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Key themes for 2011

8 Jan

Looking back on 2010 allows us to predict some of the main talking points for the year ahead.


I have previously argued that the Stockholm Accords were a milestone event. This document qualitatively articulates the value that public relations provides to organisations at a macro level.

But can we quantify this value? The hyperactive and always challenging David Phillips will attempt this at a conference this year, from his perspective that the PR business has been failing to reach its full potential for years.

Though these questions may sound academic, this will be a year in which practitioners in all sectors will need to prove their value to their clients and employers. So they would be well advised to take note of these discussions.

Within higher education, the new fees regime from 2012 will challenge universities to demonstrate the value of their degree courses. My humble effort is a project to document how graduates have benefited from their PR degrees over the past two decades.


Remember Gordon Brown forgetting his mic during the election campaign? The problem was the disconnect revealed between the public and private person (a problem some of his senior colleagues had been concerned about for years).

Now consider the implications of WikiLeaks (and the parliamentary expenses scandal). These challenge the assumption of private, and make a presumption in favour of information being public. We've not heard the last of the tussle between public and private, national security and civil liberties. (There's also a civil liberties argument in favour of less being known about us, not more).

Public relations, concerned as it is with matters in the public sphere, has a role in defining what should be known in the public interest, and what should be concealed for private reasons. Expect public relations teams to be auditing information flows and anticipating what would happen if and when the private becomes public. The intention will be to inoculate against further Gordon Brown moments.

More comic relief than credit crunch

11 Mar

I summarised the grim news coming out of the motor industry in a lecture yesterday. Then I said that there’s an announcement of bad news expected soon from Toyota; this was greeted with a gasp from my students. I had forgotten that one of them had applied for (and been offered) a year’s placement at that company.

This made me doubt my information. How could I know something that hadn’t yet happened? Is it unprofessional to speculate and spread rumours? Or was it a useful exercise in going beyond the usual academic process of analysing yesterday’s news to that practical skill of predicting tomorrow’s?

What was my secret: Twitter? RSS? Inside information? None of these. I listen to the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 and have long known that this early morning radio news programme is more interested in events that are about to happen than those that have just happened (read the newspapers if you want to know what occurred in the world yesterday).

So here’s a student-friendly look inside the Today programme. According to another report on the same programme, few of them can reasonably expected to be alert before 11am: the Today Programme starts broadcasting at 6am.

YouTube video: Inside Today

Stonborough stonewalls

5 Nov

John Stonborough needs all of his professed skills as a media handler and crisis communicator – if there’s any truth in the allegations leaked to The Times.

The story sounds speculative, but breach of confidentiality is a serious matter for a public relations consultant.

Cross-cultural mudslinging

15 Oct

Jim Horton has published a paper on ‘mudslinging‘ (PDF format) and he’s asking for comments.

It’s a good read based on recent US election campaigns, but I’ve been trying to interpret it in an international perspective. Here’s my take: there is a robustness about communications in anglo-saxon societies that few others can match, even though their English may be excellent.

The US tends to be even more robust than Britain, for reasons that Jim argues. Having thrown off a colonial authority, the fledgling nation took its liberties seriously. (There’s a case for saying that the UK media may be top dog in the muckraking stakes.)

We in Britain are now in turn learning lessons of directness and informality from the US. But it’s not easy to train students from Mediterranean countries or the Far East to turn their hands at anglo-saxon news writing. As for mudslinging, where do I begin?

Preempting protest

1 Oct

Another fuel price protest was attempted today, reports Sky News. It hasn’t succeeded. Partly because you would not be able to tell whether motorists had stopped in protest at 8.30 – or were simply stuck in queues as usual.

The protest was also successfully headed off by the leaking of a suspected 5p/litre rise. When the real rise of just over 1p was announced, most fears were allayed.

The limits of PR

12 Sep

There’s a thoughtful piece in The Times by former Sun editor David Yelland. There are occasions, he argues, when we should look beyond the headlines:

Sometimes it does not matter what the media say. Sometimes rebutting headlines is pointless.

It’s not a view that many journalists or PR practitioners would espouse, but he argues his case well, moving on to discuss BP’s corporate repositioning. Is there a corporate PR role waiting for this former tabloid journalist?