Personality

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Everyone is different. Everyone is the same.

As professional communicators, should public relations practitioners focus on individual differences, segmenting people into chunks by age, gender, geographical location? Or categorise by attitude – friend or foe? Perhaps by behaviour – which way did you vote? Are you with us or against?

Stephen Waddington directs PR practitioners towards using data and algorithms, which can be useful. But it can also be our modern day equivalent of reading head bumps for understanding who we are and what we do.

He rightly indicates the ethical dilemmas raised by Derina Holtzhausen. I’m likewise concerned by the implications of people being increasingly divided into multiple, fragmented publics even as we share the same space.

This tension is inherent in my PhD study of career strategies in public relations.

Public relations as an occupation promotes an individualistic model of careers, reflected in practitioner surveys and academic studies that mention attracting a certain “breed of person” and recruiting those with a “good” or “right personality”. Reference to personality is found historically, in respect of contemporary practice, in relation to ethics and within gender studies literature.

A focus on traits rather than competencies can be found in job adverts, anecdotal career advice and silly “personality type” clickbait articles (including this one on the CIPR site “for switched on public relations professionals”: The top five personality types of PR people).

Personality profiling is not just for fun. Historical and contemporary studies of public relations have found that women in particular find their personalty is linked to appearance, and both viewed as “intrinsic” to their ability to do a job. Of course as any misogynistic troll proves, this is an issue way beyond PR though.

In career studies terms, this thinking reflects theories based on matching concepts and personality typologies that emerged in the early 20th century. They speak to the idea of congruence between a person’s characteristics and the requirements of a job or occupation. Despite initial intentions for such approaches to support individual career choice, they soon became used by military and big business as a winnowing process.

Profiling emphasises structural norms of  personality. Yet segmenting public relations practitioners on such superficial grounds when hiring and promoting is problematic for a number of reasons, including:

1. Trivialisation: Emphasising the importance of having a “bright, enthusiastic personality” gets in the way of presenting public relations practitioners as qualified strategic management advisers.

2. Occupational closure: Selecting by personality can lead to recruitment and retention on basis of homophily; recruiting “people like us”.

3. Discrimination: Judgements made on basis of personality may reflect prejudice about the types of people suited to work in, or progress within, public relations; and discriminate against those who don’t fit this notion of ideal fit.

4. Opportunity structure: Public relations becomes seen as an occupation that attracts, and offers opportunities to, certain types of people, which acts as a barrier to enabling greater diversity.

5. Labelling: Some people think, feel and behave differently as a result of personality disorders. It is important to understand mental health issues and how these relate to ability to function in the workplace and wider society. Even light-hearted personality-based labels can stigmatise people who are living with, or who have recovered from, various conditions.

Just because people are different, doesn’t mean that they aren’t also all the same. Just because we are the same, doesn’t mean we aren’t also different.

Focusing only on differences often leads to conflict. Indeed, technologies enable segmented groups to become increasingly divided and potentially dangerously cohesive thanks to the filter bubble of search engine algorithms, social network endorsements and confirmation bias (where people attend to information that is consistent with existing views and avoid contradictory information).

In public relations, we need to be open to difference at the same time as recognising similarities. As an occupation we should be adhesive, enabling different types of people to be able to work and live together.

And, when we talk about personality, as professionals, we should do better than rely on discriminatory euphemisms, outdated profiling techniques, or Cosmopolitan magazine style quizzes.

Kairos and the right time for public relations

kairos-1It is 3333 days since I wrote my first Greenbanana blog post on 21 September 2006. In terms of chronological time around 80,000 hours, 4.8 million minutes and over 288 million seconds have passed.

In numerical terms, this is my 1,000th post – meaning on average, I’ve written one every three calendar days. Although the pattern is less rigid than that – in recent years I’ve crafted one per month, meaning at the start, blogging was more of a daily habit.

I have no idea how much time I’ve spent blogging, but I’d suggest each blog takes an hour (or so) to think about, research, write, edit and finally hit publish. At least 1,000 hours, 42 full days or 6 weeks in 9 years.

Each post has a mean average of 288 views. The most popular post was called PR problems for Santa at Lapland New Forest on 3 December 2008.

The time spent on this blog can be measured and accounted for. Tick tock time as the hands move around the dial, or figures click over noisily or noiselessly in digital time.

In ancient Greece there were two words for time – chronos and kairos.

Chronos gives us chronology – the science of arranging events in their order of occurrence. Our lives are lived in chronological sequence. When we research history (such as for the International History of Public Relations Conference), chronology allows us to locate people and historical events and make connections about what happened when and what else was occurring at the same time.

