Hot off the press!

To PR people, the concept of not keeping up with the news is unthinkable.

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Source: KellyB. (Flickr)

Whether its via broadsheets, tabloids, online or offline, keeping on top of the latest news is a key part of our day. How else would we be able to follow all the developments in current trends, let alone see the opportunities or face the challenges that might influence our clients’/employer’s brand(s).

I even know of one girl studying for her masters in PR whose primary source of news was Instagram – something that deeply shocked me until I realised that (given her passion for celebrity fashion and beauty trends) it was actually a pretty understandable outlet for what she wanted.

That being said, when I read this article over at Clareville Communication‘s blog, I was stunned to find that a whopping 10 per cent of Brits don’t keep up with the news and that this number DOUBLED in the last year alone.

*ENDLESS FACEPALM*

What is going on Britain? There is more to life than Celebrity Big Brother and what little ‘news’ that works its way onto Facebook to be scrolled over for want of yet another prank/cat/baby video.

Check it out anyway and let me know what you think and why you can (or can’t) be bothered.

 

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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.

Hold the front page!!!

  
I’ve been itching to post this for the last few days but, now that the official announcement has been made I feel I can finally announce that I have joined Behind the Spin’s editorial team as an Associate Editor.

Behind the Spin (for those of you who don’t know) is an online magazine that caters to public relations students and young PR professionals. As well as regularly updating with articles on anything from promoting MOOC’s and industry competitions to feature articles showing the intricacies of a particular role or a contributor’s perception and experience of a particular area of the industry, the publication and it’s Editor, Richard Bailey, are active in assisting with careers advice and ways for young and passionate PR folk to demonstrate their skills.

For me, it has become a valuable resource that I’ve highly recommended to my peers since my discovery of it last summer, but it is it’s provision of opportunities such as its annual national #PRstudent blogging competition, and Richard’s willingness to act as a ‘sounding board’ for any and all of my professional thoughts, queries, and questions that – I believe – sets Behind the Spin apart. Despite being an avid and voracious reader of many popular industry titles (Drum, Creative Review and PR Week to name a few) – something I highly recommend doing for any aspiring or current PR student or grad – Behind the Spin (for me at least) has become that down-to-earth insight into the positives, challenges and just plain realities of what the industry is like at the level WE are currently at.

Cue why being a part of it is all very exciting – to the point of my letting out a rather undignified squeal in the middle of a crowded train platform when reading Richard’s offer.

If you’d also like to get involved (whether you’re a PR student, a graduate, a PR lecturer or an employer), check out this open invitation to tell you how.

Lobbying for change

Should a political party tell the public what it believes, or should it ask the public what it wants? So goes a beloved dilemma of political theorists and party policy-makers over the years – from long since before the internet came to prominence.

Of course, there is no easy answer to it; particularly when individually each MP (irrespective of party affiliation) may be subject to external influence by PRs or the corporations for whom they are working.

The UKPAC definition of lobbying claims that it means working:

in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the United Kingdom Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within their competence.

In the UK, lobbying plays a significant role in the way that policies and decisions are made at local, regional and national levels, as lobbyists attempt to influence the formulation of legislation in ways that benefit their clients. Most lobbying activity is undertaken by professional public affairs agencies who represent multiple clients and primarily focus on lobbying within the corporate, charity and trade sectors.

Although I believe that working to influence political decisions regarding policy and legislation is a legitimate and moreover a necessary part of the democratic process, I do think that there needs to be a wider and more fair level of engagement in the process, with more transparency as to the dealings between Whitehall and lobbyists.

In 2010, David Cameron said that lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen” and subsequently ‘promised’ to “sort it out”. However last year, the issues within lobbying reached a level where (according to a TI poll) 90% of UK respondents believed that “our government is run by a few big entities acting in their own interest”

A Lobbying Act was implemented in January 2014 in an attempt to rectify the poor reputation of lobbyists that had been steadily growing over the past decade (some of which are shown below).

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On February 10th however, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations revealed its manifesto for the upcoming year which raised seven key areas that the public relations profession wants to see addressed (both in the industry and beyond), namely:

  • Lobbying
  • The future of corporate governance,
  • Independent practitioners and future skills needs,
  • The gender pay gap,
  • Data protection,
  • Internet governance and broadband.

Lobbying

For the last few years, the CIPR has been calling on government to actively support higher levels of accountability and standards within lobbying. Althoguh this did pay off last year in the Lobbying Act, but understandably (as shown in the above infographic), there is still a fair way to go.

