(Re)Shaping Societies: Global Tasks for Public Relations in the 21st Century

Global Tasks for PR: Defence, Diplomacy and Development is a must-attend one-day conference being held at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London on Monday 4th July from 9.30am to 4pm.

DDD logo FINALThe conference brings together strategic communicators working within civil society and academics to explore and discuss the role of public relations and strategic communication theory and practice in shaping emerging and existing societies.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Adrian Monck, Head of Public Engagement, World Economic Forum – Public engagement as a driver of change for good
  • Kate Ferguson, Director of human rights NGO Protection Approaches and PaCCS Research Associate with the University of Cambridge – Countering Violent Extremism Through Communication Strategies
  • Eva Grosman, Centre for Democracy and Peace-Building, Northern Ireland
  • Stephen Jolly, Fellow, Defence Academy

Other contributors include: Albany Associates, a consultancy specialised in delivering communication strategies in challenging and transitional environments; practitioners from the UK Government’s ‘Good Governance Initiative’; Dr Margalit Toledano and Professor David McKie, University of Waikato, New Zealand, editor and contributor to the forthcoming title International PR: Perspectives from Deeply Divided Communities; and Professor Ryszard Lawniczak, Military University of Technology, Warsaw, Poland who developed the concept of “transitional PR” in Post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe states.

Academic papers will be presented by speakers from: Sciences Po Paris, France; l’Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium; The George Washington University, USA; Paris Sorbonne University, France; University of the Arts London, UK; University of Bucharest, Romania.

Through a series of keynote presentations, individual papers and panel presentations, answers to some of these questions will be sought: what is the role of PR in public diplomacy or setting global political agendas? How are states using communication strategically to support military campaigns and how can PR be used to help stabilisation efforts in post-conflict countries?

Moreover, what impact do these applied examples have on issues such as social development, social integration, social justice and peace-building, international relations and soft power?

Book your place now:

Date: Monday 4th July, 206
Venue: London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, SE1 6SB
Time: 9.30am to 4pm

Tickets: £41 (non-UAL) and £31 UAL. To register go to: http://bit.ly/globaltasks

Call for Papers: Defence, Diplomacy & Development – (Re)Shaping Societies: Global Tasks for Public Relations in the 21st Century

Defence, Diplomacy & Development – (Re)Shaping Societies: Global Tasks for Public Relations in the 21st Century

Monday 4th July, 2016

London College of Communication, University of the Arts London

The aim of this conference is to bring together strategic communicators working in civil society and academics to explore and discuss the role of public relations theory and practice in shaping emerging and existing societies. In recent years some public relations scholars have adopted a sociological perspective on strategic communication. This view sees the discipline as actively constructing and structuring the world in alignment with a number of structural forces – often corporate, governmental or state-based.

Such theories draw on a socially constructed epistemology (Heide, 2009; Ihlen and van Ruler, 2009) through which strategic communications practice “produce[s] a common social reality” (Heide, 2009: 43). Applications of these sociological analyses have tended to operate either at a theoretical level (Ihlen et al, 2009) or from a distinct critical perspective, employing concepts such as discourse theory or adopting readings of public relations as a cultural intermediary (Hodges, 2006).

The aim of this conference is to move beyond studies of what could be considered meso-level activities, such as marketing or corporate communication campaigns (Ihlen and van Ruler, 2009: 3) to focus scholarly attention on, arguably, macro-level communications activity and the ways it is responsible for shaping the values and norms of societies.

