The objective of trust

The readings on rhetoric were profoundly applicable to the classes I teach: Communications Management I and II. Taught as a continuum, the classes begin with defining PR, including the history and ethical implications, the core competencies of the communications professional, now and in the future, and then onto strategy and planning, beginning with the RACE formula (Research Analysis Communications Evaluation).

I teach my students about the communications objective/engagement continuum: awareness, understanding, acceptance and then behaviour change. It originally applied to employee engagement, but it easily works when explaining the various levels of communications objectives. But the article by Robert Heath adds an added layer: trust. He argues, and I agree, that the value that public relations has to society is that of trust. (Heath, Robert, 2000). “Trust is the ultimate goal, beyond understanding and agreement” (Heath, R., p. 80).

And if we think about it, and most of our readings, and much of the news that relates to our readings, it really all comes down to trust. “People identify with those they trust,” writes Heath. “They also trust those who enact and advocate narratives that they accept and enact” (Heath, p. 81). Let’s look at a couple of examples of misplaced trust, ripped from the headlines:

1. Ghomeshi. In his mea culpa “it’s them not me” Facebook post, he uses his popularity and power — just as the mass media use their power as discussed in this week’s readings on mass media — to build trust. He all but says, “trust me, it’s their word against mine” when he writes: “But I am telling this story to you so the truth is heard.” As we witnessed in the days following, his was not the truth we trusted, despite his position of power. To their credit, his public relations firms ended their relationship with them, ensuring their trust and their reputation stayed intact. They saw, as Heath outlines, that their own credibility was based on “unfailing demonstrated commitment to advance society because of the good of society, not the singular good of the advocate” (Heath, p. 81).

2. Bill Cosby. Cosby’s reputation as everyone’s favourite 80s-sweater wearing funny dad is faltering everyday as allegations of sexual harassment and drugged rape continue. “We may be looking at America’s greatest serial rapist that ever got away with this for the longest amount of time,” his latest victim has said. “He got away with it because he was hiding behind the image of Cliff Huxtable.” And the longer he stays quiet, the longer his source credibility disintegrates. This is one situation no public relations firm would be willing to take on. It’s just too late.

If we as practitioners of public relations adhere to the Bryant-Wallace “The Oath of a Public Speaker” (Heath, p. 79), we will all be doing our profession proud — a profession that suffers from the ironic shoemaker-syndrome (our own profession suffers from bad PR). Slightly amended it could very well be our own Hippocratic Oath, perhaps a necessary step when the notion of trust is becoming increasingly just that: a notion. We must all act in the public interest, as the CPRS definition of Public Relations states, not in the interest of Jian, or Bill, or a particular government. It’s our “do no harm” clause. Trust me.

Engagement but also communications objectives

Engagement but also communications objectives

Group think and Jian’s victims

I’m posting again because, admittedly, my first post was cheeky. It did get the ball rolling, however. And it did reflect my initial struggles to compute and connect theory to practical. Now that we’re past post modernism, I feel the worst might be over. I have to say, thank goodness for Jian, because almost everything that’s happening can be pushed through the lens of the theories we are learning.

I was looking forward to the articles on organizational communication, assuming I would instantly be able to relate it back to my experience working for a global corporation with multiple layers of management. And I did. One of the components of ecological theory — a “generalized theory of change” — as expressed in the reading, is retention, which are the routines, bundled competencies that allow an organization to do what it does (Monge, P. and Poole, M.S., 2008, pp 681-682) In other words, its governance. It’s the “we’ve always done it this way” answer that resists change. Change does eventually come, usually with a merger, or new technology, or a massive reorganization (or all of the above). I witnessed this many times and it wasn’t always pretty.

But it was the second reading, Social Identity, Self-categorization, and the Communication of Group Norms that most resonated, particularly since I had just finished marking papers by my post grad PR certificate students that had them come up with a Team Charter. The assignment had them think about the norms of behaviour, the group rules, the communications principles and consequences for un-group-like behaviour. They were to talk about the four forces of small group formation: norming, storming, forming and performing, how personalities impact communications and decision-making (all part of the sociopsychological tradition). Turns out I’m teaching them organizational communications. (And after their grades, turns out they should have read this article as part of their research)! The entire article was a primer on small group work and group decision-making (or lack thereof).

