Knowns and unknowns – the story of Dougal

DougalThis doesn’t feel much like a Christmas post, but I suppose its sentiment is the heart of this time of year. This is the story of Dougal – my 18-ish year old dog. He is now a sad shadow of his younger self and tomorrow will be the day when he goes to run free as he really is too poorly to carry on now.

Dougal might have been born in a manger, I don’t know – one of the unknowns. I do know he had a poor start in life and had been beaten. When we rehomed him in 1997 he was terrified of men, would destroy anything put through a letter box, was a nightmare to capture if you let him off the lead and had the most stroppy attitude I’ve ever seen in a dog. But for a German Shepherd-Lassie Collie cross bread, he’s the most gentlest of dogs. He never complains and has never nipped no matter what you do to him.

Four years ago he suffered two incidents of geriatric vestibular syndrome. He had the classic head tilt, nystagmus eye movement, walking in circles and ataxia (unsteady gait). I didn’t know what was happening the first time and thought it was the end. Both times he was pretty immobile for three weeks – then he demanded to go for a walk and forced himself back to health (helped by Vivitonin tablets). That’s what attitude can do for you.

Since then he’s been diagnosed with a minor heart murmur, various aches and infections but continues to be wonderfully stroppy, wanting to do things his way. Until a few weeks ago, he could still manage the stairs but has been getting stiffer and weaker, and has been more disorientated with other old dog symptoms.

I didn’t know when to make the decision but it was a known that the time was coming. Living with the unknowns has been hard – would something unexpected happen and I’d find he had broken a leg with a fall, or worse?

When he was younger he was such a handsome dog – now he is skin and bones, just like when he first came to live with me. He loved to bark – but hasn’t done so much recently. He can hardly see – but he knows me still. His favourite is to come in the car with me – even now he’ll rush to try to get out the front door and into the car. Tomorrow, I’ll feel so bad taking him for that last journey – although I think he’ll understand why.

He’s been with me for a third of my life – and that’s a long time. He’s a legend – and I know he’s had a life that has been longer and fuller than many people, let alone a mongrel who had been abused and abandoned. He has a full passport from his trips to France and he’s clocked up more car miles than many an old banger. He’s loved walking in forests, on beaches, in parks and in the field opposite my house. He’s enjoyed his time on earth.

Since I was six, I’ve always owned a dog. Dougal was my third, and there were two more, Simba and Barley, that he outlived (along with one cat – who reached 22 years) and he will leave behind the young ones, Savannah and Toffee. I’ll always be a dog person – and know sometime there will be other sad days like today and tomorrow. I don’t know what happens after life, but I like to think that he will join up with his chums, and be part of my dad’s heavenly pack.

Knowing the time is right and what you have to do isn’t easy. But it is the responsibility that comes with loving a dog. So many poor dogs will be abandoned over the next week, and I hope they can be lucky like Dougal and find their forever home.

It’s that time of year when hope is in our hearts and minds. Sadly this is the kindest, and only, thing that I can do to show my love for him now.

Managing expectations – Christmas lesson for PR

expectWhat are you expecting from Christmas? Peace on Earth? Goodwill to all men (and women)? A White Christmas, with snow that is deep and crisp and even? Santa dropping all the presents you wish for down the chimney? Love at first sight and happy ever after romance at the Christmas party?

It is the time of year when it is easy to over-promise ourselves what Christmas will bring. This leads to stress and disappointment – or maybe we anticipate that in advance. For some, there’s nothing to look forward towards as Christmas may mean time alone whilst there is an impression of everyone else having the most Wonderful Life.

Even if we have a great Christmas lined up, the January blues are on the horizon, especially if we’ve spent out in planning a magical holiday period.

What has all this to do with PR? Well it’s not unknown in PR for practitioners to over-promise the effect of their activities. This is a notable tendency for agencies when pitching their ideas, or when PR practitioners set objectives that are not based on robust research. The impact of not achieving what we’ve promised is certainly stress and disappointment – as well as harm to our relationship with clients and our own reputation.

There is a further danger for PR practitioners in over-promising in crisis management. Here the problem comes when we present ourselves as able to resolve any crisis simply by issuing apologies and simple forms of redress. Quite often the problem is more fundamental and no matter of PR glitter can add sparkle to a poor situation.  This is the focus of #5 in my 12 Days of Christmas series of posts.

