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.

In praise of the amateur in PR

Photograph: Vadim Trunov
Photograph: Vadim Trunov

I tend to refer to public relations as an occupation or practice rather than as a profession (although sometimes I use the term public relations professionals as well as practitioners). Bill Sledzik’s 2010 post Is PR really a profession? sums a lot of my thinking.

In 1969, Goode reported the “industrial society is a professionalizing one”, with sociologist Everett Hughes earlier arguing that a profession was seen as “the prestige show”, with middle class occupations seeking to achieve professional status in part for social advancement with “the collective effort of an organized occupation to improve its place and increase its power, in relation to others”.

I often hear PR practitioners along with journalists refer to themselves as professionals to signal a difference from others. In the case of media contacts, this is commonly to argue against bloggers or others they deem as untrained and amateur.

This superior attitude often seems to me to be misplaced.

I’ve illustrated this post with an image from the self-taught Russian photographer, Vadim Trunov, whose work I think is truly magical. All authors are amateurs until they get that break and become paid once published, although few make enough money to describe themselves as full-time professional writers. Likewise, musicians, actors and artists frequently hone their craft for love whilst dreaming of fame and fortune.

In public relations, it is not unusual to read criticism of those who seek to enter the occupation after studying for a specialist degree with experience and learning on the job often held up as more desirable. Not so much a profession as a group of people earning money whilst practising a craft, perhaps.

Various skills and knowledge employed within public relations certainly can be mastered by amateurs. For example, to gain publicity, change public opinion, secure support, build relationships and enhance reputations. Amateurs in public relations may be volunteering for an organisation (such as a charity or community group), championing a cause or acting on behalf of themselves or others. Their work may be of a high standard – professional even – but they are not PR professionals or likely to associate themselves with the ‘profession’.

But we should remember the etymology of the word, amateur, from the Latin amare meaning “to love”. As Wikipedia notes:

An amateur (French amateur “lover of”, from Old French and ultimately from Latin amatorem nom. amator, “lover”) is generally considered a person attached to a particular pursuit, study, or science in a non-professional or unpaid manner. Amateurs often have little or no formal training in their pursuits, and many are autodidacts (self-taught).

This contrasts with profession as deriving from the vows taken on entering a religious order, or in relation to work, professing (declaring openly) to be skilled in an occupation.

The amateur could be considered as more focused on improving their competencies than the professional who declares their formal identification with public relations. Likewise, why shouldn’t we praise the blogger or enthusiastic campaigner who lives and breathes their chosen passion, puts unpaid hours of effort into pursuing their interests and doesn’t invest energy only when they are being paid?

There’s more to being a profession than seeking status, more to being a professional than being paid, and much to learn from those who are true amateurs, that is, lovers of what they do.

N’est pas?

Loving or loathing LinkedIn

linkedinI’m in two minds about LinkedIn both personally and professionally. In some ways it is the most irritating of social media networks, but also it can be highly useful.

I tend to feel LinkedIn (the topic of my second January post reflecting on Social Media) doesn’t really know what it is any more and is trying to be a bit of lots of other social media channels, but not necessarily very successfully.

The recent additions of prompted endorsements in my view has undermined the value of this aspect of the site. Yes, written recommendations can still be helpful, but I’m not sure anyone really places much store in them do they? Aren’t they just mates’ puffery?

Other automated ‘updates’ such as job anniversaries I find equally annoying. And most of the group discussions are pretty pointless – or maybe it is just the groups that I’ve joined (and often wish I hadn’t). I reckon most groups are largely dormant or are dominated by a few voices.

I also dislike how many people use LinkedIn in a ‘look at me’ manner which is mainly about self-publicity or promotion of their work, company or activities. Some people I see in group discussions make me laugh with their bragging, especially when they lack any self-recognition that their pomposity in writing about how successful they are is the antithesis of good public relations.

Other people seem to use groups as a lazy short-cut to original research. I don’t mind a good discussion around a topic that is of wider interest, or seeking recommendations for suppliers or such information. But too often I find people are looking for others to do their job for them. And, undoubtedly these types of posts recur frequently. Isn’t there an easy way of people finding previous threads rather than asking the same simplistic questions over and over?

