Archive for the ‘PR education’ Category

Recently, I undertook research with Dr Chindu Sreedharan, for the Institute of Public Relations on the skills and training needs of future senior communicators. It was a study amongst top corporate and consultancy communicators in Europe and North America to identify the skills future leaders needed, and training and education to prepare them. A video of my presentation of the report was recently made for the Public Relations Institute of Australia.

One of the key comments that framed the study came from a top European corporate communicator: “It’s no longer sufficient to have a communications background only. Senior communicators need to understand business environment and management styles to be seen as trusted advisors.”

This view that top-level communicators had to understand all the operations of a major organisation was widespread and pointed towards practice developments and education that focus on strategy development and the integration of communication objectives with organisational objectives and KPIs.  The report had three groups of conclusions for early implementation:


  • Communication strategy must be linked to or part of business strategy
  • Communicators should understand the whole business environment, not just media and communication
  • Operational experience needed; They need to speak language of the business

 Training and Education

  • Key subjects are business strategy, financial literacy, economics, public affairs and public diplomacy, and relationship management
  • Stronger focus is needed on research and business analysis skills

 Proof of Performance

  • The ability to interpret and apply the most appropriate research methods is more important than technical measurement skills
  • Evaluation frameworks need to be developed for judgement on organisational impact, not clip measurement
  • Planning skills need improvement

 The full report is available at:


[This second update update includes two new novels on PR from 1948 and 1958 referred to in Marvin N Olasky’s Corporate Public Relations (1987, LEA) and a new paper on the history of film representations of PR from Australian academic Jane Johnston which was presented at the First International History of Public Relations Conference last year.]

In 2007, I asked PR educator colleagues in the UK for help in developing a list of films, television and radio programmes/series and books that either featured public relations as a core issue or referred to it in a passing way. They responded enthusiastically with suggestions that went back into the 1950s and forward to the present including films on current release and a soap opera set in a real PR consultancy in Manchester, UK. It was added to in 2008 with other references. Here’s the list we came up with – Can you add to it so that we have a world-wide resource on the visual and fictional presentation of PR?


Wag the Dog

Thank You for Smoking

America’s Sweethearts

The Sweet Smell of Success

 The Devil wears Prada

The Control Room 

Hancock (Alcoholic superhero cuckolds his PR man)

The China Syndrome

Sliding Doors – key character works in PR

Bridget Jones’s Diary’s_Diary

Days of Wine and Roses

Four’s a Crowd

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

Phone Booth

Primary Colors

Sex and the City (movie)

Waikiki Wedding

Jersey Girl

The Island

 In the Loop…



Roger and Me

Century of the Self

The War Room

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room   

The Corporation

The War You Don’t See (John Pilger)

Steel City



Absolutely Fabulous

Absolute Power

The Thick of It

Some Mothers do Have’Em’Ave_’Em – Series two, episode three – the public relations course.

Party Animals

The West Wing

Spitting Image

Spinning Jenny – A new twist to PR film / TV with an interactive internet-based soap opera  set in Manchester’s Brazen PR and made by online entertainment service

PoweR Girls

Sex and the City

Spin City

The Spin Crowd

PR (CBC, Canada)

Kell on Earth – Kelle Cutrone’s series about her fashion PR agency, people’s republic



Christoper Buckley (1994) Thank you for Smoking. Harper Perennial. ISBN 0679431748;

Paper back Random House ISBN 0812976525

Alistair Campbell (2007) The Blair Years. Random House. Paperback August 2008, ISBN 0099514753

Eric Dezenhall (2004) Jackie Disaster: A Mystery. St Martin’s Press. ISBN 0312307713

Anonymous [Joe Klein] (1996) Primary Colors. Grand Central Publishing, ISBN 0446604275

Graham Lancaster (1997) Grave Song. Coronet. Paperback ISBN: 0340667117.

