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Joined-up public relations

13 Oct

Here’s the challenge. It’s easy to teach tips and tricks, but it’s much harder to teach students to join up the dots.

There’s an obvious analogy here. Imagine learning a foreign language (one not using the Roman alphabet). First you have to learn the shape and sound of the letters; then you learn some words; then phrases. But you still can’t read, write, or hold a conversation. That takes months or years of immersion and hard work.

Students can learn to recite some models and theories; they can easily be taught to write press releases. But they don’t know why they should (or shouldn’t) use one. They don’t have a bigger picture in mind.

They’re not alone. Many practitioners focus on the ‘what’ and avoid answering ‘why’. I see this when I visit work placements and realise that too many practitioners are still counting the value of PR based on spurious measures such as AVE.

Who are the experts in joined-up public relations? I’m sure there are many, but the following four people stand out for me because they’re not only doing it – they’re regularly sharing insights with the rest of us in books, blogs and talks.

David Brain (@DavidBrain). Co-author (with Martin Thomas) of Crowd Surfing, and a leading figure in global consultancy Edelman. Key quotation: ‘in the era of enfranchised consumer and stakeholder… it is PR thinking not advertising thinking that is best placed to succeed.’

Robert Phillips (@CitizenRobert). This former Jackie Cooper PR and Edelman consultant presents an articulate critique of PR’s role in the consumer society. Key quotation (from his chapter in Where the Truth Lies): ‘We urgently need to change our language and to appreciate that citizenship is a more vital element of a healthy society than consumption without restraint. PR is no longer merely a sales tool’.

Stephen Waddington (@wadds). He’s co-authored or edited four books in the past two years, which would be a prodigious output for a research-focused academic, but is an astonishing one for a family man who’s a full-time PR consultancy director who has also been elected as CIPR president for 2014. Key quotation (from Brand Anarchy written with Steve Earl): ‘Shedding the shackle of media relations will be critical to the future success of the public relations industry.’

Heather Yaxley (@greenbanana): Research academic, author, tutor, blogger, consultant, Yaxley seems to be everywhere at present. Her key insight is to unearth the shamefully hidden female side to public relations (she will condemn me for this unbalanced shortlist). Her thinking’s joined up because it draws on insights from history, psychology, business and management. PR Conversations is a must-read blog and I’m using her co-authored book The Public Relations Strategic Toolkit in my teaching this year.

Even from this short summary, you can see that joined-up thinkers are looking outside and beyond one narrow discipline, and asking (often awkward) questions about its future. We need more of them.

Community conversations: a case study

12 Nov

We took a look at the conversations surrounding a brand in class today – but I did not get to choose the case study.

ASOS sounds to me like a Taiwanese laptop manufacturer – but it's a brand that means a lot to my students.

We started with the website, and took a look at news reports, then moved onto blogs.

With Twitter it became really interesting. An appeal for photos of customers wearing leather garments was responded to within minutes. These photos became potential content for the ASOS Life Community site.

Customers were raving about the brand and its offers – and so were doing the marketing for the company. I could barely find a critical voice on the social web.

People are clearly happy to share their love of fashion and I can envisage this being true of music or sports fans – but it's not so easy to see how other organisations can so easily recruit customers to become fans.

Righting wrongs

11 Jul

Do we judge an organisation on its ability to get things right first time, or on its ability to make things right quickly and creatively? I suspect the latter, because we give no credit to those who merely do what is expected of them.

I’ve taken up the cases of several students concerned about their results and their resits. In two cases, those results were simply wrong and – despite this being the holiday season – my colleagues have quickly corrected these mistakes. (Nobody’s perfect: this includes individuals, organisations and systems; but everyone should be striving to improve.) The relief has been palpable.

The lesson from this is that organisations need to empower those in customer- (or student-) facing roles to apply commonsense, think creatively and take decisions. This is harder than it sounds.

The cynical thought is that organisations can gain credit by making deliberate mistakes in order to quickly and publicly correct them. Is this why there are so many product recalls?

Sexed up stories

12 Jan

From yesterday’s Observer, the tale of two former tabloid reporters who now provide a hybrid news agency / PR consultancy service. It’s Specialist News Services, run by Simon Worthington and Mark Solomons.

‘Papers are bogged down with dull press releases, so all too often even the interesting ones go straight into the bin,’ says Solomons. ‘Instead of putting out PR releases direct to the press, a growing number of agencies began sending them to us and letting us sex them up, so to speak.’

Dumping makes news

6 Jan

The Body Shop has found that almost three quarters of a million mobile phone handsets have been dumped since Christmas. The company wants us to recycle them for charity instead.

It’s a timely seasonal campaign, and gains a news report on the BBC.

Shop – and save the world

8 Dec

The Co-operative Bank claims that consumers are making shopping decisions based on ethical judgements (BBC reports).

Clearly it’s a problematic and paradoxical area, but the Co-op figures suggest that ethical consumerism is already big business.

Eau de vie

2 Dec

This is yesterday’s news, but it’s a strong story. Research from Brita has shown that drinking more water can help protect us from flu. It was picked up in the Telegraph, The Guardian and The Mirror.