In 2008 I wrote a post following the disastrous New Forest Lapland venture. Although three years later the organisers were initially convicted, their sentence was over-turned after a jury member had been sending text messages.

That clear case of over-promising a winter wonderland has just been repeated. Apparently a magical world was promised through the website (which has crashed), but the reality was a shambles. Parents took to Twitter and Facebook to complain (social media being a development since the earlier debacle) and although the venture has closed, its organisers are being investigated by the authorities as in the previous case.

Lorenzo Franco, the organiser of Winter Wonderland Milton Keynes, has apologised – and blamed visitors for having too high expectations and social media for spreading negative reports. He is using a willingness to talk to the media as evidence that this was not a scam.

It is interesting that MK Web which has published this detailed Q&A has played a role in hyping “the captivating, festive landscape“. It would appear its promotion of the Winter Wonderland was based on a press release rather than a review or visit to the site.

So perhaps a Christmas less not only for PR but also for the media in managing expectations and not over-promising without any evidence that the carefully crafted words presented a wonderland and not a soggy field of empty dreams.

The PR meaning of Christmas

costa christmasThe meaning of Christmas can be analysed through studying its signs, symbols and stories, many of which could be considered from a PR perspective.

So #4 of my 12 Days of Christmas posts considers the semiotics of Christmas to examine symbolism of the season and how this is applied by PR practitioners.

Religious signs, symbols and stories are evident primarily through the Nativity narrative. However, the essential elements have been adapted for both commercial and social purposes. For example, many school nativity plays remain a festive tradition but have been professionally scripted to make them more inclusive, contemporary and/or fashionable. The meaning of Nativity plays has changed with greater competition and commercialisation according to media reports. It does not seem unreasonable to suggest schools need to undertake PR risk assessment in the face of media interest in signs, symbols and stories that make nativity plays controversial.

For others, the semiotics of Christmas are less about the traumas of childhood performances and more about spotting commercial signs of the season. Christmas adverts are not a new phenomenon, but today’s versions are a long way from this late 1970s’ Woolworths‘ television ad which features celebrities, but otherwise is all about products and prices. I’m sure many a dissertation will be written on the semiotics of supermarket advertising in 2013.

The master of symbolic associations at Christmas is Coca-Cola creating and conveying adverts where idealised family scenes are closely connected to the brand’s icons. In particular, the imagery of Santa Clause is seen as symbolic of Coca-Cola at Christmas, with the company acknowledging its “role in shaping the jolly, rotund character“. Taking the adverts into the experiential field, with a tour of the ‘Holidays are coming’ red truck offers a more personal connection with the brand’s Christmas symbolism.

The coffee shop brands similarly offer an experience of Christmas with seasonal drinks and recognisable cups. The Costa Coffee ones have been particularly noticeable. Indeed, a student recently told me that her friends see the emergence of the Christmas coffee drinks as an earlier indicator of the season.

These may be examples of marketing but are often promoted with PR campaigns and also act as symbols that build relationships and reputation of the brands.

We also create our own Christmas culture with rituals and symbols that relate specifically to our families or friends. We may not notice where this involves connection with organisations’ PR functions but this could be the case in terms of our shopping, entertainment and other celebratory habits. From pantomimes (featuring television personalities) to the holiday editions of television listing magazines and the battle of the Christmas number one single (increasingly manipulated by X-Factor), there is evidence of commercial symbols dominating the culture of Christmas.

The symbolism of Christmas is so strong that it is not surprising to see it evident in many different ways. Arguably an understanding of semiotics ought to be key to PR practice, although it is not given a great deal of focus in literature or qualifications.

It is not just in relation to marketing that the benefits of applying semiotics can be realised. Charities also use the season to associate their causes with the meaning of Christmas. Emotional imagery, heart-tugging images dominate the narrative. Other PR campaigns similarly connect to Christmas iconography for issues management. For example, fire safety and drink-driving campaigns use a range of semiotic principles.

Similarly, I recall a successful campaign by a student who worked for a housing association a number of years ago that used strong Christmas imagery to highlight the necessity to avoid debt (and pay rent) over the holiday period.

Counting the Christmas PR effect

christmas-saleIn the run up to Christmas, PR activities are vitally important in setting the scene for public sentiment, profiling must-have products, and promoting the marketing promotions.  This is the topic of #3 in my 12 Days of Christmas blogging series.

