Women

fearless-girl-hed-2017

International Women’s Day – March 8. A day. One day a year to celebrate women. To commemorate the ongoing struggle for women’s rights. For equality.

This is not some new public relations idea. Women have been marching and demanding a voice for over a century. Making the world see them. Making men see them. The men who have the power need to see women. To realise the world is better when shared.

In the early 1900s, the modern workplace was formed. It was “increasingly constructed in a male idiom” (Simonton 2006:261). Masculine structures were hierarchical, yet women claimed a place in them – it was “the arrival of women in the offices which was the beginning of the real social revolution” (Sampson 1995:53).

This revolution was a communicative one – the recently invented telephone and typewriter became women’s weapons of power. And their shackles. These empowering technologies were deemed particularly suited to the skills of women (Simonton 1998). Condemning both woman and machine to the lower floors. Often hidden from view in the telephone exchanges and typing pools.

But it was in the factories where the real subjugation of working women took place. Still takes place.

The London match girls went on strike in 1888 challenging their working conditions and treatment. Their activism generated publicity and political action. The Uprising of the 20,000, the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909, stood up for immigrant working women in the garment industry. Invisible women taking to the streets to demand change. These stories have been repeated over the decades, across the world.

Matches and shirts – small things. We depend on small things.

Equality is important. Having the power to change inequalities and inequities is important. When you don’t have power from being an ‘important person’ (as women often don’t) then power can be found in the combined efforts of many, many individuals.

Women are activists, agitators and social reformers for change. I believe this work is both an antecedent to modern PR practice and an integral part of it.

Activism is directed beyond the rights of women. For causes that may be unseen and for voices that are often unheard. For children and animals. For the homeless and vulnerable. For the planet and peace. For bodies, minds and souls. For access and control. Activism isn’t solely for women, by women or about women. It is inclusive power.

On International Women’s Day, female humans become visible, talked about, celebrated.

Yet we are here every day. We may not be equal in numbers in positions of power – as politicians, industry leaders, judges, and so forth. But look around and you’ll see women.

Women do much of life’s dirty work. We dominate in shadow work – unpaid and unseen jobs. We are invisible workers and virtual workers.

This should not be devalued but celebrated.

It is not the top of institutions that truly matters. Yes, women need to be there – but not to be representatives or as a balancing calculation. That’s not how men are seen in such roles.

All women matter. No matter our role as workers or without work. As people with a voice and power or without.

We do the important jobs and the little jobs. We are everywhere.


Image: ‘The Fearless Girl’ by artist Kristen Visbal installed by State Street Global Advisors. Branded art as activism. Photo by Federica Valabrega.


Some of my other relevant writing:

Yaxley, H., 2012. Exploring the origins of careers in public relations. Public relations review. 38 (3), 399–407. [Above referenced sources are cited from this paper]

Yaxley, H., 2013. Career experiences of women in British public relations (1970–1989). Public Relations Review, 39 (2), 156–165.

Yaxley, H., 2013. Dissent PR – the women’s perspective: From suffragettes to slutwalks. Dissent and public relations seminar series, October-December 2012. Bournemouth University. Available from: https://research.bournemouth.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Dissent-and-public-relations-Bournemouth-University.pdf.

Yaxley, H., 2016. How to reach special publics – the woman publics. Available from: http://www.prconversations.com/2016/03/how-to-reach-special-publics-the-woman-publics/

America

ellis-island

I first went to Ellis Island in New York in 1980. This was my first time in America – United States of…

The last time I travelled to the US was in April 2001 when I stayed in New York with my mother to celebrate my 40th birthday. The one place that I really wanted to see again was Ellis Island.

By then, the gateway for millions of immigrants had started a journey of restoration, thanks to public generosity in response to an appeal launched by President Ronald Reagan in 1982. The Island of Hope, Island of Tears is a modern educational resource, now known as the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.

From my second visit, I remember the mix of people representing the myriad of races and nationalities that comprise the history of US immigration. Barely a week earlier, the American Family Immigration History Centre had opened up arrival records to everyone.

We watched with fascination the reactions of young and old visitors as they discovered details of their relatives on the new electronic database recording details of 22 million immigrants, passengers and crew members who had been processed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924.

I’d been to the US several times in the intervening years but the first and last of my visits are the most memorable.

