Countering the public’s poor perception of PR

In a society where instant communication is the accepted (and expected) norm and where citizens are actively engaging with brands, it’s no surprise that Public Relations has become a key component of any business’ communications strategy.

That being said, PR as an industry is known for having a less than favourable reputation thanks to a few unscrupulous actors who have been falsely assumed to be demonstrative of the industry as a whole – Yes, we’re blaming you, Max Clifford…

Do not assume Ab Fab is accurate… its not. Credit: Sports Relief 2012

The irony of this poor rep is not lost on us.

Contrary to the misconception, PR professionals are not evil propaganda merchants weaving a web of lies for the public.

Viv Segal (Managing Director of South Africa’s Sefin Marketing) said that “PR means telling the truth and working ethically, even when all the media want is headlines and all the public wants is scapegoats. Public relations fails when there is no integrity”, and that’s a statement that is heartfelt amongst many of my peers.

Yes, what we do is centred around managing our clients’ reputations, and yes, our aim is to promote their brand and the work they do. But rather than some sinister plot of lies and spin, we do this by paying attention to what the public is interested in, finding solid connections with the work of our businesses, and by building relationships with those who matter whether they’re journalists, influencers, celebrities or Joe Bloggs from down’t road.

The main issues we face can be isolated in a variety of ways but at the end of the day, it all boils down to a lack of trust.

We have a symbiotic relationship with journalists – though they remain the gatekeepers to our securing media coverage. By lazy PRs – or those new enough to the industry to not know any better –sending out swathes of badly-written, untargeted, and often unsound press releases with often little actual news value, this relationship is being eroded.  When you consider how many of these they must receive on a weekly basis – given that there are approximately 55’000 PR professionals currently working in the UK according to the most recent ONS Labour Force Survey – is it any surprise why they are becoming increasingly cynical and unwilling to work with us.

Counteracting this issue is one that can only be tackled by good work being created on an agency by agency basis, with experienced PR professionals teaching those more junior what is and isn’t appropriate.

That however is not the whole picture. Its not longer enough for agencies to just come up with great creative content. Although this is indeed the first step, we must additionally assess and prove the impact of our work.

That means… METRICS.

Everything we do for a client must be measured; and measurement must be methodic, regular, segmented, accessible and agile. We may generate customised PR reports containing our outputs and then create clipping decks to trace how these outputs performed. The primary focus of most measurement for PR professionals is qualitative i.e., how our clients look, where our work has been published, the tone attached by the journalist to our clients information. This is the core challenge for us to meet as clients often find it easier to understand and appreciate concrete quantitative information on the number of press releases published, number of attendees to an event or number of ‘likes’ or ‘follows’ to a page.

No matter what type of measurement we use however, tying our results to our overall objective(s) is imperative. After all, outputs that don’t relate to what we are attempting to accomplish are really just wasted energy.

By applying the principles of good communications to our own industry, businesses and careers – rather than just to the work we do for our clients – we can better challenge the next person who jokes about our industry being full of spin, and perhaps educate them a bit more about what we actually do and what our work can accomplish.

Do you have any bigger ideas on how we can change the perception on PR? Let me know in a comment below.

I’m nice when you get to know me, honest!

Day in the life

Making that transition from education into professional life can often be a struggle. Suddenly, you’re expected to hit the ground running and put all that theory into practice with often only the support of your colleagues and online career advice to guide you.

That being said, it’s important to get an idea of what you’re jumping into as an Account Executive so – taking into consideration that no day is really the same in PR – I thought I’d grant you all a small exposé as to what a normal day at London’s Houston PR (the agency which gave me my ‘break’ into the world of professional public relations) would involve.

6am – My first alarm which (unsurprisingly) I would snooze… repeatedly. Suffice to say, I’m not a morning person.

7.10am – Leave for the bus, usually running because I’d rather do that than spend an extra second standing out in the cold/wet.

7.30am – The bus arrives. It’s supposed to be an hours journey by (perhaps typically for the London rush hour) it never is; luckily I’m early enough on the route to regularly manage to get a seat for the majority of the journey.

8.40am – Arrive in central London and buy coffee no. 1 of the day as well as a bagel or small salmon baguette. The baristas in both Pret and Cafe Nero know me on sight, but Cafe Nero wins the morning coffee slot with their extra shot – something I definitely need.

8.45am – Arrive at the office (just around the corner) and check national news websites, my to-do list for the day and my inbox (both in-case of something urgent that needs attending to and also in case I’ve heard back from any journalists).

9.10am – Weekly staff meeting to discuss updates on all clients as well as where we are within our new business pipeline.