Lucy DeCoutere  Photo by

Lucy DeCoutere
Photo by

photo by

Reva Seth
Photo by

When the article turned to leadership, that’s when I had my aha! What we have been witnessing with the discussion of women victimized by sexual abuse, by collective hashtags like #BeenRapedNeverReported, is group formation. When actress Lucy DeCoutere came out publicly about  the violence she experienced at the hands of Ghomeshi, she gave permission for many other women (now nine, plus one man) to follow suit, be it with a name, like Reva Seth, or anonymously. As a consequence, followers are prepared to take risks (Hogg, M.A. and Reid, S.A. 2006, p. 20) such as going public, sharing their story or even reporting it to police (three women have pressed charges). A social movement was created, and perhaps we will see a paradigm shift to rethink how women are treated in the workplace and how women can communicate harrassment in a safe environment. As the article states, “the hurdle for social mobilization is that social protest carries personal risk that inhibits participation” (Hogg, M.A. and Reid, S.A., 2006, p. 20). Nothing could be truer for these women. But it has to start somewhere. Thanks Lucy. #IBelieveLucy


Hogg, Michael A. and Reid, Scott A. 2006. Social Identity, Self Categorization, and the Communication of Group Norms, Communication Theory, pp. 7-30. Retrieved:

Monge, Peter and Poole, Marshall Scott. 2008. The Evolution of Organizational Communication. Journal of Communication, pp. 679-692. Retrieved:

Making sense of theory: the fiveyearnapper way

Ok. I’ll bite. Someone has to go first. I admit, I blog in my head instinctively, as I ruminate, pontificate and reflect on my life’s events. It’s as if Marshall McLuhan was reaching out to the likes of me and handing me this technology to dump my brain contents. This theory stuff is stirring up a lot inside and it seems as I read it, yelling at the author for what seems deliberately obtuse writing, the only way I can make sense of it is to find the connection to my own existence. My own blog, fiveyearnapper, was created to document my re-entry back into the work world after taking some time off to be a mother, post corporate existence as a vice president of communications; it’s a diary of my crisis of identity, so to speak. So when we were discussing symbolic interactionism last week, about how we adjust ourselves according to the role we are playing in life, and who are audience is, I could relate. I put on a very different face, or persona, when I am parent, wife, teacher, friend and now, student. I behave, speak and even dress differently depending if I am communicating with my kids’ teacher, my kids, other parents (subdivided by school-parents or hockey-parents), my students, my boss, and yes, even my husband, even though I proclaim to be an authentic human being.

But lately I’ve been feeling a conflict of values: see, I value time over money. But with my added student-role, I’m busier now than I ever have been. Even as a single executive, I still had spare time. With work, school and family, the time that I am giving up to make it all work is time with my kids. I am missing out on the “phenomenological experience of otherness”, that “authentic human relations” (Craig, R., 1999, p. 133). At least the theory is helping me see what I need to feel complete. And to see that parenting is aligned to the sociopsychological tradition of communications: I find myself in situations “requiring manipulation of causes of behaviour to achieve specified outcomes” (Craig, R., 1999, p. 133). Whatever it takes to get the homework done, or the laundry basket emptied, or guitar practiced .

Ironically, the cause of behaviour is usually the iPad or some sort of electronically-mesmerizing device, and for that we can turn to Marshall McLuhan. He’s is everywhere. When he said, “the medium is the massage,” (Babe, 2000, p. 76) I thought it was a typo. But then he went on to describe that technology is really just an extension of the human body and I realized he was eerily right. One day a couple of months ago, I was driving down Bloor Street with my son in the back seat, at about 4 p.m. I asked him to count all of the people who were carrying, looking at, or talking on phones, and it was almost every single person. I was listening to the radio yesterday and it declared that the average undergrad spends eight to 10 hours looking at their smart phone — a day! The interviews spoke of “addiction” and “gives me something to do with my hands.”

Yes, theories are everywhere. Reading about the ‘posts’, this week, I asked my artist-husband to rhyme off post modern visual artists: Andy Warhol being one. Or Marcel Duchamp, who showcased a urinal as ‘art’. And seeing that “postmodernism rejects the view that science can be spoken in a singular universal voice” (Agger, B. 1991, p. 121), I turn to my insightful seven-year old for inspiration and clarity: he’s a post modern ‘sevenist’ who believes that just about anything he says is right. He’s a master at rhetoric. Yet, he invented the ‘blow hug,’ which for us is a semiotic reference for affection.  2014-08-15 19.53.54


Agger, Ben. (1991) Critical Theory, Postmoderism, Poststructuralism: Their Sociological Relevance. New York. pp 105-131. Retrieved from

Babe, R.E. (2000) Chapter 1 – Introduction. In Canadian communication thought: Ten foundational writers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 3 – 38. Retrieved from

Craig, R.T. (1999). Communication as a Field. Communication Theory, 9:2, p 135-136. Retrieved from