Monday, November 08, 2010

Why does the PR industry ignore PR academics?

After a comment I made on his blog, Stephen Waddington, a candidate in the CIPR Council Elections, asked why is it that academics are so poorly reported or referenced by the UK PR industry? He notes that this is not the case in places such as Sweden and the US, for example?

Could it be that PR academics are wilting flowers? Is it that they follow rather than lead PR practice? Does this mean limited research that is none contentious? Is it the case that such milk and water teaching  and research reflects mostly recent (and largely American) history and is thus of so little consequence to the industry or are the reasons more profound?

Perhaps we should look inside the universities for its response. This is an era of rapidly changing platforms and channels for communication. Can the universities (and the PR industry) cope with the consequences? The hard science which explores the human brain to aid psychologist identify human drivers would seem to be beyond current teaching and hardly figures in PR courses or research. Computerised part of speech analysis which reveals semantically the values attaching to organisations and brands is becoming very advanced and yet PR academics seem to know so little about it. Access to technologies, that driver of human evolution, is changing the very nature of organisational structures and is better explored by other disciplines despite the obvious significance to PR practice. There are many other such issues facing all communications research. Have such changes pushed real PR beyond the limited wit of academia.

Maybe there is another reason. It is possible that the PR industry has been ripped off by academic administrators? The contribution undergraduate PR degree courses have made to Universities is huge. A real milch cow. Easy money. Cheap to run degree courses. Just under 200 PR students in one university contribute £600,000 from their own pockets every year. This means that diverted government contribution is funding other activities. This university is spending a fortune (£3.2 million) on teaching jobbing trades such as journalism, publishing, radio and TV.  Perhaps we await an academic who dares blow such a whistle?

Could it be that academia is truly frightened by the effort and (by historical standards very, very high) cost of the grants and sponsorship it needs to fund and execute ground breaking research for one of the key disciplines of modern management, namely Public Relations?

There could be a further conspiracy founded on the discipline taught in the universities being so threatening to the other institutions they dare not acknowledge the contribution? The PR trade association that publishes a guide that does not acknowledge its academic underpinning; the consultancy feeling more comfortable to provide safe haven for an ex FT journalist than a trained practitioner and the bank that employs a communications expert (even when provided with the evidence - PDF) is incapable of insisting that a breakdown in relationship and trust would lead to the collapse of the financial sector. These university taught practitioners are jolly dangerous folk!

Why, Stephen asked, is it that academics are so poorly reported or referenced by the UK PR industry? 

As part insider and part outsider, I think it is all these things and a few more. But the question still stands and perhaps, as universities re-examine their role, this is time for a proper and properly informed debate.