Public relations work relies on chronometry – the measurement of time, or time-keeping – particularly in PR agencies which calculate the cost of their endeavours for fee charging. Neil Hackworth argues in the new book #FuturePRoof (available as a free pdf) that time is what is sold in PR to clients.

But are the hours spent ‘doing’ public relations what they are worth? Is a mathematical equation all that is important in costing the value of our labours?

Extrapolating across our working lives, time is how we spend our careers. We have a set number of years to dedicate to our life’s work. Only so many job moves we can make in that time. Using the traditional metaphor, how quickly can we climb the career ladder?

In my PhD research into career strategies in public relations, I have used a timeline method in my interviews (drawing on a method developed by Hanne Kirstine Adriansen). This reflects the centrality of time in career studies.

Wilensky’s 1961 definition doesn’t mention time, but it is integral to his statement that career is:

A succession of related jobs, arranged in a hierarchy of prestige, through which persons move in an ordered (more-or-less predictable) sequence.

Gunz and Mayrhofer propose a Social Chronology Theory building on three perspectives:

  • spatial (the social space where our careers happen)
  • ontic (that’s us – as the focal person or career actor)
  • temporal (time to make career transitions across spatial career boundaries as well as changes experienced by the career actor who learns, gets older, gains experience, over time).

But enough about chronos and the march of the hands of time. I’m more interested in kairos. The ancient greeks used this word to signify a more qualitative approach to time. This refers to the right or opportune time. It is surprising that kairos seems to have had little attention in the career literature.

The rhythm of our careers do not beat simply in a metronomic fashion. My research indicates that our experience of time in various positions is not the sum of the weeks, months and years spent. Recollecting the development of our careers, we focus on moments, the right time, opportunistic timing.

In our practice, public relations success isn’t necessarily about how long you spend planning and executing a programme or campaign. Our best work may occur in an instant when circumstances come together and the time is right.

The challenge is to spot the right time for a career move, to know when and how to craft a situation for our work to be most effective, or to take advantage of the propitious moment for our words and deeds.

March writes (in Classical Rhetoric and Modern Public Relations) that the right point of time can “both contract and expand” that we have to be ready and prepared to seize the moment.

In the hectic modern world, we all seem to struggle to find, or make, time. Our lives are spent rushing or taken up by the trivial. Everything seems urgent even when unimportant (to cite Covey’s ‘first things first’ time management grid).

Yet we have the same 24 hours a day that we’ve always had – chronos keeps us on track. But it is in the time of kairos that we are lacking. Where we are urged to be mindful, take the time to count our blessings, reflect and live in the moment.

Many people believe there has never been a better time to work in public relations. We probably can’t say if this is true, because it depends on our personal perspective. In considering kairos we are reminded to look for the right time, the critical moments, the decisive point at which we should act.

Shame of a blogging PR juggler

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I’ve been shamed into writing this post by inclusion on Sarah Stimson’s list of 50 PR blogs chosen by graduates. It is lovely to know that your work is read and appreciated.

But, whilst there’s certainly a good archive of posts at Greenbanana for students and practitioners to dig into, I’ve not blogged here for over two months.

I’ve wanted to write something many times – and have composed some in my head, but never taken the time to type down my thoughts and upload a post.

I’ve been busy – as a freelance hybrid academic-practitioner-tutor-consultant, there’s always too much to do, and even more that you could be doing.

Of course, knowing that I teach at Universities, some of my contacts think I’ve been relaxing and enjoying the British Summer – but a break there merely allows time and space for other commitments.

The CIPR professional qualifications are now a year-round cycle of teaching, marking and supporting students through their assignments. Likewise my role in the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association is a packed calendar of different activities, management and administration – plus new concepts and redesigning the website among other things.

I’ve also been undertaking an exciting client project (more on that soon) which has been hours and hours of work. Being self-employed, I also have to ensure I have a good income to avoid a Mr Micawber situation. Then I have reading for my PhD (and research to start asap), as well as family and canine commitments.

I expect you know what it’s like as everyone in PR seems busier than ever.

No excuses and I’m not moaning as I like to be busy. But I also like to blog.

So thank you all those lovely graduates for including me in your list – and welcome to the new readers who may stop by as a result. Do nose around the eight years’ of posts that I’ve written previously and come back often as I promise that my PR juggling will again include writing here – and more at my other blogging home: PR Conversations. Posts may need to be short and sweet, but never compromising on my Greenbanana ethos of ‘if you’re green you’re growing’ as there’s always something new to learn, do or think about.

Can you help in my search for PR career stories?

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Can you help? I’m searching for 20 research participants for my PhD who meet the following criteria:

  • 10-20 years’ career experience in public relations
  • UK based (although may have international responsibilities or travel outside the UK for work)
  • Not well known to me – to avoid any possible complications arising from existing personal or professional relationships
  • Willing to undertake the research stages as detailed below

If you meet these criteria, please get in touch by email: hyaxley@bournemouth.ac.uk, and I will provide further details, including a short profiling questionnaire.

