In the first episode of the excellent three-part BBC documentary examining the murder of Stephen Lawrence, his mother says it is important “to talk about Stephen a bit more. So people can see he had a life, not just in death, but before.”

Tomorrow, 22 April 2018, it is 25 years since Stephen died, aged eighteen. His life had been happy, full of promise. Yet a bare 70 words on the Wikipedia page, titled Murder of Stephen Lawrence, talk about his life:

Stephen Lawrence was born on 13 September 1974. During his teenage years, Lawrence excelled in running, competing for the local Cambridge Harriers athletics club, and appeared as an extra in Denzel Washington’s film For Queen and Country. At the time of his death he was studying technology and physics at the Blackheath Bluecoat School and English language and literature at Woolwich College, and was hoping to become an architect.

His mother, Doreen Lawrence, is quoted as saying,

I would like Stephen to be remembered as a young man who had a future. He was well loved, and had he been given the chance to survive maybe he would have been the one to bridge the gap between black and white because he didn’t distinguish between black or white. He saw people as people.

Public relations is about people. The relationships that people, individually and collectively, have with organisations and the people within them.

These relationships may be fleeting or long-lasting. They may be insignificant or highly significant in someone’s life.

When we talk about managing public relations, the emphasis should be on how organisations behave in their relationships with people. Yet stakeholder management is too often reduced to analysing, categorising, prioritising and working out how to influence or control those who have an effect on the organisation.

Listening becomes surveillance. Communication is directed ‘at’, rather than ‘with’. Systems are designed to gain advantage and rarely to learn, adapt and benefit others. In short, too little thought is given to the effect the organisation has on people and the lives they live.

This was evident in the relationship between the police and the Lawrences. In contrast, Detective Chief Inspector Clive Driscoll gained the family’s trust.

Today, 21 April 2018, it is 10 years since my father, Richard Liddiment died, aged almost sixty-eight. It is not a day that I want to remember, as I prefer to focus on life and the happy memories before death.

I believe it is important to talk about people who are no longer with us. What they did, felt, said and who they were and continue to be in our hearts. Most importantly, keeping them alive through talking about the life they shared with us.

And we should do our best to remember in our personal and working lives, to see, and treat, people as people.

Image adapted from: Designed by Freepik



At this time of year, it is common to look back over recent achievements and plan ahead to how we may dedicate our time and efforts in future. This approach is a key step in sustainable professional development and involves two of three stages of reflective thinking:

  • Reflection on action – what have we done?
  • Reflection for action – what are we going to do?

A third stage, Reflection in action, sits between these and focuses attention on what we are doing now. Monitoring our actions in the present is an important link between the past and future – what I call pastpresentfutureness. We have an opportunity to learn from previous experiences (good or bad) in improving our current lives. We can also consider changing direction or continuing a current trajectory in planning ahead.

Sometimes we make or face decisions that have the potential to fundamentally change our lives. The end of a year can seem a good time to take stock and decide to transform our professional or personal circumstances. Such reflection is a worthwhile exercise in critical thinking and enables us to apply higher order cognitive capabilities (drawing on Bloom’s Taxonomy) of analysing, evaluating and creating.

In my PhD research investigating career strategies in public relations, I developed an innovative timeline interview technique that enabled participants to reflect and think critically about their career experiences and possibilities. Analysis allowed them to identify connections and patterns in their career histories. Evaluation of the timeline drawings involved reasoned judgement of the past, present and future. Creativity is applied to gain original insight into career influences.

This process involves reflexive learning as it focuses on how we think about our career behaviours. A framework of factors can be considered affecting us at micro (individual), meso (occupational and organisational) and macro (societal) levels.

In reality, I found that most PR practitioners do not dedicate time to routine thinking about their careers. Generally they are reactive in responding to, or seeking out, career changes rather than proactively planning their career development. This is understandable in an occupation that lacks a clear career design and where the future can seem uncertain. Indeed, my research reveals the tendency to rely on opportunistic career strategies in public relations is long-established.

As a result, public relations practitioners – and the wider occupation – are missing out on the benefits of career reflexivity. In my experience, reflection for action is vital to identify possibilities and inform future career moves. Further, I contend that we need to dedicate ourselves through proactive career strategies if we are to turn our hopes for fulfilling careers into intentions, adaptive plans and actions.