And, I hear so many examples of recruitment companies relying on LinkedIn to find candidates without any knowledge of the competence or qualities of those they trawl up. Mind you, it is amusing to think of the recruiters and boasters finding each other in an ever repeating circuit.

However, LinkedIn does genuinely make accessible dozens of job vacancies and enables you to find – and check out – people for speaking and other employment opportunities. This is where I think LinkedIn does work well i.e. as a professional contact database – which is where it started. Locating and connecting with people you know (and don’t but perhaps could and should) is simple and effective. Yes, too many people still abuse the networking, but they can be ignored quite easily.

For individuals, it is a straightforward way to have an up to date online profile, with both a CV/resume and other useful information. It can be a helpful professional place to share useful information and enable effective online networking particularly with existing contacts. I do find it works in terms of getting faster responses than emails from busy people. For students and young PR practitioners, it can be a good way of establishing contacts especially using its ‘6-degrees of separation’ nature.

It is also easy for organisations to set up pages where basic information is often easier to find than on their own websites. A post at Forbes argues companies should encourage all employees to use LinkedIn rather than blocking access. The argument is that employee activity in LinkedIn increases visibility for a company. Actually, the point being made is that employees should be using LinkedIn as ‘brand ambassadors’ and generators of LinkedIn search juice.

Seeing employees as primarily ‘good news’ distributors is cynical and smacks of that terrible concept: internal marketing (which is not the same as employee engagement or internal communications). And, I can’t be alone in envisaging dozens of ‘cut and paste’ corporate posts by individual employees as a great way to annoy lots of people rather than engage them.

A similar questionable attitude is expressed by Dan Schwabel in another Forbes post. He is arguing that you should accept all requests to connect on the basis that this helps increase your Klout score and general profile. Again a quantity over quality focus.

Perhaps what I’m finding irritating about LinkedIn is common among other women as I note from Michal Clements post that women are not using LinkedIn as much or as regularly as men. She argues that this means women may be missing out on the career development and relationship building potential of engaging with LinkedIn. Recruiters using LinkedIn will be missing out on female talent if women are not using the channel as much as male counterparts.

Is it just me? Is LinkedIn operating mainly in a male way that doesn’t engage women? Is it really a useful professional network – and a valued recruitment channel? Does it offer real public relations benefits to organisations or is it another clogged up channel of puff and nonsense?

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’.

Plotting a personal path to PR career success

PR Academy is looking to document how studying a PR qualification has helped in developing careers. The “Your Learning Journey” concept involves posting a comment on its blog in no more than 140 words relating the influence and path taken as a result of gaining a qualification. As well as potentially winning a Trailfinders gift card to the value of £250, there’s an opportunity to feature in its campaign to encourage continuous learning. You don’t have to be a PR Academy student to take part (and you are encouraged to Tweet using the #learningjourney hashtag).

This initiative is interesting to me, not only because I’ve spend over a decade working with many students of public relations (including those enrolled with PR Academy), but for the connections it has to my own PhD studies into career strategies in PR.

If you are thinking about your next move in public relations, there are three concepts I’ve found running as threads through my research into the historical context of career strategies in the field. Continue reading Plotting a personal path to PR career success

PR is about action not procrastination

PR time – balancing urgency and importance (after Stephen Covey)

One of those silly PR surveys yesterday made me think – it was about procrastination and the time we waste in putting things off. I am very familiar with the idea with students – and PR practitioners – who are deadline-oriented creatures and expert also at displacement behaviour where you focus on other tasks rather than knuckling down to the priority at hand.

I also advocate Stephen Covey‘s notion of ‘first things first’ and include an adaptation of his urgent-important matrix in the forthcoming Public Relations Strategic Toolkit.

Continue reading PR is about action not procrastination

How many PR practitioners does it take to change a light bulb?

change The answer: “I don’t know – I’ll get back to you on that”.  This joke is a reminder of the importance of having a solid understanding of your subject matter in PR practice.  This is the topic of my second post looking at the future of work in public relations.

Continue reading How many PR practitioners does it take to change a light bulb?