Otherwise, could you please pass my request onto your own colleagues or contacts – by word of mouth, email, social media or carrier pigeon, and ask them to get in touch.

My research project is seeking to identify how public relations practitioners make sense of their career experiences, examine the approaches they use to inform career decisions and determine how they are responding to a changing career context.

I need to reach as many potential participants as possible to achieve my goal of a diverse research population. This includes working in any sector, in-house/consultancy/freelance, varied points of entry and career choices, those who have spent their careers in a single organisation, had career breaks or moved frequently. Participants may be working in any kind of role. Male/female, married/single, parent or not, with a degree or without, happy with their career or frustrated, any and/or all demographic, psychographic or other variable, all are welcome to put themselves forward.

The study involves the following stages:

  1. Invitation to potential participants to get in touch by email: hyaxley@bournemouth.ac.uk to complete a short profiling questionnaire
  2. Identification of the research sample – from the above respondents
  3. Selection of 20 people who will be provided with full details of what is involved in participation
  4. Completion of a confidential, detailed career and personal profile by those who agree to participate
  5. Initial in-depth face-to-face interview scheduled with each participant (approximately 90 minutes in length) at a mutually convenient location
  6. Follow up process of correspondence with individual participants to develop their career tapestry (my chosen career metaphor) from the interview transcript and reflections
  7. Provision of summarised study findings to participants – and completion of doctoral study

This research process with selected participants will start in August and be concluded by end of 2014. So I’m looking for initial responses by 31 July 2014.

The research will be confidential, conducted with full participant consent and subject to Bournemouth University Research Ethics Code of Practice. Participation is entirely voluntary and may be discontinued at any time without consequence. No fee or expenses will be paid to participants.

Thank you for your interest in my research – and I hope that if you meet the above criteria, you will consider participating, or passing on details of my search to those you believe may be willing to get involved.

Public relations needs to be rhizomatic – academic, scholarly, professional and practical

rhizomatic tapestry

I describe myself as a hybrid, which I view as representing heterogeneity or a mixture of different things. I prefer the complex and chaotic to the simple and predictable. I relish individuality, variety and multi-tasking. For me, that also sums up public relations. Hence my argument that public relations needs to be rhizomatic and embrace the academic, scholarly, professional and practical. None of these alone is enough.

Those who deny the academic or view it as a pejorative in respect of not directly useful are missing the point. Those who spend their entire lives conceptualising the field without ever considering vocational elements could benefit from demonstrating the value of their reflections. Those who simply practice PR, and never consider what may make their work professional have a job and not a career. Those who omit scholarship from their understanding of public relations, seem to me to be lacking in intellectual curiosity.

Such neat little boxes of academics, scholars, professionals and practitioners suggests a lack of connection, let alone integration, between these roles. This is an ongoing topic which I’ve covered before – including applying the concept of intersectionality to the creation of more ‘stripey triangles’ i.e. those who practice PR and also study its academic underpinnings.

I also wrote in April about T-shaped careers in public relations extending an analogy of a tree (proposed by Natalie Bovair on a post at PR Conversations) into conceptualising public relations as a rainforest with different layers.

I’m currently reading A Thousand Plateaus by the French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze and psychiatrist/social activist, Félix Guattari which includes the term rhizomatic as a concept allowing for multiple, non-hierarchical connections as opposed to the established arborescent (tree-based) model that works with vertical and linear connections. I’m not clear where I’m going with these ideas, but they resonated with my thinking around public relations careers in my PhD studies where I am not convinced of the value of ladder and matrix approaches to career progress and competence development.

The rhizome idea seems to fit with three concepts that I’ve identified as threads through my research to date, which I wrote about in a 2012 post: Plotting a personal path to PR career success. These looked at:

  • how there are a variety of career starting points in PR and also Broughton’s 1943 observation of a post facto connection to the occupation
  • von Bertalanffy’s 1968 concept of equifinality reflecting how we can reach the same end by following different paths
  • the importance of self-efficacy (belief in one’s capabilities to change a situation) as articulated by Albert Bandura who further emphasised the exercise of personal, proxy and collective agency.

In short, we can come into PR at different points and make an immediate connection, get to a common end point by different paths, and use our own and others efforts (as advocates or community members) in pursuit of our careers.

This is overlaid by personal, organisational/occupational and societal factors. As such, I believe that careers in public relations are, and should be, wonderfully personal, messy, complex and unstructured. Most people in public relations do not seem to climb well-positioned ladders, follow neat pathways or step up and across a prescribed matrix in their careers.

