Willis, Paul (2015) Confessions of a public relations practitioner: hidden life in the open plan office. In: BCN Barcelona PR Meeting #5, 30 June - 1 July 2015, University of Catalonia, Barcelona. (Unpublished)
Abstract

This paper is presented as a counterpoint to normative research which sets out what
PR practice should be and the accounts of working life put forward by leading figures in
the industry. In adopting this orientation the author draws on contemporary
developments in historical biography which have seen a move away from so-called
“great man” perspectives on events, to research which pays attention to “everyman”
accounts, particularly the personal stories of men and women experiencing the same
episodes on the “front-line”. The paper suggests that a focus on C-suite narratives in
public relations research has tended to result in an arid and sanitised understanding of
how PR teams work. The study argues that neglecting the voices of those who do not
hold formal positions of power and authority prevents a nuanced appreciation of
working life and how things get done. Episodes from his career as a PR practitioner are
used by the author to illustrate this point.
These personal stories are framed theoretically by Chia’s (2011) research on the
efficacy of the oblique. Chia contends that traditional accounts of practice underestimate
the importance of peripheral and seemingly insignificant factors which can be
more influential than those designed to make a difference. Through a consideration of
these insights the paper positions humour as a crucial intangible asset of PR practice,
while noting it remains an unappreciated and unexplored subject of scholarly inquiry in
the field. To spark academic interest, the author highlights the important role humour
plays in the social interactions between PR employees, particularly in the creative
process, in the maintenance of morale in uncertain working environments and as a
mode of resistance. This aspect of the discussion is grounded in the literature from
organisational studies which explores the role of humour in work place teams
(Westwood & Rhodes, 2007).

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