The effect of PR efforts devoted to generating media headlines over the past month or so should be evident this weekend when holiday shopping steps up a gear. However, it would appear that despite all the early focus on “the battle of the Christmas adverts“, media coverage is already emphasising discounting as the main method being employed to generate sales. Rather than building sales through brand and reputation, the spiral of cutting prices seems to reflect a failure in stimulating customer Christmas confidence.

According to the Telegraph, retailers are following the lead of Walmart’s Asda which has claimed its ‘Black Friday’ sales promotion campaign was a phenomenal success. Brands are desperately creating their own special money-off promotions which means they will be expecting PR teams to scramble launch events, churn out media releases that talk about the marketing efforts and generally attempt to maximise hype.

Others are scrutinising the effects of PR and marketing efforts after making predictions about the increase in online, and click-and-collect, sales.

The need to shift stock and tempt customers in any way possible has taken over. But as the public are now active players in the pre-Christmas commercial game, it is difficult to see how the investment in million pound campaigns involving PR, advertising and promotional activities will return much profit.

Of course, there is a short window of opportunity to talk about Christmas, but one of the consequences of such a focus for PR on the marketing-sales effect, is that the usual discussion of the function being about relationships and reputation seem sidelined.

Friday 13th – why luck and hard work are not correlated in PR

peppie-thumb.jpgAccording to superstition, Friday 13th is an unlucky day. This suggests that luck is something that is outside our control – a deterministic force that sets out our destiny or fate. Luck can also be seen as the result of chance, with a feeling that some people are more likely than others to achieve fortunate outcomes in life.

In contrast, there’s the statement (attributed to various people in different forms) that the harder you work the luckier you get. Here, luck is seen as directly in our control with good fortune correlated to the effort we put into achieving our goals.

In public relations, working hard often equates to a long-hours culture; where again the ethos is that effectiveness is related to time served rather than outcomes achieved. This seems a good time of year – within my 12 Days of Christmas series of short posts – to consider working hard and good fortune in PR. At the end of 2013, more and more PR practitioners appear to me (anecdotally at least) to be clocking up more and more hours. If true, this may be the result of social media extending the working day, cutbacks in resources, greater expectations on what PR can achieve, fear of being seen not to be chained to the desk or, as lifehacker considered, one-upping over being busy/slammed/buried by work.

So are PR practitioners luckier as a result of their increasing workload? Is the strategy of trying to do more and more in the fixed time we have available (we can only stretch as far as 24 hours in any day or 7 days a week) paying dividends?

I am not convinced it is. What is likely to happen is that stretching ourselves in this way is counter-productive (something that Sheryl Sandberg notes in her excellent Lean-In book – as recommended to me by Judy Gombita). Another lifehacker piece discussed the Cult of Busy and how complaining about our stressful working lives doesn’t change anything. Indeed, as the article notes, one consequence of being ultra-busy is that time spent with such people feels unsatisfying. I support the advice offered in terms of “press pause” and “do less and feel more joy”.

Also, there are certainly technologies and other tactics you can employ that may help you become more organised and achieve more in the time available. But this is a short-term fix, especially if you fill the time gained with additional responsibilities.

The cumulative effect of so many individual PR practitioners reporting being busy is likewise not a resolution – or indeed, better luck. In fact, it may be the opposite as we devalue what we do achieve by rushing to squeeze more into our busy schedules.  Our bosses just see PR practitioners rushing round rather than focusing on what we achieve.  How can we make the argument for greater resources and strategic responsibilities when we appear to be rushed off our feet with what we are doing?  Or if we simply absorb the additional demands and make everything look really easy, why would they bother to spend more money within the PR function?

What we do is worth taking time over, doing right and doing well. It doesn’t need to be perfect (so we can save time there) but it shouldn’t be rushed so that its value is, well, devalued. In PR much of our work is charged for by the hour in one way or another – shouldn’t we instead be measured by what we achieve or the value we bring to our organisations and clients rather than how long, or how little time, we spend on that work?

In the same way that taking a superstitious approach to hoping for good luck is unlikely to be successful, we are not really likely to get luckier just by working harder, nor by working smarter. If you wish to improve your fortune (however that may be determined), you need to consider the best approaches to achieve that aim. Chances are, it doesn’t involve black cats, friggatriskaidekaphobia, or extensive working hours.