Personally I look back over 2017 as the year I finally delivered on my intention to achieve my PhD. Reflecting on the dedication this involved, I have learned a lot about myself and ways that I can help inform sustainable career development in public relations. My proposal in my thesis of an original tapestry career paradigm challenges established theoretical models of a basis technician-manager dichotomy. Importantly, I argue that there is a need to develop customised career strategies and adopt reflexive professional development methods in practice.

You can hear me talk about career strategies in PR with Philippe Borremans in a recent Wag The Dog podcast here:

What comes next is a question many people have asked me. Although I don’t yet have a clear answer, I know my 2018 plans require dedication to make them a success. And, as with the PhD, I cannot achieve what comes next on my own.

One of the greatest pleasures in finalising my PhD was writing the acknowledgements. This short statement allowed me to reflect on the support of others in reaching the end point of submission. Importantly these words of dedication are placed at the front of the doctoral thesis.

My PhD doctoral thesis: Yaxley, H., 2017. Career strategies in public relations: constructing an original tapestry paradigm. Doctorate Thesis (Doctorate). Bournemouth University is now published online. See:

I’d like to end this post by sharing my acknowledgements. These started with a quote by Umberto Eco (from Foucault’s Pendulum, 1989) as a reminder of how our present selves develop continuously, whether we are paying attention or not. They end by giving thanks.

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

This doctoral thesis is dedicated to everyone who has contributed towards the many interconnecting threads comprising my personal and professional career tapestry.

I am indebted to the research participants who kindly shared their career histories within this study. Their generosity stretches far beyond the canvas of this work.

With humility, I acknowledge the support of my supervisory team, Professor Tom Watson and Professor Candida Yates. Their guidance has been invaluable in helping me overcome the occasional knot in crafting my thoughts into a coherent design.

I am formed by many scraps of wisdom, not least from my much missed father. My amazing mother continues to be a source of inspiration.

Finally, I am forever grateful to the much loved few – who add colour to my world, purpose to my life and passion to my soul. We know that a kite flies against the wind, not with it.

The photograph is of a Underwood Standard Portable Typewriter that I bought from Vintage Mischief in Beccles, Suffolk to celebrate my PhD graduation. I began my career after University by training as a personal assistant and retain my love of typing – even though the dedication to typing my thesis led to me developing tendonitis. I make a pastpresentfutureness connection for my career every time I look at my new old typewriter.


What is normal? It is something that is usual, typical, standard, average, unexceptional, routine, predictable, to be expected.

Normal is the way things are done, part of the fabric of society, everyday habits, the unnoticed, taken for granted, culturally embedded.

It defines the benchmark against which everything else is measured. The middle of a normal distribution curve. Average, in the middle, the most common. The mean, median or modal value. The majority view, the most popular, a brand’s cash cow. The ‘cookie cutter’ option – all the same.

It’s an established reputation, reliable, consistent, well managed, authentic, honest, desirable. Dull, uninspiring, mundane, dependable, run of the mill, one of the pack.

Winning or losing – both can be normal. Our modus operandi. Reflexive. Natural. Inherent talent. The result of hard work, hours of practice. What we make of ourselves.

A facade. What others see. Without seeing. Ethical. Unethical. Just normal behaviour – nothing to see here.

The stereotype. Aren’t they all like that?

In PR. In Hollywood. In politics. In fashion. In the art world. In business. In the media. In the past. In reality. In our imagination. In our nightmares. It’s normal. Why are we surprised?

Male. White. Privileged. Powerful. Entitled to harass others. One of the boys.

Female. Black. Underprivileged. Powerless. Subject of harassment. Just a girl. Not one of us.

A role model. An influencer. A victim. A hero. Someone like me. Who I’d like to be. Who I once was.

#MeToo #Notinmyname #Blacklivesmatter

#MAGA #Brexiteer #Remoaner

Stand for the flag. Kneel for equality, freedom. Patriot. Citizen of the world.

Is normal what we accept? What we put up with? Who we are? What we will not allow to define us? Is normal not being abnormal?

We’ll ostracise, exorcise, eliminate, deny that bad practice or bad behaviour is the norm. Will good practice, good behaviour then be normal?

Just like that. Happy ever after. One for all. All for one.

