Evolving thoughts on PR as a practice
Prior to joining the course, my understanding of what PR is and does was not entirely cemented or clear. Having previously studied English Literature, Economics and Psychology, I felt that I would be able to go into studying PR with an open mind-set, but ideally apply skills that I had gained from these subjects.
Like many people, my initial exposure to the concept of Public Relations gave me a less than positive opinion on it, and admittedly, I assumed that it wasn’t much more complex than spin and crisis management. I believe that this was partially due to news and broadcast media depictions of the industry ironically giving PR a negative reputation, and essentially dismissing it as spinning negative news for companies and manipulating the public through events and stunts. However, I decided to research it further, and began to gain a better and more complex understanding of what PR is.
By the time I joined the course, my fundamental understanding of PR was that it came down to reputation management, for both individuals and companies. I don’t think that this is inherently wrong, as maintaining and building reputation is a key part of both the PR practitioners job role and skillset, but over the past year of studying the practice, I have become more aware of the nuances within varies aspects of PR. However, with two years still ahead of me on my course, I am aware that my views on PR will continue to evolve and grow, particularly as I begin to specialise in industries that I am interested in.
Ethics in PR
The place that ethics holds within PR is heavily debated. Given the reputation that PR has in the public eye, one could argue that ethical PR is simply nonexistent, as PR practitioners' work is often labelled as merely spin and manipulation.
I personally disagree with this viewpoint. I believe that it is down to each individual in the industry to be in touch with their own moral philosophy, and whilst balancing this against their company's or client's interest and the good of society, act accordingly. That being said, we can't simply assume that everyone's morals will align with a 'greater good', so to speak. Therefore, setting a good standard across the industry that all practitioners are expected to adhere to (like the PRCA and CIPR's codes of conduct) would be beneficial in ensuring a high ethical benchmark.
By maintaining high ethical standards in their work, PR practitioners can boost CSR for clients, and in turn improve PR's reputation as being an unethical industry to work in. Ultimately, we are living in a post-truth world, and PR is in a place of power; we are able to help build and shape a better society, if we choose to do so.
How has the unit structure influenced my learning?
Personally, I found the unit structure over this year to be beneficial in aiding my learning.
The work we completed for the ‘Introduction to studying PR’ unit was a useful base to provide me with a lot of context for the industry as a whole. I have referred back to notes and lecture slides from this unit several times since completing it, to reinforce this knowledge and apply it to other projects I have worked on. During this unit, we developed a presentation considering what PR is and how it can be studied. Doing this early on in the course was particularly useful, as like most people, I came into the course without a full understanding of what PR is. As my lecturers made it clear to us that the practitioners did not fully understand how to define it either, completing this assignment gave us the opportunity to research a wide range of viewpoints, and start to develop our own opinions too.
In the ‘Foundations of PR’ unit, we were able to work on more practical skills, such as Photoshop, InDesign, writing and photography. These workshops had more direct connections to other assignments that we have since completed. For example, we filmed a short advertisement in which we got to showcase the skills we gained in the photography workshops, and in the creation of our HIV campaign, I wrote a news release to send out following our press conference. I enjoy writing, whether that be in the form of fiction or non-fiction content, however I had never tackled a news release prior to beginning my course; the writing workshops helped me to understand the way in which a news release should be structured so that key information can be put across to journalists in a helpful and concise manner. By considering which parts of a campaign, for example, should be highlighted in a news release, I was made more aware of just how important it is to ensure that the work you are completing has a solid news angle.
Reflecting on practitioner lectures
I have found the guest lectures over this year to be extremely insightful. Our course does equip us with both theoretical and practical knowledge, however, hearing from individuals that are/have been in the industry has resulted in me frequently considering the ways in which I can apply what I am learning in a working environment. One reason that I found the guest lectures to be so interesting was hearing varying opinions to the questions that were asked. In most of the guest lectures, one question that was almost asked was advice for getting into the industry and finding internships. There was a real variety in responses, as each individual had followed a different path to get to where they currently are.
In addition to this, I found the guest lectures to be thought-provoking in terms of considering where I might like to take my own career in the future. As a first year student, I am not exactly in a rush to decide this, however, I would like to set myself goals that I can work towards, and having some idea of the career I’d like to see myself in in the future means that I can tailor the experiences that I take part and gain experience in so that I truly benefit from them.
An interesting topic that has been brought up in several of the lectures is working in-house vs in an agency, and has resulted in me considering which of the two I believe I would be better suited to and enjoy more. Initially, I liked the idea of working in-house, as you are able to connect with a specific brand and work in what I viewed as a more ‘family-oriented’ environment. Having now heard from several practitioners who work in agencies, and also visiting some agencies in London and New York, the dynamic environment of agencies is starting to appeal to me more.
How has the media I have consumed influenced my learning?
The two main types of media that I have observed in relation to portrayals of the PR industry and individual practitioners are films (our screenings as part of the foundations of PR unit) and the textbooks I have read. Obviously, each source has a slightly different viewpoint from the next, however there is a noticeable difference between the two mediums in general. The film portrayals that I have seen of PR have, on the whole, been more negative, and perhaps also dismissive of PR compared to the textbooks I have read.
This isn't surprising, as individuals who write textbooks for PR view the industry from an academic perspective. While they are still critical of PR, they ultimately have a better understanding of it, as they generally have experience within the industry themselves.
It is also interesting to consider how PR is viewed in the films that I have watched. While they may not have been written by individuals with experience in the industry, it gives practitioners an insight as to what 'outsiders' view our industry to be, and can also highlight (although at times, also perhaps exaggerate) some of the issues practitioners face.
'Thank You for Smoking' showed a particularly interesting portrayal of a lobbyist working for a tobacco company. Essentially, Nick Naylor relied on rhetoric and pathos rather than ethics, to promote his company. Some practitioners may feel frustrated that their morals and industry are frequently called into question through films such as Thank You for Smoking, however, I feel that it can actually act as a reminder of how highly we as PR practitioners should value ethics.