Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Charles Munger is one of the most successful investors of the modern era. If the name doesn't ring a bell, he is a partner with Warren Buffet, and between the two of them, they have built billions in value. This speech by Munger is a few years old but relevant. Don't let the title put you off. He's down to earth and pointed in his remarks about the inability of academic economists to look at the world correctly. In fact, his critique applies as well to PR where academics tend to get lost in theories of communications rather than the practicalities of it. Munger pounds key points -- the need to look at things they way they are and the need to be multidisciplinary. One has to put on and take off points of view to understand the environment.

If there is one damning critique of communications and PR training, it is an inability of academics and their students to be multidisciplinary. They focus on message and medium but fail to understand what they are observing first.

For example, there is one truth PR practitioners should learn once they leave school. It is that there are never audiences but individuals who make up audiences. While individuals may share in a common activity, they bring different sets of beliefs and cultural understandings to a common endeavor that may complicate communications. With the internet, we should stop talking about audiences and start talking about people. But it is hard to give up the notion of groups so most of us continue to think of mass audiences. It may take years for PR to change to where it should be. This is the kind of self-entrapment that Munger criticizes. As he would say, we ought to know better.

Take the time to read the whole speech. It is enlightening.


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