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!

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.

ICA Pre-Conference: ‘Power through communication technology’

I sat in on an interesting ICA pre-conference session earlier this week that sought to identify and address a series of questions around the issue of power and communication technology in a globalised society. There were a good range of speakers and topics up for discussion, including:

  • Michael L. Kent, University of Oklahoma, USA – Taking a Critical Look at Technology in Public Relations: We Have an App for That
  • Dean Kruckeberg, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA – Another Inconvenient Truth
  • Erich J. Sommerfeldt, University of Maryland-College Park, USA – Social Media Silos and Civil Society: A Role for Public Relations in Contemporary Development Communication Efforts
  • Katerina Tsetsura, University of Oklahoma, USA – In @ We Trust? Public Relations Realities of Fake Online Personalities
  • Chiara Valentini,  Aarhus University, Denmark – Social Mediars: The New Online Stakeholders for Public Relations?
  • Stephen Waddington, European Digital Social Media Director at Ketchum and President-Elect CIPR – Public Relations and New Communication Technologies – A Professional Perspective

 

I’ve embedded a Storify stream above for tweeted highlights but it’s I’ve added my own post-event reflections below:

  • Stephen Waddington remarked that many of the academics there were notably pessimistic about the potential of social media. I think this was partly due to the way the session was framed – and there were some definite critical perspectives explored, but there was also a number of pragmatic questions asked about social media which is needed. Some, such as whether communicators are measuring their organisation/client’s ‘sociability’ or building small, deep networks around customers/stakeholders, are being realised in certain areas; meanwhile other critical questions, such as attempting to unpick  social media’s role in driving a deeper marketisation of society, are worth exploring further
  • There was some agreement that scholars need to move beyond existing models of PR and communications when exploring social media. Stephen Waddington highlighted the apparent unsuitability of Grunig’s work to social media (despite Grunig’s protestations to the contrary) while Erich Sommerfeldt highlighted the centrality of technology and technological affordances in mutually shaping personal and organisational identity and behaviour among activist groups. I mentioned Bruno Latour and Actor-network Theory which offers a really interesting account of the role technology plays in mediating society. These are issues largely far from PR and communications scholarship and need rethinking as a matter of urgency
  • It also occurred to me how many participants – certainly those from US-oriented universities – have read their Marx. There were two particularly impassioned critical accounts of technology and its potentially negative role in society from Dean Kruckeberg and Michael L. Kent. But some of the most pertinent points and questions raised (e.g. technology’s role in creating social and economic precarity; in further reorienting social relations around capital/the market, etc) are squarely addressed – or least acknowledged – by Marx and groups of contemporary Post-Marxist scholars, including Terranova, Beradi, Negri… even Castells
  • Finally, speaking of Castells… while he had his name dropped a few times there was a definite dominance of interpretive research. Giddens’ Theory of Structuration was covered extensively by Erich Sommerfeldt and Chiara Valentini invoked Alan Kirby but a bit more theoretical underpinning of some of the ideas discussed wouldn’t have gone amiss (but then again, I am a bit of a theory fan)

 

Demos’ Virtually Members report is virtually useful

The centre-left [sic] think-tank, Demos, has a new report out presenting some interesting insights about the virtual ‘membership’ of the UK’s three main political parties. Titled, Virtually Members: The Facebook and Twitter Followers of UK Political Parties, the briefing paper is the latest publication to come from Demos’ Centre for Social Media Analysis. I’ve embedded the full paper below:

Virtually Members by Simon Collister

Despite, however, the snazzy name and Demos’ past reputation for leading-edge research into social media (I can remember attending a number of briefing events about social media and political engagement back in 2009/10) the report feels fairly lightweight – even if it is a vaguely dressed up corporate sponsorship vehicle for Tweetminster which provides the authors with analytics technology.

For example, in 2013 after two US election cycles and a UK general election with social media playing a central part; the coalition embedding edemocracy into parliamentary process; not to mention the numerous examples of social media empowered social movements, such as UKUncut, 38 Degrees, etc, the report’s opening statement hardly sets the pulse racing:

“The internet and social media are having a profound effect on British politics: it will re-shape the way elections are won and lost, how policy is made, and how people get involved in formal and informal politics.”

Equally disappointing is the report’s focus on evaluating social media quantities (fans, followers, etc) for main political parties and attempting to equate these with some comparable measure of party membership. Didn’t we move beyond such quantitative fixations years ago? Even with caveats adopting such a straw man position risks undermining the overall findings – which do make some salient points about political participation and mobilisation – from the outset.

More worryingly, I can’t see any attempt in the analysis to account for the spam followers we know most (if not all) Twitter account accrue; not to mention the phantom ‘Likes’ Facebook (or third parties) seem to generate, thus boosting fans and skewing quantitative analyses. And this isn’t a particularly low key phenomenon at the moment.

Maybe I’m being overly harsh, but a failure to acknowledge and engage with the messy realities of social media in a post-IPO world make the Demos paper difficult to take too seriously, which is a shame as the CASM (and the team behind it) appears to have a lot of potential.

Conference presentation: Re-Assembling Mediated Power

I was meant to give this presentation last week at the SEDTC conference at Royal Holloway last week but unfortunately wasn’t able to. I thought I’d share it here anyway.