CIPR president, Sarah Pinch, says, “The next UK Government should seek to restart the dialogue with stakeholders on the role of lobbying in our democracy, and actively support the development of a highly skilled, qualified and ethically competent group of public affairs professionals that serve the needs of a modern complex democracy. Ensuring that the law that introduced a statutory register of consultant lobbyists genuinely provides the public with more information about how policies and laws are shaped should be considered a priority. Failure to do so will result in lobbying genuinely being the next big scandal waiting to happen.”

The Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is another prominent issue that is regularly discussed in the public relations industry. The CIPR suggests that future governments need to dedicate themselves to strengthening the Equal Pay act, ensuring it is universally applied. The State of the Profession report, due to be revealed sometime this week, will contain up-to-date information on the size of the current income gap, but last year’s study showed that the gap between men and women was as large as £12,390 in senior roles.

Pinch adds, “Looking outside of our traditional areas of influence, some of the really big questions facing our society – internet governance, data protection – have (so far) not figured largely in contemporary political debate, but our future government will need to take a lead on finding answers to them.’

“Most of these issues are not ones for which a government can simply legislate, and most of them do not have a simple, straightforward solution. Rather, they require an open and informed public conversation which will allow us to arrive at a sustainable set of policies and maintain the UK’s world lead in what are critically important areas.”

At your own risk

Just rediscovered this feature I wrote for Communicate Magazine November 2013 issue on the growing importance of Corporate Affairs Directors (and of Corporate Communications in general). I still think it’s appropriate, and it’s still one of my favourite published articles to date.

More use than smoke signals

The 2007 financial crisis caused society’s confidence in business to hit an all time low. Since then, companies have been under increased public scrutiny from many angles. This scrutiny has only been exacerbated by the advent of web 2.0 and the public forums and social media channels it supports.

The growing influence of the corporate affairs function in FSTE 100 companies The growing influence of the corporate affairs function in FSTE 100 companies

The influence of corporate affairs directors however is thought to have grown steadily over the past number of years. However, it has become more and more important for the reputational dimension of strategic and operational decisions to be considered at an early stage.

It was with this in mind, that a study was conducted by executive search consultants, Spencer Stuart. Jonathan Harper, who leads the consultancy’s consumer practice in Europe and partner in the consultancy, says “We thought it would be useful for us to find out and…

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Hacks Vs Flaks: Are we really so different?

The relationship between journalist and PR officer is one of the most valuable – but often one of the most difficult – to foster and maintain. For a long time there has been a sort of “love/hate relationship” between the two professions, with journalists often calling publicists “flacks” and publicists calling journalists “hacks” – albeit rarely in earshot of one another.

I know that during my time studying Journalism (and International Relations) for my Bachelors degree, lecturers (who were invariably ex or freelance journalists themselves) would often teasingly refer to the public relations industry as “the dark side of Journalism”, a reputation which has in no way benefited from the widely reported actions of those such as Max Clifford (both within PR and within his personal life). I’ll admit that this reputation did initially put me in mind of a certain sci-fi film trilogy from the 70’s and 80’s (the ‘prequels’ do not count), but today I ask, “Are we really so different?”

Honestly, I can see where some journalists with this viewpoint might be coming from. After all, in ‘Propaganda’, Edward Bernays is famously quoted as saying “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

"PR, I AM your father"

“PR, I AM your father”

Thought to be one of, if not THE, founding father of public relations, Bernays’ statement does not paint a particularly good portrait, particularly when trying to refute the bad PR that PR has experienced. Personally though, I think there are two ways of looking at public relations.

The CIPR (also known as the Chartered Institute for Public Relations) defines public relations as being a discipline focused on managing reputation with the intention of “earning understanding and support, and influencing opinion and behaviour”. Its focus is clear in its attempt to re-imagine PR as a respected, ethical and rigorous profession – something which has long been an aim of the organisation.

The PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) on the other hand, whilst equally stating that “Public relations is all about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you”, states that the practice is predominantly “used to gain trust and understanding between an organisation and its various stakeholders.” This (to me at least) is more suggestive of the PRCA’s focus on the industry as practice rather than as a profession.

But, regardless of whether you consider PR as a profession or a practice, is there really so much difference between the industry and journalism? Especially now that so many hacks and flaks are sitting on the fence and dipping in and out of both Journalism and PR throughout their careers?

Sheldon Rampton, co-author of “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry” and research director of PR Watch, stated in 2007 that “In a lot of ways, P.R. people do the legwork for journalists — feeding them stories and sources, and doing research.” With the growth of social media and the subsequent changing role of journalists as ‘gatekeepers’, brands are now more able than ever to create their own content which can then be pitched to increasing numbers of niche and mainstream publications in real-time. This ties in to Bernays’ view that “modern business must have its finger continuously on the public pulse. It must understand the changes in the public mind and be prepared to interpret itself fairly and eloquently to changing opinion” – a view which, to me, sums up the precise point of what PR (when engaging with journalists) allows its clients (and the journalists themselves) to do.