Is our normal a comfort zone or a place of uncertainty? Who creates normality?

Are we all the same? Normal in our difference? Inclusive. Diverse.

Blending in. Standing out.

Is the Other not normal? Not like us? Even when otherness is the norm, the majority?

Why does it seem that the normal is not to be female, a stay at home parent, transgender, poor, living with disabilities, recovered from a mental health condition? Why are these normal experiences made to seem an exception? Even when they are common? Even when rejecting someone’s normality is unacceptable?

Blaming the individual. Blaming society. Blaming those with power, with agency, with control. All to blame. No-one’s fault. If only she, they, he, we…

Time for change. What’s normal for some is no longer normal in society. Never was. Never should be. Change the rules. Abide by rules. Just don’t be disrespectful. It’s not a joke or banter or locker room chat or girls’ talk.

Call your public relations people to craft a narrative of ‘I honestly don’t remember the encounter’,’I didn’t mean any harm’,  ‘it’s an addiction’, ‘sexual chatter’, ‘just old dinosaurs’. Resignation, rehab, mea culpa – sort of. A partial or pseudo apology has become the normal PR-crafted response. Should this really be the norm in PR? Time we refused to play the game? Stop protecting those who forfeit the right to excuses?  Change this time-worn narrative of crisis management?

What is shown as normal become engrained in how people view their own normality. My PhD research revealed an ongoing belief that normal careers involve hierarchical progression, reflecting the 20th century Mad Man norm of popular culture. The fact that this never normal for most of society doesn’t affect the normalised narrative of onwards and upwards.

Rise to the top, accrue power, reward, privilege, the right to do unto others as you wish – no longer do as you would be done by…

My thesis argues there is no normal career. The strategy employed by public relations practitioners is not the professionalised norm that is written or spoken about. Yet, we’re told to aspire to achieve great heights, to look up, to admire – to do what it takes. Claw your way up to a position above, from where it’s normal to look down on others.

I heard career stories where ‘old boys clubs’ and ‘hedonistic macho agencies’ were the norm in public relations. Where some are invited to climb and others are not.

A normative hierarchical narrative is engrained even when individuals’ own experience is different. They feel abnormal, blame themselves, if they don’t achieve the idealised “normal career” that is defined by the experience of the minority not the majority.

Careers for the few are not the norm. Careers for the many are not a tidy linear progress courtesy of one employer. Job for life, gold plated pension, better salary, bigger bonus.

The normal PR career strategy is to craft our way with backstitches, knots, fragmented stories, messy lives.

Yes, for some their career norm in PR may be easy, a good life. For others it’s a gig economy, low waged, no contract, redundancy, obsolete, automated out of a job, outsourced, replaced by the internet of things. Perhaps that will become the norm.

Maybe nothing is normal.

Image: Emoji cookie cutter from Pampered Chef



Life is what happens when you’re completing a PhD (to appropriate a more famous expression).

My proposal to undertake a PhD investigating Career Strategies in Public Relations at Bournemouth University was accepted in October 2009 – this week I was delighted to be told during my Viva (oral examination) that I would be awarded my doctorate (subject to minor amends).

A lot of life has happened in the past seven years and eight months. There have been the matches, hatches and dispatches by which the news of life can be reported. People have entered, stuck around or departed through the routine of my working life.

Friends and memories have been made. Dogs have found their forever homes, grown up, grown old and some have passed on. A French house was sold and a British bungalow was bought – with a mother relocated.

Many long journeys were driven in a car full of books as my studies were forever portable. Piles of books and papers, USB sticks full of downloads and drafts, note books of reflections, printouts and interview recordings – spread throughout the house spinning out of control like spiders’ webs.

The valley of despair that I warn students about, has been my intellectual home for several periods, until I’ve climbed back up the slope of hope, often with the support of others. The life of a PhD is a solo venture but it isn’t undertaken alone.

Friends, family, colleagues, wonderful supervisors and research participants each play a part. Then there’s the work of so many writers who have shared their research, thoughts and theories in the multi-layered texts that enable any of us to build our work on solid foundations.

This knowledge base has not been a static, dusty archive waiting to be unpicked by me. It is a living construction that has developed alongside my own work. The fields of public relations and career studies are dynamic where the past, the present and the future are continuously knotted and entwined.

