Why public relations is great in theory

mistletoe From my office window, I can see a large ball of mistletoe growing at the top of a very tall tree.  Until a couple of years ago I didn’t know where or how mistletoe grew, but as they say, you learn something new all the time.  As someone who likes to learn, I find it interesting to know more about a subject and an open, curious, investigative mind is something I feel is an asset to anyone working in public relations.

Quite often I find that if you lift the lid on a topic, any topic – there is a wealth of information, expertise, insight and theory that can be discovered.  I find it fascinating that mistletoe is a partial parasite for example, and that there are lots of theories about the mythology associated with the plant arising in different cultures.

Of course I don’t need to know about mistletoe, but you never know when knowing something will come in handy.  Besides, why not learn for its own sake?

That’s how I feel about public relations and the value of opening the lid to discover more about its underpinnings, history, practice and myriad other facets.  To paraphrase Cutlip et al, studying public relations involves taking a searching look backward , a wide look around, a deep look inside, and a long look ahead.

Those who have heard this week that they’ve graduated successfully with the CIPR Advanced Certificate and Diploma qualifications have taken this 360 degree look at their chosen field.  They will have gained practical knowledge, to combine with their existing experience, but also an understanding of theoretical principles and concepts.

This theoretical perspective on public relations is something I believe the occupation needs to value more highly – as argued by Jim Macnamara in a guest post on Craig Pearce’s blog.  My rationale is not just about improving practice, however, as there is huge merit in stretching the little grey cells in a new direction for intellectual purposes alone.

Yes, theoretical understanding helps answer the why as well as the what questions in public relations practice – and also makes you confront other viewpoints and ideas which you may accept or reject, but at the least, reflect upon.

I congratulate those students I’ve been proud to work with in gaining their shiny new qualifications.  They stepped out of their comfort zone and took on a challenge of discovering what is inside the box marked public relations.  I hope they feel they discovered more than knowledge of simplistic definitions, best practice models or new skills.

The Greek verb theoreo translates as:

to be a spectator, look at, behold – to view attentively, take a view of, survey – to view mentally, consider – to see – to perceive with the eyes, to enjoy the presence of one – to discern, descry – to ascertain, find out by seeing

Looking at the theory of public relations is like looking up at mistletoe and wondering about it.  At this time of year, who would be without wonder – the desire or curiosity to know something?  Happy Christmas!

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

One thought on “Why public relations is great in theory”

  1. Academic study need not and arguably should not be mainly concerned with practical things so much as with things in themselves. When it comes to understanding PR I don’t think that modern thinkers have contributed much of interest compared to the Greeks who got this game going and did most of the serious thinking that’s never been surpassed. The Renaissance and Enlightenment were both rooted in the Greeks, and post-modernism is light-weight compared to the sophists. What makes me worried is how so many PR people keep thinking that their insights about the present are new and interesting and original because of their ignorance about the past…my point is that education should be the antidote to the need to waste time reinventing the wheel….and then when we’ve got that sussed, real original thinking will become more likely and we’ll see it more clearly when it is expressed.

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