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.

A brainiac guide to digital and social media trends


Keeping up to date on digital and social media trends is a challenge given how fast the online environment develops and changes. One minute we may feel confident in using various technologies – the next, we hear about something new, and aren’t sure how, or indeed, whether, we should be using this in our professional or personal communications.

Helping communications practitioners improve their digital communications and social media self-efficacy – essentially how confident someone feels to enact behaviours online – is one of my goals as course leader for the PR Academy Social Media and Digital Communications Certificate.

So, six months ago, I produced my thoughts on six social media and digital communications trends for 2015 – drawing on the core areas that we cover in the course.

As we take a student-focused approach through our online learning portal, and accompanying workshop day – we are able to accommodate such trends into to the six core areas that we cover. This enables students to add the latest knowledge to their existing understanding (at whatever level that may be), and apply a reflective approach in assessing and applying what they feel will improve their competencies and improve the impact and effectiveness of their organisational communications.

Ahead of the next course starting in September, I have taking a half-year look at what’s going on in the current online climate and again used the six core areas as a framework, to produce A Braniac Guide to Digital and Social Media Trends:

1. Smart Personalisation of trusted, shared news

Online behaviour and social network recommendations are increasingly personalising the reach of stories offering new opportunities, and also threats, for professional communicators in getting their news out. As one example, the redesigned Pulse news reader shares professionally-relevant “news bites” that are driven by trusted contacts, and users’ LinkedIn behaviour such as reactions in saving or removing stories. Understanding how individuals interact with such personalised news digests, highlights barriers in trying to change attitudes, opinions and behaviours, but provides great opportunities to increase communication traction within trusted networks.

2. Trendiness & 4Ts – techniques, tools, technologies, terminologies

Social shopping tools are undermining some of the biggest online brands with photo-led, friends-focused, independent mobile marketplaces offering fun alternatives to the monolithic ebay and Amazon. Backed by technology incubators, venture capital and crowd-sourced funding, relatively recent start-ups such as Depop, Wavey Garms, Polyvore, Chictopia and Vinted are growing quickly as the places to learn about new products, ideas and trends, get advice and trade with like-minded others, and enjoy user generated editorial and banter. They also enable professional communicators to reach and research subcultures of online users, and their new influencers.

3. Netnographic multi-dimensional profile research

We’ve all heard of ‘big data’ with huge volumes of quantiative data generated every second online. But netnography, ethnography on the internet, is revealing some unexpected trends by offering rich qualitative insight into online discussions. For example, researchers have identified a lively and growing group of older adults discussing sexuality issues. With pension-age transgender Caitlyn Jenner, breaking the Twitter record to reach 1m fans in 4 hours, here’s proof that being a digital natural is more about mindset than age. Applying a netnographic approach in a profiling playbook enables a more developed understanding of those we are looking to communicate with online.

4. Attributing value from strategic planning

Let’s talk about attribution, the search to identify the exact value that each element of your digital communications – or indeed any supporting offline activity – is having. You may know something is working – but finding out exactly what is the most effective, or where the biggest return for budget spend can be found is proving increasingly difficult owing to trans-media and device-swapping behaviours. Two planning aspects are essential: setting up Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and investing the time and resources in analytics (much of which can be accessed for free). Big budget brands are praising ‘people-based” technology such as Facebook’s Atlas mobile ad platform. But it’s not just about tech, as attribution needs communicators to break down silos, identify touch-points when outcomes can be credited and ensure an overall ‘lifetime value’ (LTV) metric is included in the strategic plan.

5. Content leadership depends on trust

To Pay or Not to Pay is the big content creation debate emerging so far in 2015. As marketing and advertising experts continue to power their work through WOM (word of mouth) communications, so PR practitioners are securing budgets to integrate social network advertising in their activities. But, it’s not so much about blurring PESO (paid, earned, shared and owned) media as ideas that work – both for the communicators and those who engage with them. The key word is TRUST – with the UK Competitions and Market Authority opening an investigation into manipulation of online reviews and endorsement, brands falling foul of Google’s rules over seeking to game its SEO, and Google itself under fresh investigation by the European commission for favouring its own vertical search products. Can anyone trust what they find online? It’s getting tougher – especially as ‘sponsored content’ challenges traditional editorial independence and integrity. Building and maintaining trust is essential both when generating content, and when evaluating the best channels through which to share it.