In particular we are interested in understanding how the increasingly professionalised and globalised discipline of public relations (Freitag and Stokes, 2009; Gannon and Pillai, 2013) shapes emerging societies in post-conflict or transitional environments. To advance such interests we have devised three thematic strands for the conference:

  • Defence: how are the military and intelligence agencies using communication strategically to prepare for, manage and embed specific state-focused or governmental aims? For example, how are ‘information ops’ deployed to destabilise hostile regimes; how is public relations used to communicate with civilians in conflict or post-conflict zones; how can strategic communications be used for coalition-building among local stakeholders (politicians, tribal elders, aid agencies, etc)?
  • Diplomacy – what communication strategies adopted by governments or inter-governmental organisations, such as the UN or NATO, are used to achieve opinion or behaviour change? This could include studies of inter-governmental lobbying for policy or regime change; the role of social media in engaging civilians as part of ‘public diplomacy’ campaigns; how can strategic communication – both interpersonal and external – be used in negotiation situations, e.g. terrorism, back-channel diplomacy, peace negotiations, etc?
  • Development – how is public relations used by stakeholders in supporting social development? This could include direct public-facing activity by NGOs and aid agencies, such as in-region public health awareness campaigns, the use of public relations in lobbying for aid budgets and aid programmes. Also, what role does PR play in higher ideas around progress, social integration, peace and social justice.

Although these themes lend themselves to the ‘global tasks’ facing public relations, we are also interested in receiving submissions about public relations’ role in shaping established societal frameworks – providing they cover some of the main issues raised above.

We welcome submissions that adopt a critical as well as functional account of public relations in the above contexts. The overarching aim of the conference is to encourage collaboration and partnership between practitioners and academics to develop new thinking across the field. We encourage challenging and thought-provoking proposals from individuals, groups or organisations.

Special Issue of Journal of Communication Management

The best papers will be selected to go for review by the Journal of Communication Management who will publish a Special Issue in support of the Conference.

If you would like to submit a paper for presentation at the conference, please email abstracts (400-600 words) to prglobaltasks [at] gmail [dot] com. The deadline for abstract submission is 15th February 2016.

PR and the Visual: Post-event round-up

Last month the Network for Public Relations and Society hosted a one-day, international conference, Public Relations and the Visual: Exploring Identity, Space and Performance. The result was a great day of stimulating and challenging keynotes, discussion and workshops that started to shift thinking on PR towards some of the experiential ways the discipline impacts on the world around us.

The day opened with keynotes from Executive Creative Director at Brand Union, Glenn Tutssel and the Independent newspapers’ assistant and media editor, Ian Burrell, who highlighted PR’s lack of positive figureheads.

The morning session, ably chaired by the University of Bournemouth’s Dr Kevin Moloney, explored issues of identity within the PR profession and among PR practitioners. Murdoch University’s Dr Kate Fitch discussed representations of PR in popular culture, focusing on the way the industry is manifested in the US series True Blood. Echoing some of Kate’s interpretations of the discipline, De Montfort University’s Liz Bridgen offers a case for reading PR as ‘dirty work’ based on an analysis of the literature documenting how comparative ‘dirty’ industries are socially contracted.

The University of Wolverhampton’s Sarah Williams presented her own ethnographic study of the gaps between what PR professionals claim as ‘professional’ practice versus how they perform their role. The differences are striking and arguably highlight tensions within the ‘professionalism project’. Linked to this, but taking a much more critical perspective, the University of Leeds’ Dr Lee Edwards, outlined the ways in which the ‘PR competencies’ at work int he contemporary industry create bias against industry members from lower socioeconomic and BME groups.

The session was closed by an insightful presentation by Jon Priestly, London Director at consultancy Wolfstar, who outlined the way in which PR practice needs to focus on the visual aspects of communications to reflect the increasing demand for creative content.

After lunch the University of Cambridge’s Dr Scott Anthony chaired an intense session that broadly explored the spatial and experiential dimensions of contemporary PR. Beginning with case studies that had brought the built and spatial environment into PR campaigns. Unity’s Gerry Hopkinson discussed how they had created an physical ‘trolling’ experience using a London underpass while Edelman’s Gavin Spicer talked about their campaign for console game Halo 4 which saw them convert a corner of Liechtenstein into an immersive environment that brought the game to life.

