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The importance of being charming

23 Sep

Adina James portfolioWhat is charm? It involves thinking of others, and is particularly welcome as it runs counter to our apparently narcissistic, selfie-obsessed world.

Charm costs little, and is a necessary early step in developing relationships (the purpose, let’s remember, of public relations).

Yet I’m not advocating lessons in charm school. Actions that are charming when done for the first time, and with sincerity (or humour), can rankle when done automatically or out of a sense of duty or cynicism.

To understand how to be charming, let’s take money out of the equation. Gifts and presents may be welcome in some circumstances, but they introduce obligations and often reinforce power imbalances in relationships.

If you have no gifts to give them, then what can you offer people? The only thing is attention (this involves the gift of your time).

Visitors to the UK are often surprised that passengers thank their driver when they leave the bus. I hope the driver finds it charming rather than annoying. Yet passengers have paid for the service and are under no obligation to give thanks: there’s little incentive in developing a relationship with the driver, except that your life (and others) may depend on them.

Students are also paying for their lecturers’ time, and many remain resentful of a relationship in which the person they are paying makes them do challenging things and think difficult thoughts.

Others are quicker to understand that relationships involve give and take: in this case, someone teaches and someone learns. It’s a negotiated relationship.

Here are a couple of examples of charming students – but please don’t simply repeat what they’ve done. To be convincing, charm has to appear uncontrived and sincere.

  • Adina James was unique in her class in realising that by being assessed for a series of blog posts, she was in effect writing for an audience of one. (One lesson every writer learns is to think of the audience). Knowing this, she added a personal greeting to her online assignment (‘Hi Richard!’- see image). For the record, I thought her work was very good and this charming touch did not affect her grade. But I remember it months later.
  • Jess Ramsey. Here’s someone I’ve never met, and do not expect to assess. She has no obligation to me or incentive to be charming. Yet she’s more than once gone out of her way to thank me in a blog post. (Of course, I’ve just done so in return, which indicates the value of being charming. Americans call it ‘paying forward’.)

Here’s a final thought for students. I have an obligation to teach you and assess you fairly (charm is not a factor in this). Yet I don’t feel I have an obligation to recommend you all on LinkedIn, or to put your name forward when employers ask me for my suggestions.

Nor is charm the only factor. But if it helps me remember you warmly, and costs you nothing, then why not realise the importance of being charming?

Face to face or Facebook?

28 Nov

Does our cornucopia of communications channels lead to restricted personal relationships?

We’re all on email, most use Facebook, many have blogs, and some are merrily twittering away. So the temptation is to communicate through screen-and-keyboard. I’m worse than most at this, being something of a social media maven and a natural introvert.

I was impressed by two students who knocked at my door yesterday. I know them both and had noted how they prefer face-to-face contact and are both quick to pick up the phone if they can’t speak to me in person. I’m searching for a pattern in this, but since one of these students is Greek and male, and the other is British and female, I don’t have enough data to go on.

But I do know that personal is best and that everyone must have preferred channels for personal communications. Mine would go something like this:

  1. Face-to-face
  2. Hand-written card or letter
  3. Phone
  4. Text message
  5. Blog comment (though not for private conversations)
  6. Facebook message
  7. Personal email
  8. Work email

I’m guilty of not doing enough personal communicating myself (I don’t look forward to writing Christmas cards). But I do recognise its value. And I’m looking forward to meeting two ‘friends’ for the first time at next week’s Don’t Panic Guide to Social Media in Manchester. I’ve known of Tom Murphy since 2002 when we both started blogging about PR, but we’ve never met in the flesh. And I’ve been impressed enough with Simon Wakeman to entrust him with the technical aspects of Behind the Spin magazine, again without ever having shaken hands.

Andy Green, who I have met at several public forums over the years, has written a book on this: Effective Communication Skills for Public Relations.

Students: here’s how to join the CIPR

14 Oct

Cipr_member As Carys Samuel (one of our CIPR student reps) said at last night’s guest lecture, you should consider joining the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. The student application form is here (in pdf format) and the annual membership fee is £35. This runs to the end of September 2009 so don’t delay if you’re to gain a full year’s benefits.

Here’s why I think you should join (most important reasons first, though you may disagree with my priorities):

  1. Public relations, like any other management discipline, is currently at best only semi-professional in its status. This will only change as professional standards and professional membership becomes expected. Education, qualifications, continuous professional development are all drivers of professionalisation. You can take charge of the wheel!
  2. A member database of close to 10,000 members – complete with contact details – is a vital resource as you seek placement experience and contacts in order to develop your experience. You’ll be listed in this, too.
  3. You can add membership status to your CV. You’re already paying much more to be a full-time student, so why not take this extra step and gain much more credibility?
  4. You will receive the much-improved PR Week for free as well as the CIPR member magazine, Profile.

I’ve been a member for ten years and will gladly answer your questions and sign your application forms.

If Twitter’s the key, what does it unlock?

