PR Conversations http://www.prconversations.com Global discussion of PR from local perspectives Thu, 06 Jul 2017 05:59:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.4 94169417 Practical perspective of PR management http://www.prconversations.com/practical-perspective-of-pr-management/ http://www.prconversations.com/practical-perspective-of-pr-management/#respond Thu, 06 Jul 2017 05:59:10 +0000 http://www.prconversations.com/?p=9022 The 2017 European Communications Monitor report has been published recently detailing challenges facing strategic communicators in 50 countries. In this guest post, Anastasiya Shyrina, provides her perspective on the practicalities of PR management in Ukraine.

My friends know that I work in public relations. What they frequently don’t know is what exactly I do every day. Looking back at my 5-year career full of diverse hands-on experience, I came up with a list of 15 typical tasks which pay my bills. Ironically, PR as a sphere has certain reputational problems itself. For instance, many people believe PR is only about socializing, being “likable” and wearing nice clothes.

In my experience, employees from Communications department spend their lives performing the following functions:

1. Copywriting

Public relations professional strives to create a positive reputation for his/her client with the help of information materials. He/she is behind organization’s press releases, feature articles, blog posts, success stories, official statements and speeches. A great deal of time is spent on crafting key messages, ensuring their alignment with the overall business goals. From social media management to crisis communications, content is king. And communicators are presented with a daily challenge to produce captivating, attention-grabbing texts.

2. Developing social media marketing policies

In a world where people are glued to their mobile devices even in parks on a sunny day, check out social accounts every other second and happily embrace the culture of liveblogging, it seems natural for brands to incorporate smm policies into overall communication strategies. PR manager shows organizations how to leverage web networks for business development purposes. He or she chooses the most appropriate channels (for instance, LinkedIn is ideal for B2B, while Pinterest or Instagram are best for B2C segment), sets up corporate accounts, proposes content directions (quotes? humour? guest posts from partners?), prepares content plans, ensures timely publishing. Communication officers constantly analyze effectiveness of their smm efforts and improve initial strategies based on the acquired knowledge. Some companies allocate budgets for promotion on social media. In this case, PR manager plans and runs advertising campaigns.

3. Building strong personal brand of President/Chief Executive Officer

Communicators turn senior managers into thought leaders. They identify relevant publicity opportunities, organize interviews, land speaking engagements for CEOs. Most of the columns, welcome remarks, official statements published on behalf of top managers are actually authored by PR pros. Communication specialists offer guidance on leading personal accounts in social media, prepare directors for participation in press events, provide information support whenever it’s needed. In some cases PR executive is expected to educate his/her boss on the importance of visibility and make sure he/she is willing to collaborate with media. Is your colleague camera shy? Make him/her a popular blogger! The trick is in finding appropriate formats everyone is comfortable with.

4. Analysing competitors’ PR activities

PR gurus love to spy on competitors! You can take advantage of their wins and learn from their mistakes. Noticed an interview with the rival’s CEO in a well-known magazine? They might express interest in your topic as well. Communicators pitch journalists story ideas, offer expert knowledge on a range of industry-specific questions. This proactive approach always pays off: media either publishes the next piece with the main focus on your public figure or you become one of the trusted sources for the new big material on the same topic. Communication setbacks experienced by competitors show us what types of reputational crises may potentially arise, and how to deal with them. If you find yourself in the middle of a scandal, draft and publish official position as quickly as possible. This tactic deprives competitors of the opportunity to do the talking for you, provides journalists with the information they need to complete stories on the hot topic, communicates your point of view to the wider public. PR experts help organizations to remain ahead of pack in the business game by keeping a close eye on similar companies and taking necessary steps to outperform them.

5. Researching popular trends and helping clients to capitalize on them

Communication specialists browse social news feeds, read magazines and attend professional events during regular business hours for a good reason. Knowing what’s going on right now in their respective industries is a must. Otherwise, how can you maintain an expert status? PR people are on the constant lookout for popular topics. Their job is to spot a movement and then naturally join it by producing relevant information materials, providing commentary to media outlets, hosting events or giving speeches on what’s hot and trendy. This approach allows public relations pros to voice corporate messages and win brand mentions without being intrusive. Another part of professional development is about growth in strategic communications. Clients benefit from this as well. Several years ago PR community actively discussed infographics – a new exciting format to present complex information. While there is nothing ground-breaking about infographics anymore, it is still widely used by brands today. Who reaped most of the rewards in this case? Companies that were the first to embrace infographics! The same will continue to happen in the future. That’s why communicators are in charge of discovering and applying innovations.

6. Drafting and executing complex promotion strategies

Surprisingly, not every organization follows a certain promotion strategy, or even has one in place. Public relations specialists work on day-to-day tasks, chasing deadlines, addressing challenges that spring up every now and then. Yet not to lose sight of the bigger picture, make sure the company is moving in the right direction, it’s crucial to develop PR strategy and then stick to it while performing routine duties. Good strategy contains brief analysis of the current situation, clearly outlines communication goals, presents general vision for the future. By describing concrete steps needed for attainment of the short- or long-term objectives, by setting preliminary deadlines for each task and choosing people responsible for implementation PR managers help promotion departments keep on the right track, continuously deliver tangible results, save tons of time as well as focus on what’s really important for their companies.

7. Planning and carrying out thematic media campaigns

Communicators are busy people. When nothing happens in the outside world, they start creating buzz over long-standing issues themselves. Instead of taking a break and celebrating a rare moment of silence with a cup of favourite coffee, PR heroes turn on proactive mode. Visibility experts initiate complex media campaigns when their employer seeks to bring specific issues to public spotlight, create multi-channel pressure on key decision makers and thus solve a number of well-defined real problems. Such campaigns are usually tied to specific events, holidays or activist programs. To spark public interest in the given subject and then maintain it until the desired outcome is achieved, Communication professionals employ a wide variety of instruments, including video announcements, press releases, Facebook flash mobs, Twitter rollouts and public discussions. If everything is done right, a steady flow of media inquiries will follow, resulting in massive coverage for the client.

8. Organizing and holding press events

PR pros know how to throw a party for journalists. They develop programs for formal press conferences and routes for informal press tours. Media friends are presented with an opportunity to receive information from company experts, cultivate relationships with PR colleagues, acquire memorable experiences. Inventive outreach officers come up with the format, concept and topic of the event, choose appropriate location, draft scenario. Top-notch press events held on a regular basis allow to form pools of loyal journalists, who help companies spread corporate messages and in some cases turn into dedicated brand evangelists.

9. Devising loyalty programs for journalists

If a company invests in PR, it recognizes the influence of media and wants to earn respect of the key outlets. Advocacy specialists help clients achieve just that via well-thought-out loyalty programs. Is it possible to make journalists like you? Definitely. PR managers congratulate partners with holidays, organize press events, invite reporters to corporate parties. Communicators initiate competitions for journalists to learn who is best in the given field and recognize their talent with special awards. Simple things like addressing media inquiries in a timely fashion or linking journalists with your business partners when necessary go a long way in nurturing loyalty.

10. Conducting media monitoring analysis

Days when effectiveness of PR work could be called into question are long gone. Software developers have designed reliable tools for media monitoring analysis, which calculate the number of media references, define tonality of the earned coverage, name the most popular topics and identify channels used for promotion. It is possible to automatically list publications with the main focus on your client. One can also quickly scan materials where public figure in question plays secondary role. Having all this useful data right at their fingertips, visibility experts provide reports on the achieved results, analyse setbacks (if any) as well as present key takeaways with the list of proposed next steps for the communication team.

11. Managing PR Department staff and subcontractors

Depending on the size and objectives of the firm, it may or may not have a PR department. For instance, international business association receives dozens of media inquiries per month, holds numerous events for press and has an active president at helm who wishes to remain in the spotlight. Such an entity needs Communications team, because one person simply won’t be able to take on everything. PR manager organizes work of the department, delegates tasks to employees with suitable skill sets, controls quality. He/she makes sure team members contribute equally to the organization’s success, creates opportunities for their professional growth and career advancement. Smaller companies usually hire one PR professional who cooperates with subcontractors (designers, copywriters, editors) in driving marketing agenda forward. Good communications executive is able to deliver stellar results by productive, conflict-free collaboration with colleagues.

12. Dealing with reputation crises

PR people are charged with saving the company’s reputation in the event of a scandal. Communicators might not be the ones to blame for the bad press, but they are expected to minimize its harmful effect. Imagine the following situation: you wake up one morning and see the flood of negative messages about your client in the news feed. Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? PR gurus prevent such materials from spreading like wildfire. What they usually do is finding the original source and asking owners of the website to put provocative piece down. Another logical step is to release official statement regarding the problem in question. Outreach pros know when it’s best to step back and apologize, and when it makes sense to act assertively in guarding the organization’s point of view. By responding to countless inquiries with carefully crafted argumentative messages PR managers not only confront negativity in the media space, but also significantly expand the network of relevant journalists.

13. Boosting traffic to the corporate website

Modern-day communicators are skilled in digital promotion. They know the ropes of search engine optimization, corporate blogging, online advertising. PR folks consult business owners on popular features, growth hacking techniques, assess user-friendliness of the websites. Contemporary communication professionals work jointly with senior marketing executives on attracting visitors, turning prospects into customers, and customers into lifelong brand advocates.

14. Leading internal communications

Communication is not only about impressing external audiences. It can also help organizations build highly efficient loyal teams. I think everyone would agree that happy employees are the best ad for any company. Dedicated staff members talk favourably about their companies both offline and online, help PR managers spread the word by sharing corporate posts, linking communicators with useful contacts (what if your system administrator plays chess with a famous blogger?) as well as by creating unique content with appropriate messaging on their own. For all that to happen, organizations should take internal communications seriously. Experts on public affairs together with colleagues from human resources department find the best ways to congratulate team members with holidays, express gratitude for their tireless work and celebrate professional anniversaries.

