Communication academics at Queen Margaret University have conducted the first university study to look at the practice of senior public relations (PR) professionals and their knowledge base in order get a clearer understanding of the processes that underpin their expertise.
The study involved professional bodies including the Chartered Institute of PR (CIPR) and the PR Consultants’ Association (PRCA) in Scotland and practitioners from both the public and private sector. The project drew on earlier scholarship conducted by QMU staff on PR expertise and professionalism as well as literature on professional development more widely as the basis for eliciting data from senior practitioners about their own experiences of professional development. The interventions were designed to develop practitioners’ reflexive approaches to their senior roles and the implications of these for professional career development and the wider industry.
The project worked in collaboration with a small group of senior practitioners in the PR community in Scotland. The different forms of engagement stimulated reflection on individual practices as well as those of the practice community in the context of an occupation driven by the needs of client confidentiality and competition.
Evidence showed that the process affected individual practitioners at a personal level, for example.
“The project introduced me to a variety of tools and techniques that helped me challenge how I do things [and] introduced new ideas. I have found the project immensely helpful for my own personal development and I hope my experiences will give an insight as to how senior practitioners can continue to learn even after many years working in the profession.”
Another highlighted the project as a catalyst for longer term and more substantial impact on the occupation: “The idea of leadership programme in Scotland … a think tank of leaders working to raise profile of the profession....”
The research indicated that professional development delivered by professional bodies was limited to junior/entry level training and that there was value in the academically-driven interventions that took practitioners outside professional routines. The project team were invited to present early findings to both professional bodies and a central concept, that of ‘community of practice’ has been subsequently deployed by key senior PR industry figures. Insights and new knowledge from the research was created through engagement and this subsequently translated into interest for further collaboration between academia and practice. In particular, the development of educational opportunities suitable for senior level practitioners with the potential to influence professional practices more widely.
To date, the research has been written up for practitioner audiences in an article entitled ‘Wanted: a community of practice for senior public relations practitioners’ in the International Public Relations Association journal wanted-a-community-of-practice-for-senior-public-relations-practitioners and as a working paper ‘Accessing PR expertise: methodological considerations’. View the working paper.