6. Risk, issues and crisis management – standing up to online moral outrage

Organisations of all shapes and sizes are being forced to face up to growing waves of moral outrage through social media and communicate with value driven, robust responses rather than knee-jerk, sacrificial strategies. The apparent brutal treatment of the eminent scientist, Sir Tim Hunt by UCL and the Royal Society following a twitter storm over his poorly considered ‘joke’ has led to calls for organisations to kick back against cyber-bullying and online shaming and stand by their principles rather than cave to the baying mob.

Most of these trends reflect that developments in digital and social media communications are building on existing practices, but require continual review and adaptation of these to stay ahead, and apply a pragmatic and informed understanding that is appropriate to the particular organisation and situation it faces.

Click here for further details of the September 2012 PR Academy Social Media and Digital Communications Certificate which is now enrolling.  The course involves an intensive, immersive study period, where learning is derived from tutor-supported activities, independent research, social learning techniques and an individually developed portfolio assignment. It combines emerging and established knowledge with a focus on developing insight into strategic, and effective, social media and digital communications, that complements and integrates with existing organisational communications plans.

What’s the shelf life of the PR selfie?

saycheeseIs it a trend, a craze or a band-wagon? Regardless, does the selfie as a PR tactic have a limited shelf life like charity wristbands, naked calendars and any similar idea that works the first couple of times and then becomes increasingly irritating?

The problem becomes how the first few examples are touted around as ‘successful’. In social media terms, perhaps it started with Cadbury’s Wispa and Facebook (thanks Mark Borkowski!), where everyone who subsequently created a Facebook campaign expected the same results (instead of generating likes from a few pets or other random followers). Same with clicktivism campaigns and so called ‘viral’ videos.

So the past week has been all about the #nomakeupselfie – which according to Sophia Moir was actually not the PR brainwave of Cancer Research UK, although it has supported the attention and fund-raising that has been generated. It has a group on its website and used the hashtag for search engine advertising. Add in a bit of controversy regarding the initiative’s relevance or the sense of ‘lazy social media marketing campaigns’ (as Kristina Egan writes in Huffpost students), and there’s a story with legs here.

Cue the #cockinasock testicular cancer selfie awareness campaign (not sure I am recommending clicking onto the Facebook page) to give the guys a go at the pointless personal pictures (yes, puns intended!). But another good cause that’s generating plenty of social media talk and maybe increasing awareness of the issue and some research funds. Again, whether or not the hand of charity PR is involved here, seems to be debated.

There’s no doubting that the #drivingselfie story was originated by the insurance company, – of course with a disapproving air whilst touting statistics that reveal this is just the age old pretty standard publicity tactic of the PR survey. And, yes, it continues to work in catching the attention of journalists as an easy story – who cares that the same story generated coverage back in November? It will undoubtedly be around again before too many months. Goldfish PR anyone? To be honest, I cannot be bothered to look up which PR agency suggested the idea to this time.

Does this all mean there is actually a long PR shelf-life for various selfie-stories? Or will we soon get so sick of them, they’ll be tired and dusty ideas within weeks? Well, I can guarantee PR practitioners (consultants and in-house) will be pitching selfie ideas to their bosses over the coming months – and in fact, there is likely to be an inverse correlation between the likelihood of generating interest in the selfie story and ideas getting the go-ahead. That’s because many managers are social media laggards and by the time they’ve heard of the trend/craze, and approve hopping on the band-wagon, it’s rapidly losing momentum.

Originality and creativity are important in public relations. An ability to be opportunistic and spot an emerging trend or opportunity is equally valid. But so too is timing – and having a strategic purpose. It is easy to use the fizz of today’s word of mouth idea to come up with extensions for clients. I’m anticipating for the toilet roll promotion or bowel cancer awareness version, alongside dozens of April 1st selfie spoofs next week. dynamic agenda

But to be honest, what I’d rather see is real agenda setting within public relations. Let’s not rely on being able to launch a me-too idea off the back foot. Rather, we should be leaders in driving forwards critical issues that capture public attention and really make a difference.

Whether you are delivering public relations within a charity or cause-related organisation or have commercial motives in mind, the real art and science is in achieving your objectives by harnessing the public, media and political agendas to your organisational one – with the added energy offered by the ever-changing social media agenda (as proposed by my Dynamic Agenda Setting model – featured in the Public Relations Strategic Toolkit).

UPDATE: Yet to see the on-the-toilet selfies, but the #AfterSex Instagram ‘trend‘ has got the mainstream media in a bit of a lather at the start of April.  And somehow I’d missed the promotion of the ‘couplie‘ around Valentine’s Day by One4all 


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’.