15. Acting as organization’s spokesperson

PR professionals know their organizations inside out. This makes them perfect public figures. When CEO isn’t available for an interview, or simply doesn’t want to speak with media, communicators step up and offer themselves as experts. I’ve heard people say PR isn’t the right path for those who want fame. In reality, it’s always up to you. Some specialists choose to remain in the shadows while others give lectures, write opinion pieces and provide commentary for journalists. If it’s not against corporate policy, communication officers act as another powerful voice of the organization, reinforcing its promotional efforts with a wealth of their own ideas and knowledge.


About the author: Anastasiya Shyrina is the Founder and Chief Editor at PR Wiz, professional blog for Public Relations practitioners, and Communications Officer at The American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, international business association.  You can follow her via Twitter: https://twitter.com/Nastya_Shyrina and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anastasiya-shyrina-silichenko-04749863/

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PRoust Questionnaire: Kim Blanchette http://www.prconversations.com/proust-questionnaire-kim-blanchette/ http://www.prconversations.com/proust-questionnaire-kim-blanchette/#comments Tue, 09 May 2017 14:34:19 +0000 http://www.prconversations.com/?p=8960 The PRoust Questionnaire provides a quick insight into a public relations practitioner’s interests and point of view, as well as her or his professional beliefs and values.

If you are not familiar with the original 19th-century Proust Questionnaire, please see details at the end of this post.

PRoust Questionnaire answers from Kim Blanchette:

What is your most striking characteristic as a PR practitioner?

Can I have two? When under pressure, I can jump to tactics. I recognize this is wrong, but sometimes I move into “get it done” mode. (I try to remind myself to step out and look at the bigger picture.)

However, on more than one occasion, I’ve been told my very loud laugh is quite distinctive.

What is your principal fault as a PR practitioner?

Can I have two? When under pressure, I can jump to tactics. I recognize this is wrong, but sometimes move into “get it done” mode. (I try to remind myself to step out and look at the bigger picture.)

As well, I can take it personally when my advice isn’t heeded. That’s ego, I know; it’s something I’m working on.

What is your favourite occupation in PR?

Whatever I’m doing at the time. When I worked in media relations, it was all I wanted to do. Next, it was internal communications, and I loved that area, too. Speech writing. Strategic planning…. Currently my team and I work at the strategic level, and we’re heavily into research and measurement. I’m really enjoying that focus.

That’s the great thing about PR: No two projects or roles are the same, so you are always learning something new.

Why do you work in PR?

The reason is linked closely to my answer above. I get to do so many different things—event planning, writing, research, media, employee engagement, digital and social media. For someone with my attention span, getting to do so many different things keeps me engaged. However, the real reward is in seeing the impact my related work has on organizations and the value that PR brings in helping to build and maintain relationships.

What is your idea of PR nirvana?

Hmmm, tough one. This may sound pandering and cheesy, but it’s right now, working with my team at the Alberta Energy Regulator, as well as the opportunity to volunteer as an executive with the Canadian Public Relations Society. Not only do I get to see the best of our profession in action, I get to be a part of it!

But, I have to admit, I’d give up this current nirvana if Disney came knocking.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery in PR?

Working for an organization that sees your role as a “spinner” (or a news release factory), with no input into the organization’s vision or goals. This would mean being unable to integrate things like the Melbourne Mandate or the CPRS Code of Professional Standards into my work.

What qualities do you most admire in a PR practitioner?

The same qualities we all want in our team members and external colleagues: A commitment to their roles, understanding purpose, respect for others, dedication to initiatives and tasks, and a sense of humour and the ability to have fun.

Excellent communication is key to our profession, and good writers always attract my attention, as well as help me strive to improve my own writing.

What qualities do you most dislike in a PR practitioner?

I dislike those practitioners with a sense of self-importance, as well as people who are incapable of accepting change. Oh, and anyone who treats others as lesser beings and thinks a specific task or assignment is beneath him or her.

Who would you describe as a PR hero or villain?

I have more than one, but as they are true heroes, they wouldn’t want to be mentioned by name. These leaders believe in the power and value of public relations. As well, executives who don’t consider PR as the “last step” in an organization’s work, but rather the first one.

When a leader puts the organization’s relationships first, understands the value of public relations in building those relationships, and doesn’t relegate the profession to one of “spin,” that person is my PR hero.

What do you most value in your professional contacts?

The diversity of knowledge and experience of my professional contacts (both through employment and association volunteer work) is impressive. I also appreciate the sense of community. My professional contacts and colleagues are generous with their time and talent, and are always available to provide advice or information. They set examples I hope to follow.

Have you ever been influenced by a PR campaign?

Many times—I am their dream audience member! I cry at the commercials, I donate to the cause and I am a sucker for a “call to action.” Most recently, it has been the amazing PSA campaigns targeting distracted driving, especially due to smartphone use. I admit, in the past, to being an occasional “‘glance,” but now I’ve completely cut out all smartphone use in my car and it is due to the relevant PR campaigns to which I was exposed.

Where would you most like to practise PR?

Disney headquarters. Seriously. But I do consider myself very fortunate to practise public relations in Canada, as I’ve had opportunities to work for governments at the provincial and federal levels, and my various roles have meant opportunities to practise PR around the globe. Representing my country abroad has been a huge honour.

Has a novel, film, play or other work of fiction ever influenced you as a PR practitioner?

I’m not sure I’ve been influenced by any work of fiction overtly, but there is a line in the book Primary Colors, by Joe Klein, that struck me. It’s where the main character, a political staffer, is accused of having “TB” (or “true believerism”). In various positions, I’ve been prone to TB, whether in economic development, working to commemorate the service and sacrifice of our veterans, or ensuring energy development is safe and environmentally responsible.

Who do you think has great public relations?

That’s a difficult answer to pinpoint because great PR always seems fleeting. I will offer that Canada as a country has good public relations, and a solid brand. When it comes to specific (international and national) organizations, the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières‎ come to mind.

Which real, historical or fictional person or brand would you like to give a reputation makeover?

I find this question difficult to answer because we know (or should appreciate) that public relations can’t fix an underlying problem. One organization I think could benefit from a current “do-over” would be Nestlé Canada and the issues arising with its strategy to secure continued access to inexpensive well water rights in Wellington, Ontario to bottle and sell it. I think that while the “partnership” approach it is seeking may address issues Wellington (and area) residents have raised, this global company could have avoided months of controversy with a different approach.

Who is your favourite writer?

It depends on circumstance. If I’m at work, I’m reading Simon Sinek or Jon Ronson or just about any article published in the Harvard Business Review. I just finished Wab Kinew’s The Reason You Walk and loved his book.

When I am on vacation, reading is my escape, so I turn to fiction, usually Nora Roberts, J.R. Ward or Karen Robards.

What one thing is essential to your PR life?

I’m deeply interested in what’s going on in the world outside my field or specific sector, and find it shocking when PR colleagues says they don’t follow the media—I do hear that! Understanding the social, economic, and political environment around you is crucial, so staying current on local, national, and global events is essential to me.

Groucho Marx is quoted as saying he’d never join a club that would have him as a member. Which PR club, association or tribes do you belong to—and why?

The Canadian Public Relations Society—because it provides so much more than networking. From professional development to accreditation, CPRS has been an important and necessary part of my career. I also belong to the Market Research Intelligence Association, which I believe helps me better understand how research and data analytics helps drive effective public relations.

Where do you most like to do your professional networking?

It depends on my mood. I’m an extrovert, so I appreciate face-to-face events such as seminars and large conferences. Lately, I’ve been enjoying intimate discussion groups more and more, especially as my schedule gets more hectic.

What’s the best career decision you ever made?

Becoming accredited in public relations. Achieving my APR from CPRS made a huge difference in my confidence and in how I was perceived by non-PR colleagues. At the core, earning my APR changed how I practised public relations and it definitely made me more disciplined.

What skills and abilities do you think tomorrow’s PR leaders need?

I think the fundamentals remain the same as today: The ability to provide strategic counsel, and excellent writing and storytelling skills. I believe what is changing is the need to focus on data and measurement of programs and campaigns. Sure, there is a link to return on investment (ROI), but it goes beyond that.

Increasingly public relations is rooted in research, data analysis and measurement; future PR leaders need to be ready to respond with related answers.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Aside from the talent to play an instrument, I dream of having more abilities that are creative. For example, the ability to draw or graphic design—it would be great to depict, visually, what’s going on in my head! It’s likely that’s why I focus on storytelling, to try and draw pictures with words.

How would you like to end your PR career?

Sigh, I turned 50 this past year, and I’m trying to avoid this question. I think when I am ready to slow down—I refuse to say end—I’d like to do more in-depth writing projects or perhaps some consulting or teaching.

How would you describe the current state of public relations?

I’m so excited about where public relations is right now. When I meet or hire new practitioners and see how much they bring to the table, I’m convinced this translates to fantastic opportunities to improve our profession overall.

My son, Andrew, works in public relations and I’m fascinated by his perspective; this is not just about the current state of the discipline, but on where he believes we are headed, and the importance placed on strong PR leaders in the development of the next generation of public relations practitioners.

What is your PR motto?

Well this year, during my term as president of the Canadian Public Relations Society, it has been #CPRSProud.

Normally I don’t have a specific PR motto, but I do have a quote on my whiteboard at work. It’s from a talk given by American General Mark Welsh where he says, “Leadership is a gift, given by those who follow.”


Kim Blanchette, APRFCPRS, is the vice president of public affairs for the Alberta Energy Regulator, Alberta’s single regulator responsible for the safe and environmentally responsible development of oil, oil sands, natural gas and coal.

Blanchette’s career in public relations spans close to 25 years and has included work at the provincial, federal, and international levels. From economic development and energy to international relations and commemorating the sacrifices of Canada’s veterans, Blanchette has had the opportunity to work in a variety of sectors at home and abroad.

Accredited in public relations (APR), Kim Blanchette is honoured to be serving as the national president of the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS); in 2016 she was inducted into the CPRS College of Fellows.

If her PRoust Questionnaire answers intrigued you, follow Kim Blanchette on Twitter or invite her to connect with you on LinkedIn.