David Michie – Conflict of Interest, Pure Deception, Expiry Date

Daniel Price (2004) Slick. Villard. ISBN 1400062349

J.B. Priestley. (1996 reprint). The Image Men. Mandarin ISBN 0749322969

Mimi Thebo (2002) The saint who loved me. Allison & Busby. ISBN: 0749005041

Sloan Wilson (1955; 2002 reprint) The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Four Walls Eight Windows/ Capo Publishing. ISBN 1568582463

Charles Harrison (1948) Nobody’s Fool. Henry Holt. ASIN: B000I1UAO

Robert van Riper, (1958) A Really Sincere Guy. David McKay ASIN: B0007E5TB4



Absolute Power



Johnston, J. (2010) A history of Public Relations on screen: Cinema and television depictions since the 1930s. Proceedings of the First International History of Public Relations Conference, Bournemouth University, July 8-9, 2010. pp. 188-209. Available at:

Miller, K. (1999) Public Relations in Film and Fiction. Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol 11, No.1, pp. 3 – 28

Is there a specific “PR personality”? I don’t think there is and the issue is debated in the latest PR Moment  in Are you a natural at PR? It also features research from Bournemouth University BA Public Relations student, Shannon Bailey.

– Leading historians will set the scene

 Two leading historians of public relations – Dr Karen Miller Russell and Dr Jacquie L’Etang – will be the keynote speakers at the First International History of Public relations Conference (IHPRC) to be held at Bournemouth University on July 8-9, 2010.

Karen Russell will make the opening address to the conference on Thursday, July 8. Her topic will be “Embracing the Embarrassing,” a discussion of propaganda and press agentry as legitimate, if sometimes unethical and embarrassing, aspects of public relations history.

Dr Russell is an associate professor at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in the University of Georgia where she teaches public relations and media history. She is the author of The Voice of Business: Hill & Knowlton and Postwar Public Relations (University of North Carolina Press, 1999) and has published research on public relations and media history in Journalism and Communication Monographs, Public Relations Review, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Business History Review, and the Journal of Public Relations Research.

Dr Russell is currently the editor of the Journal of Public Relations Research and has made more than 25 refereed paper presentations on public relations at major business and journalism history conferences.

Dr Jacquie L’Etang will be the keynote speaker at the start of the second day of IHPRC on Friday, June 9. Her topic will be “Thinking about PR History”. She is Senior Lecturer in the Film, Media & Journalism department at the University of Stirling and a member of the Stirling Media Research Institute.

Dr L’Etang is the author of Public Relations in Britain: a history of professional practice (LEA, 2004) which was the first comprehensive study into the development of the PR industry in the United Kingdom. It was based on extensive documentary research in the archives of the History of Advertising Trust and oral history interviews with nearly 70 practitioners from the 1940s and 1950s.

Other titles include Public Relations: theory, practice and critique (Sage, 2008), which is being translated into Croatian, Czech and Spanish. She is co-editor and co-author of Public Relations: critical debates and contemporary practice (LEA, 2006) and Critical Perspectives in Public Relations (ITBP, 1996). She is currently writing Sports public relations: concepts, issues, practice and critique (Sage).

Dr L’Etang has also published around 40 articles and book chapters (largely individually authored) on research topics including anthropology, corporate social responsibility, ethics of communication, propaganda, public diplomacy, rhetoric, sport and tourism.

Further information about IHPRC can be found at

My travels took me to Ireland this week where I am external examiner for the Master of Arts in Public Relations at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). In the Emerald Isle, this is the only public relations programme offered at undergraduate or postgraduate level.


The programme team, led by John Gallagher, has the enviable option of choosing the best candidates from the hundreds of applicants from the Republic of Ireland and overseas. As a result, they have some very good students for the one-year course.


John, Tom Clonan, Kevin Hora and colleagues run a very professionally-focused course which has both theoretical and work-based elements in it. As DummySpit readers know, I am a big supporter of placements and industry experience as an important element in delivering an excellent public relations education.