Academic research involves looking back, looking around, looking forward and looking inside yourself. What we think we know has to be deconstructed and reconstructed. New work sometimes offers new vistas to be explored, sometimes it reveals dead end thinking to be challenged. From a panoramic viewpoint, your own work needs the space to breathe and move forwards, as you look to open up something new, make an original contribution, to offer up yourself and your words.

A PhD also means learning about you – your strengths and your weaknesses. For me, the experience has provided realisation of personal resilience alongside recognition of reasons why for many, many moments I could have given up. Although perhaps it is the comfort of knowing I could stop, that kept me going.

More hours than I could calculate have been spent reading and writing, working through my thinking and working out what I want to say. Why am I doing this? Hoping that I have constructed something worth saying, worth reading, worth others thinking about. Something that will make a contribution. Be good enough, better than I fear. Be bold enough to challenge the theories and practices that I critique. Be interesting, innovative, inspirational, informed, intriguing.

And it is. I think, I hope, I believe, I know.

There is much more to say on the process of completing a PhD, the content of my PhD, and the many individuals without whom I could not have given life to the thesis.

But that’s for another day*. For now is a time to reflect on life passed and life to come. To mark this kairotic moment.

PhD – doctor of philosophy: a prestigious qualification that demonstrates talent, academic excellence and a thirst for knowledge.

A friend told me that the first woman to obtain a PhD degree was Elena Cornaro Piscopia; conferred on her at the University of Padua on June 25, 1678. Confirmation of my doctorate came 340 years and two days later.

Like any qualification worth having, a PhD is earned through hard work and intellectual endeavour. The Viva stipulation of a few amends to complete is a chance to relive the life that went into every word. It offers an opportunity for kaizen (continuous improvement) before freedom from the PhD life, to a new place where ideas can grow freely. Where my work can stretch its wings, like a wild bird of prey – a kite – flying the nest.

Apparently the first doctorate degree was awarded in medieval Paris in the mid-12th century, and became an official licence to teach. A time of of falconry and swordsmanship.

I love the idea that in Finland, a doctoral sword is part of the PhD conferment ceremony. I think this is a fabulous way to recognise this ancient, yet still relevant achievement.

Now that I have more spare time, I’m attracted by the seven day sword making course offered by Owen Bush at his School of Blacksmithing and Bladesmithing in Kent. Or maybe I treat myself to a fabulous master-crafted example. I don’t suppose I’ll be able to wear it to my graduation ceremony though.

* I am participating in a panel discussion on Employability and Sustainable Careers at the inaugural #MindthePRGap event at Birmingham City University on 12 July – see: to book.

The image for this post is a playing card from a hypnotherapy session that helped me to get out of a valley of despair period. It indicates my key goal and has been pinned to a board that I have looked at every day for several years. At graduation, I will put a bright green tick on it. To mark the sense of achievement. 



Why does anyone blog? Is it to be the best? Or to be the best that they can be? Or simply to be themselves – which I think is the best reason of all to blog.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure to peruse four of the #bestPRblogs at the request of Richard Bailey for the annual BehindtheSpin PR student blogger competition.

Announcing my choice of the winner from this excellent shortlist of candidates, I provided a strong recommendation for each of the authors and explained the criteria that informed my decision. So please head over to my post there as soon as you’ve finished this one:

The three highly commended finalists are:

Marcel Klebba –

Lauren Old –

Orlagh Shanks –

And, the winner of the 2017 #bestPRblogs is:

Lucy Hayball – 


The four blogs each have their own merits and there were things that I’d like to note as guidance for anyone who is encouraged to call themselves a blogger. I decided to do that here at Greenbanana by highlighting a few thoughts.

1. Blogging is a great way to think out loud.

What stands out clearly in each of these blogs is how this form of social media is the best at enabling a writer to think, and share that thinking with others. At its best, blogging makes you reflect on your own ideas and opinions, and shift these – a little or a lot – as a result of what you’ve read.

2. The best blogs have a strong perspective and voice.

Each of the #bestPRblogs is a personal place where the strongest posts are those where a clear perspective is evident and written in a voice that could only belong to that writer. However, that voice was not over-powering and spoke directly to the reader, which was compelling.