The PRoust Questionnaire was originally designed to reveal one’s personality. Its name and popularity as a form of interview has roots in the responses given by the French writer, Marcel Proust. His first set of responses came at the end of the nineteenth century, when he was still in his teens (from an English-language “confession album”).

For PR Conversations we have adapted this original idea with questions that offer a public relations’ perspective. It is fun to compare and contrast responses as the series grows. (See PRoust Questionnaire.)

Earlier PRoust Questionnaire respondents:

Helen Reynolds

Gregor Halff

Tina McCorkindale

Andy Green

Sean Kelly

Helen Slater

João Duarte

Catherine Arrow

Stuart Bruce

Fraser Likely

Jane Tchan

Sean Williams

Al Clarke

Léa Werthman

Estelle de Beer

Don Radoli

Toni Muzi Falconi

Richard Bailey

Jane Jordan-Meier

Nelly Benova

Peter Stanton

Mat Wilcox

Anne Gregory

Markus Pirchner

Heather Yaxley

Judy Gombita

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Maximising resilience of health and well-being assets in crisis situations http://www.prconversations.com/maximising-resilience-of-health-and-well-being-assets-in-crisis-situations/ http://www.prconversations.com/maximising-resilience-of-health-and-well-being-assets-in-crisis-situations/#comments Mon, 01 May 2017 12:31:45 +0000 http://www.prconversations.com/?p=8963 A comment left by New Zealand PR consultant, Catherine Arrow, on a recent post on my personal Greenbanana blog indicated that the topic (the language of grief and a biopsychosocial perspective on mental health issues) was worthy of further investigation. The following is the result of our subsequent shared musings concerning the impact of crisis situations on the health and well-being of public relations practitioners. If you have any thoughts on this topic, we invite you to continue our conversation in the comments.

Heather Yaxley:  Catherine, you mentioned that communicators working to help others during and after natural disasters in recent years in New Zealand may be suffering the same effects as the people they are trying to assist, yet have to suppress their emotions, seemingly indefinitely, in order to get the job done. How do you feel that practitioners, employers, professional bodies and academics can address this concern?

Catherine Arrow: We do a great deal to educate practitioners on the practical aspects of managing a crisis but rarely do you encounter a crisis plan which addresses the need for support for people involved with crisis communication. Crisis response starts at the planning stage – well before anything actually happens and all four groups of people you highlight have a joint responsibility for the well-being of those involved.

As practitioners we need to build in support mechanisms to any crisis plans – not just for the communications team but for all those likely to be involved in the situation. In an ongoing crisis, operating on adrenaline for a prolonged period of time can be – and is often – physically and mentally harmful. And that’s just managing the process. Add to that situations where the communicators have experienced personal loss – be that loss of life, loss of colleagues, loss of home – and the need for both physical and emotional support is paramount.

When advising on crisis planning I always advocate for a support team to be built into the plan and available on call, either to allow frontline teams simply to rest or as additional ‘hands on deck’ to alleviate the load, and a debrief team that steps in to cover when the initial crisis is over to allow time for first-responder respite leave. Understanding that we are not invincible, equipped with Thor-like powers that allow us to keep going indefinitely is a first step. Trouble is, if you haven’t experienced a crisis you have no idea how exhausting it is when you start your plan. If that’s the case, for your own sake and the sake of your colleagues, talk to people who have been at the sharp end and listen to their experiences – not of how brilliantly they did – but how they, as a human being, coped with the physical and emotional demands during and after the event.

Employers have an absolute responsibility to their crisis team but the reality is that many employers are reluctant even to begin crisis planning on the basis that it is too hard, it’s tempting fate or it simply won’t happen. Or the crisis plan is siloed in some hidden corporate corner completely out of date. Obviously health and safety legislation varies widely around the world, so prescriptive suggestions of what could – and should – be done are not necessarily useful. It may be that practitioners highlight the issue during planning discussions, engage with HR or their leadership team. I am sure there are statistics somewhere that record the number of employees who stick around long term after a crisis has occurred and if there aren’t, then there should be. Research suggests that organisations that experience a crisis take between seven to ten years to recover (if at all). Perhaps convincing employers that ongoing post-crisis support, including counselling and respite leave, could be tied to such statistics so the cost of losing experienced staff members post-crisis is understood.

Professional bodies should have a crisis support register operating in the same way as a mentorship scheme, so that members coming out of a crisis management situation can access peer support from those who have weathered storms, worked on business continuation and all the other elements of post-crisis existence. At PRINZ, following the February 2011 quake, I initiated an informal support register that offered basic equipment, volunteer communicators, accommodation – anything that members were able to help with in the awful aftermath. It was fast, informal and matching practitioners to need lasted only a few weeks but it was a small something from the professional body – and a something that I would like to see improved and formalised ready for next time. The addition I would make today would be resources for long term post-crisis support.

Again, I don’t know if research has been done, but as a profession we should be aware of, and document, incidences of PTSD that have arisen post crisis along with other aspects of individual health and well being. Last month, I was delivering training in Christchurch (still rebuilding six years on) and had a discussion around the word ‘resilience’. For the most part, people were sick of the term – building resilience, demonstrating resilience, being resilient – there was real resilience fatigue. Yet the capacity for resilience is something we need to examine. When pilots learn to fly, doctors to operate and astronauts reach for those stars they all undertake many simulations before moving on to the real thing.

I don’t think we do enough to prepare practitioners for all aspects of crisis management and (here’s where the academics come in) specific research on effects of crisis management on practitioners, maybe those stats I mentioned, and an examination of the personal traits necessary to deal with a crisis (and maintain resilience without long-term mental health problems ensuing) would be a start. Professional bodies through continuing professional development, universities and organisations themselves should run their crisis drills as simulations regularly – not just leave it as a document. At the very least develop a programme and run it through a headset – virtual preparation would give valuable insights into all aspects of the plan – and how we cope as individuals.

Heather: I’d like to talk about a couple of aspects from your insightful response. The first picks up on your mention of resilience and also the importance of integrating support mechanisms within crisis planning. Second, I’d like to consider more the notion of superhero status in crisis management. The two are connected, but I’ll start with resilience.

I like the concept of salutogenesis developed by Aaron Antonovsky where there is a focus on how people view a stressful situation (termed sense of coherence) and the resources they are able to deploy towards maintaining mental health (termed generalized resistance resources GRRs). [See: The Handbook of Salutogenesis by Mittelmark et al (2017).] The diagram below highlights a number of relevant ‘assets’, many of which I’ve come across within the career literature where the concept of resilience is also discussed.

One of the problems for me, though, with this focus is that it is almost entirely on individuals’ ability to adapt and their ‘internal local of control’. Public relations seems to reflect a largely individualistic perspective with little attention on systemic or structural factors and forces. My argument supports your points, that individuals need wider support. However, I’d like to see this in the form of practices such as collaborative communities of practice and what Yrjö Engeström calls negotiated knotworking.

Of course, such support networks need to involve those who are educated or at least have knowledge as well as experiences that can be drawn upon. I’d suggest that this peer-to-peer group approach can supplement more formal training and mentoring as you suggest. I envisage that employers, universities and professional bodies could perhaps facilitate such groups, but these need to remain fluid and driven by participants rather than being rigid and institutionalised. Their strength lies in their temporality and helping people to address particular individual or shared learning needs.

This leads me to my second area that of superhero status in crisis management – the Thor-like powers that you mention. It seems to me that there is an enormous focus within public relations practice and scholarship on high profile crisis situations that largely affect major organisations or state institutions. These are accompanied by dramatic narratives where organisations are vilified as villains – often with the situation framed as a PR disaster – or as heroes when crisis management has been enacted in a way that is deemed by the media and other commentators as meeting their expectations.

This perpetuates the impression of crisis situations as a high stake practice where only the ‘best’ PR practitioners are up for the job and receive high rewards as a result. It is probably no coincidence that major professional service firms (management consultancies and legal firms in particular) have established public affairs and PR divisions to offer crisis management expertise to clients.

I’d like to challenge this emphasis on the relatively rare type of crisis that generates global headlines and is truly a threat to the survival of an organisation/state institution and its reputation. In most of these cases the root cause of the crisis lies in poor procedures or management failures. Yet by acting as a superhero saviour regardless of the cause, public relations practitioners arguably absorb criticism and stress on behalf of the entire organisation. Surely we should be more realistic about the role of PR in such situations and where we can – and cannot – resolve underlying issues. Like most superheroes, we need to acknowledge our limitations.

Tying both aspects together, I advocate greater focus in public relations on routine incident management. The reality of PR practice is that the majority of practitioners encounter day to day incidents through which we develop capabilities in problem solving and management of acute stressful situations. If more emphasis and research was directed to investigating and discussing these less dramatic but more common situations, perhaps we would learn more to help develop resilience as an occupational asset. Less superhero power and more recognition of the strengths of professional practice perhaps?

Catherine: I’d not encountered Antonovsky’s concept before, so thank you for the reference. I’ll be looking at it closely but, at first glance, considering the ‘assets’, I would observe that while most practitioners I’ve met have all these assets in place, their daily working environment may, at any point, have drained or exhausted some of them so when a major crisis strikes (requiring superpowers) they are less able to deal with the subsequent events. This asset draining is equally relevant to all organisational employees and I wonder if it adds another dollop of workload for internal communicators and their role in the development of organisational culture and values, creating and nurturing an environment that doesn’t sap an individual’s assets.

I absolutely agree with the support networks you suggest and consider them to be a ‘missing link’ in current practice in many parts of the world. That said, the peers involved in the ‘peer-to-peer’ networks should undertake appropriate training and development so they can provide meaningful support and not succumb to rattling off war stories.

I also support your challenge to the crisis management stereotype that pervades our profession. The reality is that the majority of practitioners will navigate their careers without having to deal with the type of jaw-dropping crisis that dominates newsfeeds or natural disasters that devastate regions. However we all deal regularly with incidents, ranging from minor to critical. Fresh out of the newsroom many, many years ago, the first ‘significant’ incident I had to deal with was a large pet snake lost in the plumbing network of a council tower block. It wasn’t a crisis but it was a significant incident (not least for the residents faced with the potential arrival of an unexpected visitor during their ablutions). It also raised and led to long term issues around the keeping of pets, warning systems (this was long before the internet) and other internal processes.

