It has never been easier for people to protest or express dissent. But there’s actually a long tradition of public action, supported by organised campaigns. Rather than positioning such activities as dissent or protest public relations within the “field’s fuzzy and continually gerrymandered boundaries” (to cite Cropp and Pincus 2001), they have generally been viewed as threats or challenges to those working within or for organisations, and counter to the dominant viewpoint that public relations is an organisational function.
Dissent and Protest Public Relations is an initiative by Bournemouth University (BU) to help develop new directions for exploring both practice and theory. A series of seminars launched this initiative in late 2012, and PR Conversations is delighted to have the exclusive opportunity to publish papers from three of the four contributors (including myself) who approached the topic from different perspectives.
As a brief introduction, here is a synopsis of the four perspectives:
Dr David McQueen, BU lecturer specialising in politics and media, considers the topic ‘PR wars’ between charities and corporate interests.
Dr Pawel Surowiec, BU lecturer specialising in propaganda studies, looks at information campaigns by the Solidarity trade union against the Polish communist government.
Heather Yaxley, PR consultant, BU lecturer and PhD researcher, presents some historic cases of women in dissenting and protesting roles.
A fourth seminar was given by Neil Duncan-Jordan, national officer of the National Pensioners Convention, who detailed his activist group’s two year campaign against public expenditure cuts although unfortunately, campaigning time pressures prevented him writing it up for this publication.
The seminars were co-ordinated by Dr Kevin Moloney, senior research fellow at BU, who introduces the papers with his argument that dissent PR and protest PR are useful sub-categories subsumed within the more common term: activist PR.
One of the reasons why PR Conversations has been invited to publish these papers is to stimulate discussion around the terms and whether they can, and should, be applied to current, recent and past PR happenings. It would be very interesting to hear thoughts about whether or not the concepts should be developed further and views on considering a wider perspective on public relations than the normal idea that it is employed primarily within organisations and so is often critiqued as a right-wing, or at least, establishment, method of communications.
Reference: Cropp, F. and Pincus, J.D. (2001), The Mystery of Public Relations: Unraveling Its Past, Unmasking Its Future, In Heath, R.L. (Ed), Handbook of Public Relations (1st edition), Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p189-204