9.40am – Quick briefing with my direct superior to go over my notes and discuss direct actionables for the week which I add to my to-do list in order of priority. I also provide an update on the progress of the bi-weekly insight sessions I currently run on social management and analytical tools.

9.50am – Check keywords for whether any coverage has been achieved overnight and (after verifying them) add any new pieces to the clients’ cuttings files and coverage documents alongside their respective details. We have a couple of clients who prefer daily updates so this is a common (and relatively simple) task for when I first get into the office.

10.10am –  A few responses have come in from a couple well-known magazines requesting more information about a client’s product line. There are also one or two blogger requests for items to review. I check their circulation; one has a high enough reach to be suitable so I fire off an email checking how the client would prefer it handled in terms of logistics.

10.30am – Called into an impromptu meeting by an Account Manager to discuss a new client whose meeting they want me to sit in on later today.

11am – Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. And I finally get the chance to eat the breakfast I’ve been picking at for the last two hours.

11.15am – Back at my desk and client has called in needing a list of all major technology publications so I start going through our online databases pulling out titles that are appropriate for their market, outlining their circulation as well as contact information for the most appropriate journalist, and collating them within a report to mail over.

12pm – A call comes in from a client requesting feedback on something I have been involved in but not directly enough to be able to help. She sounds stressed and expresses that it’s needed within the next day or two. I make a note of her request and forward it to the appropriate colleague with an offer to handle it if needed; they’re in meetings for most of the day but will most likely be checking email periodically. I also make a point to reassure the client and give a fair estimate of when she can expect to hear from us. I’m hoping that after a month or so of emails, she might remember me – she doesn’t, but she sounds a lot more positive by the end of the call so I hope she will do soon.

12.10pm – Back to trawling databases for leads. I’m now cross-referencing the list I’ve compiled against publications’ reach and the names of journalists with whom I know our agency has a pre-existing relationship. It’s always nice to skip the introduction stage after all.

12.30pm – Proof and make edits to a press release that is due to go out. It needs bulking out with more facts and/or quotes so I trawl through the hivemind of Google for something appropriate and tweak it before sending it back to my colleague to go out.

1pm – The coverage report I sent out for one of my clients was missing a couple of items that didn’t show up on our media monitoring. The client noticed the omission and – given that its the second time in as many weeks that our cuttings service hasn’t picked up everything it should – understandably they’re pissed and (because they know it’s not an oversight on our end) I’m tasked to recify the issue and liase with the media monitoring agency to try and find out where the gap is in their scope.

1.20pm – Lunchtime! Due to living in a glorified box without kitchen facilities, this is my main meal of the day so I take my leave of the office for a short walk and some “me” time (often used to plan these blog posts) before making a choice on what to eat… working on the Strand means the options are endless so today I swing by Koshari Street (an Egyptian street food cafe on St Martin’s Lane) for a Lentil and Swiss Chard soup.

2.20pm – Social media is an important and essential tool for both our clients and our business. To keep ourselves up to date with the myriad of tools and tricks out there, I host a bi-weekly insight session on key tools that would benefit specific clients but this means taking the time to research and assess their relevance before adding the relevant details to the powerpoint I’m designing.

3.30pm – I sit in on a client meeting with a manager and the MD. We have a couple of international clients so despite the difficulty of juggling timezones, regular conference calls allow us to better understand their needs and expectations as well as making sure they appreciate our role and where we are within their campaign.

4.30pm – The meeting took longer than expected so I start finishing up today’s To-Do list and make my final calls to journalists following up on coverage or pitches.

5pm – Before I leave, I tidy my desk space and write up the key actionables for tomorrow morning.

5.30pm – Leave the office and grab a sandwich or soup before I get to the bus stop. I can already see that the traffic is insane and – as more people leave the office – I know it’s only going to get worse.

7.15pm – Home. Finally.

7.30pm – Shower

8pm – Blog and skype my family and friends.

9.30pm – Put on a film and try to relax. More often than not I end up scrolling through Twitter and industry news sites.

11pm – Sleep.

Do you smell what “The Rock” has been cooking?

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Source: David Shankbone (Flickr)

When it comes to personal branding, some get it and some don’t. Some are branding masterminds; falling easily into their brand ‘personas’. Some need a team to help them with branding decisions, something which, by the way, is perfectly okay – it’s what we are here to help with after all.

And – so there’s no doubt – when we’re talking about ‘electrifying’ personalities, we’re talking about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – my childhood (and admittedly adulthood) celebrity crush. Successfully transforming himself from a one-time Pro Wrestler to “The Great One”, “The Rock” not only branched out from the esteemed ranks of the WWE elite but, in recent years, has become an undisputed Hollywood heavyweight.

