, beneficial to both the publics and the interacting organisations.
Then take this thinking to your discussion on the immaterial infrastructure on your other post and your insightful historian’s reaction – “that when it ‘appears’ that history turns back this is only an optical illusion as, to the contrary, society is so mobile that, despite what the media implies or says, its components are always in constant development.”
Listening to the cultural tribes of public relations, it is easy to discern how the component parts of what we do are still developing. Thanks to the communications mechanisms we now utilise, the speed of conversation is increased and our dialogue allows us to agree – and disagree – on these component parts and their validity within our individual cultural setting.
Many sources credit Dorman Eaton as the man who first used the term ‘public relations’ (although I am sure that in our speedy conversations, many more would now discredit this). However, whether he was the first or not, this lawyer’s 1882 application of the phrase was used in the context of ‘guarding the welfare of the public’.
In developing an immaterial infrastructure, it might be viewed that this concept forms part of our own optical illusion, being more akin than ever to a mobile manifestation of today’s practitioner ideals.