When I started University in 1979, my room was next to an American spending a year in England. She lived in New Jersey and studied at Boston University. We became friends and she invited me to visit her family and the University. My parents managed to find the money for my airfare believing that this would possibly be my only chance to visit America.

I experienced a country that was both inspiring and depressing in equal measure. I remember huge shopping malls, noisy television gameshows, the thickness of McDonalds’ milkshakes and themed restaurants. I recall being bombarded by questions by people who were fascinated to meet someone British. They wanted to hear news of the Iranian hostages.

Their interest spoke to the concerns of a nation in a presidential election year that Ronald Reagan would win on a promise of restoring confidence, with a slogan of Let’s Make America Great Again.

After spending a few days with my friend at BU, I returned alone to New Jersey by train. This meant making a change in New York, at Grand Central Station. I was 19 years old and New York public transport had a somewhat gritty reputation. I was bewildered by the crowds of people rushing purposefully around me as I stood with my small blue suitcase like Paddington Bear trying to locate my connection.

A man wearing a suit came up to me and asked where I was headed. He gave me his briefcase and took my luggage. Quickly he took me to the right platform and disappeared into the crowds. The good side of New Yorkers.

This memory of a fleeting moment makes me think of the disorientation of those arriving in a strange country. Of trying to find your way and being unsure who to trust.

The Ellis Island that I’d visited a week or so earlier taking a ferry from New Jersey had conveyed this feeling through its haunting decay. Standing in open halls amongst the remnants of furniture, paperwork and peeling paintwork, I could feel the ghosts of millions of hopeful adults and children seeking a new life.

Shuffling in lines after an ardurous journey. Climbing the stairs of separation. Fearful of a cough or other indication of illness that would attract a chalk mark and an immediate return voyage. Surrounded by noises and smells of different cultures. Holding fast to precious dreams of the wonders that America may offer to those willing to work hard for a new future. The respite it would provide to these huddled masses.

A sense of the powerful decay of Ellis Island that I witnessed in 1980 can be gained from the stunning photographs of the Hospital Laundry building which completed its restoration last year.

Of course, immigration remains a global issue and January 2017 will be marked in history for President Trump’s suspension of the US refugee programme and plans for ‘extreme vetting’ of immigrants.

America – particular the US – has a long history of immigration, as does Britain. Regardless of your position on the issue today, we all ought to empathise with the feelings that drive people to relocate – whether in hope or fear. Nothing has ever communicated that to me more strongly than my first – and in a different way, my more recent – visit to Ellis Island.


Image: HR-ART.NET see: https://www.saveellisisland.org

Personality

chameleon-abstract-378557_640

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.

Listen

Somme 2_0

A century ago, the bloody battle in northern France silenced the hopes, dreams, fears and nightmares of so many young men. Others were so badly affected by their experiences that they never spoke of them again.

On 1 July 1916, 19,240 British soldiers died; many were recent volunteers. Their voices, along with hundreds of thousands more in the coming months, were lost forever.

It wasn’t until two weeks later that the names of the dead and wounded were reported in British newspapers. People began wearing black armbands as a way of acknowledging their loss.

In August, the War Office showed a public information film, The Battle of the Somme – nearly half the population went to the cinema to see the horrific scenes of the realities of war. It reinforced their resolve – as the propagandists intended.

By early November, simple shrines began appearing spontaneously around the country as people mourned their lost ones; as the list of casualties grew hourly in this brutal war.

The Battle of the Somme lasted from 1 July to 18 November 1916. The number of British soldiers dying across the 141 days averaged 893 per day – a total of 127,751 men. There were 419,654 British casualties, 204,253 French and at least 465,000 German. More than one million dead and wounded. Plus 100,000 horses deployed to support the British army; most of their fates unknown.

But raw facts fail to convey the horror.

You can read the human stories – the Telegraph has provided real time updates today.

You should read accounts of those who are moved by walking the battlefields today.

You will see real footage – stark in black and white across the news and online, shared through social media.

You can follow Tweets reporting detailed war diary entries from this day a hundred years ago.

_87931564_robheard53

You will witness the scale of the loss through the 19,240 shroud-clad figures marking every soldier who died on 1 July 1916 – each carrying an individual’s name.

You should reflect on the poetry written by ordinary men.

You can visit the Somme and stand silent in this bleak but beautiful landscape where the lost lives continue to be remembered. Not just today, but every day.

And you must listen.