It would be fair to say a big part of what is driving “The Rock”‘s ‘brand’ is his social media presence. After all, what with 49.5 Million Facebook ‘likes’, 16.7 Million Instagram followers, and 8.8 Million Twitter followers; there’s no denying the figures regardless of whether they’re ‘fitness fanatics’, ‘film afficionados’, or one of the Millions AND MILLIONS of fans of the good ol’ “People’s Champ”.

Despite being a late adopter due to his claim of being “a very private

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It’s not just wine that ages well Source: Ifran.nasir05 (Flickr)

person and therefore unsure how to engage”, Dwayne’s approach perfectly encapsulates the concept that “Organisations don’t tweet, people do.”

When he finally took the plunge and opened his Twitter account, he claimed (according to Social Media Expert, Amy Jo Martin) that his biggest goal was “just to be authentic, so that people know that when their tweet alert goes off on their device, that it’s coming directly from my hands.”

It is this – his hands-on approach – that is unmatched in today’s world of celebrity. Nobody speaks on his behalf. Ever. Dwayne’s success is argued by Ms Martin, as being due to his being “fully and personally committed to delivering value to his audience”, by using platforms to “Motivate, Encourage and Entertain”.

By constantly delivering value when, where, and how his fans wanted it, ‘The Rock’ was able to establish a two-way, dynamic relationship which consistently increases his personal reach (generating a larger following) and deepens the loyalty of his existing followers’ (through stimulating greater engagement)—two goals of every business on the planet.

With that in mind, can you smell what ‘The Rock’ is cookin’? Because whatever it is? It’s something we should ALL be getting a taste of.

A summary of an election which could change the face of politics

So after yesterday’s #behindthenews panel discussion with Johnathan Lampon on ‘The youth vote’ (covered in an earlier post), I received an unexpected phone call requesting that I meet with Christian Hill (another BBC journo) to give a quick summary of my thoughts on this year’s election campaign run up and my election result predictions for #GE2015.

Because my section will have been a teeny part of this morning’s breakfast show with Jim Davis and Jo Hayward (7am if anyone’s interested), I thought it might be best to just type up my quick summary here to expand on my verbal analysis of all but a minute.

Basically, I think that despite the election itself being pretty exciting (I’m pretty certain that it’s close enough that there will be a minority government and another election within a year), the campaign period in the run-up has been…dull, if I’m honest.

True, there have been some highlights – Ed Miliband’s interview with Russell Brand for one, not to mention the Green Party’s spoof ‘Boyband’ video (below) which quite frankly is an unparalled election broadcast.

But generally speaking, it’s all come across as a bit too tightly controlled and, because of that, a bit too staged and boring. Election campaigns should be about speaking to the people and having heartfelt, genuine conversations, not delivering pre-planned speeches against a backdrop of party member’s with placards.

Of course, there is always a risk involved with talking to the public, especially when its election-time. After all, nobody enjoys having egg on their face be it proverbially or otherwise. The problem is though that it is precisely the way parliamentary candidates handle these situations (where they are around and engaging with real people) that is what can win them the hearts, minds and (most importantly perhaps) votes of the electorate. Shutting down opportunities for dialogue before they’ve even begun only further alienates MP’s from ‘normal people’.

This is an election which I believe will prove to be a defining point our country’s future, determining not only the way our country is run, but our values as a society.

What this election has show most of all, I think, is that politics isn’t something we should just get involved in once every five years where we moan about whoever was last in power and all the things they didn’t do/did wrong, and automatically vote for their opponent.

People (and especially young people) are realising that democracy isn’t just about elections, it is something about everyday LIFE; something so ingrained in every aspect of our society that we don’t even see it unless we look. They’re realising (slowly) that politics MATTERS and is something they CAN have a voice in so long as they stay actively involved.

I might be idealistic in saying so but hopefully this increased awareness and self-belief is something that will not only spur people to head to the polls this Thursday to make their mark for whichever candidate they choose, but will also inspire them to get actively involved in causes they believe in and raise their voices loud enough that the people of this country can be heard.

Breaking stereotypes and discussing the ‘Youth’ vote

With two day’s left until the election polls open, this morning I once again dove into a radio broadcasting and rejoined BBC Leicester’s Johnathan Lampon and BBC Local Apprentice Khadija Osman for Behind the News’ panel discussion.

Today we looked at ‘The Youth Vote’ and why young people may or may not be turned off from politics.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02pn8h1 (10:50mins – 36:25mins)voters

Since the 1970’s, the 18-24 age demographic have had the lowest voter turnout of any age group, but this year they could very well be the game-changers holding the power to influence who ends up in No. 10.