Public relations in the real world

ivorytowerPublic relations is a social construct that reflects the time and place in which it operates. This is evident from looking at historical development along with current practice. It occurs in a physical (real) world where human beings interact – even when, or perhaps especially when, many in the occupation are arguing that it is all about online, digital or social communications.

This week, I’ve been involved in developing and promoting Lions Good Deed Week. The idea is to use a proven PR technique to help Lions Clubs International (GB and Ireland) communicate all the good work being done by members in local communities. Traditionally the week is branded Lions Awareness, but that concept struggles to mean anything to the public or media. In contrast, everyone can understand what a good deed means – and there are plenty of examples that can be used, or planned, that reflect this core aspect of Lions’ work.

We’ve been using Twitter and Facebook as a means of communicating such examples – primarily as a way of kick starting use of these channels within the organisation centrally. But the reality is that the good deeds occur when members of Lions Clubs do good work in the real world. That’s where true public relations takes place.

Similarly, when thinking about the interesting pair of posts that Judy Gombita has written about crisis management, we have this tension between the online and real world. Although Judy is emphasising the social business dimension of crisis, or incidents, as she illustrates, relatively few problem scenarios occur only in an online context.

Let’s take the example of Hasan Syed who bought a Tweet to complain to BA about lost baggage. It is debatable whether this is a real crisis for BA as most airlines  experience missing or delayed luggage as a matter of routine. They have operational processes for such incidents, and no matter how inefficient these may be (impacted in part by the outsourcing of baggage handling), primary responsibility does not lie with the public relations function.

Online media offer a more open means of complaining about the process when it fails or is frustrating to passengers. But a search this minute of Twitter will reveal dozens of tweets highlighting missing suitcases.

Why did the BA case generate interest? It wasn’t the crisis, nor BA’s tardy response via social media, but the fact that a bought Tweet was used. That was the news – picked up by mainstream media (that is print and broadcast, not just online) and talked about by real people in real offline conversations.

Undoubtedly this example will be added to the repertoire of cases cited by textbooks, bloggers, trainers and commentators as evidence of truths about the power of online PR (or poor practice of it).  But for every Wispa or HSBC Facebook campaign claimed as success of the power of social media activism (both dating from 2007 when such approaches were news), there are dozens, hundreds, thousands more initiatives that gain little if any traction.  The 2nd, 3rd and subsequent bought Angry Customer Tweets will not garner much, if any, attention.

Likewise, even the giants of ‘social media fails‘ (according to the online experts) such as BP and Toyota, may have been humbled and bruised (but not destroyed) by the glare that online activity shone on issues and crisis situations that would have been – indeed were – high profile offline too.  Their problems occurred in the real world of operational decisions, and the strategic work of public relations continues in the need to focus on reputation and relationships – again mainly in the physical world (especially relating to political, financial and customer relations).

Again, we can cite examples where online polls changed organisational strategy (such as the female on a British bank note campaign), but others where despite a substantial global presence, things never changed (Kony 2012 for example).  Of course, public relations practitioners should be monitoring potential and emerging issues through social media – alongside offline research, data analysis and listening processes.   They also need the strategic insight to know when bubbles of sentiment online need action and when they don’t.

I’m not saying that digital and social media are not important, but they do not operate in isolation. And anyone who believes that organisations should focus their PR efforts primarily online is missing both the importance of real world operations/experiences and the necessity to integrate online with offline.

We should never forget that most problems begin offline – even a stupid tweet or inappropriate video has its roots in the behaviour and mindset of people living offline. Likewise, the majority of promotional activities relate to actual products or services. Even totally online operations tend to have an output that we experience outside the confines of online. We listen to music, read our ebooks and watch streamed movies as 3D, living, breathing people.  Online is part of, not a replacement for, real life.

One other aspect of public relations that occurs in the real world is professional education and academia – despite criticisms of some practitioners (including those who are frequently the largest advocates of online communications). Research, reflection and theorising are pretty much exclusively predicated on a connection with PR practice. The real world of practice (online and off) is enhanced by greater understanding of what can be learned from connecting with this real world of academia and professional education.

Instead, it is alleged that PR academics live in ivory towers and don’t understand the real world of practice. My experience – and that of enlightened PR practitioners – is the exact opposite. As with integrating online and offline, we can only get a true understanding of the world by ensuring practice and academia are recognised as part of the holistic real world view of PR as we experience it, right here and now.

A disruptive week in PR

disruptionIt’s always good to disrupt your normal routine with an opportunity to learn new things, gain different insights and meet interesting people. Last week was a disruptive one for me to this extent.