Perhaps it’s time to break the worst superstitions of all in PR – that what we do is ‘free‘ and anyone can do it (compared to colleagues in other functions who make rational arguments for more resources before taking on more work), or that everything is achieved, and billed for, by hours spent. To get lucky in PR, we need to show the value of the work we can do in the time that is paid for – anything more isn’t down to luck.

12 Days of Christmas – Past, Present and Future

toffeeAt this time of year it is natural to look back, enjoy the present run up to Christmas and start thinking about what lies ahead in the new year. When I started blogging in September 2006, I wrote more frequently with posts several times a month, often a few times a week, or sometimes even daily. As social media has changed over the past seven years, I have stuck with blogging as my preferred means of online communications, but less frequently. I feel this means I am missing some of the benefits of more frequent posting and so as an experiment, I’m going to write a dozen short pieces in the run up to Christmas.

The theme of 12 December is past, present and future. My inspiration is that today is an estimated first birthday for my puppy, Toffee. As a rescue, this is a guess but I like the idea of him entering the world on 12.12.12. Looking back over 2013, he is a highlight and an incentive to enjoy the present and look forward (to when he won’t be quite such a maniac). But also I know that for him to be with us meant that I lost my lovely Barley dog. I also have an 18 year old dog – who for each of the last five or so years, we have thought wouldn’t make it to the next Christmas. And he’s still here.

Applying this to PR, there are people who likewise are no longer in our lives. Like my friend and mentor, Gethin Bradley, or perhaps ex-colleagues and others we have lost touch with. But at the same time, we will all have added to our contact books this year. I have welcomed some great new talented people into motor industry PR through MIPAA, and I’ve met well over 100 new students this year – and shared their struggles and successes. I’ve had new work opportunities as well as other things that I’ve given up doing for various reasons.

It is useful to take stock of where you are, where you’ve come from, what you’ve achieved and what lies ahead. We should celebrate our achievements and be grateful for what is new and positive in our lives. We should also consider what holds us back, what hasn’t worked out so well, and take time to remember what we may have lost. Then, look ahead, set some new big hairy audacious goals, alongside some small steps we can take that reflect the continuous improvement spirit of kaizen. Think about what you want to change, where you can help others and be kinder to yourself. What barriers you can overcome and where you’d like to reach to look back from next year.

PR ideas from a fall

cat-fallAt the end of October I fell down a small flight of stairs at home. As I believe all experiences are learning opportunities particularly for public relations practitioners, I’ve been thinking about the PR ideas I can take from my fall.

First is that it’s not the fall that matters, but how you land. In PR things often don’t go as we expect or plan and we should understand that it is natural to fail, or fall short, in this respect. What counts is the landing and ensuring that isn’t where bigger problems start.

Sometimes in PR we are responsible for managing the landing rather than the fall. A situation, issue or crisis is instigated by a fall. If we land like a cat on all paws, we can nonchalantly dust ourselves down and move on. Or maybe we roll like a stunt performer, enacting our practiced moves as a professional. Or others who empathise with our stumble come to our aid and help us avoid squashing our nose or denting our reputation.

My landing wasn’t elegant. I hit my leg on a plastic packing case although luckily didn’t break it (the container or my leg). So the second PR idea relates to problem avoidance. It didn’t take a risk assessment to know that this box didn’t belong where it was. Maybe not in the league of “an accident waiting to happen” rhetoric, but it definitely should have been upstairs – or maybe downstairs – it had been in-between two flights for so long I can’t actually recall its direction of travel. Such ‘mean-to’ things become invisible after a while, but how many of us as PR practitioners could write a very long list of items that require our attention but aren’t urgent?

Post-tumble, as with any organisation recovering from a reputational fall, I was a bit battered and bruised. This sometimes necessitated pre-emptive communications to explain my increasingly evident damage as the bruises were noticeable shades of black and blue. On other occasions, wearing trousers avoided unnecessary questions.  The third idea to transfer to PR is where honesty is important and when covering up is okay.

Like many experienced PR practitioners, I believe the show must go on. I’m also self-employed so throwing a sickie isn’t easy when you’ve existing commitments. But this evidences a fourth idea for PR practice. There are times when putting yourself first is more important. We have to prioritise the longer term over the short to ensure we can continue to do a better job.

