Waikato Management School,
The University of Waikato, New Zealand
Professor David Mckie teaches Strategic Communication and Leadership at Waikato Management School in New Zealand. He has co-authored eight books including Reconfiguring PR: Ecology, Equity, and Enterprise (2007), which won the PRIDE award; PR and Nation Building: Influencing Israel (2013); The Business of Truth: A Guide to Ethical Communication (2005); Please Don’t Stop the Music: An Ensemble Leadership Repertoire and Strategic Innovation for Uncertain Times; the Handbook of Critical PR (2015), and over 100 book chapters and journal articles. As CEO of RAM (Results by Action Management) International, his consultancy work covers organisations in Australasia, Asia, Europe, and the US.
Title and Abstract:
Zeitgeist Strategies: Public Relations, Forging Futures, and Tracking Trends
Struggles to frame the zeitgeist or the spirit of the times by characteristics such as the Asian Century, the Digital Era, Turbulent Times, and the Age of Uncertainty, are not just labels or semantics. They are also bids for power and influence. They seek to generate new word orders to bring into material form new world orders through directing and focussing attention on certain features as the key features. In addition, as these struggles for different version of reality suggest, many strategic communicators believe the world at present is “up for grabs,” and open to transformation. This presentation asserts that contemporary public relations lacks ambition and is more comfortable in reactive mode by tracking short term trends rather than taking a proactive position and forging long term futures. So, while attending to the theme of “Emerging Trends and Challenges of Public Relations and Strategic Communication in the Digital Era,” the presentation will also address three features. The first is the depth and relevance of the trends that are raised by the frame of the Digital Age; the second is whether the Digital Age, on its own, is the most convincing frame for the times we live in; and, finally, if, strategically, the challenges of the Asian Century and those living in the Asia-Pacific are less, or more, urgent than the challenges facing a world of interconnected global citizens.
Futurists have long acknowledged that, as Dennis Gabor (1963), the Nobel-prizewinner who created the holograph put it, “the future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented” (Gabor, 1963). Similarly, early public relations for Edward Bernays “was about fashioning and projecting credible renditions of reality itself,” and, accordingly, PR practitioners had to “fit, adjust, and relate an actuality, an idea, an object, a corporation, a country, a religion with the public upon which it is dependent” (cited in White & Mazur, 1995, p. 13). This presentation draws from both Bernays’ ideas on PR creating realities, and from futurist thinking on inventing futures and combines them in seeking to fit contemporary actuality to certain concepts of the zeitgeist. As a result the presentation will contend that it is time for public relations to downgrade attempts to predict and follow trends in favour of working with a credible zeitgeist. In addition, by borrowing from futures methods and thinking, it will examine strategies to make public relations more fit for purpose in uncertain and turbulent times as the geopolitical centre shifts from the West to the East.