Listen to the words of long-dead young men, such as 20 year old Second Lieutenant Jocelyn Buxton, killed on the first day of battle:

https://youtu.be/CPetbQs_k0g

Listen to the memories of the ‘silent generation’ who shared rare recollections, recorded by the BBC in the 1960s:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/group/p01tbj6p

Because when history is recorded, it must be remembered through the words of those who were there. When someone is lost, it is their voice that we long to hear again.

We are so busy talking and writing and sharing, that we fail to take the time to listen. Just listen. Properly listen. To those around us. To understand their perspective.

Listening is the only way to understand what others feel, think and experience.

Listening is ephemeral – it is hard to create a lasting trace of voices as they can fade fast in our memories.

Listening lacks the presence of seeing and doing. Yet, we need to be present to do it well.

As you’ve engaged with the visuality of my words, reflect on their sound in your head. My words are not important but the personal space where you listen is.

In their personal space 19,240 young listened to the real horrors of war. 100 years ago today. Before they fell silent.

 


Statistics sources:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/ztngxsg
http://www.historyextra.com/feature/somme-terrible-learning-curve

Understanding

word-understanding

This is the first in a series of posts with one word titles. According to the Oxford English Dictionary there are over 600,000 English words, with new ones added each year.

Word: A single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing

Any professional communicator needs to be aware of the meaning of the words they choose – and seek to understand the meaning intended in the words chosen by those with whom they communicate.

Comprehension, the ability to understand, is both vitally important, and a never ending process. It should be our basic learning outcome and the focus for continuous professional development.

We study comprehension when learning to read, or mastering another language. We question, what does this word – or digital code – mean? Semantics is at the heart of speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Words are symbols, signifiers, they may be socially constructed, and have specific meaning in a particular time or place. They can be fluid and deliberately twisted. They can heal, or hurt. They are powerful things.

As a professional educator, I’m always asking students: “what do you mean?” and focus down onto individual words to clarify why it was chosen and used in a particular context. It is critical that the person assessing a student’s work understands what they mean.

This doesn’t mean a communicator has to dumb down, although simple words can communicate with great clarity. At other times, understanding particular words can be difficult, even though they are the right choice in the context. Putting in the effort to comprehend such words is essential if we are to be able to explain our thinking and arguments. I’m not talking about being pretentious or obfuscating, but simply recognising that there are less common words that have a place in the lexicon.

Understanding may require intellect, thinking and judgement. It may also occur intuitively – without much thought, when we rely on emotions, or familiarity and immediately empathise and understand.

In their paper: The role of comprehension processes in communication and persuasion (subscription or academic login required), Wyer, Jr. and Shrum focus on cognitive processes rather than literal meaning of a communication.

They consider how verbal statements (written or spoken words) can spontaneously create a mental picture, but linguistic coding of pictures requires time. That is, words can trigger immediate visualisation, but we need longer to process what we see before translating this into words. In addition, both recall of a narrative and emotional reactions are affected by the mental imagery generated by particular word choice.

Words have power in stimulating visualisation, although that means we tend to rely on heuristics (mental shortcuts) in forming understanding. In contrast, when faced with an image, we may not be able to find the words to express our understanding immediately.

We may understand that a picture paints a thousand words – but perhaps also need to consider that a thousand words (or even just one) can paint a very powerful image.


Image adapted from original via: http://dryicons.com

Is it time to step away from the Grunig & Hunt four models of public relations?

pot plantsIf you’ve ever read a public relations textbook, you’ll be familiar with the Grunig & Hunt four models of public relations. Those who’ve studied a PR qualification will have written essays on the construct, even squidging it into papers where it wasn’t necessary because it has to be included, right?

No – there’s more to the scholarship of public relations than this framework originally published in 1984. Grunig’s own work has moved on through the Model of Excellence studies, conceptualisation of generic principles and specific applications for public relations, and more recently into consideration of two ‘competing theories’ of the symbolic, interpreted paradigm and the strategic management, behavioural paradigm. This work has all been related to the ‘age of digitalisation‘ by Grunig in 2009 (including a great ‘infographic’ originated by David Phillips).

Clearly there’s more to Grunig than the four model framework of two one-way models of communication (press agentry, public information) and two two-way models (asymmetric and symmetric). A fraction of the attention it is given has been devoted to Grunig’s Situational theory of publics, which in my view is a more interesting concept echoing the work of Dewey and Blumer.

