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Exploring cooperation between public relations academia and practice 

An online conversation over four weeks will explore how public relations academics and practitioners can cooperate and collaborate.

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The beach is a good place to wander and think. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the chasm between public relations teaching, thinking and practice. Public relations academics and practitioners are isolated from each other. It shouldn’t be this way.

Applying theory in practice

Public relations is practical. We should learn from the body of knowledge that academic colleagues are investigating and apply it to our day jobs.

Academic colleagues are enabling greater understanding in every area of practice. In the last month I’ve read papers about agile workflow, dating theory, the psychology of sharing and viral effects in networks.

Meanwhile practitioners challenged by the pace of innovation are reaching out to theory to help make sense of the changes in practice.

“Theory isn’t just relevant: it’s vital. All practice is grounded in theory, but it’s often subjective, experiential and historical. I’m passionate about this project, because I’ve benefited from being part of both communities,” said Jason MacKenzie, Managing Director, Liquid. CIPR Executive Board Director, Council member and chairman, Professional Practices Committee.

“As practitioners, we tend to gain experience in isolation or as part of a close cadre of colleagues. I’ve found studying, sharing, comparing and applying theories derived from evidence-based academic research refreshes how I approach my work,” said Simon Butt-Bethlendy, director, GlobalHE Consulting and chairman, CIPR Education and Skills Group.

Work in progress

There’s been some progress in bringing the two communities closer together since I spoke about the issue at BledCom, the annual symposium for public relations thinkers and doers last year, but progress is slow. Following BledCom, I committed to explore this issue as Past President of the CIPR this year.

Blogs, conferences, guest lecturing, job swaps such as the PRCA’s mentoring initiative, advisory roles and online discussions are all helping create a broader community of practice but we could go further.

My personal commitment to tackling the issue, supported by my employer Ketchum, has been to take a Visiting Professor role at Newcastle University.

As a result I’ve been invited to explore this issue at the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) conference in Oslo in October.

Ahead of the event I’ve created a Facebook group to explore the issue.

I’ve used Facebook as it has greater adoption than other networks internationally. It is widely used for personal and professional activities and its community features integrate neatly with the newsfeed.

A conversation about cooperation and collaboration

I want to explore the following issues over the next four weeks.

  • Is the divide between practice and academia real?
  • Issues facing practice and the value of theory
  • The role of continuous learning and reflection in practice
  • Weakness of poor definitions and the need for better theory
  • What can we learn from other professional disciplines of industry sectors
  • Opportunities for greater cooperation between practice and academia
  • Examples of practitioner / academic collaborations that have worked and outcomes/learnings?
  • Addressing the gap between research, publication and application

 

I’ll pose and curate a series of questions and see where it takes us and what we can learn from each other. Along the way I’ll share any lessons via my blog.

There’s almost certainly no magic bullet but there may be some smarter ways of working aided by modern media and technology that we can work towards a broader community of practice in public relations.

Irrespective of your experience in public relations and whether you’re an academic or practitioner please accept this as an invitation to join the conversation via the Facebook group. You’ll be very welcome.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

31 Comments

  1. Another welcome project!

    I also welcome your novel contribution around workflow (#PRstack and the Tumblr pictures). Workflow and toolkits are useful hybrids between pure experience and abstract theory.

    Let’s keep this going (and lend you some support).

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