Next Dr Noureddine Miladi from Qatar University gave a fascinating interpretation of how town squares and walls had been enrolled into strategic communication by pro-democracy activsts during the Arab Spring. Continuing this theme, Elon University’s Dr Jessalynn Strauss, presented an insightful paper on how the built environment, in the form of Las Vegas’ Mob Museum, forms a central pillar of the city’s PR activity to boost economic regeneration and tell a specific narrative of its history. Looking more g=broadly at the physical environment, Lund University’s Philip Young discussed the analogous ways in which PR and critical cartogrpahy can be read. Both are projects that seek to interpret and posit specific, often strategic, accounts of the world. What can PR learn from map-making, Philip asked.

Following on from the spatial environment LCC’s Dr Ian Horton gave an account of the under-studied role illustration and comic books have played in PR – particularly public engagement around social issues – while the University of Hertfordshire’s Nick Lovegrove presented his work on using design to critique BP’s use of corporate communications during the Deepwater Horizon crisis.

Where next? Well, there many fruitful discussions during the post-event drinks and it was broadly agreed that the visual and spatial dimensions of PR – especially given their greater material intrusion into the fabric of society – were largely understudied. General resolve was taken to continue pushing this agenda with specific actions to introduce such themes into the wider PR academic discourse mapped out.

Watch this space, as they say.

As a post-script, LCC has written this lovely blog post while The Crowd & I’s Charlotte Winslett, has created this great Storify…

Prof. Dean Kruckeberg Guest Lecture Review

The Network for Public Relations and Society welcomed Professor Dean Kruckeberg from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to London College of Communication, University of the Arts London on 15th May 2014.

Dean’s lecture, titled ‘Community-Building for Organizations Managing Change Using New Media’, offered a somewhat radical reading of community based on American nineteenth-century ecologist, Aldo Leopold, and proposed how public relations (PR) should adopt his theoretical framework to respond to the major, internet-led transformations that are happening across global societies.

Dean starts by offering a potted history of communication and communication infrastructure and the evolution of communities from geographical and social groupings to professional communities and into increasingly private spheres.

But, Dean argues, we now find ourselves in a much more revolutionary period driven by the internet. These are fundamental changes spanning political, social and economic fields. Brief examples are discussed:

  • Social factors – the shift from face-to-face to electronic interaction (but did this happen in early C19th with the telegraph or more recently with internet?)
  • Cultural factors – the rise of globalism and multiculturalism and associated tensions
  • Political factors – Dean cites the “tremendous importance” of power structures being flattened and new political power emerging from from unstructured and unseen sources creating major social changes and uncertainty
  • Economic factors – the internet offers us lots of information which is cheap to send and receive (and process, Id add).

So where, asks Dean, does PR begin to engage with these transformations?

His first argument is that we need to start with theories that encompass society and also look to frameworks drawn from the natural sciences. The idea of drawing on sociology or social theory is good but a field already being explored. The introduction of the natural sciences, however, is a new direction (as far as I know) and allows some interesting new routes to explore.

Looking to the natural sciences, then, Dean argues that social communities are truly ‘biotic communities’ – spaces where humans and nature (co)exist.

This argument is drawn particularly from Aldo Leopold’s work which focused on the “relationship of people to land”. Leopold believed there were no distinctions between humans and other elements of nature: human society is encompassed within the environmental ecosystem. Humans are part of the wider biotic community.

I would suggest this is, still, a fairly radical proposition. Although Dean argues from a natural science position some of the logical extensions of Leopold’s argument would surely bring us up against some of the core tenets of anarcho-primitavism – humans and nature living within “knowing, self-conscious communities”- or perhaps fit within Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic ontology or Latour’s networks of nature-human symmetry. This notion of an underlying flat ontology of society is even directly evoked by Leopold when he asserts: the “pyramid of life is low and squat”.

Again, echoing some of the wider concerns of Latour et al Leopold places the issues of technology and ethics at the heart of building sustainable communities. Science and technology, says Leopold, “should lead to wisdom” – that is, technology can a good thing in that it leads to an increased capacity for carrying human life, but if not used wisely and ethically will also cause problems which could destroy nature. As a result, “an ecological conscience is therefore the ethics of community life”.

