“Distinguished Professor of Public Communication at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) former journalist, PR practitioner and media researcher” – Jim Macnamara’s twitter profile was the briefest descriptor I could find to summarise the career of Jim who started as a journalist; has worked in agencies; owned and sold his own business; is a published author; award winning researcher; and today a Distinguished Professor at UTS.
I’ve had the privilege of being both a student of Jim’s during my Masters of Public Communication and a colleague when working as a casual tutor and lecturer at UTS. I am excited to have Jim as a guest on this episode of Smoke Signal.
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In the field of Public Communications Jim has many passions (he truly believes society is communication) and among other things I was thrilled to talk about three of them in this podcast: education; measurement and evaluation; and organisational listening
The changing face of PR education
After months of research and feedback from industry bodies, agencies and alumni, UTS has recently unveiled two new Public Communications Masters degrees – Master of Strategic Communication and Executive Master of Strategic Communication. The former is for recent graduates and international students with little or no working experience; the latter is for working professionals and delivers advanced learning that applies back to their roles.
The degrees will include a lot of new material such as digital media; creativity and innovation; communication and media law; and research to understand audiences.
However, Jim is quick to point out education today is more than just sharing knowledge or what you can teach students today but rather is about creating an environment that gives students a life-long thirst for learning. Helping them be open to others, to be flexible, to be creative. These skills are what will help practitioners be able to adapt to new technologies, new challenges and new opportunities.
When it comes to Strategic Communication, Jim firmly believes it is important for students, and practitioners, to think more holistically. It shouldn’t matter if it is paid, owned, shared or earned. Practitioners of the future will not sit in silos but rather use whatever means is most appropriate/effective to solve a communication issue and reach and engage stakeholders.
Measurement and evaluation
Jim has worked with the PRIA, AMEC, the UK Government and the European Commission and the US Standards body and strongly believes, echoing the words of Abraham Lincoln, that the need for measurement and evaluation should be self-evident.
However, he realises the industry has lagged in this area for years and this is often because the majority of practitioners are creative people and measurement requires a more pragmatic approach.
For Jim, this needs to change. And the reason? Because until we measure outcomes, PR is simply a cost centre, not a value-adding centre.
And there is no excuse, as there are many many methods to measure from low cost and simple through to sophisticated, but it requires practitioners to build their knowledge.
Brexit didn’t surprise me as the government wasn’t listening
We’ve treated communication for many years as disseminating organisational messages but the reality is we need to do more listening, as that is the only way to regenerate the continuing falling trust in organisations.
Jim is in the midst of an international research project looking at communication in 55 organisations globally, looking at how often they are talking, i.e. disseminating messages, versus how often they are listening to their stakeholders. The shocking conclusion is that 80-95% of what we call corporate communications is actually putting out information and messages from the organisation
For Jim, if the UK Government had listened they would have seen Brexit coming.
Jim sees a great opportunity for tomorrow’s practitioners to shift strategic communication from mass, top down communication. The reality is, Millennial and Gen Z don’t tolerate that approach and organisations, and communicators, are struggling to adapt with a new generation that is more educated, that want to be listened to, want to be involved, want to participate and want to have a say. The organisations that do adapt and engage in true communications will be very successful.
Following the discussion with Jim, in the news this episode I look at the recent investigative series into the state of journalism by Mumbrella. The statistic that just one quarter of journalism grads find a job in media was one that resonated with me.
I have long been concerned that while journalism courses continue to rise in popularity, and universities continue to pump our journalism grads, the number of journalist roles is falling. So where will they all go? This, to me, this is an issue not just for the journalism profession or PR practitioners but society more broadly as we should be encouraging and supporting the next generation of journalists.