During the past two summers, I’ve had the great privilege of presenting at and attending several European-based public relations research conferences. In the summer of 2014, I attended the Barcelona PR Meeting and the BledCom Symposium. This summer, I attended (both for my second time ever) the Barcelona PR Meeting and International History of Public Relations Research Conference (Bournemouth, U.K.).
If you can get past the hefty price tag associated with travel abroad, there are many great advantages to attending these international meetings. Here are my top five:
Interacting with international scholars on their “home turf.” As with most U.S.-based scholars, attending international conferences can be both expensive and overwhelming. As we continue to see travel budgets shrinking, it is often difficult to embrace international opportunities. And, even when these opportunities are financially within reach, it can be overwhelming to consider travel to locations where language and cultural barriers exist for us. (I’ll be honest, Bled, Slovenia seemed a bit intimidating to me at first).
This may similarly be the case for our colleagues outside the U.S. That is, travel within Europe is generally more affordable than travel to the U.S. Thus, many European-based scholars allocate their travel budgets accordingly, taking advantage of multiple conferences without the hefty price tag associated with travel abroad. Similarly, there may be fewer language and cultural barriers for them within the EU.
In other words, there is a greater diversity of scholars and scholarship that exists at conferences like Barcelona, Bled, and Bournemouth than at many U.S.-based academic meetings. Because these locations may be more accessible to European-based scholars, they offer opportunities to interact with scholars who do not traditionally attend conferences in the U.S., as well as exposure to diverse research agendas and perspectives.
Diverse perspectives. Because a greater diversity of international scholars attend these conferences, there is likewise a greater diversity of research agendas and perspectives. For example, BledCom reported that this year’s conference hosted 120 academics and practitioners from 22 different countries and continents. One only needs to look at the International History of Public Relations Research’s (IHPRC) program to identify the range of international historical perspectives that contribute to the practice of public relations around the globe. Presentation titles focused on public relations history in: Austria, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Germany, Israel, Malaysia, Norway, the Philippines, Turkey, the U.S., and Romania!
Uniquely themed conferences. It is my experience that many conferences tend to be a bit generic with regard to conference themes. By doing so, every research agenda and no research agendas are addressed all at the same time. Conferences like Barcelona, Bled, and Bournemouth, however, embrace meaningful, exciting, and sometimes even controversial themes. For example, the Barcelona PR Meeting’s 2015 theme was dedicated to the significant work of Robert Heath. Panels of esteemed scholars from across the globe honored Dr. Heath’s contribution to public relations. Similarly, Dr. Tom Watson was honored at this year’s IHPRC for his substantial efforts at integrating historical approaches to public relations research into the body of scholarship. Further, the theme at BledCom this year was “Sleeping (with the) Media.”
Valuable, high-quality takeaways. Whereas many conferences focus on presenting a quantity of results and data, it is my experience that Barcelona, Bled, and Bournemouth trend toward in-depth examinations and explanations. Philosophically charged discussions are widespread at these conferences, and I always walk away with – in my humble opinion — a higher-order understanding of public relations history, theory, and research. This is perhaps, best reflected in the amount of time allotted to each presenter, as well as the lack of competing presentations that occur simultaneously. For example, at the Barcelona PR Meeting, one hour is given for three presentations with time for questions and discussion. At IHPRC, each presenter is allowed 20 minutes for presentation and an additional 7 minutes for discussion.
At each of Barcelona, Bled, and Bournemouth, there are only two presentation sessions that occur simultaneously, and often plenary sessions are included for noteworthy topics and speakers. For example, at this year’s Barcelona PR Meeting, a plenary session made-up of high-level public relations professionals (i.e., Weber Shandwick, Burson-Marsteller, DIRCOM, etc.) led a discussion about how public relations educators can better prepare students for the industry, as well as how public relations professionals can better work with educators in preparing our students.
Cultural experiences. Of course, you expect the opportunity to explore all that an international destination has to offer. But, did you know that some of these conferences include cultural activities as part of the package? For example, this year’s Barcelona PR Meeting included an excursion to the Barcelona City History Museum. Attendees participated in a guided tour of the remains of one of the largest Roman settlements ever discovered in Europe. At IHPRC, attendees were welcomed at the pier by the side of Bournemouth’s beautiful beach on the English Channel. Last year’s BledCom Symposium organizers brought in Slovenian distilled beverages for taste-testing and purchase. In addition to the local culture, Barcelona, Bled, and Bournemouth offer the great opportunity to make new connections and friends from around the globe!
What now? Check out the Barcelona, Bled, and Bournemouth conference websites below. Many have already issued calls for presentation in the summer 2016. I would urge you to review the conference programs and topics to gain the most insight into what these conferences have to offer.
Of course, if you want the experience of international scholarship without traveling abroad, Miami in March (the International Public Relations Research Conference) is always your best bet! (Disclaimer: If you know me, then you know I’m a bit biased in this opinion). Indeed, a special session was hosted this year at BledCom focusing on IPRRC.
For further information:
Barcelona PR Meeting: http://www.uoc.edu/portal/en/symposia/prconference/index.html
BledCom Symposium: http://www.bledcom.com/symposium
International History of Public Relations Research Conference: https://microsites.bournemouth.ac.uk/historyofpr/
International Public Relations Research Conference: http://iprrc.org/
Melissa Dodd, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida’s Nicholson School of Communication. Follow her on Twitter @mellydodd.