I’ve been thinking a heck of a lot about digital engagement and communications to citizens and communities lately- it’s at the centre of everything I’m doing right now in my paid work, volunteer work and course learning. I am not a trained PR or media bod and frankly I don’t really understand traditional comms thinking or ways of working (I blogged about this over two years ago and feel pretty much the same way now) but I am learning so much about it all it is a little bit overwhelming. I’m aware I might be oversimplifying the work of my PR and media colleagues here but I think it’s because I don’t fully understand what they do or why they do what they do. I’d love to shadow someone doing this work for a bit or even just sit down and have a good thorough chat. Anyone game?
In addition to coming across a paper and article about modernising PR and communication teams written by CIPR President Stephen Waddington, I have learned about Nurture Development and their ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) blog and institute which contains this gem about the history of PR, propaganda, hidden persuaders, the rise of consumerism and engineering consent.
These two articles came to me through different avenues- Stephen Waddington’s paper through my daily social media news curation and the other from a public service reform agitator who is part of a small group taking the +Acumen Human Centred Design (HCD) course with me. At our first HCD session we did an icebreaker exercise during which we each shared why we’re on the course. I explained I’m taking the course because I’m a bit stuck in the way I’m thinking and working but also because I just don’t understand how public services have come so far away from designing for people and I’d like to help claw it back. For me this applies to service design and delivery as well as communications. How did public bodies get behind a wall over which they lob press releases, persuasion and manipulation at the public as opposed to working alongside them, listening to them and speaking with them?
Stephen Waddington’s article is fantastic and I am relieved to feel solidarity with a PR guy whose background in communications is far more traditional than mine, especially because what he’s suggesting isn’t what I’m seeing in practice from some members of his professional body- in fact I often feel quite isolated working alongside card carrying PR and media types because my way of working is so different to theirs. I’m organic and participative and this is not always a welcome approach among comms teams.
What strikes me most is what is being referred to in Stephen’s paper as modernising is actually regressing. It’s about getting back to participating in communities, building trust and creating relationships like in the good ‘ol days before folk felt the need to engineer what they said to each other or thinking that speaking to people via hacks and newspapers continues to be appropriate instead of just sharing and exchanging directly- owning our information and messages and putting them in the right places ourselves. The modern bit is the technology and using new tools, sure, but those are just enablers for outreach and discussion. There’s nothing new in engaging people genuinely and with care and respect, it’s just a shame it’s been trained out of some professional communicators.