3. Blogs need to appeal visually as well as in writing.

The winning blog stood out for its lovely appearance which perfectly matched Lucy’s voice and choice of blogging topics. I was surprised not to see any inclusion of video on these shortlisted blogs, but the use of imagery was impressive as I would expect from any young PR practitioner. This underlines how a blog offers a great platform to showcase professional capabilities.

4. Blogs enable connections to be made and doors opened.

The generosity of experienced practitioners to engage with PR students is something that each of the finalists has capitalised upon. They have used their connections wisely with themed posts that they have built into a valuable series. The willingness to learn from others is commendable, and the blogger benefits from establishing a relationship and enhancing their profile. I would, however, encourage young practitioners to have more confidence in their approach to ask more challenging questions, particularly where they can add more of their own personality through a conversation in this way.

5. The challenge of blogging comes in the long run.

It is increasingly rare in my experience to come across PR practitioners who blog. This is a shame but understandable when other pressures can take precedence over the time available to think and write. But I hope this means that the best bloggers prevail over time. There is something unique about a personal blog over any other online presence. For me blogging is an intimate experience as you are inviting someone into your own world. So we write, not as a promotional activity (although it can be that). Nor are we simply here for the metrics and comments. We share ourselves, perhaps not even in the expectation of being read, but because it feels right.

That’s what I gained most in the best of the posts on the #bestPRblogs.

I was also reminded of this power of blogging in visiting the blog of Martyn Hett (, a young PR practitioner tragically killed in the Manchester bombing last week. I didn’t know Martyn although he studied at the London College of Communications (on the media rather than the PR course where I have taught). But I sense from his blog that I would have liked him as a person (not least as I match his blog’s strapline being a strong woman with a taste for low culture). I know I would have loved having him in any class that I taught. I hope that Martyn’s family and friends maintain his blog site as his perspective and voice live on there with such fun and enthusiasm.

Thank you Martyn – and thank you to Marcel, Lauren, Orlagh and Lucy. It was a privilege and a pleasure to review your blogs. Congratulations to you all.


MindthePRGap_Twitter_Banner_TextMind the PR Gap is a new initiative that aims to bring together research and practice in the field of public relations. It is open to PR practitioners, academics, researchers and students.

As I’m involved with the event taking place on Wednesday 12 July 2017 at Birmingham City University, this post is partly promotional. With tickets at £10, it will be a great opportunity to look at some critical issues. More details here:

Topics for the inaugural Mind the PR Gap event include developing an academic-practitioner PR research agenda, update on the Global Capabilities framework, employability and a series of talking points with action plans that are being finalised.

Besides my own role in the employability session, what I’m most interested in is positioning research as a common denominator between PR practice, academia and scholarship.

Here are five reasons why I think that viewing ourselves as researchers is important, as it encourages us to:

  1. Demonstrate commitment to building knowledge and understanding
  2. Underpin our work with an informed evidence base – and linkage to scholarship
  3. Remain open to innovation and continuous improvement
  4. Develop competencies in critical thinking and problem solving
  5. Apply reflexivity as a professional practice

Far too often there is a failure to foreground the importance of research. For instance, the recent endeavours to change evaluation practices in public relations championed by AMEC, do not overtly indicate how research is required to inform objectives that in turn support measurement and evaluation.

In this regard, the work by Jim Macnamara is a welcome focus on creating an ‘architecture of listening’ in organisations.

Further, it is a weakness in the PR occupation that many practitioners – and too often the occupation’s professional bodies – make assertions and sweeping generalisations that are totally unsubstantiated or supported by research that frankly lacks rigour.

From my perspective of having studied career strategies in public relations in my PhD, I am particularly disappointed to see a tendency to present career advice based on little more than anecdote, individual experience or personal opinion.

Indeed this seems to be the norm in relation to careers, rather than an exception. A recent post published on the CIPR Influence blog is just the latest example.

Its argument that “talent comes second to character in public relations” is lacking on so many levels. From a career studies perspective, it is laughable to see emphasis on the “right attitude”, which is presented as an inherent and somewhat fixed personal trait. Indeed, based on her own research, Professor Anne Gregory has criticised work that lists the personal qualities required by public relations practitioners as “lacking precision”.

