Truth Inspirations: Professor Philip M. Taylor

Who do you admire? The answer to this question can teach us a lot about ourselves because even if we don’t want to be like the person we admire (people can admire Usain Bolt but hate running), there is something in the way they apply themselves to what they do that inspires us to work in a different way, to realise our full potential or motivates us to find out what our own talents are.

The people I admire all see what they do as a means to an end, as a process necessary to achieving something greater. They believe in a cause, an idea, or a future possibility.

Once such person is Professor Philip M. Taylor, whom I had the pleasure to teach alongside on a research and communication training course, and who sadly passed away four years ago.

Phil was the first Professor of International Communications in the UK. He combined his passions of history and communications in a way that had never been done before in his first book, The Projection of Britain: British Overseas Publicity and Propaganda, 1919-1939. Today, it is hard to find a strategic communications student or practitioner who hasn’t read Munitions of the Mind: War Propaganda from the Ancient World to the Nuclear Age and doesn’t recognise the contribution it has made to our understanding of a value-neutral approach to propaganda.

Effective communication, Phil explained, can only be achieved through a deep understanding of the people you are communicating with; an understanding of their history, culture, motivations and their hopes and dreams for the future. This may sound obvious, yet in practice it is a difficult thing to achieve. If you’ve ever needed to explain something to your own colleagues within your own organisation, for example to drive change or to get an idea accepted, imagine what can - and does - go wrong in communicating from one organisation to another, and to the public, let alone if that organisation or public resides in a foreign country!

Phil’s commitment to what he called ‘propaganda for peace’ had a deep impact on many of his students, who are his biggest legacy. For some, it changed the way they approached their studies, for others, it added a new dimension to their thinking about communications as a field of study.

Being relatively new to the field of behaviour change communication at the time, my interest in the subject didn’t just deepen, my focus shifted. I never again thought about the study of communication as becoming an expert in the best way to share or exchange information, ideas, and feelings to passive recipients. Instead, I focused on becoming an expert in the way other people see the world, how they process and interpret information, which perceptions shape their reality and how they create meaning. From this understanding, all else follows; from the content to the wrapper of communication design.