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The days of the glorious amateur are over

October 30, 2013


Anne Gregory, Global Alliance Chair


A famous public relations academic, Betteke van Ruler from The Netherlands, once said that ‘Practitioners are from Mars and Academics from Venus’. While I might have agreed with her a few years ago, now I’m not so sure.


I see signs that the anti-intellectualism that has characterised public relations practice in many parts of the world and typified by the resistance some employers have had to employing public relations graduates, is being challenged. Academia too is being prompted by the practice to help solve some of the issues that it faces, such as helping to develop rigorous metrics to demonstrate the contribution of public relations. I have no problems at all with blue-sky research where the intellectual prowess of people who study our discipline can be shown. It’s good that there are the people with these capabilities who care enough about public relations to spend their time thinking about it.

However, I find it especially encouraging to see the fruits of applied and joint research of which can be used practically by the profession. When academics and practitioners work together there can be some powerful results. I’m thinking about the work of Global Alliance member the Institute for Public Relations and of organisations like the Arthur W Page Society who produce rigorous research-based reports and papers that demonstrate thought-leadership at its best. I’m also thinking about the careful research done by academics for professional associations in membership of the GA, like the work done for the DGRP in Germany called Controlling Communication and of GA’s Country Landscapes, often written by academics and practitioners together.


It also strikes me that one of our powerful ‘rival’ profession, Management Consultants, are not afraid to show their ‘science’. They have their conceptual models, body of knowledge and processes underpinning their proposals and ways of working and they are proud of them. Increasingly it is not good enough that we advise our clients and employers on the basis of experience and intuitive knowledge alone. Yes, this is important, but this has to be informed by the increasingly rich body of knowledge that is now available to practitioners through their professional associations and through the many articles, papers, journals and books that support our practice, many of which are free to download. It is simply not good enough to be amateurs in a world that is as complex as ours and where the problems we deal with are equally complex.


Last year we held our first ever Research Colloquium the day before the World Public Relations Forum (WPRF) in Melbourne. We didn’t know whether it would be a success, but we were delighted by the response. About 120 people, both practitioners and academics spent the Sunday before the WPRF considering the topic of Communication without Borders. It was a rich feast of keynote speeches and papers considering global public relations, diversity in the profession, CSR, emotional intelligence and much, much more. For the next World Public Relations Forum in Madrid in 2014 we will have another Research Colloquium. The purpose is to build an even firmer bridge between practice and academy – we have so much to learn from each other. So I would encourage academics and practitioners to think how they might contribute to this part of the Forum, and contributing is not just about writing papers and making presentations, but taking part in the discussions and debates that were such a feature of this event last year.


It’s not Mars or Venus in a world that needs an informed, reflective and educated practice that adds real value to organisations, and, in the words of another famous academic, Robert L Heath, helps to build ‘a fully functioning society’.