Young people need to feel engaged by the political process so its no surprise that jargon is a complete turn off. I believe young people are more discerning than we’re given credit for and although many of us are interested in politics, we are also very cynical of politicians. Who wants to be preached at when half of what is said goes over your head anyway?

When MP’s target and start listening and moreover including young people in the political process, finding out what issues we feel are important (because despite some snarky feeling that all we care about is student fees, that’s most definitely not the case) and hearing our views on public policy.

The issue that got under my skin in particular was the suggestion by one commenter that young people under the age of 24 are “idiotic beyond belief and will most likely be voting for disaster/Labour #Morons”… Gee… thanks.

Despite the (completely false) idea that young people somehow automatically vote Labour, this stereotype of the ignorant, politically-uneducated-therefore-clearly-left-wing, hippy ‘yoof of today’ is totally unfair and (as a young person myself) pretty darn offensive if I’m honest.

The main challenge for politicians today in engaging young people is pretty much the same challenge they face to the rest of the electorate (but perhaps to a stronger degree). Average Joe Bloggs (both senior and junior) no longer trust politicians to be honest in either their policies or their values, and it is THIS failure to engage in a trustworthy and believable way that political parties need to work on.

How an Itsy bitsy teeny (and controversial) bikini can help explain brand integrity

This week in class we were debating if there is ever such a thing as ‘bad publicity’?

Although many were aligned with Phineas T. Barnum’s statement that “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”, I believe this stance can only go so far.

True enough, if someone is seeking notoriety and a scandalous reputation, perhaps this opinion may have some credence. But if publicity is centred on a product or service that has been shown to be physically detrimental to the consumer or the environment ala BP after their latest oil spill, then there is little likelihood that that publicity of the issue is going to increase sales or improve brand awareness in a valuable way for the business.

Our focus led us to looking at Protein World‘s ‘Beach Body Ready!’ OOH campaign which a few days ago was pulled by TFL.

Launched on platforms across the London Underground, the campaign’s bright yellow poster (shown below) is illustrated by the requisite (although allegedly un-photoshopped) woman in a tiny bikini as well as examples of some of their protein-based meal-replacement products. 45775830-2510-465f-a8cb-bda9b5a82951-620x372

Reactions, perhaps surprisingly, were mixed.

Call me cynical but this campaign’s message doesn’t really stand out (neither amongst its competitors, or within the general media). Maybe I’ve become desensitised, who knows…

Others however, have taken a stand against the ad on the principle beachbodydeface2that any ‘body’ which makes it to a beach this summer is a ‘beach body’, and that Protein World – and by extension, Richard Staveley (Head of Marketing) – are adding to the commodification of women’s bodies within society, and are ‘fat-shaming’ those who do not meet their body ideals.

Campaigners claim that the company is “directly targeting individuals, aiming to make them feel physically inferior to the unrealistic body image of the bronzed model in order to sell their product” and have not only taken to social media to express their views, but have also defaced ads across the London Underground and started a (now successful) petition to have the campaign pulled.

As a self-acknowledged chubster, its easy to understand why some women might find these ads offensive, but it was the brand’s response that really threw me for a loop. Instead of apologising and taking a softly-softly approach centred on the ad’s role as a motivational device, they doubled-down and held their own.

The resultant outcry and subsequent media attention has meant that in four days, Protein World has secured 20’000 new customers, over 113 million media views, and has made over 1 MILLION in revenue.

By causing a debate on such a fraught issue as obesity, the brand Picture1has polarised the media and its audiences in a way that (because they are in a niche market) means they can be completely unrepentant in their stance whilst meeting the ideologies and general attitudes of their key consumers – those who are or want to lose weight – even if that causes an awful lot of controversy.

Rightly or wrongly, the campaigns objective was to increase sales and, by creating a newsworthy story that everyone had an opinion on, social justice campaigners didn’t just give the brand a MASSIVE boost in exposure but also meant that those who agreed with their ideology would be more interested in actually making a purchase.

INGENIOUS!!!

Think about it.

They secured free coverage in several key national publications and news outlets as well as even more in women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan. Coverage that would have otherwise cost them thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – to pay for themselves.

All it took was them maintaining their brand’s integrity.

If your brand is consistent in its actions, values, principles and behaviour, then it is seen to have integrity, and as such, will be meaningful to the audience to which it is aimed – however distasteful it might be to the rest of us.

It’s not about trying to be good anymore (though that might be one aspect of your brand) and its not about being ‘nice’ or even looking good in a yellow bikini; it’s trying to be honest, authentic and representative of the people who really matter – if only to your brand.