From the Mad Men model to liquid professionalism

Attention turns to the future of work at #MindThePRGap2020

About the author

Richard Bailey Hon FCIPR is editor of PR Academy's PR Place Insights. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.

The second day sessions at the Virtual Mind The PR Gap conference – a collaboration between University of Greenwich and PR Academy – address the future of work. 

In this post we introduce the keynote speakers and give a taster of their interests and perspectives. Details of how to register for free follow at the end.

Satyen Dayal is Executive Director and Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Edelman; he has a public relations degree from Bournemouth University, and is addressing skills and technology. 

He says:

The important thing to understand is that social media is still in its infancy. Society is still learning how to use this medium and so is PR. Hence, we are only at the beginning of the change.

‘In many ways, through social media, audiences are learning to become journalists and this isn’t easy. But as they improve so will the demands of earning their attention. Media relations is not in decline but is evolving. It’s transforming digitally.’

Dr Heather Yaxley describes herself as an ‘author-academic-educator-consultant-practitioner – a 21st century portfolio worker with a range of interests and commitments across public relations and sustainable professional development’. 

Heather Yaxley says:

‘My career is best described as being opportunistic. I’ve been self-employed – and working from home – for twenty years, so not much has changed for me during the lockdown. What I’ve learned is that there’s a big difference in choosing to work remotely and having to do this. There have been some upsides – particularly in using technology to connect more personally with contacts. I’ve enjoyed running one-to-one tutorials through Zoom – and working with professionals all around the world where we can have meaningful conversations. 

‘Interestingly, the ideas that emerged from my PhD research into careers are more relevant than ever. There’s evidence that supports the things that I have been writing and talking about for some time.

I’m hopeful that we will stop thinking about careers only in terms of hierarchical progression based on being present in a particular workspace.


There are four concepts that I proposed which can help us find a new way of appreciating the purpose of careers – and tackling the problems inherent in the 20th century ‘Mad Men’ model.

‘The first concept relates to the factors that inhibit career mobility – what I call knots. We have been forced to recognise constraints on mobility – and realise what is important and what isn’t. This applies to individuals, organisations – and importantly the opportunity structure that limits many people’s careers.

‘Second, is the idea of how careers are fluid – which should be an empowering force as we take a fresh look at the future of work. I’ve also looked at how we need to accommodate the uncertainty and complexity inherent in contemporary careers by acknowledging the multiplicity of experiences, perspectives and voices within public relations. Finally, we have to grasp the potential in seeing our careers not in terms of time we spend at work, but in relation to defining moments – kairotic rather than chronological time. 

‘Now is the time for rebalancing attitudes to work, the value we place on how we spend our time – and acknowledging more equitably the contributions of everyone. This will enable us to replace the narrow 20th century ‘modernist’ ideas of individualistic progress with more adaptive and interconnected ‘metamodernist’ practices.’

Dr Sarah Roberts-Bowman has varied and eclectic interests across all aspects of organisational communications but she has a particular interest in knowledge, competencies, professionalism and careers within the field of PR. 

Her recent paper co-authored with Jane Hendy ‘A liquid profession: An ecological approach to the theory and knowledge that underpin the practice of PR’ was published in Public Relations Inquiry and puts forward a knowledge framework to better prepare the practice for the complex, liquid and changing world around us.

Drawing on the work of social theorist Zygmunt Bauman, the authors write: ‘Liquid modernity is characterised by random connections, unpredictability and change; it is the ‘unholy trinity’ of uncertainty, insecurity and unsafety.’

They argue for ‘a well-articulated body of knowledge … to underpin a more detailed competency framework that showcases professional capability. This could then be used to support a qualification structure and various routes into the field including university programmes, apprenticeship schemes and continuous professional development.’

Sarah Roberts-Bowman adds:

‘Recent events have demonstrated the need to be nimble and able to respond to unknown unknowns. PR practitioners should be good at navigating complexity and chaos. We must never be too proud to learn and admit we don’t have all the answers (but we know somebody who does) – the concept of  humble intelligence.

Turning to the future, I am instinctively an optimistic person – yes there will be short-term issues around employability and the job market but organisations in the long term will need to re-think who they are, their purpose, their values, the role of their employees and the link between value and values, our expectations as a society and our core beliefs, the way risk and reputation are understood – these are at the heart of PR.’

Virtual Mind The PR Gap 2020 runs over three sessions across two days. It’s free to attend, but you will need to register for each session you wish to join. Here are the details of each session with the link to register:

AI, creativity and fake news in a post Covid-19 world

Date and time: Thursday 9 July 12noon to 1.30pm

Keynote speakers: Professor Andrew McStay and Professor Vian Bakir (both at Bangor University)

Panellists: Kevin Read (Pembroke and Rye), Stuart Youngs (Texture AI), Stuart Bruce, Vian Bakir and Andrew McStay, co-chaired by Philip Young (Birmingham City University) and Ann Longley (Something New Together)



The future of work, careers and learning in a post Covid-19 world

Date and time: Friday 10 July 12noon to 1.30pm

Keynote speakers: Satyen Dayal (Edelman), Dr Heather Yaxley (Applause Consultancy and Knowledge Management Consultant at CIPR) and Dr Sarah Roberts-Bowman (Northumbria University)

Panellists: Satyen Dayal, Heather Yaxley, Sarah Roberts-Bowman, Jon Gerlis (CIPR) and Steve Miller (PRCA) co-chaired by Richard Bailey (Leeds Beckett Univesity and PR Academy Insights) and Dr Nicky Garsten (University of Greenwich)



Virtual drinks, networking and PR quiz

Date and time: Friday 10 July 5pm to 6.30pm

registER free