My research is seeking to understand how PR practitioners make sense of their career through the construction of a narrative framework (which Savickas has proposed).

The metaphor I’ve been using in thinking about all of this is a tapestry with stories providing narrative threads (yarns) that we can stitch in different directions, including out from the canvas rather than simply along the warp and weft. I also like how many of the words that apply to tapestry can be utilised within the metaphor, such as textile (woven from Latin texere, to weave), fabric (Middle French, fabrique, to build or make something and Latin faber, an artisan who works in hard materials). It provides a richness in conceptualisation as well as in the practice of our careers.

Deleuze and Guattari rhizomatic concept has been likened to a “crazy patchwork quilt” allowing for how rhizomes develop in unforeseen directions and in unforeseen ways. According to contemporary career theory, traditional organised, linear models do not reflect the modern world of work. So rather than seeking to force a professional or bureaucratic career structure onto public relations, I believe we should be pioneering a new way of conceptualising careers in the occupation, looking at emerging models of learning and development and demonstrating how public relations is at the forefront of 21st century rhizomatic careers.

So what does this mean for the academic, scholar, professional and practitioner in public relations?

Jacquie L’Etang and Mandy Powell seem to be doing an interesting study at Queen Margaret University looking at how public relations practitioners develop “expertise” as “reflective practitioners”. As such, they are considering how practice and theory “articulate with each other and are developed” – which they feel may be conceptualised as rhizomatic rather than a linear progression.

They also refer to Engestrom’s concept of ‘knotworking’, which involves collaboration between otherwise loose connections and relate this to consideration of communities of practice. Engestrom connects his concept to new ways of working that are decentralised, collaborative and ever-shifting.

As with Deleuze and Guatteri, Engestrom’s work is new to me, but seems to offer great potential for considering careers in public relations along with the interface of academia, scholarship, professionalism and practice.

The final thread that I’ve been weaving with this week is rhizomatic learning – and the work of Dave Cormier. I’m interested in his thinking about how knowledge creation is increasingly about co-construction and evolution rather than a search for personal expertise.

This suggests to me that as well as – or perhaps instead of – looking at traditional approaches to bridging the academic-practice divide in public relations (placements, academic-in-residence, guest lectures, etc) or a hybridisation model, we need to become more rhizomatic in our creation, sharing, negotiation and co-construction of knowledge in our field.

Let’s move away from criticisms by practitioners and professional bodies regarding what is taught about PR in academia and counter-claims that professional bodies and practitioners don’t engage with scholarly underpinnings. Rather we can adopt Cormier’s mantra that “the community is the curriculum” and encourage a more organic, spontaneous, flexible, collaborative perspective among the different the PR tribal communities. Then whether or not we, and our knowledge and behaviour, can be described as academic, scholarly, professional or practical will be less relevant than whether it forms a useful knot (connective node) for the network that comprises the full tapestry of public relations.

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’.

Does PR need a strategy for practitioner career management?

Surprisingly there has been little attempt to consider the career management of PR practitioners – and as I felt it would be an appropriate area of investigation, it is the topic I have decided to pursue for my doctoral studies at Bournemouth University.

The topic fits within my Greenbanana concept of “if you are green, you are growing”, so I will use this blog to reflect thoughts emerging initially from the extensive reading I am undertaking, and in due course, from my primary research.

Research on careers in public relations has largely focused on role typology and other practical elements of what practitioners do, rather than consider the discipline from a strategic career management perspective. Given the recent growth of PR as an occupation, the challenges it faces from other disciplines, changes in the job market and ongoing moves to enhance professional status, this is an area where I believe new research will provide valuable insight for practitioners, organisations, educators and professional bodies.

I aim to explore the trend away from traditional “career ladder” linear models to emergent/adaptive strategies that can be implemented at the individual, organisational and societal levels.

I am also interested identifying factors that affect decision-making as part of career planning and management. Overall, the study should highlight future career challenges, and recommended solutions for the PR profession.

There is a large body of existing career development literature which I am reviewing alongside relevant PR work and wider reading – as ever with such topics, the connections soon take your thinking in lots of new directions. Feel free to make suggestions if you know of anything you feel may be relevant.

The graduate school at Bournemouth University offers a number of courses (such as speed reading) which are very useful. The University also has a great range of online resources – which are really helpful when working from home.

I am undertaking my studies on a part-time basis over the next five or so years, so the end goal currently seems a long way off. However, I know how quickly time will pass – although the “journey” will be full of valleys of despair and slopes of hope.

So I intend to use the Greenbanana blog to maintain my motivation and also to share some useful insight. This offers me a new direction for the blog – but also a guaranteed range of topics over the coming days, weeks, months and years.