blog connecting inner and outer spheres

Posted on June 2, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |


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Nice post from Philip Young

Posted on May 13, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

more comments on the Burson-Mastellar mess – including references to my work!Mediations post

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BM/facebook ethics & PR mess

Posted on May 13, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

PRSA chair comments on BM/Facebook

Leading US PR firm Burson Marstellar (BM) has been badmouthing Google on behalf of Facebook and trying to disguise both the relationship and the activities. The PRSA uses this as an opportunity to point out that low membership profile in BM may be a factor in low ethical responsibility. It would be interesting to research this correlation. There are so many factors: membership of professional body PLUS knowledge of code of conduct PLUS willingness to abide by code PLUS cultural/social environment to support such decisions. Suspect the latter is the crunch factor – ethical leadership isn’t written on paper

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one week on..

Posted on November 17, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Thoughts on PhD process from one week’s distance:

  • I learned how to convert pdf files to word – a challenge in the early hours of submission day (reverse move is easy)
  • I learned how to extract my large Endnote library to word = really hard work
  • I finished something that nearly overwhelmed me earlier in the year, when I was already exhausted after only a couple of chapters. While I didn’t go out much, haven’t seen friends or really done anything else in last few weeks/months, I managed to keep enough balance not to get ill. On the other hand, while it has been wonderful being out of my study and in San Francisco this week, I’ve been too tired to go out at night – just beginning to feel rested and looking forward to deeper rest in the next fortnight on Point Reyes peninsula.
  • The thesis is full of mistakes, misunderstandings, self-taught errors and assumptions. That’s OK. It’s the nature of the beast to be an introductory work, despite being part of a ‘terminal’ qualification. If I get to turn it into a book, there will be much to change, cut, enhance – it is the record of my learning, so my criticisms evidence the fact that I have learned from the process.
  • I’m looking forward to the practice and actual vivas – means someone else will have read it. V. interested to see what others make of it.



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Aberdeen adventure 2

Posted on October 24, 2010. Filed under: Ethics, Public Relations, Uncategorized | Tags: , |

Interesting evening at Robert Gordon University where the CIPR/Grampian PR group held the session on PR ethics. Good turn out with a group of MA PR students and people from different sectors. My bit went OK – hard to know if it was too academic but kept relating it to my own everyday PR experience with very few lit references. But still a sense overall that ethics baffles most people and they don;t spend much time thinking about it – work is too hectic for such indulgence. Students stopped to ask questions at the end and seemed interested.

Most interesting element was contribution of Matt Taylor a senior BP comms guy who seemed thoughtful and interested in the issues raised, as well as raising issues from BP experience. I quoted a BP copywriter who felt betrayed by Gulf of Mexico disaster and he seemed to ‘get’ that conflict between personal and employer values. In PR you are really close to embodying the values of the organisation, so these things matter. Like me, he seemed someone who needs to believe in their work – there are lots like that in PR, though the image of the indifferent agency dominates. If I can get any post doc funding I want to interview people like him to see how self image, image of PR and ethics interlock.

Aberdeen Travelodge was grim – and not cheap  – and train back packed but managed to squeeze a quick spin round the Aberdeen Maritime Museum, which was brilliant – fantastic building, full of fascinating information and artefacts, including 3 story model of an  oil rig.  Brief glimpse into Aberdeen world – that and busy docks visible from museum – a sense of a town that still labours physically, run on ships and machines and cranes, something missing from cities I know now – can just remember the sight of the cranes over London docks from childhood but most cities are just offices and shops now.

Aberdeen Maritime Museum

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can you do ethical PR for unethical countries??

Posted on August 3, 2010. Filed under: Ethics, professions, Public Relations, Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

London PR capital for makeovers of dodgy countries

Today’s Guardian (see link) runs a big expose of the PR industry’s expanding market of re-branding for countries with appalling human rights records. It shows details of work done for Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and others, contrasting the PR statements with those from Amnesty and UN sources.

