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The Camino of strategic communication: (re)discovering the human element in public relations in unpredictable times

We live in evolving societies that undergo profound and rapid transformations. Artificial intelligence, digital technologies, robots in the workplace, big data and even new health threats are opening transcendent questions around the future of mankind. At the same time, trust and reputation are at risk in our dynamic, disruptive and unpredictable world. The 2020 pandemic has brought a “new normal” where communication – be it digital or personal - can strengthen ties between communities, government and organisations and facilitate decision-making processes. In this complex and uncertain scenario, going back to the basics of public relations and strategic communication seems more important than ever before: people and relationships. People should always come first. The pandemic has emphasized this idea.

More than ever before, there seems to be a massive need to create human-centred organizations. We need to build value-oriented societies based upon humanistic principles. In short, we need to rethink what it means to put the person at the centre of our decisions. How communication and public relations respond to these issues will determine the future of our field and practice. To address these challenges we attempt to revisit the relevance of people on the art and science of strategic communication, including education, professionalism, research and practice.

On the one hand, we would like to explore how to put the organizational focus on people and communities, to boost a sense for strong and collaborative communities. Communication/PR enables us to increase our uniquely human capabilities such us creativity, empathy, innovation or connection. Likewise, there is a huge opportunity to build more meaningful, creative and collaborative workplaces. On the other, there is a big opportunity to make our businesses and institutions genuinely human, real and approachable to our publics, while considering the important role of digital communication. In other words, we would like to build more open societies through communication to establish relationships based on honesty and trust that create even more value for organizations and society.

Indeed, the role of communicators, PR professionals, researchers and educators is crucial to understand, analyse and promote a humanistic view of our profession. Discipline and practice are at a critical turning point to anticipate and develop the knowledge, skills, competences and capabilities to manoeuvre these innovations.

But why using the word Camino? The Route to Santiago is of the utmost importance in Navarra. The University has the privilege to be on the Pilgrim’s way. Therefore, we invite practitioners and scholars to discuss and work together in order to ascertain the potential of human elements and values of the discipline and its strategic role on the future to come in the best possible scenario.

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Digital transformation challenges us to create a new cultural ethos - customs, uses, habits - that considers technology as a tool at the service of professionals and not as an end in itself. We must reconsider that the virtual world takes its meaning from the real world. From another perspective, the coronavirus global outbreak has surfaced many challenges regarding how public information is shaped and shared by citizens, and prompting other questions regarding the quality of information, transparency and ethics in risk and crisis communication.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increased awareness about a hyper VUCA context. The collapse of boundaries between organizations and the necessity of collaborative innovation to address future post-pandemic challenges demand a profession focused on innovative manners that would improve relationships with publics, and guide the social conversation. Traditionally, functional, postmodernist and critical approaches in PR/communication literature are aiming to find responses to the challenges. This track aims to meet a research agenda that shows new trends: how collaborative networks with a broad range of stakeholders are built, how communication enhances organisational decision-making process; what new practitioners’ leadership roles are being enacted; or what key indicators are being put into practice for the communicative constitutive organisations.

While mastering communication technologies, channels and multiple media platforms are constantly underlined in the curricula, the human dilemmas that the future will bring us are overlooked. How to sensitize students to the humanistic values in order to exercise professional judgement and high standards based on honesty, ethics, commitment and responsibility become challenges for the higher education and training of PR and communication.

The human element is at the centre of the new scenario that artificial intelligence is depicting. Also, the rapid transformations and societal expectations regarding emerging values (diversity, sustainability, purpose-driven organisations, etc.) confront organisations and practitioners to tackle and reshape the relational and dialogical approaches. How is the profession refurbishing its new and old competences? What are the new models or research approaches that are emerging regarding practitioners’ competencies and capabilities? What characterizes proficient practitioners that contribute to agile organisations? What are the specific professional capabilities that may contribute to enhance proper dialogical and listening approaches, underlying the human element of the profession and professionalism?

What is it in the past that we can apply nowadays to reinforce the human values of strategic communication? We might find some light in the past, going back to where the profession started or just rediscovering classic theories including rhetoric, community, or other European social theories.

The human element has always been a persistent feature when dealing with unpredictable events and risks. The coronavirus global outbreak and the climate change challenge are some of the current global phenomena that stress the relevance of strategic communication. This track welcomes up-to-date research that explores how practitioners are dealing with their role and capacities to manage unpredictability and risks, how discourses are being enacted in the public sphere, or how theory can expand the current debate putting the persona and societal values at the heart of the profession, combining human and digital elements. In this vein, theoretical revisions on crisis, risk and emergence communication theories are also very welcome.

EUPRERA 2021 also welcomes research that sheds new light on contemporary challenges in the broad domain of PR and strategic communication. We encourage the submission of original contributions ranging from theoretical and empirical building on quantitative or qualitative methods. Other human elements of strategic communication not covered in the previous topics can also be encompassed in this final track.

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