The main event was the inaugural PR and Disruption conference at the London College of Communications, followed by the annual MIPAA “soirée” @Goodwood Festival of Speed and then the CIPR Fellows lunch at the Waldorf hotel (disrupting the normal choice of the House of Lords).

The disruption motif was evident at the conference in a number of different ways:

  • How PR can help organisations adapt to a disruptive world
  • Whether or not social media developments are disrupting PR practice
  • Disrupting the way in which we think about PR – particularly drawing on social theory
  • Using PR as a disruptive force

There seemed general acceptance that PR operating at a strategic level is essential in managing the various disruptions happening in the world. Likewise, debate around social media developments which sought to present these as disrupting the modus operandi seemed to indicate more that digital PR is a core aspect of practice and needs to be reflected as generalist social media competencies (including arguments for T-Shaped employees).

The third perspective on disruption was instigated by Øyvind Ihlen of the University of Oslo. For the practitioners attending the conference, his billing as an academic seemed to be disruptive as the stereotype that this is irrelevant to practice came over strongly. I’m a big fan of Øyvind’s book: Public Relations and Social Theory and particularly his chapter On Bourdieu, which I used when discussing PR knowledge management systems in The Public Relations Strategic Toolkit. So for me, practical linkage between academic and practitioner work is not disruptive.

The main argument that Øyvind put forward related to seeing PR  as social constructivism – that is, that human beings co-create meaning with communications as a reflective and discursive process, involving polyphony (embracing multiple opinions and voices). As such, this disrupts the normal management perspective of public relations.

It was in this respect that the most disruptive comment was made in response to a question about evaluation of such an approach to PR. Øyvind responded that he did not believe in measurement which set Twitter alight as this is now heresy as the practice has become evangelistic in propagating a measurement gospel.

Personally, I find much PR measurement tends to be reductive and illusionary as it reflects the ideas of rational management i.e. that we can command and control within a premise of a logical and linearly ordered world. As I’ve said many times, the world is messier and more complex than that.

Indeed, I would like to have heard more during the conference that related to using PR as a disruptive force – both within organisations (as per Holtzhausen’s work, PR as Activism) and in wider society (the Dissent PR concept we’ve been exploring at Bournemouth University).  There also ought to have been more diversity in the demographic of the speakers as it is questionable how disruptive the views of men are – although they may be the outsiders in a female dominated occupation.

On the face of it, there wasn’t much disruption evident at the MIPAA get-together at the end of the Moving Motors day of the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The event itself has proven a disruptive force over the past decade as it has developed as a modern alternative to the traditional motor show (and totally replaced this in the UK). From the PR perspective, it is perhaps ironically disruptive to hold a ‘pop up’ soirée as the traditional schmoozing or socialising aspect of PR is being squeezed out as practitioners are under increasing time pressures.

This is a link between all three events I attended this week as it seems disruptive to take time out to catch up with colleagues in the PR world unless it is instrumental to practice. I felt this very much at the CIPR Fellows lunch where although there was a good group of attendees, the retired contingent was less prevalent than in previous years (perhaps preferring the House of Lords venue) and most of us there seemed to be self-employed and so able to justify disrupting our days by attending.

The speaker at the lunch was Toby Young, who presents himself as a disruptive force, in terms of being opinionated and rather controversial.

His talk made an interesting connection to social theory as he presented a post-modern critique on public relations (or rather publicity and spin doctors) with a reference to Foucault (although I doubt he’d read the chapter by Judy Motion and Shirley Leitch in Øyvind’s book).

For Toby Young, Foucault was evidence of the disruptive influence of PR on society. From the publicists’ ability to create totally false discourse about their clients to the spin doctors’ control over political narrative, PR was to blame. Instead, we were urged to look for those with integrity and strongly held beliefs (he held up Margaret Thatcher and Michael Goves as shining examples of conviction politicians).

For me one of the challenges of trying to present or critique post-modernism is that its characteristics mean any discussion ends up being post-modernist. For example, what Toby Young presented was not an absolute truth, but his perspective and interpretation, particularly of who was credible and authentic and who was not. He criticised Twitchunts when mobilised against those who wrote things he agreed with, yet cited social media as a positive force against the false nature of PR-manufactured stories.

Again, what he succeeded in doing was stimulating attendees to take to Twitter to offer a polyphonic account of the talk. So, with wonderful irony, it is this negative discourse that enhances the persona that Young portrays – with or without PR support.

Whilst these three events disrupted my normal routine, each succeeded in introducing me to some new things, insights and people. Which has to be a positive outcome – although I’m not sure quite how to measure it.