Keeping going soon became impossible and a visit to my osteopath identified a pinched nerve. So my fifth lesson or idea for PR is about knowing when to call on experts. Many organisations rely on a DIY approach to PR or use their in house / consultancy team on a tactical basis. Self-diagnosis and problem resolution can be great but it is no substitute for making use of the expertise of those who are qualified, trained and experienced.

Idea number six relates to recognising there are few (if any) textbook cases. The osteopath felt I had enough symptoms to support his diagnosis but not everything was as expected. Pain and swelling in my lower leg was unusual. My friend said it wobbled like a ballon filled with water. The GP was equally fascinated having never seen anything like it before. But drawing on his general knowledge, he drew a conclusion of fluid remaining from a haematoma.

In PR teaching, I’m often expected to give specific rules, instructions or direction where the reality requires a more reflective and interpretive perspective. Avoiding a fixed view, or jumping to conclusions is PR idea #7. We can, and should, draw on previous knowledge and experience but be aware that things change and need to be monitored with a personalised rather than a generic solution advised.

Idea 8 is that time is an important consideration. In PR we are increasingly urged, especially from a social media viewpoint, to respond immediately. It is all about speed of response say the experts. This can be true also in health matters. But what is really important is knowing when fast is essential and when time is the best healer.

This relates to idea 9 and being mindful of the benefits and limitations of online communications. I resisted setting up a Twitter account, posting Instagram images, a wobble Vine or YouTube video, or Facebook status updates on my leg’s condition. It didn’t need a fan base or community. I do appreciate when online group support is important and getting information online is a modern marvel. But there are potential issues. Finding what is helpful, reliable and authoritative is becoming harder and harder. Also, the world doesn’t need more pointless quirky personal accounts IMHO. And, I don’t need to record every second or incident in my life.

Indeed my final idea (#10) is about the value of time away. I’ve not been responding to digital communications, checking feeds or generating online stuff much over the past weeks. The world hasn’t ended. I’ve not missed much and people have coped without me. In PR we tend to think we are indispensable but stepping away can be equally important. I feel more rested and ready to prioritise what is essential and what doesn’t matter. I also know I juggle too much and have to change this.

In fact, this incident has given me some space to think more and through a conversation with the osteopath about his career decisions, I’ve a new perspective to research and incorporate in my PhD work. As I’m still not fully recovered, I will make the time for this exploration over the next couple of weeks.

BTW if you’re wondering why I’ve selected PR ideas, it is an attempt to link to PRide comes before a fall. I can’t blame pride for my situation but felt I could link to PR as an idea for post-fall blogging!

Using social media to tell a personal PR narrative

social media narrativeThe idea of personal branding as a means of presenting an individual is not new (indeed Tom Peters wrote about it in Fast Company in 1997 – and I examined it here three years ago in Greenbanana brand me). Adoption of social media as an easy online presence has led to acceptance of the concept of personal brand management – indeed, personal reputation management as discussed in this post by Greg Savage from Huffington Post last week.

Karl Nessmann published Personal Branding and the Role of Public Relations in 2010 considering personality PR as an approach for staging, positioning or presenting individuals (celebrities, executives or other people). In the book chapter I wrote providing “The Public Relations Perspective of Promotional Culture“, I used a quote by Samuel Johnson in The Rambler, written in 1751, regarding how:

Every man, however hopeless his pretensions may appear, has some project by which he hopes to rise to reputation; some art by which he imagines that the action of the world will be attracted; some quality, good or bad, which discriminates him from the common herd of mortals, and by which others may be persuaded to love, or compelled to fear him.

My point was to show how this idea, and the Rambler itself, could be considered as a promotional device that acted as a signifier in promoting Johnson’s personal fame, reflecting Wernick’s perspective on promotional culture.

But, as these ideas become increasingly commonplace, I’m keen to move on from the rather superficial ‘brand-me’ concept and the recommendations for promotion and reputation management of the self as if you are a product. From studying careers literature, I’m keen to consider the construction of a personal narrative, particularly through social media.

There is a huge body of literature considering theoretical aspects of narrative and narratology – little of which, perhaps surprisingly, has been evident in the academic public relations body of knowledge. The concept has been picked up in PR practice, largely in relation to story-telling, and Judy Gombita wrote a PR Conversations post (Constructing the Organizational Narrative) as a possible definition for PR in 2011, which I followed up with Plotting PR narrative in social media. I also included narrative (as a more useful approach than key messages) within The Public Relations Strategic Toolkit.  But these related more to professional PR practice rather than personal communications.

