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
 Practice
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!

Infographic: A History of Social Media

Chris from Prohibition PR has put together this handy infographic providing a history of social media and outlines some of the big game-changing moments in this blog post.

It contains some surprises – who knew Tripadvisor launched the same time as Friends Reunited? – and a few blasts from the past. Ning or Friendfeed, anyone (both still live, btw)?

Thanks to Chris for a nifty resource (I’ll be using for teaching my students!).

Report: PRCA State of Digital PR

I’m really late getting around to posting this, but last month Ketchum’s Danny Whatmough presented the findings of the PRCA’s State of Digital PR report.

The report, which surveyed 136 agency and in-house teams, highlights a number of key themes which for those in and observing the UK’s PR industry should make interesting findings.

It’s a good report but at the moment I just want to pull out a couple of revealing results:

  • Nearly half (46%) of PR practitioners surveys spend only 1-10% of their budget on digital
  • The top activity that measly budget is spent on is web design and build
  • Followed by social media monitoring
  • … and then SEO

I find this interesting partly as while optimists might say that PR is adapting is also highlights the fact that the core digital services undertaken by PR agencies overlap with wider – perhaps more specialised – sectors.

Great that PR is competing on more levels, but does it have the specialist knowledge to compete and win? See my previous post about PR, social media and specialisation.

LCC Guest Lecture Series 2013-14

I’m a bit late posting this as our first guest lecture with Visa Europe’s VP of Digital Corp Comms, Nick Jones, is next week (still a few free tickets left) but nevertheless, our 2013-14 Guest Lecture Series is ready to roll.

I’m really pleased with what is an excellent line-up – full details below. All events are FREE and open to the public but booking is essential so we can get enough wine in! Eventbrite links will be made available a month ahead of each of the events.

Finally I would like to say a MASSIVE thank you to Adam Parker and Lissted for kindly supporting us and helping make such an awesome series possible.

 

Academia and Practice: Where next?

I was away in Sweden at Philip Young’s NEMO organised Flashpoint conference last week and was lucky to listen to some excellent academic papers, and more importantly become involved in an ongoing debate about the need to bridge the currently yawning gap between PR academia and practice.

Since returning there have been a number of blog posts pop up raising a range of issues which I broadly support. I won’t cover them off here but would urge you to go and take a read and participate for yourselves – there’s loads of comment and discussion going on.

Firstly of all the University of Wolverhampton’s Sarah Williams posted on the difference between academics and practitioners. This was followed up by Stephen Waddington’s post on the need for academia and practitioners to work together to support a “maturing profession” – a perspective followed up by Stuart Bruce’s in his post.

This is all great stuff, and an important marker for integrating theory and praxis. But…. the most important question is: what is to be done?

Most of the posts mentioned offer some thoughts and here are a few of my own:

  • Regular event(s) led by industry and academia to push forward greater interaction, debate and overcome the fear of the other
  • Some form of jointly agreed agenda that can identify and articulate some of the more common needs and demands for both areas
  • A forum to foster ongoing debate – online or otherwise
  • PR Week to carve out a niche to discuss developments and expose the agenda to a wider audience
  • Some level of engagement among high-profile employers, government, big agencies, etc
  • Some level of engagement from industry bodies

 

Share This Too launched

Share This Too

The start of term is looming and preparation and planning is underway. That’s why it’s taken me a week to get around to posting about the launch of, Share This Too, the second social media handbook published by Wiley.

Written by the CIPR‘s Social Media Advisory Panel and a range of practitioner friends there’s a  pretty impressive array of topics covered, including:

  • Creating content frameworks
  • Analysing online audiences and planning
  • Gamification
  • Content curation
  • Community management
  • And loads more

My chapter looks at the rise of big data and how data mining can be used to plan and deliver strategic PR activity. It looks at this practically using a case where data was used to identify potential consumer issues for an organisation before they become full blown complaints. By being able to ‘predict’ and address these issues the organisation aimed to reduce its workload.

I conclude by arguing that this kind of innovative, data-led PR can help the PR discipline achieve a more strategic position – both within organisations and within the wider business and marketing consultancy industries.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Don’t let Brian Solis’ foreword put you off, go and get a copy from Wiley or Amazon.

 

 

PR can’t respond to ‘structural’ challenges of social media. Discuss.

So. Here’s a thought. My old boss and friend, Robin Grant, told PRWeek last year that PR had missed the boat on digital. The reality, of course, is much more nuanced than that but there is a definite truth to what he says based on my own experiences and discussions with a range of people from within the PR world.