The idea that individual characteristics are inherent and unchanging was evident in the career studies field over a century ago. Initially such concepts were developed to help young job-seekers find a lifelong career, not to judge them. We no longer accept that career decisions made in early adulthood are irreversible. Yet other concepts dating from the twentieth century continue to be part of everyday career thinking. This is surprising given that they were derived from studies of the experiences of US males in white-collar corporate roles. Career thinking, Mad Men style!

To then tie fixed trait theory to ethics, trust and respect without any evidence is redolent of the types of attitude that can be found in the historical records of the CIPR held at the History of Advertising Trust in Norfolk.

The historical context reveals tensions and divisions between who was deemed to be the right sort of chap to work in public relations. Those in central and local government looked down on those employed in industry. Consultants were excluded if they worked in divisions of advertising agencies.

Women in PR were commonly discriminated against. In the 1950s/60s, not only were they viewed as dolly-birds but they were expected to have secretarial skills unlike their male colleagues, according to Dr. Jacquie L’Etang’s published research. She also found intergenerational tensions, echoed in my own research into female career experiences in the 1970s/80s, where one participant recalled dismissively that:

“a whole lot of young girls getting into PR roles ran around with Filofaxes and champagne glasses.”

Discrimination is just one of the problems arising from an emphasis on character as a proposed criteria for recruitment, let alone as a marker of ethical behaviour.

Judging character in this way commonly relies on indirect inferences and conjecture. The ‘right attitudes’ seem to be defined as characteristics held by those doing the assessment and hence only people like them match this ‘standard’.

It also leads to absolutist approaches that seek to include some people and exclude others. It creates a narrow cultural base of righteousness, and indeed, suggests a limited understanding of the nature of ethical decision-making. In comparison, Dr. Jo Fawkes’ (one of the speakers at #MindthePRGap) has written extensively on value based ethics.

I am reminded of the Channel 4 programme, The Trial: A Murder in the Family. Despite being reminded that assessment of guilt or innocence should be based on evidence, jury members were influenced by legal spin, personal experience, bias and whether or not the defendant reflected certain behaviour, body language or personality traits that they as individuals deem appropriate.

To return to the Mind the PR Gap initiative, I’d like to see this mark a shift to recognising ourselves as researchers regardless of whether we identify most as academics or practitioners.

A continuum between pure academic practice at one end and functional research at the other is, for me, a loop where the middle is of most interest. This encourages practitioners to draw more on robust academic research. Likewise, it helps academic researchers to realise the potential of their work to connect directly to practice and practitioners.

More research that connects those working in academia and those working in practice would improve our scholarship base, and reduce the reliance on ‘gut feel’ and anecdote.

If you’ve not already booked a place at the Mind the PR Gap event, please check your diaries and come along if you can ( We will also be using social media before, during and after the event. Please follow or like at:

Fawkes, J., 2015. Public relations ethics and professionalism. Abingdon: Routledge.
Gregory. A., 2009. The competencies of senior communicators in the UK National Health Service. Journal of communication in healthcare, 2 (3), 282–293.
L’Etang, J., 2015. “It’s always been a sexless trade”; “It’s clean work”; “There’s very little velvet curtain”, Journal of communication management, 19 (4), 354–370.
Macnamara, J. 2015. Creating an ‘architecture of listening’ in organizations. Available from:
Yaxley, H., 2013. Career experiences of women in British public relations (1970–1989). Public relations review, 39 (2), 156–165.



Nine years ago I experienced the depths of grief when my dad died. The words of the blogpost “A private tragedy” that I wrote then remind me of the immediate pain.

I generally don’t acknowledge this “stop all the clocks” moment, when a solid knot was tied in the thread of my life. But I recognise my grief in a sentence by Seamus Perry in discussing Auden’s poem that:

Often the true immensity of love is learned through realising the enormity of its absence.

For me, there’s a silence in grief. Words fail us – and those we encounter in the days, weeks, months and years that follow. Yet we need words to help us reconstruct what we’ve lost. To make sense of our love and hopes and their absence. We are tied to the knot of our loss and words help us continue, with a strand of what’s missing woven into our pastpresentfuturedness.

Talk about loss and grief is having its moment in April 2017. I’m sure it is helpful to hear those who may appear to have everything sharing their experiences of what have been public personal tragedies.

Such expressions helped to inform the Languages of Grief model designed to illuminate the perspective of the bereaved and “the pain of the griever”.