This raised a tension for me: if Dean is arguing for the use of contemporary technology to facilitate the building of sustainable biotic communities as per Leopold’s vision, how do we square this with the ever increasing carbon consumption of the server farms integral to our cloud-based society?

The carbon footprint of social media aside, Dean argues that Leopold’s vision of building biotic communities through technology and based on ecologically sound ethics becomes a goal for PR. Moreover, if PR can establish this approach as a normative model to communications as community building, then PR can “restore and maintain the sense of community that has been lost in contemporary society.” No small claim!

Dean’s final argument returns us to the radical end of social theory. The current internet-emabled world makes the case for achieving a normative theory of community building more compelling: “public relations must embrace a holistic ecological community worldview as well as an “ecological conscience.””

That is, animals don’t vote and flowers are not considered traditional stakeholders, but they are all part of the biotic community. Taking this into account, Dean asserts that fundamental change is needed for the PR industry to adapt. PR practitioners must become ‘ecologists’ who can build and manage a holistic, biotic community of human and nonhuman ‘stakeholders’.

Call for Papers: Public Relations and the Visual

Myself and fellow colleagues/members of the The Network for Public Relations and Society have been busy planning our Summer conference over the past few months and we’re delighted to reveal the date and theme of the event and issue a call for participation as well.

Titled Public Relations and The Visual: Exploring Identity, Space and Performance, the conference is a one-day event being held on Wednesday 9th July 2014 from 10am-4.30pm at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London.

The aim of the conference is to bring together PR industry experts and academics to explore and debate the role of visual dimensions in public relations theory and practice. From media representations of PR professionals to branded spaces; issues of identity and performance, the conference will explore these and other visual themes from a societal perspective.

Participants will explore a variety of viewpoints to conceptualise the industry and debate new ways of thinking about and visualising practice. The overarching aim of the event is to encourage collaboration and partnership between practitioners and academics to develop new thinking across the field.

We welcome proposals undertaking an analytical and/or critical examination of the PR industry and practice focused on any aspects of the visual or representational dimensions of public relations. Submissions can be made by individuals, groups or organisations.

Moreover, we encourage challenging and thought-provoking proposals from both practitioners and academics that seek to critique existing areas of PR and help the industry and practice move forward.

The event will be led by two keynote speakers (currently being confirmed) and two broad themes each containing three debates will be explored in greater detail during a morning and afternoon session.

We are looking for academics and practitioners from a range of disciplines who are interested in presenting 15-20 minute papers covering some of the following areas:

Stream 1: Visualising the PR Profession

a) Public Relations in Popular Media
How is PR and its practitioners represented in fiction, television and film? What impact do these visualisations have on the way PR practitioners see themselves and the ways in which the public comprehends PR? Does this change professional and personal identities and the way practitioners behave?

b) Public Relations Identities
How do PR practitioners view themselves? What are their self-identities and how do these identities shape contemporary professional and personal practice? Moreover, what are the dominant and marginalised identities in PR and how do they shape the industry and the wider professionalisation project?

c) Visions of Future
With the boundaries between PR, advertising, digital marketing and search engine optimisation blurring at a frenetic pace what does the evolving landscape of PR look like? Is it possible to sketch a vision for PR practice in a digital world? What knowledge, skills and competencies does such a vision require?

Stream 2: PR as Visual Practice
a) Dramatising society: creating immersive environments
How can PR practitioners use theatre and performance as a communications tool? What role does creating new physical realities play in changing behaviour, beliefs and galvanizing word of mouth?

b) Branded spaces: PR as place identity and spatial communication
How can space be used as a PR tool? PR practitioners are used to creating and using exhibition and event space but what more can be learned about the way the built and designed environment creates narrative and discourse? How can this be used as a creative PR component?

c) Designing stories: PR as visual communications
How can the PR and design relationship be used to full effect? From traditional graphic design to poster and film; from comic strips to animation; how can visual storytelling be used to persuade, influence and stimulate relationships?

