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…