The PR people offer the usual defences – ‘we’re like lawyers’; ‘as long as I’m comfortable’ ‘my job is to assist communication not judge them’ ‘nobody’s perfect’.

As set out in the article these look specious to put it politely and there are real problems with these lines: for a start PR does not resemble the law at all, though many ethicists claim a legal approach to ethics (esp. US- based on First Amendment arguments). There is no courtroom with equal  rights for prosecutors and defenders, no public defence lawyers, rules of evidence etc. It’s more like a back-alley fight, no rules.

Likewise the use of ‘comfort’ as a moral indicator is only valid if one is convinced a real moral struggle precedes the conclusion.

But what moral responsibility do communicators have for clients? Should there be a list of forbidden clients? Even though the UK government is doing business? Should PRs run boycotts when other trade is permitted? Should they aim for higher standards?

There is a conundrum in that PR often claims to ‘serve society’ , citing many examples of how communication aids understanding, motivates communities etc. But at the same time it asks to operate just like any other business.

The problem, surely, is that PR ethics is a complete mess, with minimal reflection, just a grab-bag of excuses and slogans, lacking any sense of the internal contradictions of these statements.

It would be more consistent to operate as a business, free to serve any client no matter how noxious, and abandon the claims to ethical standards. But that would jeopardise the ‘professional project’ the claim that the profession is entitled to trust and autonomy because it operates on ethical lines.

So what would a really ethical PR do?

I am not convinced that ethics lie in the client’s activities – whether its oil, tobacco or repressive regimes. What matters is that the communication is ethical – an outcome unlikely to be achieved if the client is looking to conceal or distort its central functions. I would like to see PR people turn down work because the client wants to withhold important information from the public, whether the client is Saudi Arabia or Amnesty International.

I also think we need to support investigate journalism like the Guardian piece because that’s the best defence against ignorance = maybe the PR profession should pay a tithe to support the exposure of their own deception?

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A poem for this work

Posted on June 18, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

I met a luminous poet Dana Littlepage, at St Deiniol’s – a real meeting, heart and soul. I talked about this thesis; she wrote this poem:


She is sweeping the sunlit floor.

Floor splintered with light

where the darkness is not ignored,

where the dust is freed from its corner.

She is sweeping our times,

our yearnings turned into things.

She is sweeping the rooms of the mind,

so the body can find the spirit’s wing.

Though her broom is a hand’s breadth,

it moves to the body’s breath .

She is sweeping the words of our night

so that we might speak with tongues of living light.

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St Deiniol’s residential library

Posted on May 30, 2010. Filed under: PhD stuff, Uncategorized | Tags: |

Just arrived at St Deiniol’s residential library, in north Wales, a legacy of W.E.Gladstone and home to all his books. It’s late victorian, built like a Welsh castle from red sandstone with warrens of corridors and a common room stuffed with ancient leather sofas and an odd collection of academics, bankers and theologians. I have a little room under the eaves, view of treetops and setting sun, and plan to spend the week in the splendid chapel of a library (the Victorian respect for knowledge of course) getting on with the PhD. The rates for full time students are so reasonable I suspect I’ll be back in July as I’ve decided to make a real go at finishing first draft by end July, final copy end Sept. Was heartened swapping notes with others who started PhD at about the same time to find that none of us has finished and indeed no one was quite sure how near they are to completing. Very odd to have a large task the progress of which is so hard to measure.

Back to St D’s : sleeping in a library sounds rather wonderful and the place has an air of hidden treasure, though a Guardian article last year may have blown its cover (see

http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2009/aug/01/deiniol-library-hawarden-wales-hotels ).

Aim for the week: make a good start on PR case study material, finish Chapter 7 on professionalism through Jungian lens, possible notes to add to chapters on professional ethics. Might be too ambitious but I’m really hoping that break from home, rising for breakfast and some kind of osmosis from all those books will make this a productive few days.