In the psychology literature, narrative is mainly connected to personal or cultural identity and related to memory. In sociology, a constructionist approach is evident around narrative discourse theory, whilst Savickas is one of the theorists who propose a narrative framework in career counselling literature.

If we accept personal narrative as a process of construction involving reflexivity and crafting meaning around individual experience, we are supporting an argument for authenticity in living our own history. This seems to me to contrast with ideas around creating ‘brand-me’ in a more superficial and cynical way. In terms of social media presence, the personal narrative approach would emphasise looking for coherence throughout our framework of social media presence and across the temporal flow of communication we create through social media activity. The idea is that we are the narrator, the director and the starring character in our social media narrative. We are constructing, curating and conveying a personal and a professional identity as PR practitioners through the narrative traces of social media.

In my PhD work, I am interested in how PR practitioners construct their career experiences, the strategies they use when making decisions (or in directing their careers) and how they reflect on these in hindsight. I’m considering various career constructs, such as ideas around PR as a profession or a craft, etc and how these translate into the narratives that people create.

In practice, I’m interested in what we can tell about PR practitioners career behaviour through social media usage. Are there ebbs and flows reflecting interest and engagement with seeking new opportunities compared to being consumed in a particular job or project? Undoubtedly your LinkedIn activity may indicate when you are job hunting, for example.  Are young practitioners more aware these days of the value of social media as they seek to build early career capital? And, what stories are they leaving behind them as they shift from entering the occupation with a juvenile social media record to crafting a professional narrative of their employability.

I think this is an emerging area where there is much to be learned – both from qualitative and quantitative analytical perspectives (although I tend towards exploring personal meaning rather than a Big Data approach).

Unlike managing ‘brand-me’ from a promotional or reputational perspective, I think that trying to manipulate a fake, false or fictionalised personal PR narrative will be more difficult. Like snails across a garden in the heat of summer, we are leaving trails that are messy and complex rather than a nice linear story or polished brand identity.  If your personal social media narrative looks and reads like a simple novel, it is probably not true or authentic.

That’s not to say that PR practitioners shouldn’t be aware of the narrative threads they are crafting in their career tapestry. But I like the idea that the image or patterns we are creating will emerge rather than being pre-defined. Also, our individuality rather than any notion of a prescribed career path, journey or ladder (to cite the many existing narratives), is likely to be visible in our online processions and progressions. So maybe our virtual presence will be more real than the face we seek to present as ‘brand-me’.

Gethin Bradley – a legend of motor industry PR

Gethin_portraitA very dear friend, legendary MIPAA honorary life president, and my avuncular guardian angel has sadly died.

Imagine Mad Men focused on public relations and transferred to swinging London of the 1960s and at its centre would be Gethin Bradley.  No-one understood the relationship approach to our occupation better.  No-one was more passionate about motor industry PR.  No-one from his generation was as enthusiastic about modern developments in the field (he read this blog without fail and loved that MIPAA had introduced so many members to social media).  No-one had more friends.  No-one was ever more hospitable, kind and generous.  I miss him so much already.

We even coined a verb – to be Gethined – defined as that feeling when you try to get up from a good lunch to find that your wine glass had been filled rather more often than you’d appreciated.  That PR skill is no longer required in these less alcohol fuelled days.  But I’m sure it will be welcomed on his heavenly cloud.

Gethin2There are so many stories that Gethin’s friends and former colleagues could, and will, tell as they hear the news and recall the good times.  None made him happier than talking about the 1954 Oxford and Cambridge Trans Africa Expedition he was involved in whilst a student, which led him into public relations.  I probably heard his stories a hundred times each, but never minded, because he was a raconteur and he stimulated my interest in the history of public relations.

Over the past decade or so, I gradually took over Gethin’s role as general secretary of MIPAA – but he was always there by phone, email or when I made the trips to Kent after the appearance of Herbert, his cancerous tumour.


Wherever he went when he was still mobile, people knew his name.  He was the epitome of the sociable public relations man.  It was a job that he loved.  But he was more than the life and soul that he appeared to be on the outside.  He was intelligent, informed, the son of an amazingly strong woman of whom he was phenomenally proud – as he was of his children and grandchildren.

More than anything, one word sums up Gethin – and that is, friend.  His passing is truly the end of an era.

