Monday, November 08, 2010

In response to Tom Watson

Dear Tom. It is very kind of you to comment in such detail and to explicate the work of Bournemouth University in such detail.

I am concerned that you or anyone can imagine that I could possibly wish to imply that any PR academic or tutor is somehow cheating students and agree that such a view would be offensive. I do know how hard they work, their dedication to students and some of the absurdities they have to put up with.

I recall attempting to up-date a module about internet mediated PR and finding (I was told) that there was neither budget (time) nor sufficient flexibility in the system to make this possible in the year when Twitter burst upon us with all its potential for speed of communication and news gathering. The university in question could not provide any time for research, preparation or course development over and above direct teaching hours.

Of course one still finds this is the case in other courses demanding utilitarian approaches to education.

My original post came from a comment I made on Stephen Waddington's blog in which I expressed amazement "that the CIPR could not even refer to its own publications and the work of Gregory, Theaker, Tench and Yeomans and others".  I might have added Watson & Noble and Malony etc all of whose work is evident (truncated and sanitised) in the document.

I am aware of the time it takes to develop such theory to guide practice which is a million miles away from the 'shoot from the hip' methodologies propounded by oh so many people offering ill considered quick fire answers to real issues.

The CIPR Toolkit borrowed extensively from such research which in now inculcated into much practice and the Toolkit and yet failed to recognise the contribution made by academia.

I have no doubt that teaching budgets are tight. That is exactly my point. This narrow view of PR is in stark contrast to other courses and I am sure you are more aware than I of this short sightedness.

As you may have noted from other posts in this blog, my view is that the PR industry is firing well below its potential for want of vision (and consequentially is  performing at less than a fifth of its true potential). 

I agree that, for a majority of students, the year placement is a very valuable experience and great preparation for industry as well as that crucial final year transition from learning to thinking.

As for the level of research, while applauding the work of BU, and I do within the constraints imposed, you must agree that PR research in the UK is pretty small beer. For an industry sector that had  (in 1995) and has today and will again have in the next evolution of communication,  the potential to contribute as much or more than the financial sector to the UK economy we have to do much better.

Twice in the last 15 years, I have suggested a route for the industry which it has ignored to its cost (at best £100 billion, at worst £50 billion) and we now have a much greater opportunity.

Stirring the industry is hard when its sights are set so low and its opportunity to excel is not rigorously explored   (and I am in admiration for the History of Public Relations initiative which is strategically important and notably so for the UK industry).

Rigorous research into such opportunities are few and far between especially when compared to, say, the financial sector or even (am I allowed to say it), marketing (now in turmoil as a discipline), business studies (which are so good that its pupils saw a search engine more capable of automating car driving ahead of the auto industry) and publishing (which has the exemplar of the Times Group which has more difficulty gaining a market (and revenue) that a 140 character iPhone App).

Having, controversially, opened the debate I trust that it sparks some interest among many more people.

Richard I am grateful for your comment. I think you are right in saying that PR degree courses are under threat (as I well know) because they haven't necessarily reached the size or maturity of other, easier to teach, disciplines.  We now have size (more PR’s than Journalists?) but I agree about maturity, which is my point. PR academia has yet to delve into the potential and yet is not investing in the research. It is seriously cheap for the universities. Can one compare the (relative value and) cost of DNA research to knowing more about the nature of relationships (one of many PR disciplines) in this war torn and often starving world.

Duncan, I am surprised to find your comments relating so closely to the arts of Her Grace The Duchess of Devonshire when your practice is promoted for rigorous research. But there is a solution. LMU used to have a skills course which taught the basic skills of PR agency. I hope you had an opportunity to employ them before the course was abandoned.