All organisations – public or private – will experience incidents of one sort or another. Well educated practitioners will be aware that the art to reducing the number of incidents means identifying issues and risks before they become incidents – or evolve into a domino set of incidents that topple over into a full-blown crisis. Minimising incidents allows the practitioner (and the organisation) space to work strategically and proactively to develop and sustain the relationships they need to keep their licence to operate – rather than seeing that licence gradually eroded by regular incidents. That is the real superpower.

I would argue that relentless regularity of incident intervention is a major ‘asset-drain’ that leaves practitioners exhausted and demoralised, to the point where they move jobs or even careers, experiencing significant personal loss. Research and training needs to address not only the ‘how to’ of dealing with incidents but also equipping people with the skills they need to identify issues, manage risk, and action the necessary mitigating steps within the organisation, even when leadership teams resist such action – which is probably another conversation.

Returning to your point concerning resilience, some research into types of professional loss would, I think, be helpful in identifying which of the assets require strengthening to deal with varying states of grief that may follow the loss of a job, a colleague, a client, personal identity and self esteem following redundancy or restructuring – it is a pretty long list. The language used in the workplace to address loss is another part of the puzzle. Where do organisational support structures, say HR, operate and what part should internal communicators play? Not necessarily providing direct support but, as communicators, advising and helping HR, or whoever it may be, choose and apply their language with greater care?

Heather: The idea that acute crisis situations – and more chronic incident interventions – can be asset draining is fascinating. What it suggests to me is that instead of labelling individual practitioners as either resilient or not (in an absolute fashion), we can start to think about maximising the resilience of assets for health and well-being. These may, therefore, be accumulated through training, experience and other learning methods, and dissipated by stressful situations if they are not maintained and protected by individual, collaborative and organisational capabilities as we’ve discussed.

So rather than seeing these assets for health and well-being as inherent characteristics or personality traits that are sought during recruitment (trait theory is a rather dated career concept), they can be viewed as a form of capital. Indeed, I’ve found this line of thinking in a WHO report from 2012 (http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/170078/Is-Social-Capital-good-for-your-health.pdf). This talks about enabling and supporting people to achieve their full potential whereby:

“Assets for health and well-being should be taken into account as an important element in an innovative approach to translate this vision into action” .

Further, it argues that assets-based initiatives can promote self-esteem, resilience and coping skills. Research finds that enhancing individual social capital (concerning networks, norms and social trust) not only improves personal health assets but in turn contributes towards higher social capital at the community level. This reference to social capital supports your observation of the ‘superpower’ required by public relations practitioners (and their organisations) to work strategically and proactively to develop and sustain key relationships.

Consequently, yes, I agree with you entirely that a research project would be valuable to investigate these matters further. A literature review within other professional fields would be a good start to inform primary research into assets for health and well-being and their potential loss by public relations professionals in a range of circumstances and situations. It would be fabulous if such research could include an ethnographic approach.

Beyond this focus on public relations practitioners, I concur with your thinking concerning how additional research relating to languages of grief (loss) within corporate communications (internally and externally) would be valuable. Combining this with a relationship perspective that incorporated listening could help demonstrate the value of public relations – within which I include internal communications/relations – in addressing a strategic issue that is going to be of increasing concern to organisations as part of their corporate responsibilities.

I wonder also if there is not a wider societal dimension here too. Governments and civic society institutions are concerned about rising incidents of mental health issues and their impact particularly on specific sectors of society. This suggests a further strategic role for professional communications (including listening and relationship building) that could be evidence-based and realise a range of benefits for individuals, organisations and wider society.

If you agree that we have the makings of a really interesting project here, how do you think we could go about developing these ideas further?

Catherine: A good starting point would be to have the ideas discussed in more depth. Two events came to mind where perhaps our discussions could be taken beyond this conversation and into some action. One is the Mind the PR Gap conference in the UK on 12 July (bringing research and practice together). The other would be the 2018 GA Research Colloquium in Oslo that generally runs just before the World PR Forum. In the meantime, I’d love to see some PR association working parties taking a look.

There is absolutely a wider societal dimension to this and it also links to leadership, employee engagement as well as public relations and communications. Asset stripping in the corporate world is commonplace and recognised as a legitimate activity. What is seldom recognised – if at all – is the ‘asset-stripping’ of employees, generally thanks to poor leadership or bad management. I can think of numerous instances of leaders (and leadership teams) driving their employees to the brink of breakdown and beyond, eroding (if we go back to Antonovsky’s salutogenesis) coping, coherence, optimism, connectedness, empowerment and quality of life to highlight just a few. Failure to recognise and reward employee value has catastrophic consequences not just in terms of personal asset erosion but basic human need (as determined by Max-Neef’s Taxonomy of Human Need, which I prefer to the old Maslow hierarchy).

I’m thinking here of three examples I’ve encountered this week.

  • Danielle Tiplady, the nurse interviewed by the BBC who loves her job, wants to do it but simply can’t afford to do it and meet basic needs. After the broadcast, she has become the subject of media vitriol because she is a Labour supporter and campaigner. Two strikes at her empowerment here – one from the pay cap and one from right-wing media outraged that she should be speaking out at all.
  • Another example – Sarah Hope, knocked down by a bus driven by someone with road rage, whose attention has turned to campaigning for better treatment of staff so they are mentally and physically ‘fit’ to drive.
  • Then there’s the ‘chasm that exists between upper management and the staff‘ at the Tate galleries where staff have been asked to contribute towards the purchase of a sailing boat for the outgoing director.

An exercise I run on my leadership development sessions is the ‘build-up/put-down’ slot. Generally everyone emits a little (or a loud) gasp as they analyse the times when they have eroded or chipped away someone’s core strengths and values, not because they are mean and nasty bosses, but because it can be done so easily and without even realising it’s happening.

For example, there’s Molly, over in PR, runs events brilliantly so gets turned into ‘the fixer’, overloaded with work that she isn’t actually employed to do. She responds to the orders and demands but gets behind in her ‘real’ work, leaving her feeling out of control and not coping. Working longer hours in a bid to catch up, her quality of life suffers and gradually she becomes exhausted. She misses some key issues and then suddenly a crisis hits the company – can she cope? Probably not – and if she does it will be at even higher personal cost. Add to that she’s paid 20% less than her male colleagues and the whole thing’s a recipe for disaster.

Your initial post about the languages of grief struck a chord with me for many reasons but perhaps the main one was this. Our world has shifted on its axis this past twelve months, tilted by the language of division, hatred and isolationism. For their own reasons – mostly self-interest – the fear mongers have done their best to separate people from one another. This fear, suspicion and polarisation affects all of us, whether we are building relationships in our neighbourhood or in global corporations. It instills a feeling of grief, of loss, of despair – an intangibility of disruption. Operating ethically and fairly in a post-truth, alternative-fact, opposition-shaming world is going to be quite the challenge for our professionals. And they’re going to be needing some support.


Catherine Arrow can be found via Twitter at @Caanz and Heather Yaxley is at @Greenbanana.
Their respective personal blog sites are: http://inconversation.typepad.com/prfromthebeach/ and https://greenbanana.wordpress.com/

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Home sweet home – return to blogging, address well known http://www.prconversations.com/home-sweet-home-return-to-blogging-address-well-known/ http://www.prconversations.com/home-sweet-home-return-to-blogging-address-well-known/#comments Thu, 27 Apr 2017 09:38:23 +0000 http://www.prconversations.com/?p=8924 It has taken rather a while to unpack all the boxes, redecorate and invite you round for a house blog-warming party chez PR Conversations*. We trust that our return to posting is good news as we’re ready to converse again with our usual sassy attitude.

During our blogging hiatus, Judy Gombita has kept up the PR Conversations action via our hugely successful Twitter micro-blog. That’s why we’ve included its feed as a major element of the updated design here.

The site now has two principals, myself and Judy, after our previous Techster, Markus Pirchner, decided to refocus his life. We are hugely thankful for all his support since the Redux version of PR Conversations was launched in 2010. I’ve taken over the hosting, so any technical glitches are now all my responsibility.

What can you expect now we are back? Probably much of the same as before (see About), but we will be experimenting with some new ideas and approaches to stimulating conversations. We will also unpack our wonderful back catalogue of posts for topics and insight as we’ve some fantastic heirlooms lurking in our Seasoned Posts and Classic PR Conversations.

We know that commenting on blog posts isn’t as popular as it once was and indeed the nature of blogging itself has changed much over the past ten years. Originally launched in Spring 2007, PR Conversations broke new ground by envisioning and introducing an international, collaborative PR blog concept under the initial guidance of Toni Muzi Falconi who had founded the original root-blog (tonisblog) sometime around 2005..

In 2010, Toni stepped back to allow the new Redux version of the site to develop. After a further five years, and nearly 600 PR Conversation posts, we refreshed the look and feel, but continued to offer a platform for informed discussion, where a wide variety of voices (including Toni’s) have conversed about public relations in a global-local context.

When Markus let us know of his decision to retire from PR Conversations, I agreed to take on the technical side and give the site another facelift. I confess to being tempted to redecorate with a contemporary creative storytelling theme featuring multi-slider, visually gorgeous Parallax visual effects and scrolling devices. But as you can see I have resisted the urge to go all hipster trendy with the design.

Our focus as ever will be on considered and engaging long-form writing that we believe offers something different to other blogs. We like to champion ‘other’ voices and bring an irreverent sense of fun and critical insight to online debate about public relations.

We aren’t about click-bait, sucking up or jumping on band-wagons. We’re not in the blogging business to make money, promote others’ marketing content or attract the unwanted attention of PR spammers.

We are about being innovative, imaginative and influential. Most of all we want PR Conversations to be relevant and thought-provoking. And, as we’ve said before, we are only as good as our loyal readers and contributors – so please feel free to join the conversation.