Language of Grief

I think this framework would be helpful for those in public relations whose work involves communications concerning death and loss. This includes those working in the emergency services, charity sector and in crisis management situations, for example.

The Languages of Grief model includes four modes of expression:

  • Verbal responses (written or oral)
  • Nonverbal responses (silent or reflective)
  • Physical responses (somatic or expressions)
  • Physical activities (rituals or objects)

And four types of language:

  • Narrative (storytelling)
  • Symbolism (representation)
  • Metaphor (figurative)
  • Analysis (concretising)

As professionals we should be aware of these dimensions and how they combine to create “distinctive approaches” for communications. The model also considers the importance of being a “skilled listener” by including contingent factors that help us determine the most appropriate response. I contend that empathetic listening needs to be a more central component of public relations strategic practice.

Three types of contingent factors are proposed:

  • Internal factors (personal experiences, emotions and expressions)
  • Interpersonal factors (social support and set of expectations)
  • External factors (the nature of the loss and cultural expectations including authoritative discourse and power relationships)

In public relations practice or scholarship, I’ve seen little consideration of the importance of languages of grief. I suggest that research could reveal the habitus of professionalised speaking by public relations communicators. Also, I propose that attending to the elements of the model would help to develop a more appropriate response framework that reflects the polyphony of human grief encountered within public relations work.

I feel we should also study the biopsychosocial aspects of grief, loss and trauma as part of the recent discussion within public relations around mental health issues.


The work of McCoyd and Walter is a useful starting point. They explain how a biopsychosocial perspective helps us consider the biological impacts of loss and grief as well as psychological experiences and social contexts. I argue there are interconnected physical and mental health consequences for public relations practitioners who are involved in stressful situations that may be described using Hughes’ sociological concept as emotional dirty work.

When public relations practitioners are employed as spokespeople they are enacting a role that may suppress their own ability to express emotion in traumatic situations.

Likewise, the culture of public relations work may not allow room for discussion of personal difficulties such as coping with loss. The concept of ‘disenfranchised grief‘ concerns the expected norms of response within a given culture where support of others may be lacking or withheld.

The occupation also needs to allow room for attending to physical health which can be compromised under the pressure of long-hours, an intense working environment and the “emotional labour performed within the job“.

Given the relatively young age of many practitioners working in public relations, there is a responsibility for employers, educators and professional bodies to offer support mechanisms and address any structural causes of unhealthy grief and stress.

Similarly in an ageing society, organisations need to recognise the impact of ambiguous and nonfinite or chronic grief, where loss is uncertain – such as with those affected by Alzheimer’s. Likewise, coping with financial or other problems following the death of a parent or partner add fear to grief. There are many such issues that seem to be of particular relevance to those specialising in the field of internal communications/relations, for instance.

My own research into careers in public relations has identified issues concerning employment volatility particular in the consultancy sector. Further modern careers lack the stability and reassurance provided by the traditional linear corporate trajectory. Expectations that individuals will be entrepreneurial, nomadic, boundaryless and personally responsible for their professional development in an age of decreasing career volition can be immensely stressful. This has potential for a significant biopsychosocial effect on individuals that cumulatively can impact the wider occupation.

There are many strands of grief that affect us as individuals and in our work as professional communicators. We can look to scholarship to understand and improve the frameworks of communications in traumatic situations as well as developing better understanding and approaches to accommodate those who are experiencing biopsychosocial difficulties within, and indeed, because of, the occupation’s working environment.

If you find yourself in need of support to cope with bereavement or other forms of loss and grief, do seek professional help. For example, you could contact Cruse Bereavement Care, the Samaritans, or a charity such as Marie Curie that provides online help. Most importantly, find someone to talk with and don’t go through grief or feelings of loss alone.

Corless, I.B., Limbo, R., Bousson, R.S., Wrenn, R.L., Head, D., Lickiss, N. and Wass, H. 2014. Languages of Grief: a model for understanding the expressions of the bereaved. Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine. 2(1): 132-143. Available from:

McCoyd, J.L.M. and Walter, C.A. 2016. Grief and loss across the lifespan: a biopsychosocial perspective, 2nd edition. New York: Springer Publishing. Sample chapters available from:

Other links are provided to sources in the post.

Image: Shinkichi Tajiri, Overhand Knot (1995)