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What are the issues of 1989?

WHAT ARE THE ISSUES FOR 1989? We asked six communication practitioners and six educators what they see as the issues we face in the year ahead. Surprisingly-for the most part they agree.

People who practice communication and public relations sometimes have a different view of the field from those who teach it. That realization sent us out to sample some opinions on each side of the textbook. The general topic--what issues can we expect to be dealing with in 1989? More specifically--do educators and practitioners see the issues, opportunities and challenges through the same set of eyes?

The best overall assessment would be that educators and practitioners seem to agree on most of the major issues. They agree that the hottest issues in the year ahead will be: Ethics, productivity, AIDS, substance abuse, international competition and international marketing/communication. Commenting on communicating about AIDS in the workplace, Peter Johansen, ABC, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ont., says, "Policies have been implemented or are available as models. What will increase is dealing with reactions from actually using policies in particular cases."

Educators and practitioners also agree that the following issues will continue at about the same level as 1988: Plant closings, strikes/labor negotiations, credibility of PR, corporate image, government regulation and specialist vs. generalist as the preferred background for a communicator. These issues won't go away, they just aren't vying for the top positions. WHERE THEY DISAGREE On some issues educators and practitioners begin to part company. For example, practitioners see consumer activism on the rise, but not to the considerable extent educators do. Another disagreement in terms of scope rather than direction occurs over the issue of adult education/training for employees. Educators don't see the push having the force that practitioners do. Also, while educators see the quality control of products as about the same as in '88, practitioners look for a solid increase in this area in '89.

Regarding availability of qualified applicants to fill PR jobs, educators don't see any escalation of the problem. Practitioners, however, think finding qualified applicants at all levels will be tougher in '89 than in '88. Thinking is about the same regarding the supply of entry-level people--educators see no problem, practitioners feel the market might tighten.

On the matter of the need for an advanced degree, educators feel more inclined to view that as an issue for '89 than do practitioners. Summing up the practitioners' viewpoint, Dick Charlton, ABC, Parker-Hannifin Corporation, Cleveland, Ohio, says "Need for an advanced degree will continue, but not a big deal; job credentials are overwhelmingly important." Charlton adds that "professionals need transportable skills and mobile minds. With acquisitions, mergers and restructurings the norm, communicators had best be able to step lively. As Hemingway said, `Happiness is a moveable feast.''' MORE NEW ISSUES/PRACTITIONERS Respondents were invited to write in their own issues for '89. Leading off for the practitioners, Harold Burson, chairman, Burson-Marsteller Public Relations, New York, NY, suggests safety in the workplace, toxic chemicals/acid rain and the environment will get increased attention in the year ahead.

Agreeing with the prediction of increased environmental activism are Bob Berzok, ABC, Wilma Mathews, ABC and Sharon Paul, ABC. Paul adds, "A look at public opinion polling on environmental awareness and activism shows some real opportunities for those on all sides of the fence." Berzok indicates "environmental cleanup" as the more specific area of increased activity in '89.

Mathews pencilled in illiteracy and changing workforce as issues to watch. Berzok sees the US deficit and shareholder value as business issues to heat up in '89. In the professional area, he looks for more action in multicultural (minority) professional advancement, as well as a continued push to do more with less staff and budget.

Sounding an international alert, Anne Forrest, managing director, Hill and Knowlton Asia, Ltd., Hong Kong, says, "It will become increasingly important for PR professionals to understand and be able to operate in a global market. They will need to be able to lead their companies and clients into expanding markets around the world, or lose out to those who can." Forrest also sees the "movement of PR professionals into senior management in '89." A major problem for her--finding qualified prospects for staff openings.

The biggest, hottest issue for profit and nonprofit agencies, in Dick Charlton's opinion, is "Rocketing medical plan costs--for both employees and retirees." MORE NEW ISSUES/EDUCATORS Echoing the practitioners' alert to increased environmental activism in '89, Jim Grunig, Ph.D., journalism professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, also sees homelessness emerging as an issue. In the professional area, Grunig sees a growing need for practitioners with a body of knowledge underpinning their work.