PR Conversations is focused entirely on original thinking. We welcome ideas that fit our ethos – but we are more likely to approach people we like or who have attracted our attention (in a good way) to write for or with us than to respond to generic pitches. Indeed, we have deliberately not included a contact us form or other easy way to get in touch on the blog.

We make no promises about frequency of posting, or indeed what we may write about. When we’ve something to talk about, we hope you’ll join us in a PR Conversation. If you’ve something to say, we may even ask you to share your opinion with a fresh post. Or you’re free to tell us what you think right now in the comments… But be warned, pointless pitches posted in comments will be deleted!

* Note: Some of our pictures are lost in transit, so older posts may have a white space where a stylish image should be. We’re a bit busy to go through several hundred posts currently – so perhaps you’d like to imagine what is, or could be the illustration instead 😉

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We’re on the move http://www.prconversations.com/were-on-the-move/ Tue, 15 Nov 2016 16:55:03 +0000 http://www.prconversations.com/?p=8839 We’ve been a bit quiet – because we’ve been reflecting on the future directions of PR Conversations. The communicative landscape has changed significantly in recent years – and will continue to do so. So we’re making some changes. These include some ‘behind the scenes’ moving as the site will migrate to a new server. It will take us a little time to get everything sorted but once the movers and decorators have done their job, we plan to offer even more interesting and stimulating PR Conversations. After all, it’s not like there’s nothing much to talk about in 2016 from a public relations and communications perspective is it?

Comments will also be suspended on old posts for the time being – but do check back and talk with us soon.

Pop over to Twitter @PRConversations for our usual great shares and discussion there.

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Getting serious about the social science of public relations http://www.prconversations.com/getting-serious-about-the-social-science-of-public-relations/ http://www.prconversations.com/getting-serious-about-the-social-science-of-public-relations/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 16:30:44 +0000 http://www.prconversations.com/?p=8685 I often have email conversations with my PR Academy colleague, Kevin Ruck PhD. about public relations and communications. We have a shared interest in psychology (both being qualified at degree level in the discipline) and believe the social sciences have much to offer in our work. The following post sets out our latest debate – please add your thoughts in the comments below or join us in the Facebook group: Public Relations Community of Practice.


Heather: We both have an interest in psychology in relation to public relations and communications, and how research in areas of psychology, sociology, anthropology, and biopsychosocial science for example, offer ways of addressing many of the challenges facing organisations and wider society. My undergraduate degree was in psychology and I’ve often wondered about whether public relations should be more like occupational psychology in applying social science to our practice rather than focusing on communicative and relationship based skills. Do you have a view on this?


Kevin:  My first degree was also in psychology. I studied at the Open University in the late 1990s – they ran some fab summer schools back then! I think there are many aspects of psychology that apply to public relations and communication. Cognitive psychology teaches us a lot about how written and visual communication is processed and stored in the brain. Social psychology provides many insights into how groups of people communicate and behave. Psychobiology informs us about the intersection of cognition and physiology and may explain certain inherent communication styles. Occupational psychology has many crossovers with internal communication and employee engagement. Psychology is a very well-established and well-regarded occupation and this has been based partly on many years of solid academic social science research. Public relations does not yet have the same credibility. Although it does have a growing academic body of knowledge this has largely evolved separately from psychology. This is curious when there are so many obvious connections. Do you have any thoughts on why this has happened?

I could probably construct half a dozen or so propositions. I’m reluctant to look for historical reasons although interestingly there was close co-operation between the advertising industry and applied psychology research departments in US universities in the 1950s. Perhaps public relations closer association at that time with journalism/mass communication schools in the US was a reason why there isn’t such strong academic connection with the social sciences. In the UK of course, PR tended to start out in the post-1992 Universities which probably didn’t have roots in social sciences. But history doesn’t stop us developing theoretical underpinnings as a contemporary discipline. One strand of the growing academic body of knowledge is the socio-cultural perspective, emerging from the movement of critical scholarship that started in the 1980s. These academics have a more European sociological/philosophy lineage rather than the organisation or business studies basis elsewhere. However, both the established and emerging bodies of knowledge seem to equate psychology with persuasion rather than as a means of understanding and explaining human behaviours. How would you suggest integrating new thinking from psychology into practice and academia in public relations?


OK, let’s not get too distracted by why public relations has not collaborated with colleagues in psychology very much. As you say there are many possible explanations. Because I studied pyschology and management alongside working in public relations, I now try to integrate what I’ve learned from other fields into my internal communication teaching. This background may also explain my critique of public relations theory as being a bit insular. Professor Betteke van Ruler made a similar point at Bledcom this year when she said that public relations theory has ignored communication theory. If public relations has ignored psychology and communication theory then I think we have a problem. A key aspect of studying psychology that I think is worth highlighting is the emphasis on applied research. I recall having great fun doing social psychological observational research on Brighton pier during one of the OU summer schools. So, it’s not so much new thinking in psychology that I’d emphasise (although that would be great), it’s more the way that psychologists focus on robust research to develop theories and concepts that I think could be embedded into public relations education and practice. And by research I mean quantitative and qualitative research. An example of this is the way that our understanding of how campaigns to support people to stop smoking has evolved over the last 20 years. Many big hitting ‘fear factor’ campaigns had little impact until it was found that for ‘fear’ to work in this context you also have to provide people with easy to access support to take action. I wonder how much money has been wasted on public relations campaigns that were not properly researched or tested?


There are two points here that I’d like to pick up on. The first is insularity and the second is fun – both of which I’ll connect to your observations about research. I definitely agree that the practicality of psychological studies can be hugely enjoyable and rewarding. I did my dissertation on counting skills in pre-school age children (which was and still is under-studied compared to reading skills). The question wasn’t what the children did – although that is very funny to witness when they know numbers and understand the action of counting but end up reciting random figures with utter seriousness. The point was to understand why, and how this knowledge could then be used. To understand the behaviour that I encountered involved connecting it to psychological principles underlying children’s development, and coming up with further insight. In contrast, one issue I have with evaluation (which is essentially research) within public relations/communications is that it commonly lacks that connection beyond a basic linear presumption of effect (rooted in the AIDA model attributed to St Elmo Lewis from 1898). It also isn’t fun – it seems something the industry feels it has to do to be viewed as mature, strategic, professional – able to charge more money… Whereas actually understanding human behaviour (research), developing theory-led responses (that address root knowledge, attitude and behavioural issues), testing these (research) and evaluating the outcome (research), would be far more engaging, enjoyable and effective. This brings me to insularity – which again may relate to a lack of confidence in learning from other fields – and importantly in getting PR related research into journals, books and everyday knowledge within other fields. Even better, we should be championing and participating in cross-, multi-, inter- and trans-discipliary research within academia and practice (and across that ‘boundary’ too). In that way we stop trying to resolve every issue solely by communications – whilst being able to demonstrate how communications is a vital component in many (if not all) solutions. There is so much amazing research in all sorts of fields that would be of value in public relations and to which public relations could contribute. Do you agree, and if so, how can we start a movement?


I think you’re right about making public relations measurement and evaluation more interesting. The new AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework is a step forward in making the process simple and easy to use as an online tool. However, public relations and communication measurement is a little too obsessed with channels and events rather than with applying psychological theories and knowledge to communication and intended behavioural outcomes. Creativity seems to be more limited to content and tactics rather than research and problem identification. Perhaps research is associated with data and numbers which is seen as nerdy or boring? As I write this I’ve been reading the Psychologist (August edition) which is the British Psychological Society (BPS) monthly magazine. One article is all about storytelling and the use of heroes and villains. It suggests that ‘literary Darwinism’, which attempts to view fiction through the lens of evolutionary theory, might be a useful way to understand the power of storytelling. The article explores how storytelling has been used to change perceptions for the better – something that could be considered by public relations academics interested in organisational reputation. I’m not suggesting that this is a theory that should be applied in public relations and communication practice. Personally I’m more interested in how organisations engage with stakeholders rather than manage their reputation. The point is that there are theories in other disciplines that can be considered (and critiqued) that have potential applications in public relations and communication research and theory. By the way, on the subject of storytelling, I recently came across this interesting research into digital storytelling (see: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/398027/). This relates to your point about participation in cross-, multi-, inter- and trans-disciplinary research. Having suggested that this is an issue, I think we should probably test this thinking out with academic and practitioner colleagues – so practice what we are preaching about research – and then, if our thinking is validated, see if anyone wants to join us in forming a movement.

 

 

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There’s no place for women at the top of the edifice http://www.prconversations.com/theres-no-place-for-women-at-the-top-of-the-edifice/ http://www.prconversations.com/theres-no-place-for-women-at-the-top-of-the-edifice/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 10:59:55 +0000 http://www.prconversations.com/?p=8665

It seems like the one voice that’s been silenced in the gender diversity debate is that of Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts. Since his controversial interview with Business Insider UK, many people have shared their thoughts via social media, blog posts, articles and interviews. But not a peep from Roberts who ‘has been placed on leave’.

One wonders where the public relations executives at Saatchi were during Roberts’ interview.

Did they set this up? What was the original intention of the interview? Presumably it was to talk about his new book64 Shots: Leadership in a Crazy World (more on that below).

Was no-one from the PR team in the room when the interview took place? If not, why not? If that is the case, presumably he was felt to be sufficiently experienced to manage his own media relations.

Surely senior executives had discussed and agreed a public relations strategy following the “class-action gender discrimination lawsuit” at the Publicis Groupe’s MSLGroup PR firm in New York in May this year? Did Kevin miss that meeting?

Anyway, I’m sure Saatchi’s top PR people have been busy since – although there’s no sign of any public comment on the UK website, there’s a brief corporate Publicis Groupe statement on the global site: http://saatchi.com/en-us/news/statement-robert-senior/. I’m guessing that the notable space in the Global Leadership Team line up was caused by removing Roberts’ photo.

Global Chief Creative Officer (CCO), Kate Stanners, has belatedly done a recovery interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. And Saatchi’s CEO, Arthur Sadoun has emailed Publicis employees putting distance between the group and “the way Kevin’s remarks were expressed“.

I imagine that Kevin is at his ‘sanctuary’ in Grasser in the English Lake District – as the last post on his personal blog revealed his love for the area.