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Approaches to professions

Posted on May 13, 2010. Filed under: Jung, PhD stuff, professions, Uncategorized | Tags: |

Useful supervision session this week. Just dithering about what to do next.  We talked about chapters on professionalism – before and after viewing the subject through a Jungian lens. Have had to teach myself a great deal about sociology in order to describe impact of Durkheim and Weber on concepts of profession in society. Interesting to discover in the later chapter the links between them and their contemporary Jung – a concern about the loss of the sacred from the world, the over-emphasis on rationality and the objective. Durkheim and Jung share more characteristics than do Weber and Jung, it seems as Weber is more clearly rooted in a Marxist perspective and much more interested in power relations than Jung ever expressed. Society is the locus of struggle and contested identity for Weber, where the psyche is the main field for Jung. Nevertheless, interesting overlaps of interest. Even found a terrific paper connecting Bourdieu and Jung, v v useful as Bourdieu’s conceptualisations of professions honours the inner world as well as outer constraints. (Also planning major research project on communication aspects of an anti-obesity campaign using Bourdieusian framework).

But current chapter 3 is a ‘smorgasbord’ of approaches to professions = x says that, y says this. Have set it all out as part of my own learning process but need to claim the topic and drive a narrative through the raw material. Actually always enjoy this stage of writing – the sudden authority when I sense I actually do know what I’m talking about. Not there yet, though – still waiting for that command to emerge.

Here’s an attempt to summarise my intent:

There are multiple perspectives on the role of professions in society, from those that simply describe what people do in certain professions (trait approach) to those who see professions as a power struggle for status (power approach). The latter group is of course the most interesting but it is complex and contradictory, comprising social constructivists, new institutional theory, neo-Marxist approaches, Bourdieu on social capital and habitus, Goffman on professions as performance. My approach has been to briefly describe each of these and the purpose of that is to ‘map’ the field of professional studies. This is particularly important for two reasons: one, the different perspectives inform varying claims to ethics, which are examined in the following chapter; and two, the later chapter which looks at the impact of a Jungian approach on current theory and practice needs, I think, to engage with a wide range of existing concepts. I sometimes think I could have made life easier by taking one theorist and comparing with Jung but needed to educate myself in these areas first.

So, chapter 3 sets out overview of professions; chapter 4 looks at varying approaches to professional ethics; 5 explains basic Jungian precepts; 6 sets out individuation as a basis for an ethic; 7 relates Jungian approach to professionalism; 8 considers what a Jungian professional ethic would look like.

As to progress:

3 and 7 are in rough draft but need to add material on professional identity formation and moral leadership

5 and 6 are pretty much done

4 and 8 are just notes

Plus case study to do and conclusion.

Hope to have full rough draft by end July – but still a tall order!

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Ethics are not about employers

Posted on March 26, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Uncategorized | Tags: |

Noticed that several gatherings of PR people at conferences, talks and in a Feb edition of PR week tend to lurch straight from questions about ethics to working for tobacco, arms, alcohol industries as if that is the answer. Having ploughed through reams of lit on ethics in past year I have never seen issues posed in these terms. For a start it places all moral responsibility on the employer, as if working for an eco-friendly community network would automatically guarantee ethical communication. Remember the old SWP line that workers can’t be held accountable for actions of employers. On the other hand, PR people are centrally involved in comms strategies and influencing audiences. I still hold that a tobacco company COULD conduct ethical communication, it’s just they choose not to. I’ve worked for ‘noble’ causes and know full well the sleight of hand that goes into structuring ‘news’ releases.

Rather shocking, if not surprising, that PR discourse on ethics is so stunted. Suspect there will be zero interest in my work, but not too worried about that.

Saw Yes Men Fix the World on More4 a couple of nights ago – shows how unethical communication (lying about who you are to get to deliver keynote speech to oil tycoons etc) can reveal absence of ethics in audience. A presentation about cost/benefit analysis of deaths in relation to profit was greeted as ‘refreshing’. Recommended.

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