Monday, February 6, 2012

Work in the background

As I am concerned about both texts/writing and landscape/space/environment -- I often find ironic parallels that I don't think are entirely coincidental (hence, of course, "textscapes"). Today two articles crossed my desk that sounded the same theme from very different contexts.

In the wake of the strategic policy fumbles recently made by the Susan G. Komen Foundation (about providing funds for breast cancer screening at Planned Parenthood locations), there has been a spate of public discussion about it as a "PR" disaster. Just for example, see Crain's Chicago Business columnist, Ann Dwyer, writing about "Komen's PR miscues provide a lesson in crisis management for every business." The point of Dwyer's, and many others', argument is that Komen executives did not heed or did not follow wise PR advice and practice. There is more than a little of the "Poor PR people! We're under-appreciated, and there are dire consequences for neglecting us."

The most recent ASLA blog, The Dirt, reprinting from the February Landscape Architecture Magazine, includes Duke University's Mark Hough writing "Fredierick Law Olmsted is Holding Us Back (There. I Said It.)" To Hough, landscape architects are under-appreciated and their contributions to environmental health and society welfare, let alone aesthetics, are neglected. (Just like PR people.) Hough goes further though, and writes that landscape architects suffer from a "debilitating inferiority complex" because of all the attention that architects (and Frederick Law Olmsted) get.

(The interesting if not wholly realistic difference in the two complaints: while both professions express concern of being neglected and under-appreciated, it would never occur to the PR profession to feel "debilitating inferiority." A strong self image just goes with being a PR person.)

The serious insight for me in the comparison of these two kinds of views of the professions is that both the professional communicator and the landscape architect have as their material the Background (the "scape") upon which others act/build in the foreground. PR people sometimes talk about "creating a receptive environment" for the well-being of their organizations -- and isn't that what a landscape architect does too?

The full value of the contributions of which PR people and landscape architects are capable is probably often undervalued in our society (each needs a good PR program; but that's another topic). Yet many of the most thoughtful, innovative, insightful, and effective-thinking people I have ever known have worked in the Backgrounds (the spaces, environments, scapes). Many of the problems we face -- the environment, the economy, just being prepared and adapted for the digitally augmented world -- are problems of getting the Background right. That's why we really do need, and appreciate, the PR people and the landscape architects.