Anyway, I’m not that fussed about the online “sh*tstorm” and reactive crisis comms. It all seems a bit predictable and probably another 7 day wonder. Kevin is unlikely to return to his 16th floor office window overlooking the Hudson River in New York but will move off down a new career path, after cashing in stock options, golden parachute cheques and no doubt some wound-licking with old muccas.

Perhaps they’ll be laughing about the irony of the content of his latest book – evident in this Forbes interview back in June: The Radical Optimist: Saatchi & Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts On How To Lead In A Crazy World.

What I’d really like to point out though is that there was a nugget of truth in Roberts’ views about women and leadership. It the reason why I believe there’s no place for women at the top of the edifice. Here’s the quote that interests me:

If you think about those Darwinian urges of wealth, power, and fame — they are not terribly effective in today’s world for a millennial because they want connectivity and collaboration. They feel like they can get that without managing and leading, so maybe we have got the definition wrong”.

I’m not talking about what millennials want, nor whether or not women lack ambition, just want to be happy, need asking twice before accepting promotion, or are quite prepared to let lawsuits get the attention of the big bad (predominantly) white boss boys – or any of the other arguments in the flurry of debate that has ensued in the past few days.

And, yes it is good to see giant advertisers like Unilever claim they are dropping sexist stereotypes from their campaigns (not sure if this applies to belittling men as hopeless which many ads do).

The Guardian’s editorial got close to my point at the end of its piece stating:

Yet Mr Roberts may have hit on one truth. His model of leadership is no longer very appealing. Women do not like it, and nor, increasingly, do men. Leadership as a kind of military command, the peak of a hierarchy, belongs to a pre-tech age. Modern companies are likely to be non-hierarchical and cooperative, and much more likely to be ones where everyone can flourish.

I don’t agree with the final sentence here that companies have changed. And within society we still seem to have accepted, without question, the 20th century model of organisational structures as pyramids, with career ladder metaphors for climbing to the top of an edifice – literally in the case of Roberts’ sky scraping office location.

What Rosenbaum called the ‘tournament model’ favours those who ‘win’ early in their careers who then gain recognition and rewards that escalate as a result of winning in job battles. This can be seen in Sarah Kliff’s excellent post: The truth about the gender wage gap.

Her main point is about how time is valued in organisations – and that’s particularly true of advertising and PR agencies which count, and charge, every hour.

So structurally organisations – and society’s attitudes – are predicated on a world that no longer reflects the experiences, and needs, of many individuals and organisations.

We don’t need people to work longer hours, we need them to work more productively in those hours. We don’t need people to fight their way to tops of edifices – we need to topple the phallic symbolism and with it the notion of career ladders and pyramids, where the majority become career losers.

Because ultimately, we don’t just need to smash glass ceilings and let women grab that view of the Hudson River. We need to redefine what we mean by a ‘top job’ – and realise that successful businesses don’t just need one man (or woman) spurring on the troops with rousing Henry V-style battle speeches.

We can already see that the people wanting to be at the pinnacle of organisations (or countries) are increasingly dysfunctional. Or they are already mega-rich (from privileged backgrounds or fortunes accumulated as the spoils of career tournament battles).

We don’t need organisations where the majority of employees have poor working conditions, insecure career futures and an ever widening pay gap between them and those up in the clouds.

Organisations are built on the talent and labour of more than those around the boardroom table. So let’s tear down the edifice and stop looking for our place at the top of a narrow ladder of success.

Or we can keep muttering about inequity, silencing the dinosaurs, and replace those privileged white guys with the same fantastic beasts who just look at bit more like the rest of us.

UPDATE: Since writing and publishing this post, it has been confirmed that as predicted above, Kevin Roberts has resigned: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36963686 – The Daily Telegraph features his personal statement: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/03/saatchi-boss-resigns-in-a-blaze-of-management-speak-amid-row-ove/


Image: The Art of the Brick by Nathan Sawaya. See: http://www.brickartist.com/

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A communicator’s guide to mitigating the risk of greenwashing http://www.prconversations.com/a-communicators-guide-to-mitigating-the-risk-of-greenwashing/ http://www.prconversations.com/a-communicators-guide-to-mitigating-the-risk-of-greenwashing/#comments Thu, 14 Jul 2016 14:17:12 +0000 http://www.prconversations.com/?p=8607

Angela Barter, CPRP, a sustainable communication strategist based in South Africa, drew from her presentation at the Global Alliance’s World PR Forum (May 2016, Toronto) when writing A communicator’s guide to mitigating the risk of greenwashing

This is the first in a series of original, but WPRF2016-related, posts by presenters (from different countries) on PR Conversations

Over the past decade, the media and the internet have helped create global awareness about key environmental issues, creating a shift in attitude and behaviour change among consumers and investors.

Seeking value and deeper insight into a company’s long-term sustainability objectives and activities, attentive consumers and investors want to know that the company they are supporting is not profiting at the expense of the environment or people (such as employees or related communities). The “green” consumers and investors are so mindful and supportive of environmental related issues, that they will switch brands, even at a higher cost.

This change has prompted many companies to move towards sustainable and environmentally responsible practices, while also changing the way they communicate their environmental ethos and actions to stakeholders.

An unfortunate result is that some marketing (and communication and PR) practitioners promote environmental attributes or “green claims” by means of various media channels, often without any training in environmental processes and issues. Such poorly organised or inexperienced public relations efforts can create inappropriate or inaccurate green claims that mislead the consumer.

Even worse is this practice being construed as unethical under the label of “greenwashing.”

Defining greenwashing and its repercussions

“Greenwashing,” as defined by Greenpeace, is

The act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) describes “greenwashing” as,

The actions of a company, organisation or government, which promotes environmental practices, whilst acting in a way that is opposite or does not adhere to the claim.”

Sometimes “greenwashing” is not out of malice, but instead due to ignorance of environmental issues and environmental laws. It can also be a result of poorly conceived public relations efforts, which lead to the promotion of false or misleading environmental claims.

The repercussions of exposed greenwashing can cause:

  • irreparable brand and reputational damage
  • negative publicity; and
  • loss of stakeholder trust and investor confidence

Companies also risk facing a court of law if approached by advertising standard authorities in the countries they operate within, such as the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa, which warns against making general environmental claims such as “eco-friendly,” “natural,” and “green.”

Furthermore, the overuse of environmental claims also increases the risk of “green fatigue,” whereby consumers and investors could become disinterested in a company’s messages.

Mitigating the risk of greenwashing

So how does an organisation or its communication professionals go about mitigating the risk of “greenwashing?”

According to the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the true value of environmental claims and marketing rests on the assurance that the declarations are both credible to consumers and reflect a genuine benefit to the environment.

Organisations like Futerra and the American Federal Trade Commission (FTA) help guide companies by means of their Green Guides and Greenwash Guides. Terrachoice, an environmental consultant company (recently acquired by UL, “a premier safety science company”), produced 7 Sins of Greenwashing, which includes:

  • not telling the truth
  • no proof
  • irrelevant claims
  • vagueness
  • “better than” claims; and
  • the use of suggestive green imagery and self-endorsed logos
Stakeholder needs and wants

Stakeholders are seeking honest and responsive engagement with a company in terms of its sustainability initiatives.

Sustainable communication is not a “green spin” on tired old media releases. Instead, it is:

…a results-driven process that not only communicates a company’s environmental initiatives to stakeholders, but also builds proactive, interactive, responsive involvement and dialogue with stakeholders, creating and sustaining relationships that are interactive, consistent and based on honesty, openness and transparency” (E. B.Harrison, 1993 and J.I.Petts, 2000)

“Green” guidelines for communication success

Here are a few guidelines that could help you define your environmental communication messages:

  1. Ensure your environmental claims are based on a specific and genuine benefit or advantage to the environment and can be substantiated scientifically or by reasonable rationale.
  2. Use clear and understandable language, avoiding vague terms such as “eco,” “green” or “natural.” Also, refrain from misleading environmentally friendly imagery.
  3. Be factual, honest and truthful. Don’t imply environmental benefits or make irrelevant environmental claims.
  4. Ensure the communication is consistent with the company’s ethics and culture. For example, choose marketing materials that limit waste and are environmentally responsible.
  5. Be transparent—provide further information regarding environmental claims on your packaging, as well as through your website, your service department or call centre.
  6. Report on the right materiality issues—sustainability reports should go beyond legal compliance.

The codes of ethics of most national and international PR and communication associations make it clear when it comes to members’ obligations to ethical practices, maintaining integrity and accuracy, and not knowingly, intentionally or recklessly communicating false or misleading information. That is the case for the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa’s (PRISA) code of ethics.

Similarly, the Public Relations Society of America urges its members to:

Re-examine environmental claims to ensure claims are clear, grounded in facts, information and data; and are valid, reproducible and appropriate” (PRSA, 2009)

Moving beyond greenwashing

As communication and public relations professionals, we are in a unique position to shift consciousness and ultimately influence the behaviours, attitudes and perceptions through managing how, when and in what way we communicate.

To function as a key decision-maker and to play an appropriate role in terms of sustainability decision-making and communicating environmental initiatives, public relations practitioners are urged to gain a deeper understanding of both the local and global environment, and the underpinning ethics of a licence to operate.

Communicators should lead by example in becoming eco-champions, influencers and innovators using their immense power to influence behaviours, attitudes and perceptions to encourage environmental stewardship, and to contribute positively to our home, earth.


Angela Barter, CPRP, has more than 17 years of direct experience, and is a widely respected public relations specialist and sustainable communication strategist. She holds a PGD in environmental management from Stellenbosch University (South Africa). Barter is also a GCX qualified residential eco-auditor and carbon footprint analyst certificate. Angela Barter is a highly regarded public speaker at public relations and sustainability events, and has written numerous articles featured in a range of media, including her contribution to the Handbook of Public Relations (10th Edition) by Skinner, Mersham & Benecke. Her work in the field of sustainable communication is grounded in a solid background in classic PR practices and a sound insight into social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Angela Barter is a member of the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA) and a Chartered Public Relations Practitioner (CPRP). Recognised as an outstanding businesswoman with a Nedbank Regional Business Achiever Award, Barter is also actively involved in supporting local charities and contributing through her local Businesswomen Association (BWA) and the local business chamber.

