Monday, 19 July 2010

Communicating about communication – easy right? – Laura Smith, Media and Campaigns Manager

Daniel Boorstin once said ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.’ It has always been ironic to me that my chosen profession - public relations– suffers from complete and utter misunderstanding amongst the wider public.

On saying I work in PR, I immediately get ‘So you are a spin doctor?’ or jealous exclamations of ‘I watched Ab Fab, wish I went out partying with celebs’. Erm, so do I!

PR is defined as ‘the practice of building mutual understanding and creating a dialogue between an organisation and its stakeholders’. Oooh fancy! Fundamentally it is about communication – the currency of the 21st century world. And whilst many can consign PR to celebrities, products and crisis management (BP anyone?), it is so so much more than that.

The irony increases that the thing I am passionate about ‘PR’ing’ is the overlooked, misunderstood and taken for granted subject of supporting children’s speech, language and communication needs. In the UK today, 2.7 million children are living with some form of communication difficulty. This can affect them severely and for life.

I am constantly reading about ‘children’s behavioural difficulties’, ‘youth reoffending rates rising’ or ‘young people lacking basic skills in the workplace’. The consequences of not supporting children’s communication are played out in front of us on a daily basis. But the fundamental link that ‘communication equals life chances’ has not yet permeated the public consciousness.

Why not? Because it is too simple to suggest communication is important? Too obvious to support parents and professionals in this area? Well, sometimes we need to shine a light on the simple things in life. Chatter really does matter. This is why 2011 will be a National Year of Speech, Language and Communication.

This year will not be a PR exercise based on column inches; it will be about affecting real change for thousands of children and families. It will be about listening to others and getting information directly into the hands of those who need it.

So to come back to Mr Boorstein’s quote – all children are born with great potential, children with communication difficulties can, with support and understanding, achieve greatness and too many are currently suffering in silence. Creating a seismic shift in the way this issue is understood really would be ‘absolutely fabulous’.

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