Catherine Arrow comments on more than one recent post and talks to us about our optical illusions and cultural tribes in public relations…

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), 277304), 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.

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2 Replies to “Catherine Arrow comments on more than one recent post and talks to us about our optical illusions and cultural tribes in public relations…

  1. When I red words like, “…with others using public relations as a means towards their desired outcome of greater democratic freedoms.” I wonder, “who is the client?Who is paying a professional practioner to take steps using communictions tool sand techniques, in order to achieve “greater demoncratic freedoms?”

    Are we talking about the press secretary at the White House?

    About the tribes… I’m curious whether thare’s a ten-word summary of each one, easilly accessible.

    About the “trap” of tools. Well, talk about social media. Other than the nonsensical name, we can’t turn our heads around without seeing reference after reference to this / these tools.

    But tools are also in the job description of PR people. They are hired to be the editor of the Widget Bugle. They are hired to be Media Relations Manager. They are hired to be Speechwriter. They are hired to be Marketing Collateral Manager. They are hired to be Graphics Department Manager.

    And thousands of good PR people around the world have gone nuts trying to get personnel department staff to allow the creation of goodjob descriptions with decent pay. And instead, they get stuck with yet another Internal Communications Editor at 27,461 a year.


  2. Interesting insights indeed. I think your concept of moving the issue from that of personal to organizational influence and connecting this with the professional’s role who privileges the organization rather than his boss when the two engage in overt or covert conflict, merits further thought as it recognizes that relationship development is not just a personal but, more so, an organizational one. I hope I intepret your thought correctly.
    Also stimulating is the suggestion to re read the Leichty text on cultural tribes correlating it to the search for the primary components of immaterial infrastructure. Also, I wonder if all this could not in turn relate with Sriramesh’s and Dejan Vercic’s elaborations on a territory’s political, economic, legal, activist, socio-cultural and media infrastructure. It’s all food for thought and maybe, if you could better clarify how you use the term optical illusion, this would help me. thanks.

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