But educators, students and even seasoned PR practitioners such as Stephen Waddington (who wrote his CIPR Chartered Practitioner paper on Grunig and digital communications) hone in on the 30+ year old framework.

Indeed, as we have our biggest ever intake for the CIPR qualifications at PR Academy starting this Saturday, the framework will undoubtedly be introduced to dozens more practitioners as students.

Of course it’s had its critics – and there’s a Pavlovian response in presenting these whenever the two-way symmetrical model is mentioned. But rather than liberating PR scholarship from the four models, the critiques appear to have anchored the framework further into the text books as a dominant paradigm. In education, we teach the four models to students who have never heard of them, and then we offer up critiques. But their central position remains the hub around which students’ understanding of PR theory remains.

PARADIGM: In science and epistemology (the theory of knowledge), a paradigm /ˈpærədaɪm/ is a distinct set of concepts or thought patterns, including theories, research methods, postulates, and standards for what constitutes legitimate contributions to a field. Source: Wikipedia

The Grunig & Hunt construct needs to be put in its place within a rich body of work that existed before, and has developed after, the four models were presented in 1984. That place is not as the fulcrum around which to lever open a theoretical underpinning of public relations practice. Rather than being positioned as the ‘best’ way of examining or explaining public relations, it is just one of many options within our academic and practitioner toolkit.

It shouldn’t be placed at the beginning of a student’s journey into the academia, nor be the only thing that is remembered at the end of a course to apply to the day job. It fits somewhere in the middle – but not the centre – of a substantive range of theories, models and ideas that stretch way outside the boundaries of public relations texts.

My call to step away from the models isn’t because they lack relevance, it is that other concepts offer greater, or at least, further potential for interesting and fruitful exploration of the links between PR academia and practice (a topic that is the focus of a CIPR Facebook ‘Community of Practice ‘group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1536282756627129/).

To return to my favourite rhizomatic metaphor, the four models sit like a neat row of little pot plants where we need to get our hands dirty in the wider public relations field, which offers many interconnected and varied roots, flowers, fruits and weeds worthy of our attention.

Public Relations is a tradition of practice

brains

I’m very interested in how we think about and study public relations – and how this conceptual understanding connects to what we do in practice.

I believe in questioning the accepted wisdom, arguments, actions and assumptions that are inherent in public relations practice (and theory) using reflective and critical thinking.

Only by being mindful of what underpins our theorising and behaviours can we know what works well, what needs improving and what we should stop doing.

In academia, such an approach reflects a tradition of interrogating ideas and theories, research and opinion – even, or perhaps that should be especially, our own.

In sport, science, medicine, engineering and many fields, this idea of seeking to understand ‘why’ rather than just ‘how’ informs practice.

This does not necessarily mean that we have to dive deeply into theory, although we should at least know that public relations has a substantial body of knowledge to draw upon. Many studies are intended to be highly practical, but equally valid is academic work that helps to stretch understanding – and critical examination – in different directions.

Psychiatrist, Professor Steve Peters illustrates the linkage when discussing his Chimp Paradox model, which has been credited with contributing towards the success of British cycling.

A model is not pure scientific fact or a hypothesis. It is just a simple representation to aid understanding and help us to use the science. It may also help us to make sense of how we have been in the past, how we are now, and how we can manage ourselves better in the future.

The public relations tradition of practice however, has tended to be skeptical of theory, academia and scholarship, deeming it to be irrelevant impractical, out-dated and too intellectual.

Indeed, many practitioners prefer to draw more on their own experience, and that of others, alongside narrative examples of practice, rather than analytical and objectively-researched case studies, theories or even more representational models.

Consequently, ‘laws’ of public relations practice are commonly derived from, and advocated on, personal beliefs or single examples; with little consideration of the specific or situational aspects pertinent to the social, organisational or temporal context of the particular case.

This means the tradition of practice is a story-telling one, built around the ‘truths’ of particular examples. This tends to mean relying on recollections and the fallibility, or selective interpretation, of memories. Or presentation of examples to illustrate particular ‘lessons’, much as we seen in mythology or parables.

Scratch the surface of ‘rules’ of crisis management and you’ll find these are predicated on the tale of the Tylenol tampering case from the 1980s. Over several decades, this example has been crafted into an exemplar narrative of how crisis situations should – indeed, some argue, how it must – be handled. This ignores the nuanced reality of that case, let alone differences in circumstance for other  crises that may well necessitate alternate preparation or response.

