In many situations public relations practitioners and academics are isolated from each other. I’ve experienced this first-hand; graduating from a public relations degree in 2012 which was 80% theoretical, to working for a number of organisations who seek experience.
On my career journey I can count on one hand how many practitioners I met who had an in-depth knowledge of the industry’s theory and could apply this to working day examples. This isn’t to say unless you understand the theory you can’t carry out good work, but it does present a number of difficulties (in my mind):
- Areas of contention remain without absolution (e.g. debate over AVEs)
- The stagnation of popular theories (mostly from the 80s) as they are not challenged in a digital environment
- The PR skills gap (are courses teaching the correct skills? Are we attracting the right talent?)
Most importantly, practitioners and academics can learn from each other.
To plug this gap the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has started a Facebook Group community which 72 hours later boasts 250+ members, 100s comments, and 15,000+ words. The project was initiated by Stephen Waddington who explains in his blog post why cooperation between academia and practice is needed.
One of the initial barriers to entry I can see for practitioners and academics alike is the time it takes to debate these issues. If you’re working 50+ hour weeks it can be difficult fitting anything else extra in – I’m not sure how many have found the time already. Anyway, on the train home last night I contributed the following:
It’s thanks to the genius of David Phillips and Richard Bailey that I’m a practitioner today – it feels good to be contributing to these discussions and my primary focus is continuing to build digital practices into the workflow of PR. This includes testing theory to work in digital contexts, securing the future of PR through upskilling workforce/students, and challenging the ‘traditional’ practice areas of PR in the marketing communications mix.
In exploring the relationship between academia and practitioner I believe I can offer a fresh perspective to this group having been a recent grad of the CIPR Approved Course system (2012). It may be due to my particular skillset, but my contribution to agencies has so far been the result of my technical skills; network analysis, website builds, data analysis/measurement, etc.
In this sense I’ve contributed towards client work by providing agencies skillsets that are traditionally ‘new’ but none of these skills were taught on my PR course. Why? Probably because when the course was designed these skills were not a requirement. Not to say that the degree was meaningless, I apply it every working day – but I felt the gap was with the course. Having said that my dissertation was on semantic analysis…
Grads need new skills and increasingly this is more about the whole marcomms mix than just media relations. If we’re trying to bridge the divide between theory and practice, let’s make an effort to apply this to digital practice areas as well.
Before any smart readers flag it I’m aware that part of the industry’s problem may be a semantic one; we really shouldn’t be defining practitioners and academics as separate groups. I consider myself both, and the best academics I’ve met have a solid track record of advising organisations.