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David Phillips
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Thank you Michael. Very clear. Good to see the next generation PR covered in such depth.
This conference, which I could not attend except in Twitter and through blogs like yours Richard, is important for many reasons. In some ways it slays the dragons that had, for so long, held PR as the kidnap damsel held hostage. When I was in my teens I worked as a volunteer for an organisation. Its members met each week. We spend a lot of time on internal communication. We worked at getting our members to keep coming back. We listened to speakers, and listened to members and so we also ran dances and earnestly discussed the issues of the day (this before the Beatles and when most of Europe stared in terror from two sides of a wall in Berlin!). We spent a lot of our time inviting other people to join us. We had a life outside and were able to evangelise and encourage more young people to join with us and encouraged them (endlessly) to get involved. From time to time our press releases provided column inches in the Hunts Post and our 'letters to the editor' were published. One in a while, we took all these ideas out to the public. We organised leaflet drops and canvassed door to door. We held open meetings and helped others in the same cause, from Knights of the Realm to the local Butcher, to get their message across and fed back the response we got from the interested and disinterested public. The people who ran and held sway were differentiated from those who enjoyed the camaraderie of being out and about. The leaders had decisions to make and opinions to be heard. This was 20 years before James Grunig published his first book. The activity I describe was, to me, public relations. It was how, at a very local level, the youth movement of a British political party was run. I was 16. A decade and a half later I then did almost exactly the same thing for a company. The company was (always is) its employees and PR, as practised, did things that were essential for each person's job and things that made it good to do. With response, support, interest and engagement of our colleagues we reached out to vendors, dealers, distributors, prospects and customers and, of course, a range of media and many influencers of every kind and stripe. We prospered. It was what I knew as public relations. That is not to say it was one big cuddly experience. It definitely was not. It did include some (very) robust exchanges with board members - a straight put down of one FD who 'only had to keep the books in order' as I recall, even now it makes me wince. It did include some rough times. Redundancies and shipping jobs abroad are not easy and were no less so then. But we always looked each other in the eye. We always told it as it was - and straight. Short term, the results were often not what today would be called 'good PR'. Long term we gained trust and a tradeable reputation. Reputation meant preference to buy and at better margins; a ready pool of prospective employees and that magic ingredient the better quality from highly regarded suppliers. Obfuscation and spin has its place, but only to protect the very weakest of minds. Meanwhile, in the dark lands, the dragons captured public relations. Publicists, who did not walk the factory floor or the Whitehall corridors to easy the way for export licences made good photography seem like some form of magic, press releases became a stream of staccato adjectives, relationships were replaced by meetings. Someone (an FD perhaps?) suggested PR was only about press relations, 'CSR' and lobbying at a fraction of the cost and time hitherto spent by senior mangers working at their PR duty the end of the pointy PR stick. How deathly boring, trivial and narrow. Now, with the efforts of Tom Watson and his colleagues and contributors, I can have my version of PR back. It is much easier, because the advent of internet mediated public relations and because it is PR that is interesting enthralling, fun and testing. It does leave a big hole in theory, as taught. PR is very broad in what its practitioners have to know and do well, and, of course, it is a practice that does not have to be of the so called 'C' suite because it always has to rise above the mundane. Only the very best of students will ever practice PR and there will always be the experts in staccato adjectival trivia. These are artisans to be admired. But for the future perhaps we can, through the historical lens, learn to differentiate and give to PR what it surely deserves.
Toggle Commented Jul 13, 2010 on Why history matters at PR Studies
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Jul 12, 2010