University researcher steers the innovative future of PR


Waikato University Professor and PRINZ member David McKie is striving to liberate and reform the field of public relations (PR). He is continually leading and changing the way public relations practitioners, scholars and professional organisations are perceiving the practice, but it hasn’t been an easy journey.

“Public relations is concerned with protecting reputation yet it has a terrible reputation in itself. It’s ironic,” says Professor McKie.

The academic activist says there has always been a lack of self-criticism in PR on both an individual and collective level. “The industry has not examined its own practice and theories very critically. Without more robust self-criticism and self-questioning of its frameworks of power, PR will retain its poor reputation,” he says.

The lack of criticism in PR was one of motivators for Professor McKie to co-author The Routledge Handbook of Critical Public Relations. The handbook had a total of 32 chapters and included various critical PR perspectives from 40 authors from around the world.

The next step for Professor McKie is to investigate PR historiography. “To change the future, we need to look at the past. Historically PR innovation came from activists and activists were a dynamo of innovation,” he says.

The professor is currently working on a new book named Public Relations History: Reworking Pasts and Reclaiming Futures with Professor Jordi Xifra from Pompeu Fabra University, Spain. The book will review the existing PR history from an international perspective and unravel a more authentic foundation. It will help to widen the scope of PR questioning existing histories and their implicit claims to be objective and free of ideological bias. This will undoubtedly add to his controversial career and arouse debate for PR scholars, educators and students.

“Conversations constitute reality and reconfiguring PR means changing its conversations,” he says.

Over the years, Professor McKie has been driving debates and discussions through co-authoring eight books plus over 100 book chapters and journal articles.

He presents and organises various conferences, serves on editorial boards, mentors students, and lectures on lectures leadership and strategic communication papers at Waikato Management School.

Professor McKie is active in the practical PR world too. As part of the Waikato Management School’s Corporate and Executive Education programmes, he has worked with various leading organisations including a 10 year leadership with Telecom NZ, Prolife Foods, WEL Energy, Waikato Health, and Zespri. David also applies his theories in consulting with public and private organisations in Australasia, Asia, Europe and the US.

Professor McKie says he was positioned to be critical long before his career in PR. “It started from birth. My parents started it off by calling me David, and a Scottish Presbyterian Sunday School teacher then clarified it with the Biblical story of David overcoming the giant Goliath. I was positioned from early on, regardless of how unequal the odds, to fight the good fight on the side of the underdog.”

A Scot by birth, an Australian by naturalisation, a resident by New Zealand by choice and citizen of the world by inclination, Professor McKie says he enjoys balancing a sense of justice with a sense of humour.