I am bemused that the PR tradition of practice commonly promotes prescriptive rules of engagement or operational norms, yet routinely rejects study of theory.

If you are arguing in favour of a ‘best practice’ approach, you should be prepared to work out hypotheses or propositions that can be assessed to confirm the validity – or otherwise – of the recommended courses of action.

That’s essentially what a theory does in going beyond describing what practice is (or should be in the view of certain people) to include ideas and theses that help to explain the practice, and make predictions for future action based on evidence and/or logical deductions or inferences.

Theory should not be viewed as absolute and fixed, but is open to challenge, development and change.

Further, theory can be developed around situational variables, offering more nuanced insight into practice. Indeed, as a qualitative researcher, I support interpretive and other research approaches that enable in-depth examination of subjective experience. However, this is still a robust process not simply anecdotal reportage.

Many other disciplines build practice on a tradition of theorising, studying an existing body of knowledge and gaining qualifications.

Public relations continues to advocate construction around learning ‘on the job’ (i.e. passing on the way things have been done previously) or attending ‘how to’ training courses.

Increasingly it seems that Twitter, Facebook, infographics or LinkedIn discussions are viewed as the best way to gain insight into the tradition of public relations practice. I’m all for social learning methods, but there’s more to improving competence than online surfing.

Likewise, guidelines can be useful, but instead of being presented as a single lodestar or exemplars, they can open up directions that may be fruitful to examine.

Public relations is not simply an occupation where we can be trained to do our jobs. Rather we are encouraged to be thoughtful and creative. A broad theoretical underpinning is a liberating platform from which to develop an evidenced-based set of informed solutions and/or conceive original options.

What is missing in public relations seems to be a culture of  reflective practice. This approach is increasingly common in many professions, particularly  education and healthcare.

From this perspective, theorising is seen as part of a dynamic process that is alive to the changing world of practice, and reflective, critical and analytical thought. It is open for debate and discussion within the community of practice as well as the scholarly literature and the spaces between the two.

This ‘middleness’ space between academia and practice is inhabited by models that are systematic representations to help us to understand the world, explore concepts and clarify complexity – although they risk being oversimplification of reality.

For example, here is a simple model to illustrate a conceptual framework of how PR is, and should be, practised:

PR practice

Of course all the elements of PR practice cannot be readily placed into one of these four categories, and it is undoubtedly a matter of debate what should go where. But that’s the point. The model offers a technique to facilitate discussion and reflection on the tradition of practice.

Viewed as a reflective tool, we can consider traditional, contemporary, emerging and potential practices and viewpoints and map these onto the model.

Critical and reflective thinking allows consensus, differences of opinion and situational considerations to be considered. Research can also be undertaken to assess the typology, and accept, adapt or reject it on the basis of evidence.

Applying such conceptual frameworks and critical thinking encourages practitioners to:

  • Shape the research they employ in investigating a situation or informing a campaign
  • Analyse possible causes or limitations in tackling problems
  • Challenge habitus (ingrained practices and dispositions)
  • Understand the context of their work, and others’ frames of reference
  • Develop an evidence based practice
  • Identify a range of approaches to address issues
  • Contribute strategically to decision-making and planning processes
  • Structure credible arguments for practical recommendations

As an example, an analysis of media discussion earlier this year around mitochondrial donation (commonly termed the ‘three-parent baby’ issue) suggests a number of ways of thinking about the topic:

scientific, medical, healthcare, procedural, ethical, religious, economic, political, legal, socio-cultural, humanitarian, historical, personal, rhetorical and so on.

Each of these individually, and through comparison and synthesis, suggest conceptual frameworks that can be evaluated and considered in researching the narrative and arguments being made by others, helping us to establish an informed position, and recommend a response. Or they may suggest a gap or new way of looking at the issue.

The concept of ‘tradition of practice’ is one that I came across within the anthropology and healthcare literature. To my knowledge, it hasn’t been applied to public relations, but I am interested in exploring it further. In these fields, a large body of theoretical knowledge has been accumulated, but it is acknowledged that learning does not take place exclusively in the classroom.

Systematic and critical examination of the way things are done, using a variety of conceptual frameworks and theoretical perspectives, can both encourage and challenge a more improvisational, intelligent practice.

The idea is to better connect how we think about, and how we practice, public relations. The goal is to pass on a tradition of practice that is enhanced by virtue of combining the strengths of reflective, critical insight, with real-world experimentation and application.