June 8, 2023

Where do PR academics and practitioners meet?

Historically PR critical thinkers have stood back from practitioners, taking a view from afar of the forces shaping the industry. In reply, perhaps, many practitioners have argued that practice is largely based around common sense and should not be weighed down by impenetrable theories. Yet, a growing number of PR academics are now working with more with practitioners. Whilst, in universities there is growing realisation that students, undergraduate or otherwise, want industry ready skills from their studies.

At the recent ‘Practitioners meet Academics’ conference there was still a lot of scepticism about the role of theory, especially from those working in house and in consultancies. However, it is clear that in some areas of practice, such as reputation management and crisis communications that core principles rather than common sense are driving modern c-suite demands. For example, reputation management cannot be executed without a strong understanding of stakeholder management.  

Crisis management would be handled chaotically without reference to situational analysis and the need for repair strategies. Perhaps, sometimes practitioners, are not always aware of the thinking that is shaping their everyday practice.

It is also important to recognise that whilst theories seek to describe what happens across our profession, at the end of the day they are only constructs rather than iron laws of communication. Equally, much contemporary criticism has argued that Public Relations, as a relatively new discipline, continues to borrow theory from other disciplines.

To some degree this leave the profession without its own corpus of knowledge. Equally, it has also left the industry engaged in perpetual boundary disputes. Recent students of PR and younger practitioners seem less bothered by these lines of demarcation. Many hoping that that it will become easier to migrate from one camp to the other.

In the future PhDs may not be the key to academic roles. Whilst academics may be increasingly sought for senior agency roles.

Let’s hope the practitioners and academics come together again in the near future and seek to define stronger agendas for working more closely together.

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