The MAPR students undertake two units that illustrate this – they prepare a communication strategy for a client, based on research and discussion, and later in the year do a placement with a major organisation. Amongst the examples that I reviewed were projects undertaken with the European Union’s Dublin office and the Football Association of Ireland. Both organisations offered the student teams of two or three hands-on experience to organise strategies using real events and to deliver them. The results have been excellent and the students were able to align their studies with the real world. The clients were very pleased, too.


As Dublin is a relatively small capital city, students often work with senior politicians in the Irish legislature and with MEPs, too. For John, who has also established a MA in Public Affairs and Political Communication, these political and governmental links have given excellent placement opportunities for students. And the placements frequently lead to the students’ first PR employment when they graduate.


When I speak on public relations education at the IPRA Congress in Beijing in mid-November, I’m going to focus on the role of authentic learning and will be certain to cite DIT as an example of best practice.

After visiting Harare, I traveled south to Johannesburg and on to the Southern Africa Institute of Management Scientists’ conference at Misty Hills near Pretoria, which was wonderfully hosted by the University of Pretoria. (Congratulations to Prof Ronel Rensburg and her team).


I was one of three keynote speakers alongside Prof Leyland Pitts of Simon Fraser University (Canada) and Prof Philip Kitchen of Hull University (UK). It was especially welcome that my speech on PR research priorities was presented at a management rather than communication conference.


If you think about, public relations has always been defined as a management activity, although often operationalised as a communication delivery process. The most widely quoted definition, “The management of relations between an organization and its publics” (Grunig & Hunt 1984) exemplifies this as does the paradigm of PR as relationship management proposed by Ledingham & Bruning (1999).


I was pleased to point out to the SAIMS audience that the top priority in the PR research priorities study was “public relations’ contribution to strategic decision-making, strategy development and realization, and efficient operation of organization”, and fourth ranked was “public relations as a function of management”. Also in the top ten were “management of corporate reputation” (7th) and “management of relations”(10th). These also confirm PR’s place in management functions.


The discussion of my speech led on to questions as to where PR education should be situated in universities – in a business, journalism, liberal arts or communication/media school or faculty. If PR is to gain continuing recognition as a management function, programmes need to either be situated in business schools (separate from marketing programmes) or have a strong managerial focus if placed elsewhere.

Imagine working as a PR professional in an economy with inflation running at more than a million per cent a year, in which there has been political conflict for most of a decade. That’s what I found when meeting a group of senior PR people in Harare, Zimbabwe last Friday. Despite these problems (and many more), they were very positive about the future as the deal to share power between the ruling ZANU-PF and opposition Movement for Democractic Change had been announced the previous night.

“It’s our good news 9/11”, former ZIPR chairman Ray Mawerere told the meeting. And fellow PRistas all agreed.

I was in Harare to renew contact with Ray with whom I had worked earlier in the decade as a PR consultant. Much has changed in the past seven year since my last visit. Harare, once a confident capital city, is now rundown and dirty. Long, long queues snake outside banks as Zimbabweans seek to draw enough of the hyper-inflating Z-dollar to get them through every day.

Business in any conventional sense is almost impossible to operate but continues with enormous will of staff. PR people just “work on regardless” in this collapsed economyand provide best advice.

At Friday’s meeting, itself a haven from current problems, we discussed the types of issues such as strategy, evaluation and effective communication that PR people everywhere focus on. Many Zimbabwean PRs want to continue their professional development at home or at overseas universities. Already ZIPR runs its own diploma programme and hopes that with stability in government and currency, this will develop to higher levels.

The opportunity offered by the 9/11 agreement for stability and a return to economic growth rather than implosion will havew to be grabbed. My view is that Zimbabwe has immense potential in farming, tourism and resources yet to be realised. Its PR practitioners are ready to help communicate an improved ‘national brand’ and make it into one of Africa’s leading nations again.

With only one government controlled national broadcaster and very stringent limits on print media, there is a limit on democratic dialogue. With a change from the Mugabe-led government to shared power, it is expected that these controls may be lifted. In addition to major Western broadcasters, such as BBC, returning, new and alternative voices may appear as has happened in post-conflict nations.

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Tom Watson

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