PR also means being part anthropologist / sociologist

posted by Brendan Hodgson

More and more, I find that in our profession, in addition to being communicators, publicists and information brokers, we are also obliged to play the role of both sociologist and anthropologist.

What started this line of thought? A recent study out of Lancaster University found that teenagers used just 20 words for a third of their speech. Granted, I’ve not lived in the UK for more than 30 years. However, the fact that I still chat with my cousins and other family members living there led me to believe that I could successfully complete the BBC’s “slang test” based on the survey (on which I scored a pathetic 4/10).

But it left me thinking about this business of ours.

In our industry, trend-spotting is big (though not as big as trend-making which is yet another holy grail). We’re expected to be on top of the latest fads, fashions, and phraseologies – youth being just one. But I think it speaks to something bigger. Our clients also expect us to see what others simply take for granted. They expect us to almost instinctively understand the “what” that drives changes in perception, motivation and behaviour. And why not? In virtually everything we do, our objective is to foster some kind of positive social interactions, one that impels individuals to some form of intellectual or behavioural change. And, in many instances, we’re asked to do that on a mass scale.

And to do that, we clearly need to understand the cultural and behavioural patterns of the audiences that we (or, more specifically, our clients) are seeking to influence – historic, geographic or otherwise.

So does this mean becoming so immersed in cultural anthropology that we need to be on top of such nuances as the “language of clothes“? (I was amused by the description of the necktie as a representation of the phallus, and the accompanying headline: “Ties Banned in Hanover Workplace as ‘Phallic Symbols’” SEXISM ROW AS WOMAN ORDERS MALE CLERKS…TAKE OFF YOUR TIES HANOVER, WEST GERMANY (AUG. 28) REUTER – Male civil servants in a West German office are hot under the collar after their female boss banned neckties as phallic symbols), or the peculiarly seductive powers of Tangerine Dream (which if, as a teenager in the late ’70s and early ’80s, was considered a form of aphrodisiac).

Probably not. However, I do believe that more is expected from us than we ourselves even imagine – and that PR is more than the definition given to it today.

PS… This is likely the last or, at least, the penultimate post for 2006. Have a great holiday!

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