At an excellent IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) event in London this week I heard quick-fire presentations from an eclectic group of people, mostly – as it happens – not IABC members, but all communicators of one kind or another. The big theme to emerge was that communication professionals are people who care. We heard – among other things – about compassionate communication; the importance of listening skills; the role of PRs as the conscience of an organisation.
It reminded me very much of a conversation within the PR world that is becoming insistent, which is about a realignment of PR’s history, philosophy and practice towards a more progressive political agenda. In her recent book Public Relations as Activism: Postmodern Approaches to Theory & Practice, US practitioner-turned-academic Derina Holtzhausen asked “What if public relations scholars sought their historical roots in political activism and not in commerce and industry?” One swallow does not a summer make of course, but then I picked up John Lloyd and Laura Toogood’s new study Journalism and PR, published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and here’s what they say: “It is a long way from public relations’ present reputation (though not its practice) that some of its roots are as much in leftist politics as in capitalist corporations.”
I’m sure political conservatives will challenge the idea that compassion, listening, and caring are the preserve of ‘leftists’, but the implication is still very much that public relations in particular and communication as a profession in general is rooted in, or – at the very least – compatible with progressive politics. That this idea is gaining traction at a time when ‘business has lost its voice’ (to paraphrase Edward Bernays’ comment on the financial crash of the 1920s), suggests an opportunity for political leftists on the one hand to ‘reclaim’ PR practices from an exclusively capitalist world-view, and for business on the other hand to find a new voice that is more in tune with global concerns about social, environmental and human values.
Meanwhile, IABC UK is demonstrating excellence in its new website as well as its events. A big congratulations to the team for realising a long-held ambition – something along the lines of giving the cobbler’s children some shoes. Take note, IABC HQ! At the regional level too, IABC is doing great things (disclosure: I serve on the EMENA region board). Next April will see EuroComm, the flagship regional conference, held in London. It is being hosted by London College of Communication (further disclosure: I am an Associate Lecturer at LCC) and promises to be a sparky event. Oh, and the conference title? Power to the People – right on, brothers and sisters! I hope to see you there.