Banging the warning drums, Dean Emeritus at the University of Georgia's Journalism School, Scott Cutlip, Ph.D., says, "I continue to be appalled by the failure of our corporations and their counsels to see ahead (and this after being ambushed by civil rights, the ecology movement, the feminist movement, etc.) For example, only a minority of corporations, according to my information, have crisis communication plans or policies to deal with AIDS in the workplace."

Cutlip foresees problems with the consolidation of public relations and advertising agencies, with the latter gaining the upper hand. "Another tough question," he says, "is the growing takeover of US firms by foreign companies. How will these trends affect the quality of public relations counsel for corporations needing such?"

Also, on the international level, with passage of the US/Canada free trade agreement, Peter Johansen, ABC, suggests, "industry, governments, associations, PR consultancies--virtually everyone in business communication--will be concerned with international competition/marketing, government regulatory changes (or deregulatory!) etc."

Several respondents predict increased training of employees by corporations in '89 and beyond. Bill Briggs, Ed.D., associate professor, San Jose State University, Calif., says, "Seminars and certificate programs should experience a boomlet as business seeks to train its own."

Don Ranly, Ph.D. journalism professor, University of Missouri, Columbia, flatly predicts an increase in women's issues, along with continued emphasis on affirmative action. He concurs with Briggs on the increase in afterschool training for communicators and others in the workplace.

Terri Johnson, ABC, assistant professor, University of Indianapolis, Ind., looks for more emphasis on employee communication in '89. She notes that competition in the communication field is getting "greater and greater." She says, "even internships are more competitive."

While the information arrived too late to include in the survey, Jim Pritchitt, consultant with Shandwick Public Relations, Neutral Bay, NSW, Australia, reports that, "as a generalization, there is more work available than professionals able to service it." However, the wealth of work is causing some familiar problems such as, "proving worth, work retention, credibility and expanding the profession."

Pritchitt reports "an urgent need in Australia for able people, and we need more on the job training, quality control and measurement."

Pritchitt adds that AIDS is not a big issue so far and that few programs exist to communicate about it. Issues that are developing are workers' rights, equal opportunity and job sharing.

Of course, the things that would make the biggest impact in '89 are the things no one can predict--a stock market crash, a cure for AIDS, a war, an oil embargo. Barring any such surprises, the opinions of the 12 communicators on these pages are likely to represent the best advice available for program planning and action in the year ahead.

PHOTO : ROBERT M. BERZOK, ABC DIR., CORP. COMM. UNION CARBIDE CORP. STAMFORD, CONN.

PHOTO : HAROLD BURSON CHAIRMAN BURSON-MARSTELLER NEW YORK, NY

PHOTO : RICHARD G. CHARLTON, ABC VP COMM. PARKER-HANNIFIN CORP. CLEVELAND, OHIO

PHOTO : ANNE B. FORREST, MANAGING DIR. HILL & KNOWLTON ASIA, LTD. HONG KONG

PHOTO : WILMA K. MATHEWS, ABC MEDIA REL. MGR. AT&T NETWORK SYSTEMS MORRISTOWN, NJ

PHOTO : SHARON A. PAUL, ABC VP CORP. AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS ABITIBI-PRICE, INC. TORONTO, ONT.

PHOTO : WILLIAM G. BRIGGS, Ed.D. ASSOC. PROF., PR SAN JOSE STATE UNIV. SAN JOSE, CALIF.

PHOTO : SCOTT M. CUTLIP, Ph.D. DEAM EMERITUS UNIV. OF GEORGIA ATHENS, GA.

PHOTO : JAMES GRUNIG, Ph.D. PROFESSOR, JOURNALISM UNIV. OF MARYLAND COLLEGE PARK, MD.

PHOTO : PETER JOHANSEN, ABC SUPV. GRAD. STUDIES CARLETON UNIV. OTTAWA, ONT.

PHOTO : TERRI L. JOHNSON, ABC ASST. PROFESSOR UNIV. OF INDIANAPOLIS INDIANAPOLIS, IND.

PHOTO : DON RANLY, Ph.D. PROFESSOR, JOURNALISM UNIV. OF MISSOURI COLUMBIA, MO.
COPYRIGHT 1989 International Association of Business Communicators
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:McGoon, Cliff
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1989
Words:1385
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