29 Apr

I can’t quibble with this (except over the capital letters, perhaps):

In the Social Media era, getting better at Public Relations means getting better at the Relationships, not the Publicity.

Todd Defren’s conclusion is more challenging though: Get Into Twitter or Get Outta Public Relations?

But his point is well made. It’s not about the tools (a few years ago it was blogging; then podcasting; last year it was Facebook; this year Twitter); it’s about engaging in the conversations and gaining a licence to join in or to comment.

Reasons to love PROPenMic

23 Apr

Propenmic_2He’s done it again. Robert French, the educator who offered the world PR Blogs, has now gone further with PROpenMic. Someone has described it aptly as ‘Facebook for the PR community’.

Here’s why I like it already.

  • There’s something fun and anarchic (lords of misrule, world turned upside down) about the speed at which the tradional model of education is being reinvented. In the old world, old people knew more than young people, so young people tried hard to become old(er) people. See where I’m going with this?
  • You never know what you’ll learn. One lesson for me came from Robert French, responding to my teacher’s angst with this: ‘I try to motivate every day. I fail every day.’

That’s worth the entry fee alone, except that this is another Web 2.0 site with no fee and no ads. There’s no catch, but like any social network, its value grows as people gather and conversations develop. Please come and join us.

Guest lecture programme – you’re welcome

4 Oct

Our new guest lecture series opens next week. These are open events to which students and practitioners are welcome.

Let me pick out one event (because it was cancelled last year) – we have Google’s head of corporate communications for UK, Ireland and Benelux talking on How the Internet Changes Everything … and that includes PR. D-J Collins is speaking on Monday 15 October at 6.30pm. Parking is free at our Headingley Campus after 4.30pm.

Let me know if you can make any of these events. Or perhaps you’d like to speak…

Let’s face it

31 May

I must have registered for facebook a year ago and left it at that. I’d not even uploaded my photo and was in danger of forgetting my login details.

This week a growing number of ‘friend’ requests shamed me into returning and I’ve been impressed. Facebook seems to have reached critical mass. Among university students certainly, but also among the usual avid social networkers and including some seasoned professionals too.

As a networking site, it has the immediacy of IM and Twitter; as a content site it’s less valuable though most people have posted extensive photo albums. If the currency of MySpace is music; and of blogging is ideas; then facebook’s speciality is photos.

Why is it more attractive to students than blogging? Facebook resembles a pyjama party (it may feel daring but it’s really very safe). Blogging’s more like a nudist beach. You (and your lumps) are exposed to the stares or indifference of strangers. Not for everyone.

Travellers’ tales

13 Feb

SalvosFor me, this was no geek dinner (though I don’t know what Stuart, Paull and Simon – half hidden here – were talking about).

The common theme was travel. There was a murmur of approval when I said that Gail‘s a travel writer. The night before I’d watched Tim (who I’ve known since we were 10) present the first in his travel series on BBC4. (If you thought the sheep’s brains and ram’s testicles looked indigestible, he tells me there’s worse to come when he reaches China.)

It’s strange, then, that I’m no longer much of a traveller – at least in the first of its dimensions:

  1. Distance. (Time zones, borders, geography, weather etc.)
  2. Time. (My stone farmhouse isn’t that old, but 1771 is prehistoric in the context of modern Australia or America).
  3. Empathy/imagination. (Even the simplest form of communication – such as a lecture – involves surmounting barriers of age, gender, language, interest, culture. Travellers are forced to build bridges and make connections, even to improvise communication.)

Ghetto busting

2 Feb

It’s important for a university teaching public relations to be connected with the world in which public relations is practised.

It’s also useful to break out of the silo/ghetto of scheduled teaching delivered on discrete modules. So we’re opening our doors for a public lecture series and welcoming any of our students, and those from neighbouring universities, CIPR regional members and other PR practitioners. Let me know (via the comments feature) if you’d like to attend and I’ll make sure you’re welcomed; also let me know if you’d like to speak at a future event (we have autumn and spring series).

All these talks take place at our Headingley Campus in Leeds from 6.30-7.30pm on Monday evenings.

  • Monday 5 February: Laura Mahon, Freud Communications
  • Monday 19 February: D-J Collins, Google
  • Monday 5 March: Tony Harcup, author of The Ethical Journalist
  • Monday 19 March: Rob Cohen and Claire Eldridge: healthcare PR

Networkers of the world, unite!

19 Oct

Clickerty, clack; clackerty click. (That’s the sound of sixty hands blogging). So why do people come together to blog? They come to learn from others (and above all from Stuart). And they come to connect.

There’s a whole arsenal of tools that can help with online connectedness (links, comments, trackbacks, search and the rest). For the most part, they only replicate the things that we naturally do. And a roomful of public relations practitioners contains some natural networkers. So let me praise Rachel, Victoria and Simon among others. (I’m comfortable with the blogging thing, but have admitted elsewhere that I’m a poor networker.)

Physician, heal thyself! Lecturer, learn some lessons…