Instead of joining “the dark side”, to me, public relations and journalism are two sides of the same coin. Perhaps it is my optimism showing, but the biggest difference I can so far see on the surface of each industry (so far at least), appears to be the presence or lack thereof of bias within a press release and/or article. I know there’s FAR more to both professions than this but I genuinely see the two as mirrors rather than warring factions.

Therefore, perhaps rather than the love/hate/name-calling relationship PR executives and journalists have at present, they could instead recognise that their relationship is one which is symbiotic in nature, and that both professions have qualities to offer and, in cases of bad practice, negative aspects that need to be managed.

For me, Bernays said this best when he stated: “It is asked whether, in fact, the leader makes propaganda, or whether propaganda makes the leader. There is a widespread impression that a good press agent can puff up a nobody into a great man. The answer is the same as that made to the old query as to whether the newspaper makes public opinion or whether public opinion makes the newspaper. There has to be fertile ground for the leader and the idea to fall on. But the leader also has to have some vital seed to sow.”

Bluntly put, “A mutual need has to exist before either [profession] can become positively effective. Propaganda [or public relations] is of no use to the politician[/brand/organisation] unless he[/they] has[ve] something to say which the public, consciously or unconsciously, wants to hear.”

Make love, not war, guys. We’ve all got something to offer.

“Everyone communicates”: The growing role of corporate communications and stakeholder relations

It is said that a business’ reputation is all that stands between its profit and its ruin, and in the past decade, I believe that this has never been more true. Since the advent and growth of Web2.0, organisations have come under increasing levels of scrutiny from both the general public and their competitors, who would no doubt seize upon and exploit any negative press so as to advance their own corporate strategy.

According to Dahlen, “Everything and everyone communicates” (2010), with advances in technology meaning that we all now have the ability to communicate and share our opinions publicly. Social media is not only a key example of this (through websites such as Facebook, Twitter and WordPress), but in particular, has become a medium through which we can visibly see the ways we shape the content of our online personas to reflect varying aspects of our identities. In Communications, be it the marketing, advertising or public relations industry, this is an even more apparent phenomenon as we increasingly tailor our words towards different groups, altering what we say on behalf of our clients’ brands and the ways in which we say it depending on our relationship with (and knowledge of) the recipients. This can be a double-edged challenge for businesses who are expected to not only utilise digital platforms as an outlet for external communications, but also to directly communicate and have conversations with their stakeholders, particularly their customers.

In seeing the vast opportunities opened by online platforms and social media, businesses are now capitalising on and engaging more and more with social media – a recent survey found 79% have used or planned to use social media. However a 2013 study by Fishburn Hedges and Jigsaw Research exploring the changing nature of corporate narratives, found that businesses’ self-portrayals were still not sufficiently engaging to their audiences, with 20% of the general public surveyed stating that they don’t believe brand ‘stories’ at all and 52% claiming to not believe brand stories if they are conveyed through advertising and communications.

From corporate social responsibility to crisis management, effective communications between companies and their stakeholders is becoming an increasingly vital element for a successful business practice. The CIPR defines public relations as being “about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its public.”

rep

This is corroborated by Simon Matthews, Chief Executive of Fishburn Hedges, who said: “Audiences can see right through business messages that don’t correlate with corporate behaviour. Corporate communications has an opportunity to help unify different organisational voices and bridge the gap between them to be a force for cultural good within the business.”

It’s no longer enough to shout about how amazing you are on social media, the public (particularly young people) are becoming increasingly savvy in spotting companies whose behaviour doesn’t live up to its advertising. McDonald’s for example, is currently spiralling into a long-predicted reputational crisis where its recurrent US labour law violations and unappetising news reports on food content and quality has led to significantly sagging sales. To quote Jim Hightower, “You know your business has what image consultants call “quality perception issues” when you have to launch a PR initiative that publicly addresses such questions as: “Does McDonald’s beef contain worms?”

McDonald’s is paying the price for its lack of corporate and communicational consistency, and is left on the defensive in trying to mitigate some of the negative publicity it now faces. If they had instead taken a proactive approach in identifying and approaching their stakeholders, they would have been able to categorise them based on either Mendelow’s Power and Influence Matrix or Mitchell, Agle and Wood’s Salience Model, and establish, not only their motivations and areas of concern, but also the best ways in which to manage or engage. Instead the brand is left scrambling to distract from its poor media coverage through a new ad campaign centred on linking its Golden Arches to the healing power of ‘love’.

Without changing to more fair and equal corporate practices though, I’m hesitant in thinking that anyone will be Lovin’ this brand’s attempts to regain it’s reputation.