If you would like to present please email: s [dot] collister [at] lcc [dot] arts [dot] ac [dot] uk by 30th April 2014 to express interest in participating. Fuller papers and presentations will be due by 31st June 2014.

Let me know below if you have any questions!

Launching the Network for Public Relations and Society

Last week we held a small event to officially launch a new research network based out of the Public Relations department at London College of Communications, UAL. The Network for Public Relations and Society aims to explore – academically and alongside practice – the social role of PR.

This is an area which has received renewed interest in recent years from scholars addressing the discipline from a range of perspectives united by the view that PR operates beyond the organisation in making, shaping and influencing society. These directions extend the more dominant and conventional academic accounts of PR as a management discipline. You can see more about how we contextualise our research areas in the Slideshare below:

The event featured a presentation by myself and my colleague, Sarah Roberts-Bowman, and some short talks from the University of Cambridge’s Dr Scott Anthony and our colleague from Central St Martins, UAL, Dr Paul Rennie, on some of the historical aspects of PR.

Paul, in particular, gave a fascinating account of the role posters played in the early era of PR focusing on the work of the artist (and LCC’s first ever head of design) Tom Eckersley. An exhibition of Tom’s work was on display at LCC and after the event guests were able to see some of the ground-breaking visual communications work which Tom created for the GPO, RoSPA, Ministry of Information, Shell and others.

Our other speaker, Scott Anthony, provided guests with a revisionist history of PR practice in Britain based on his fantastic book form last year, Public Relations and the Making of Modern Britain. Scott began by discussing how, contrary to earlier histories of modern PR which locate the discipline’s origins at the feet of early – mainly US – C20th capitalists, modern PR in a British context was initiated primarily by a group of “idealists” led by Sir Stephen Tallents.

These PR pioneers, Scott suggested, were “Asquithian liberals” who began their professional life attempting to counter the sensationalist and alarmist information presented to the public by the early press barons. More ideologically, as he makes clear in his book on the history of the PR profession in the UK, Tallents and his network of film-makers, artists and designers sought to conjure up and ‘project’ a vision of a progressive Britain where democratic enfranchisement, improving living standards and liberal values were at the heart of a new and exciting Britain.

PR’s practical role is this project, Scott argued, was more than news management – the perspective from which PR is all too often understood and practiced as today. Rather, PR began as a socio-cultural endeavour drawing in cultural and artistic avenues such as art, architecture, design, film, posters. Moreover, these weren’t seen as “instrumentalist” delivery channels or media platforms, they were a core constituent of what it meant to communicate publicly.

And while much of this early PR activity was located and sponsored by big, state owned organisations – the GPO, BBC, London Transport and Ministry of Information are obvious examples – the “social mission” of PR, as Scott described it, extended to corporations, such as Shell, BP, Guinness, Gillette, too.

Referring to the aim of his book, Scott remarked that its sought was to “recover the history of PR” as a practice that really mattered – socially, as well as personally, to the early British practitioners. This neatly captures, too, the aims of the Network for Public Relations and Society.

Although time and society has been transformed since Tallents’ day – the state-owned industries have disappeared, the public service role of local authorities has all but been obliterated, the role of the ‘public’ has been displaced or lost in many areas of society and the media – there is a growing impetus, we believe, to renew interest in and scholarship of a range of areas related to the ‘social’ role of PR.

The specific aims and scope of the Network can be understood in more detail in the slides above but we feel that areas of particular interest include: the interpolation of social theory in understanding PR; the exploration of the social history of PR (in a UK and globally comparative context); the role of PR in communicating socially aligned, as opposed to corporate, narratives (such as through social change and activist campaigns) and the increasing rise of social media and the expansion of the social into hitherto unexplored domains of public communication.

If you would like to find out more or get involved drop me an email s [dot] collister [at]. lcc [dot] arts [dot] ac [dot] uk. If you’d like to be kept informed of developments please sign up to the Network’s mailing list: http://eepurl.com/Ljt-j

We look forward to hearing from you!