Six crowdsourced ideas to promote cooperation between PR academia and practice

Six crowdsourced ideas to promote cooperation between PR academia and practice


A series of blog posts have followed the BledCom, PR & Disruption, and NEMO communication and public relations conferences this year discussing how public relations academics and practitioners could work better together. The relationship between academia and practice is important to a maturing profession. Here’s my contribution to the discussion following NEMO.

My view is that without academic rigour and a historical perspective to support practice we’re limited to a craft and tactics. As a practitioner, channels may change over time but if your expertise is rooted in education and continuous learning, your core knowledge will be readily transferable.

Our business is changing incredibly quickly. We need research to help contextualise change, and smart thinking rooted in learning to help tackle issues such as planning, measurement and network theory.

In older professional disciplines such as business, engineering and medicine, academic and professional interests are aligned and work together for the benefit of the discipline.

I’ve reviewed the discussion around this issue and summarised the key suggestions to improve cooperation and mutual understanding between academia and practice.

1. Events

Simon Collister, a practitioner-turned-academic, suggested that we need more events where academics and practitioners can share their thinking and ideas. This is the reason that NEMO was so instructive. We had some great discussions about ethics, influences, measurement frameworks, and social business. Simon promises more of the same at PR & Disruption event in 2014 at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts, London. He has organised a cracking guest lecture series to bring together academics and practitioners.

2. Cooperation

Alister Foye, a Bournemouth University graduate and teacher at the Birmingham City University, and Sarah Williams, a teacher at the University of Wolverhampton, both suggested that cooperation between teaching and industry at a local level was alive and well. Advisory committees, guest lectures, and work experience, all contribute to an improved understanding between the two constituencies.

3. Theory and practice

Professor Anne Gregory, speaking at the launch of Strategic Public Relations Leadership, the book that she has co-written with Paul Willis, suggested that management consultancies aren’t shy of incorporating theoretical models in their pitches. It’s a point well-made but De Montfort University’s Liz Bridgen says that academic work must have practical applications.

Inevitably there is never enough funding for research and there is always an opportunity for industry to invest more.

My own firm, Ketchum, invests in a series of European projects such as the European Communication Monitor undertaken by five universities under the auspices of the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA).

It’s a two-way street; academic organisations need to connect with potential funding sources, and pitch for budgets. Likewise organisations needs to commit budgets to research.

4. Discussion and debate

Liz also called on the CIPR to play a great role in promoting the work carried out at universities. It’s a valid point but academics also need to make their work more accessible.

There are some fantastic academic thinkers and doers in the UK, many of whom I have listed already. Richard Bailey, Simon Collister, Alister Foye, David Phillips, and Heather Yaxley readily share their ideas and thoughts via their blogs. These are the individuals that participate in robust debates across public relations blogs and on Twitter.

On Stuart Bruce’s blog Heather says, “One other thing that we get from studying a qualification and/or engaging as a reflective community of practice rather than just reading the books and thinking by ourselves is to be challenged and developed. […] I like nothing more than having my position questioned so that I can either accommodate different perspectives or justify why I think/feel/behave as I do.”

Few practitioners read academic papers but increasingly they consume blog content and use Twitter. Follow the audience. Anyone can sign-up to the CIPR’s blogging platform called CIPR Conversation, and start sharing their work. This acts as a hub for content that is shared via email newsletters, promoted on the platform, and via Twitter.

5. Media

Richard Bailey, Simon Collister and Sarah Williams suggest that PRWeek should be sharing academic developments with a wider audience. I suggest that anyone who has a strong viewpoint or content to share, pick up the phone to the editor Ruth Wyatt. I have always found the team at PRWeek open to suggestions of ways to engage with their audience, or reach new audiences.

Don’t stop with PRWeek, pitch other communication, public relations, and management media and as I’ve already explored, publish your own content and use social networks as a means to engage with your audience.

6. Industry engagement

Finally, Simon calls for engagement from agencies, high-profile employees, government industry bodies and industry bodies. I’d argue that this already happens, to a lesser or greater extent, but would be interested to explore how the situation could be developed. This is after all public relations.

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