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Effective communications principles are universal

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Last night the Northwest Arkansas Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America conducted its monthly meeting at the Fort Smith Museum of History.

Historical interpretation professor Tom Wing talked to the professional communicators about connections – between historical interpretation and public relations, and between facilitator and audience.

Linda Kaufenberg of the City Wire staff filed this report.

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The Book I Have Not Read

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I’m about to recommend a book I haven’t read — dangerous territory, to be sure. But I think I’ll be vindicated from what second-hand info I have on it. It’s called Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins. It was touted on Sunday in Hoyt Purvis’ column in the Northwest Arkansas Times. Purvis is a UA professor of journalism who many years ago signed off on my master’s thesis, much to my relief. About Jenkins’ book, he says this:

If you want a better understanding of what’s happening in the shifting media environment, this is a good place to look. Jenkins considers the multiple media systems that coexist, with media content flowing fluidly across them. He sees convergence as an ongoing process of intersections between different media systems. Jenkins stresses the growing significance of “grassroots convergence” in which bloggers and others operate in an arena where the barriers of entry into the marketplace of ideas have been lowered. These grassroots intermediaries, says Jenkins, can function outside any corporate or government system.

If you wish for still more endorsement, see the Publishers Weekly blurb on the book’s Amazon.com page:

Henry Jenkins, founder and director of MIT’s comparative media studies program, debunks outdated ideas of the digital revolution in this remarkable book, proving that new media will not simply replace old media, but rather will learn to interact with it in a complex relationship he calls “convergence culture.” The book’s goal is to explain how convergence is currently impacting the relationship among media audiences, producers and content, a far from easy undertaking. As Jenkins says, “there will be no magical black box that puts everything in order again.” Jenkins takes pains to prove that the notion of convergence culture is not primarily a technological revolution; through a number of well-chosen examples, Jenkins shows that it is more a cultural shift, dependent on the active participation of the consumers working in a social dynamic. He references recent media franchises like Survivor, The Matrix, and American Idol to show how the new participatory culture of consumers can be utilized for popular success and increased exposure. Jenkins’ insights are gripping and his prose is surprisingly entertaining and lucid for a book that is, at its core, intellectually rigorous. Though wordy at times, Jenkins’ impressive ability to break down complex concepts into readable prose makes this study vital and engaging.

If you read it before I do (which you may — I’m three books behind already), let me know your thoughts.

Written by daveedmark

December 22, 2008 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Communication, Public Relations

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Interpretation Principle 1 – Relate

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Note: This is the third in a series of posts about the relationship between the disciplines of public relations and interpretation.

“Any interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor will be sterile.”

Freeman Tilden’s first principle of interpretation, as outlined in Interpreting our Heritage, is that we must meet the audience where he or she is – physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

Tilden writes:

The visitor is unlikely to respond unless what you have to tell, or to show, touches his personal experience, thoughts, hopes, way of life, social position, or whatever else. If you cannot connect his ego (I use the word in an inoffensive sense) with the chain of your revelation, he may not quit you physically, but you have lost his interest.

In your daily work as a communications professional, how can you better relate your company’s message to key audiences? Please share your thoughts or ideas.

Written by Tracy Winchell

December 8, 2008 at 11:39 am

Engaging audiences – the message and the medium

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Note: This is the second in a series of posts about the relationship between the disciplines of public relations and interpretation.

Engaging audiences where they are is the key to successful communications.

Today, audiences are everywhere – and they’re generally not content to simply watch or listen. Engaging constituencies is more than a back and forth converstation; it’s non-linear, with many people participating.

Instead of only chasing new technologies, perhaps we as professional communicators would do well to also study the work of Freeman Tilden as a guideline for utlizing any communications tool.

Several years ago, a friend introduced me to the discipline of interpretation which, as defined by the National Association for Interpretation, is this:

Interpretation is a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource.

Forging emotional and intellectual connections. Sounds a little like “engaging hearts and minds,” doesn’t it?

In studying and practicing these concepts as part of several successful public relations campaigns, I’ve often thought that the fusion of interpretation and public relations could be a powerful field of study and practice. In fact, I couldn’t understand why someone hadn’t already seen a connection between the two disciplines.

One Saturday morning I was reviewing Tilden’s masterpiece Interpreting our Heritage and, for some reason, decided to thumb through R. Bruce Craig’s forward to the 50th anniversary edition of my fairly-worn copy. I knew that Tilden had been a journalist and a fiction writer. A careful read of the bio revealed this:

  • In 1941 Tilden – then in his late 50’s – approached the National Park Service about a writing position. He was hired to fill a public relations role.

[Newton] Drury [then-director National Park Service] knighted Tilden with the title ‘administrative assistant’ and gave him carte blanche to roam the National Park System. His charge: to formulate a plan for public relations and interpretation. [emphasis mine]

Tilden didn’t invent the concept of interpretation but through his public relations work with the National Park Service, he certainly “provided substance to the craft,” as described by R. Bruce Craig.

In future posts, we’ll take a closer look at the 6 principles of interpretation as outlined in Tilden’s timeless work. 

By using these principles, professional communicators will become more adept at forging intellectual and emotional connections with audiences across every available platform. Isn’t that the objective? To meet and engage audiences where they are?

Social Networking Averts a Disaster — A True Facebook Story

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The following story really happened at the PRSA/SPJ holiday party the other night. I’m changing the names of the participants so as not to reveal too much information about nights out at Fayetteville bistros.

As the evening at the party room was coming to a close – and as one contingent was contemplating a move to the next venue – the waiter told us that Zephyr had left her debit card at the cash register. Zephyr had departed the gathering about an hour earlier and apparently was unaware of her oversight. So we looked among ourselves and wondered if anyone had Zephyr’s phone number. No one did. What to do?

Our friend Zinfandel knew exactly what to do. She pulled out her iPhone, not to make a phone call, but to go to her Facebook page. Zinfandel and Zephyr are Facebook friends, so Zinfandel simply wrote on Zephyr’s wall that she had the debit card and would be glad to arrange a handover the next day.

Later that night, Zephyr logged onto her Facebook page and saw the message. She responded on Zinfandel’s wall, thanking her and telling her where they could meet the next day to turn over the debit card. Another Facebook miracle.

Written by daveedmark

December 5, 2008 at 4:45 pm

Social Networking in Plain English

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There is a video online that explains in less than two minutes how and why social media exist. Interestingly enough, I was alerted to it on my Facebook site where it popped up after being linked by a fellow in Chattanooga whom I haven’t even seen since he moved away from here about 20 years ago. So the system is the solution, or something to that effect.

tlw update: embeds youtube link

Written by daveedmark

December 5, 2008 at 10:54 am

Introducing a pioneering communicator

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Note: This is the first in a series of posts about the relationship between the disciplines of public relations and interpretation.

Have you ever heard of this man?

Freeman Tilden.

In the coming weeks I’d like to connect communicators with Tilden.

A few years ago a friend introduced me to Tilden and his work. I’ve used the concepts he pioneered and have been amazed at how quickly the principles this man developed decades ago can engage audiences and motivate them to act.

My next post – a brief introduction to historical interpretation and how the discipline is closely related to the practice of public relations.

Written by Tracy Winchell

December 4, 2008 at 3:53 pm