The original abstract is here to give the presentation some context and I’ll hopefully uploading the full paper in due course.

Anarchism & Social Technology: Contextualising the (non?)-field? – Full conference paper

I blogged a couple of months ago about hosting and facilitating a conference stream at the Anarchist Studies Network’s conference, Making Connections, about the relationship between anarchism and social technology. We had two presenters come along and discuss their research which focused on and explored some novel theoretical approaches to social media and technology from a distinctly anarchist or libertarian communist perspective.

Aaron Peters spoke about the network society, public-private spheres and Paolo Virno‘s ‘Soviets of the Multitude‘ in relation to the networked social movements we’ve seen emerge around the globe post-economic collapse. While Thomas Swann discussed the potential for cybernetic theory to be brought into play to account for the decentralised organising seen during last year’s riots and what this might mean for a conceptual model of anarchist organising. You can get download Aaron’s paper via Scribd here and Thomas’ paper here.

Aside from facilitating, I presented a short paper that aimed to contextualise what Gordon (2008) has described as the “ambivalent relationship” between anarchism and technology. This ambivalence as one of the reasons we proposed the stream originally as despite the conference organisers citing the #Occupy and Arab Spring movements as powerful, contemporary anti-authoritarian social media-enabled forces rising from the grass-roots, there were few attempts to engage with and analyse technology directly within the conference’s extensive agenda. My paper attempts to understand why this is and suggest what might might be done:

Ultimately, the paper – and the wider conference stream – aimed to kick-start a debate about the role technology plays (and the potential it possesses) in political resistance and social struggles as well as to stimulate renewed theoretical as well as practical engagements with the topic. What this might look like, I’m not entirely sure yet – although I’m fairly soundly convinced it will need to include a greater level of scholarly and activist reflection and praxis – but I’d love to hear any suggestions.

Frames-as-Assemblages – Full conference paper

I’ve eventually found time to finish writing and editing a full version of the conference paper I presented at the Caught in the Frame conference at the University of Leicester last month.

You can see the presentation that accompanies this paper in the post below, but this fuller paper give a more detailed overview of the context in which I’m seeking to develop the notion of frames-as-assemblages. It also draws attention to a number of specific features within assemblages that might offer potentially powerful routes for analysing mediated communications in networked environments.

Frames-as-Assemblages: Theorising framing in contemporary media networks

I presented a paper at the University of Leicester’s Caught in the Frame conference yesterday covering some of the main theoretical issues I’m working on for my PhD. You can view my presentation below and I should have a more substantial account of what I was trying to convey coming shortly which I’ll share via the blog too.

My starting point took slight issue with to the conference’s original call for papers: ‘Frame analysis continues to offer valuable insights into the relationship between institutions, representations and audiences’. In response, my paper aimed to question the relevance of such values in a contemporary networked ‘hybrid media system’ – that is an environment characterised by the fluid interaction of new and traditional media, the disintermediation of institutions and institutional actors, dissolution of easily definable and discrete audiences and the crisis of representation brought about by the materialist turn in communications research.

I proposed a revised and renewed approach to framing by synthesising Stephen Reese’s (2001) notion of frames as “organizing principles that … structure the social world” and the Deleuzian concept of ‘assemblages’. Using Manuel DeLanda’s schematic Assemblage Theory I developed a cohesive yet dynamic model – tentatively termed ‘frames-as-assemblages’ – for analysing the representational and material components and dynamic forces of territorialization and deterritorialization that constitute frame production in a contemporary networked media space.

The new model hopefully offers a radical re-engagement with, and contribution to, the conceptual debate surrounding one of the most widely applied theories in the field of communication studies.

Hopefully :) Let me know what you think.

Arts Council England podcast: social media and UGC

Arts Council England are currently funding a potentially exciting series of digital projects that connect arts organisations, researchers and technology providers to form, in its own words, ” collaborative relationships” that will hopefully create knowledge and practical innovation for people and groups in the creative sectors to improve engagement with audiences and/or explore new business models.

Projects are themed around a number of areas, including:

  • User generated content and social media: harnessing the power of the internet and social media to reach audiences and to give them a platform for discussion, participation and creativity
  • Distribution and exhibition: using digital technologies to deliver artistic experiences and content in new ways in online and place based environments, including exploring international distribution and exhibition
  • Mobile, location and games: developing a new generation of mobile and location-based experiences and services, including games
  • Data and archives: making archives, collections and other data more widely available to other arts organisations and the general public
  • Resources: using digital technologies to improve the way in which arts organisations are run including business efficiency and income generation and the way in which they collaborate with each other
  • Education and learning: developing interactive education and learning resources for children, teachers, young people, adult learners and arts sector professionals

In response to the current projects being delivered – and to showcare some of the interim results – the Arts Council are producing a series of podcasts to discuss the key themes listed above. I took part in the inaugural podcast covering social media and UGC along with Charles Beckett from Arts Council England and Spencer Hyman from Artfinder. You can take a listen via Soundcloud…

The next round of funding for potential projects is now open so if you’re interested head over to the Digital R&D website or take a look at the case studies of current projects.