[Image via FRANk Media]

The full range of reasons behind Robin’s comment is something for a much longer post (or book, perhaps) but a series of recent conversations with smart people helped me clarify at least one aspect of PR’s problem.

For instance, in a discussion with an ex-digital director at a global PR agency we both agreed that some forms of social media, particularly community management, is becoming commodified and how PR agencies, again, risk missing the boat on digital, by placing their ‘social media offering’ firmly in this camp. Think of it as sort of replacing client press release churn with churning Facebook posts and tweets.

We agreed that the biggest barriers to PR getting social media right are structural. That’s as far as the conversation went.

Then today I was having a discussion with someone else about the increasing specialisation of social media and it dawned on me that one of the reasons why the PR profession has dragged its heals in terms of adopting and making the most of social media is its structure as a generalist industry where account teams are responsible for the full range of communication tasks (albeit with varying degrees of emphasis depending on seniority).

For example, as social media becomes specialised needing expert teams of researchers and planners; content creators, community managers and analysts, etc, PR agencies operating with employees that are trained as generalists to fulfil most, if not all of those roles, simply cannot keep up to date with the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed.

Advertising and digital agencies, on the other hand, are predominantly already structured into specialist teams. They only need to ensure that enough investment is made in ensuring their incumbent researchers, creatives, content producers, analysts, etc stay abreast of emerging knowledge and skills.

And then there’s the profit margins of PR. With their way bigger budgets, advertising and (some) digital agencies have more financial leeway to investment in training, resources and development.

So while, on paper, PR – with its theoretical foundation in understanding and building interpersonal relationships – should be on home territory when it comes to social media strategy in the main it is simply not structured in a way to make the most of this increasingly specialist landscape.

What is to be done?

Sharing Best Practice in Digital PR Education

I took part in an interesting (and eye-opening) workshop yesterday at Leeds Metropolitan University, Sharing Best Practice in Digital PR Education. Organised by Leeds Met and the Higher Education Academy the day was a sort of sounding board for the state of digital PR education in higher education with some case studies and workshops you can see my slides below or over on Slideshare).

I started taking notes but then gave up and just tweeted the majority of the event. You can find a Storify of the day here.

I did however, jot down some of the most interesting findings from a number of pan-European research projects that are currently underway:  Euro Communications Monitor and the European Communication Professionals Skills and Innovation Programme.

I was typing while listening so didn’t manage to grab the exact stats but these (and more data) should be available on the respective websites.

European Communications Monitor insights:

  • Dealing with digital/social media is second top issue for European communicators (survey respondents consist of 2,700+ senior PR practitioners across 43 countries; mainly in-house in global/big businesses)
  • Data shows they believe they’re currently doing online stuff (quite tactical) but weak(ish) on i) developing social media strategies; ii) evaluating social media and iii) developing/understanding legal frameworks . Some additional weakness in terms of engagement, i.e. “initiating dialogue with online stakeholders”
  • Also shows strong agreement that social media changes perception of organisation – both externally and internally (!)
  • Strong agreement that digital gatekeepers are relevant for PR, e.g. bloggers, community managers, consumers on social media (!)
  • Big gap between perceived importance of social media issues and implementation – i.e majority agree social media issues are vital, but the comparative number of practitioners doing anything about it is lower
  • Mobile dev is biggest gap among practitioners

ECOPSI insights (this survey is a more qualitative investigation and focuses on practitioner competencies). The data specifically refers to Social Media Managers and it seems my only two notes include:

  • strengthening visual story-telling is a key need
  • as is managing ‘real-time’ communications

 

 

Want to send a postcard via Twitter?

I’m a big fan of blurring the or crossing the boundaries between online and offline materials.Take, for instance, the fantastic Newspaper Club or the simply outstanding The Iraq War: A Historiography of Wikipedia Changelogs. So, why has it taken so long for someone to create a ‘Tweet to postcard’ service?*

york_7369-2

The agency Brands2Life have done just that as part of their work with at800 – the organisation raising awareness of the issues the 4G network might bring to Freeview users. Their email informs me that if you send a tweet with the hashtag #at800postbox at800 they will print the personalised message onto a traditional postcard and deliver it by post for free.

Really nice idea, although as it’s been described as a “PR stunt” by one Twitter user I suspect that it won’t be a permanent service. Shame really.

* I’m sure I’ve read about a similar service sometime in the past few years