Public Relations education for free

There have been a number of posts (and Twitter discussion) over the past week regarding the importance of increasing the connection between public relations practice and academia. As someone working at the intersection of these two dimensions, I’m in favour of greater boundary spanning.

Indeed, I am reminded of Miriam Dobson’s fabulous ‘intersectionality: a fun guide” infographic. Drawing on it for inspiration, there are some people like me – we’re Bob – who are stripey blue triangles (or green bananas in my case). We practice public relations and also study its academic underpinnings. Those who are passionate about being stripey (practitioners) often dismiss our academic leanings, or just don’t know about this marvellous triangular world. Then there are those who study the stripey ones and dismiss them for not being triangular, or perhaps they feel their academic insight doesn’t need to be of value to those who are proud of their stripes.

This is silly – those who care about public relations should not seek isolation. Like Bob, I wish that the triangles and stripes could work together. And they can – and do.

Not only that, but there are many totally free opportunities for academics and practitioners to connect and work together to defeat the oppression of public relations (well that might be taking the analogy too far – but…)

Here are some ways in which the stripes and triangles can connect – which also demonstrate you can get a public relations education for free:

Universities offer seminars, guest lectures and other opportunities for those in practice to share their knowledge and experience, or learn from those who are arguably more open about their blue stripey triangular credentials. For example, today I am at Bournemouth University for a seminar by the Canadian practitioner/researcher, Fraser Likely who is sharing his study into how how PR Directors can present the ‘value’ of the function to senior executives. This is free of charge and practitioners have been invited.

Likewise, the University of the Arts, London College of Communication is running a Public Relations Lecture series on Thursday evenings. No charge to hear from Nick Jones (VP of digital corporate comms at Visa Europe), Mark Borkowski (author/media commentator), Simon Redfern (director of corporate affairs at Starbucks UK) and Jackie Cooper (global vice chair of brand properties at Edelman). Places for the first event, on 31 October (17:30-19:00) can be booked via Eventbrite.

Eventbrite is a great place to search for similar events, using the filter for free today brought up 50 events in the UK alone.

Look out also for groups in LinkedIn or pages in Facebook where you can learn about events (often free) and connect with other practitioners and academics. For example, the CIPR Diversity group can be found via Facebook and there are groups with special interests, such as PR History in LinkedIn.

On the academic side, there are facilities like which has a good community of those researching the field, who are very willing to connect and share their work.

You can also find out about work and thinking via social media, where many senior PR practitioners and academics are active – and often even intersect! Several of my students have had success in engaging with academics whose work interests them via Twitter and LinkedIn (or simply using emails found via their academic profiles).

In addition to events and other personal connections, there are oodles of online resources from blogs and discussion forums, to research papers and journal articles. Google books offers a huge library of PR texts that can be accessed for free – which as a published author means no income, but does extend the reach of my work (and potential purchasers). We shouldn’t forget libraries either – in the UK, most will order books for you and some Universities offer free access to alumni or other readers.

There has been a move towards open access in publishing academic work and although this doesn’t apply yet to many journals (as publishers apply a considerable charge to offer your work in this way), there are some excellent online journals that can be read for free. I recommend the PRISM journal which features full-length, refereed scholarly articles as well as commentary pieces, book reviews and much more. Likewise, you can find informed papers and research reports at the Institute for Public Relations site – including some great work on evaluation. On that topic, there are open access resources on the AMEC website.

Most of the major PR consultancies also publish reports, white papers and thought pieces. Edelman Editions is one example.

We can also be imaginative in our PR education for free. Exhibitions in art galleries and museums are often free or relatively low cost with topics that can fire our PR insight and imagination. Unfortunately I didn’t get to the British Library exhibition on Propaganda: Power and Persuasion this summer, and I also missed yesterday’s evening discussion, Challenging myths and understanding society. Both had a small charge, but undoubtedly were relevant in considering public relations more widely than simply doing the day job.

Perhaps the best free PR education of all comes from setting up a blog yourself and developing your ideas around various topics. The act of researching and thinking, connecting with others and responding to comments is very enlightening as well as challenging. I urge all PR students to blog as part of their academic education and professional development. No, I’ll go further and urge all PR practitioners and academics to write online too.

As the historian, David McCullough stated: “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.”

It is hard, it takes time and commitment, but writing, thinking and connecting with your inner (or outer) blue stripey triangular-ness is well worth it.

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