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So, what do we make?

21 Apr
Baked by Maddy Grey

Baked by Maddy Grey

In my Creative Arts faculty, students are preparing for their degree show exhibitions.

Public relations, as so often, is a misfit. What do we make? What do we have to show for all the talk and all the work?

Advertisers have their creative visuals. Journalists have their published articles.

There was a time when we made press releases, and had media coverage to show for it. Then we made blogs and gained comments.

These artefacts are not a good way to describe public relations as they only give a glimpse of an output, never an outcome. To explain the purpose of public relations, we resort to abstract concepts such as ‘reputation’ and talk about ‘intangible assets’.

Yet most students need to start with tangibles – things they make. Only then can they explore the extent to which the things they make, make a difference.

So, in an attempt to show a product of public relations, we created a social media event (#SOSM2015, summarised by Storify), We generated scores of tweets and shared photos on Facebook and Instagram. The virtual event went well, but there was one benefit to attending in person: only then could you enjoy the beer and the cake.

So, what did we learn? Public relations makes things happen in order to make a difference. (It’s like cake, but slightly longer lasting).

F off and get real

18 May

Delete facebook Here's a paradox. Just when some social media early adopters are starting to leave Facebook, the mainstream majority (approaching 500 million of them) seem to be more hooked on the world's favourite social network than ever.

I've discovered a problem with Facebook dependency amongst first year students. They were tasked with creating, publicising and evaluating a charity event – with varied results. Facebook groups were universally created – and were relied on to disastrous effect.

One group were confident of their event's success because scores of people had indicated their commitment on Facebook. Did they show up on the day? Did they heck. The team resorted to old-fashioned word of mouth to salvage their scheme. While Facebook's success is based on its recreation of the real world of friendship online, the process doesn't work so well in the other direction.

It's easy to get people to click but where's the commitment in this? Where's the engagement? Barring a few posters, the old-fashioned means of publicising an event were missing: personal invitations, stunts, media publicity, even celebrity endorsement.

It appears the real world is an increasingly confusing place for Generation F students. 

WAG the dog

13 Feb

NicolaSmith Did you catch the interview on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live this morning with former footballer’s girlfriend, Nicola Smith (available to listen again here)? Curiously, the role seemed to run in the family as she mentioned her even more celebrated sister Mandy, who notoriously dated Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones when still a very young teenager.

Nicola Smith spoke openly about the emptiness of a life that appears to have so much, and of her current work as corporate fundraiser for the Five Stars Scanner appeal. She described this as public relations work, and it’s a version of public relations that appeals to many first year students.

It’s public relations as personal networking; public relations as party and event organising; public relations that uses celebrity connections.

Last week in the lecture theatre I tried to distinguish two things that are often confused: the use of PR in support of major events, and the use of events to support PR campaigns. PR is not the same thing as event management (several universities follow Leeds Metropolitan in teaching both as entirely separate disciplines, in this case delivered in different faculties), though there is some overlap in the skills needed. I view event management as a left-side-of-brain activity involving painstaking attention to detail and public relations as a right-sided activity that involves creative ‘ideas management’.

As student Megan Parks writes, the PR event organiser will find she’s Not Quite JLo.

The connection between awareness raising and fundraising is a question for another lecture.