Connect with Angela Barter via LinkedIn or Twitter. Alternatively, contact her by email.


Eco-friendly graphic accompanying this post created by Heather Yaxley.

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The dimensions of PR history: 60 x 75 x 94 x 350,000 http://www.prconversations.com/the-dimensions-of-pr-history-60-x-75-x-94-x-350000/ Fri, 08 Jul 2016 15:45:02 +0000 http://www.prconversations.com/?p=8581

One of the delightful developments from the International History of Public Relations Conference (IHPRC) and growing interest in the antecedents of the field is the publication of some wonderful books. In particular, two series have gone from strength to strength.

The first is the collection of scholarly texts edited by Kevin Moloney: New Directions in Public Relations and Communication Research. Their popularity among the academic community is such that the excellent Gender and Public Relations is due out in paperback on 31 July 2016; which I trust will encourage more PR practitioners to engage with the critical perspectives on voice, image and identity, that the books range of chapters covers. This series grew out of conversations between the publishers and Kevin at IHPRC initially, and subsequent ideas proposed by authors/editors who presented their work as IHPRC papers over the past seven years.

The second special collection: National Perspectives on the Development of Public Relations: Other Voices, edited by Professor Tom Watson offer an amazing array of authentic world-wide views of the history of public relations freed from the corporatist Anglo-American framework that dominated understanding of the heritage of the field prior to IHPRC unleashing an unprecedented interest among an expanding body of public relations historians.
The publication on 2 September 2016 of North American Perspectives on the Development of Public Relations, concludes the seven-volume series, which is accompanied by an eighth book offering hugely valuable essays on new and revised historiographical and theoretical approaches. Ahead of its launch, in our final PR Conversations History Week post, Tom reflects on his work in redefining the dimensions of PR history in 350,000 words.

From fruitcake to iced cupcake

Images of cooking are ‘front of mind’ when writing about my experiences in commissioning and editing a series of books on the history of public relations. First, I thought of a large fruitcake in which all the ingredients were placed in a bowl and mixed together. That was wrong as there would only be one large cake, and there are seven books in the series. Next, I weighed up enticing images of plates of Spanish tapas or an Asian meal comprising small piquant dishes. Finally, I settled on the home baker’s favourite, the iced cupcake. All are the same shape but every one is subtly different with icing and decorations, and each is hand-made.

So the history of PR can be expressed in an edible form. If only it was so easy. The seven books have a total of 60 chapters plus Introductions, Series Preface and Indexes. Making 60 cup cakes takes few hours. Seven books have taken 27 months.

Proposal

The editorial journey began in July 2013 when I first discussed the book proposal with the publisher, Palgrave Macmillan. It was to be a different approach to previous histories of public relations, which, with few exceptions tell a repetitive story that PR was invented in the USA and introduced to the world. However, as scholarship has developed recently, the story of how PR appeared in many different forms has emerged. There is not one ‘PR’ but many. Also, I wanted the series to have a more authentic style with chapters from nationally or regionally based authors who eschewed the use of North American frames of reference in favour of local archival and oral history research.

The series was titled as National Perspectives on the Development of Public Relations: Other Voices. The books were, in order of publication: Asia (including Australasia), Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, Latin America and Caribbean, Western Europe, essays on historiography (the writing and theorization of history) and North America, to be published in August. Although there was some debate of the use of “Development” in the title, I considered that the PR sector in all its forms has developed in the past 150 years but not always in the linear, upward path that progressivist authors have claimed.

Authors

My next step was to recruit authors. Each book would have 10 chapters of 4000 words each plus references. There were also word counts for the editor in the Preface, Introduction, Index and other publisher information. For the North American Perspectives volume, the chapters were slightly longer at 4750 words.

Fortunately, I knew many potential authors personally or we had heard of each other. Others, such as in Latin America, had to be tracked down through friendly academics who knew someone who had met someone at a conference. In the first five books, there was at least one country for which there was difficulty in identifying the right person. The fastest acceptance was 10 minutes from dispatch of an email when a Singaporean author was looking at her computer around midnight and Skyped me immediately to discuss the project.

Editor role

As the series was to be written in academic yet readable English, and many authors were not native English speakers, the editor’s role was very important. Some authors had studied and worked in the UK, North America or Commonwealth countries but many relied on colleagues and translators when writing academic material.

It was an inter-dependent relationship. The standard of historical research and writing had to be of very good international standard, yet each book needed chapters submitted on time. So my relationship with authors was as friendly mentor and editor: firm when I needed to be but always encouraging.

Only one chapter was rejected outright. Despite two editor’s revisions, the author just wouldn’t accept basic academic standards of referencing to support assertions. Four other authors didn’t produce chapters on time, even after extensive extensions. Two of them just disappeared and no further email or other contact was received. Luckily, I was able to replace one elusive author with a regional expert academic who had written to me when he had read about the series’ first book.

Problems

Other chapters to cause surprise and “grief” included a European author who submitted a chapter without any references to support the story being told. As this person was the ‘expert’ on that country, their view was that no source material was needed. OK, I said, no sources means no chapter. After a tense wait with deadline approaching, references were added and the chapter accepted, but there was a strong chance that a replacement author would be needed.

Historians aren’t expected to be mathematical geniuses but some struggled with the 4000 word limit in the first five books. Submitted chapter lengths ranged from 3000 to 7500 words. Some Latin American authors were upset when told that 3500 words had to be taken from their chapter. I aided the process by proposing changes. They further edited the chapter and weren’t happy at the time but were pleased with the published result.

One chapter from Latin America illustrated the problems of thinking in one language and writing in another. I just couldn’t understand what the author was trying to say in parts of it. Fortunately, a Spanish academic was visiting my university and researching archives for her chapter for a later book in the series. If the text defeated me, she re-imagined it into Spanish sentence structures, which answered some questions. But some sections defeated us. My solution was to rewrite them and propose revisions to the author who, happily for me, accepted them with minor changes.

Although native English speakers should be very proficient, it wasn’t always the case. Some chapters needed as much work as those for whom English is a third or fourth language. That’s a teeth-grinding annoyance for editors.

The outcome of 27 months’ effort is that 94 authors wrote 60 chapters that include the histories of 75 countries in seven books, totaling around 350,000 words. And we are all on friendly terms. That’s a multiple achievement.


Tom Watson is Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Media & Communication at Bournemouth University in England. He is founder of the International History of Public Relations Conference and an active historian. The series that he edited, National Perspectives on the Development of Public Relations: Other Voices, is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

  • An earlier version of this article was published in Viestijat (viestijat.fi), the online magazine of PROCOM, Finland.

This is the fifth and final post in the PR Conversations inaugural History Week. See links below to all five posts:

Part 1:  Made by history – a book collector’s story by Heather Yaxley

Part 2:  The Museum of Public Relations – archives and artefacts under the gaze of Bernays (and Lee and Page and Byoir…) with thanks to Shelley Spector, and Adrian Crookes

Part 3: PR History – prospecting for archival gold by Tom Watson

Part 4: Conducting historical interviews in a transparent age by Heather Yaxley

Part 5: The dimensions of PR history: 60 x 75 x 94 x 350,000 by Tom Watson

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Conducting historical interviews in a transparent age http://www.prconversations.com/conducting-historical-interviews-in-a-transparent-age/ http://www.prconversations.com/conducting-historical-interviews-in-a-transparent-age/#comments Fri, 08 Jul 2016 11:23:21 +0000 http://www.prconversations.com/?p=8560

An important link between academia and practice is research. A notable difference is the emphasis within such research on methodological matters. This is a critical aspect of scholarship, but is commonly lacking in practice, particularly within public relations where crowd-sourcing exercises and publicity-oriented surveys may be viewed unproblematically. This criticism can even be applied to some research undertaken by professional bodies.

Methodology is of vital important in academic research studies, including those with a historical focus as I explore below in the 4th post in the PR Conversations History Week.

Historical research requires a more robust approach than simply telling stories or relying on personal memoirs. In my paper at this year’s International History of Public Relations Conference (IHPRC) I stepped outside my PhD topic (examining career strategies in PR) and offered a methodological focus. This considered four issues that I encountered in conducting historical research using the internet and social media.

Methodological matters should be of interest not only to academics and students, but to anyone conducting research.

The historical period in my investigation is 1995-2015, which was a time of notable growth in public relations. It can also be described as a transparent age, as a result of increased openness and sharing of information through online means.

My primary method of research was a series in-depth, oral history interviews with UK-based PR practitioners who have 10-20 years experience in the occupation. Additional archival research contextualised participants’ career experiences, and helped to identify wider structural career constraints and drivers.

As my paper will be included in the IHPRC proceedings in due course, I am not going to explain my research philosophy or go into further detail of the methodology and resulting arguments in this blog post.

Rather I’m going to present some advice drawing on the four issues that I encountered. In particular this addresses ethical and practical challenges that arise when using the internet and social media within a research methodology.

Issue 1: Being an insider

A researcher needs to acknowledge their insider status in relation to the topic of inquiry.

Social media means the researcher can be considered to be a “double insider” (Adriansen and Madsen 2009 p.145) in respect of  knowledge of the topic of inquiry, and  relationships with participants; in my case fellow practitioners in the occupation.

Even when participants are not already known to the researcher, today it is almost impossible to be a “wayfaring stranger” in the style of Studs Terkel (1975 p.8) when conducting oral history interviews.

Whilst social media is useful for locating, contacting and profiling participants, in turn, a researcher’s own online presence is public. The researcher is easily researched; open to examination both personally and professionally (including any existing work which is published online). This begins the process of creating the interviewer-interviewee relationship.

Indeed, people who respond to a participation request are likely to make connect through social media, particularly Twitter and LinkedIn. Interestingly, I found potential participants referred me to LinkedIn rather than appending a CV/resume to my profiling documents. This seems to suggest an acceptance of the research relationship having an online dimension.

Additionally, LinkedIn overtly indicates existing connections between the researcher and participants. As with other online information this enables both interviewee and interviewer to consider “commonality of experience” (Merriam et al. 2001. p.406), which can be helpful in encouraging participation. It also, however, brings a dimension of ‘insider-ness’ even before the two parties meet (my resultant interviews were face-to-face, but the same applies with Skype interviews as I found in an earlier part of my PhD research; Yaxley 2013).

Ethical challenges arise, as Saunders et al (2015) contend, from accessibility online of private as well as public information. This adds another insider layer to research relationships.

The stories we are told, how they are relayed to us, and the narratives that we form and share with others are inevitably influenced by our position and experiences as a researcher in relation to our participants (Greene 2014 p.1).

Blurring of personal and professional identities is recognized for PR practitioners (Bridgen 2011), who arguably are adept at managing their public persona. But they are not alone in potentially having multiple personalities or representations online. Researchers need to consider how such matters can be ameliorated in their work.

Issue 2: Being a bricoleuse/bricoleur

Reflecting Greene’s (2014 p.8) recommendation to gather “referential adequacy materials” to supplement interviews, I used an “eclectic process” (Kincheloe 2004 p.2) of archival research. This allowed for verification as well as contextualization of participants’ careers.

The new technological landscape engulfs information – digitizing, transforming, accelerating, flattening, pluralizing, democratizing, fragmenting, etc… a third orientation to knowledge flourishes, Levi-Strauss’ bricoleur: the improviser who can take pieces of disconnected material and forge them into something new (Papson 2013 p.3)

Such research involves bringing together disconnected materials from online sources, as well as in my case, physical archives and other sources only available offline. Acting as a bricoleur (Rogers 2012) means the researcher needs to clarify their method in interpreting online and other publicly available resources alongside interviewees’ individual and collective lived experiences.

Bricolage is a highly subjective and individual technique – particularly when involving online research.

There are a number of challenges working with the oddments that are often found online. Traditional systematic scholarship advocates recording and following lines of enquiry in a logical pre-determined manner. Online research is a more organic and ad-hoc process that can be harder to record or replicate.

Academic literature in different fields is starting to look at the nature of researching online materials – particularly the challenges and opportunities.

One interesting consideration is the shift from accessing artefacts such as books or magazines that have been reproduced in digital format, to artefacts that are created specifically for digital publication (such as websites). Additionally, such information is being generated in response to interrogation of underlying data sources. This may mean that research becomes even more individualised and fragmented.

There is also the matter of who originates and makes material available – and the role of search engines, indices and algorithms.

The bricolage approach means combining different sources, voices and stories – which again raises questions about how to craft these in a logical and verifiable way as findings, conclusions and recommendations.

The biggest challenge to online research is that you work with what you can find – and may not know what you didn’t find, what isn’t there or what was once there but is no longer available.

Traditional research was constrained by time, money and contacts in order to access data sources. The same applies in many cases online. The lack of robust archival underpinnings, however, can make prospecting for gold a difficult process.

Most importantly, we need to recognise, research and teach – robust online research skills. There is limited academic work on what such skills and methodologies should be – particularly where there is no underlying structure to what you are trying to discover. This contrasts with online literature systems which publishers underpin specifically for the purpose of interrogation (although they also have flaws in methodology as they tend to rely on quantitative rather than qualitative criteria).

Issue 3: Becoming rhizomatic

The fluidity mentioned above in relation to being a bricoleuse/bricoleur has led to the concept of rhizomatic learning in education.

In respect of online research, this can be viewed as a self-discovery process, whereby the researcher becomes rhizomatic through “day-to-day experiential learning” (Clarke and Parsons 2013 p.42).

Rather than being a researcher, online investigation offers a developmental process of becoming a researcher.

As such, in my work, I acknowledge that I am in the middle of the research process. But, once you start, where do you stop? It is a challenge to determine the end point. When have you discovered enough?

In terms of conducting interviews, rather than opting for an artificially set number of participants (commonly a multiple of 10), the notion of saturation is recommended. This means continuing until additional data offers no further illumination of the research topic. Should, indeed could, the same thinking be applied by rhizomatic researchers to bricolage research? Or is this type of research inherently “a social constructionist approach to grounded theory” (Charmaz 2008 p.397)?

When do we stop tinkering or adding new bits and pieces to our findings if researching online?

Also, being embedded in the investigative process as a rhizomatic researcher raises issues regarding how knowledge and meaning are constructed when “doing and making history as digital practice” (Mussell 2013 p.79).

There is little research or literature concerning these aspects, yet it is vitally important to develop some common or recommended approaches. Increasing numbers of students and practitioners, as well as academics, are using the internet and social media (including multimedia artefacts) for research purposes. Simply applying traditional methodologies or ignoring these entirely is clearly problematic.

Issue 4: Being visible – or invisible

A methodology involving contemporary techniques means the researcher needs to reflect on their role as a “a willing participant in a dialogical process” of research (Jones 2003 p.60).

The subjective involvement of the researcher is generally accepted within qualitative research, although the response may be to seek to eliminate or militate against its influence. I believe that we need to stop trying to be invisible in this respect, particularly when using online research, and instead, use approaches such as bracketing to address our involvement (the same applies to the role of commissioning organisations, funders etc).

Research visibility is increasingly encouraged in terms of open access of published academic research, and higher profiles for researchers through their personal and professional online presence.

Online visibility can conflict with ethical demands to ensure privacy, confidentiality and anonymity for research participants.

There is little literature or research concerning the difficulties created by increased online visibility of the researcher, the published work, and participants themselves. For example, linkages between what someone says in an interview, that may be anonymised in a published piece of work, can be connected by search engines to social media where the same words have been used by the research participant, rendering them visible.

Similarly, many participants are interested in the outcomes of research and wish for their role to be acknowledged. Saunders et al. (2015) focus on use of disguise and pseudonyms, as well as collaboration with participants over anonymity issues and potential challenges in ensuring this.

Additionally, the goal of research is essentially to offer new thinking and even original theory, models or changes to a practice area. I am hoping to do that in challenging some of the ways that we currently think about careers in public relations.

If such developments gain traction, a researcher may wish to use their initial work in new ways. It gains further visibility, particularly when cited or used by others. These researchers take an insider perspective to your work, they too are engaged in bricolage, act as rhizomatic researchers and enhance the visibility of not only the findings, but potentially those anonymised participants who can be outed by increasingly clever algorithms.

In my case, I have identified a kairotic element of qualitative time within careers through the development of an innovative aspect of my research methodology, the use of time-line graphical representations (see above photograph for illustration).

Kairotic thinking has the potential to affect how we view online career identity as expressed through LinkedIn, for example.

Researchers have to be meticulous in respecting the wishes of  research participants for confidentiality and anonymity whilst looking to discuss their research developments going forwards.

There are many benefits in conducting research (historical or otherwise), but the implications of being (becoming) a visible insider in a transparent age are under explored and often not even recognised.

At the least such studies should acknowledge the researcher’s role, engage with participants over their expectations of confidentiality, consider emerging ethical challenges and reflect on how outcomes of the research themselves are used online, particularly as these too become historical archive material.


Image: With thanks to Balint Brunner, via https://twitter.com/balintbrunner

This is the fourth and penultimate post in the PR Conversations inaugural History Week. See links below to all five posts:

Part 1:  Made by history – a book collector’s story by Heather Yaxley

Part 2:  The Museum of Public Relations – archives and artefacts under the gaze of Bernays (and Lee and Page and Byoir…) with thanks to Shelley Spector, and Adrian Crookes

Part 3: PR History – prospecting for archival gold by Tom Watson

Part 4: Conducting historical interviews in a transparent age by Heather Yaxley

Part 5: The dimensions of PR history: 60 x 75 x 94 x 350,000 by Tom Watson

 


References
Adriansen, H.K. and Madsen, L.M. 2009. Studying the making of geographical knowledge: The implications of insider interviews. Norsk geografisk tidsskrift-Norwegian journal of geography, 63, 145-155

Bridgen, L. 2011. Emotional labour and the pursuit of the personal brand: Public relations practitioners’ use of social media. Journal of media practice. 12(1), 61-76

Charmaz, K. 2008. Constructionism and the grounded theory. In: Holstein, J.A. and Gubrium, J.F. (Eds.) Handbook of constructionist research. New York: The Guildford Press. 397-412

Clarke, B. and Parsons, J. (2013) Becoming rhizome researchers. Reconceptualizing educational research methodology, 4(1) 35-43

Greene, M.J. 2014. On the inside looking in: Methodological insights and challenges in conducting qualitative insider research. The qualitative report. 19 (How to Article 15), 1-13

Jones, K. (2003) The turn to a narrative knowing of persons: One method explored. Nursing times research, 8(1), 60-71

Kincheloe, J.L. 2004. Introduction: the power of the bricolage: expanding research methods. In: Kincheloe, J.L. and Berry, K.S. (Eds.) Rigour and complexity in educational research: conceptualizing the bricolage. Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2-22

Merriam, S.B., Johnson-Bailye, J., Lee, M.-Y. , Kee, Y., Ntseane, G. and Muhamad, M. 2001. Power and positionality: negotiating insider/outsider status within and across cultures. International journal of lifelong education, 20(5), 405-416

Mussell, J. (2013) Doing and making: history as digital practice. In: Weller, T (Ed.) History in the digital age. Abingdon: Routledge, 79-94

Papson, S. 2013. Scholars, intellectuals, and bricoleurs. Arts & humanities in higher education. 0(0), 1-18.

Rogers, M. (2012) Contextualizing theories and practices of bricolage research. The qualitative report, 17(7), 1-17

Saunders, B., Kitzinger, J. and Kitzinger, C. 2015. Participant anonymity in the internet age: From theory to practice. Qualitative research in psychology, 12, 125-137

Terkel, S. 1975. Working: People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about it. London: HarperCollins

Yaxley, H.M.L. 2013. Career experiences of women in British public relations (1970-1989), Public relations review, 39(2), 156-165

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