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My review of 2010

8 Jan

Let me look back on the present year (since it's too uncertain looking forward). Here's what I see:

Work: I have a better balance of university teaching, professional qualifications, training and consultancy. (I've already precipitated this change by reducing my university commitments). The freelance life isn't for everyone, but it suits me. There was more time for reading and writing too.

Politics: We needed an election, though a five month election campaign was unprecedented. Unfortunately, my vote counts for little as for the first time in my life I live in a safe seat (Skipton and Ripon). Living in Bristol North West and both Oxford constituencies made elections so much more interesting.

Sport: The World Cup galvanised the nation. To add to the excitement, I was teaching American graduate students in Italy when England played USA.

Profession: I had time to resolve some unfinished business. Time to help establish a specialist group for those in public relations academic and training roles (as distinct from the remit of the Education and Skills sectoral group).

The International History of Public Relations Conference was a highlight of the academic calendar.

Personal conscience and social responsibility

4 Aug

At one level, it's very simple. A person employed in a public relations role has a professional duty to defend their employer or client.

But it's more complicated than that. Questions of personal conscience might intrude (and some of these aren't as simple as saying that non-smokers should avoid representing big tobacco, or vegetarians should avoid working for a meat packing business). Then there's the question of the public good (which should override personal or organisational interests).

There are legal issues too. Positive PR spin that might have encouraged people to invest their savings in a failing (or fraudulent) business could lead to 'class action' style lawsuits. That you acted 'in good faith' is not good enough.

I'm sure there's more to this case, but on the face of it a Ministry of Defence press officer is claiming that defending his employer over the many recent deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan caused him severe stress. 

Sometimes it seems that we're damned when people consider the PR function to be trivial (puffery) and we're damned when we take personal responsibiity for the language we use and the effect it can have (even in matters of life and death). Can this really have been a case of 'careless talk cost[ing] lives'?

Challenging ‘greed is good’

8 Jun

I often feel the debate on the professional status of PR misses the point when law or medicine are chosen for comparison. Public relations is a management discipline – and there's no formal profession guiding and governing general business managers either. (The argument has never been better crystallised than in a chapter heading in Morris and Goldsworthy's latest book on PR: 'Professional, but never a profession'.)

But what's this? Harvard MBA graduating students introducing a 'values agenda' and proposing they should work not only to maximise profit but 'serve the greater good'.

Youthful idealism or a timely new look at the purpose of business in the post-boom years? Or simply a tribute to the growing PR skills of tomorrow's managers?

Link via PROPenMic.

The question of public relations and the public good

7 Nov

It had been an obstacle on the rocky road to the royal charter – the question of how PR contributes to the public good.

I’m a guest at a police public relations conference and no one here would have any difficulty in answering this question. Their everyday work on crime reduction and their handling of major incidents exemplifies this. They don’t need to go chasing headlines; they’re in the local news each day and frequently gain national attention.

I’m humbled by the quality of the work on display. One former broadcast journalist told how he used his visual storytelling skills to relate the experience of a young victim of fireworks burns. The video only had a few hundred viewings, so he used his persuasive skills to have it featured on YouTube in the run up to November 5. It was then watched hundreds of thousands of times. Cheap, creative, effective; and clearly for the public good.

The attendees are typical of other public relations gatherings: there’s something like a 60-40 ratio of women to men. At last night’s black tie dinner this seemed to me as glamorous a group of people as you would meet at an equivalent awards dinner attended by consultancy staff. But they’re a few years older, on average. The typical route in to police communications remains print of broadcast media experience, though there’s widespread respect for education – I had many conversations about the CIPR professional qualifications and our MSc in Corporate Communications.

There was an award for a talented young communicator and Amy Grimshaw, a final year undergraduate, gained plaudits for confidently delivering the better part of ‘my’ talk on communications and social media.

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.

Autumn public lecture series – you’re welcome

18 Sep

Here’s our autumn 2008 public lecture series. We use this to encourage student membership of the CIPR, but the lectures are free and open to anyone who is interested in attending.

We meet from 6pm for a 6.30pm talk in Lecture Theatre C at the Leeds Metropolitan University Headingley campus. Parking is free at the university in the evening.

Monday 13 October
Karl Milner, Director of Communications, Strategic Health Authority Yorkshire and the Humber
Death and miracles, five stories of NHS communications

Monday 3 November
Michelle McGlocklin, MD, Weber Shandwick Technology
PR in the technology sector

Monday 10 November
Sharon Jandu, MD, Global PR and Marketing
A perspective on global PR and global clients

Tuesday 18 November
Justin McKeown, Trimedia and chair of regional CIPR committee
50 PR ideas in 50 minutes

Monday 24 November
Karen Hellas-Kelly, Absolute Leeds columnist and former PR consultant
From catwalks to fields: consumer PR

CIPR: my tenth anniversary

7 Apr

Cipr_60 The Chartered Institute of Public Relations is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year (making it the second oldest public relations professional body in the world, after the Public Relations Society of America.)

I’ve been a member for the last 10 of these 60 years. Here are some personal highlights and disappointments:


  • Giving an oversubscribed talk in Oxford on Online Public Relations at the height of the dot com bubble in early 2000.
  • Past academic conferences in Bouremouth (2003) and Lincoln (2005).
  • Best president: Jon Aarons, for his provocative stance on the PRCA and for the lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus.
  • The Yorkshire and Lincolnshire regional group, which holds a full calendar of events. The next is on ‘PR and the digital frontier’ on 1 May.
  • Taking the CIPR-supported student magazine Behind the Spin online in March 2008.


  • There was a time when ten years’ continuous membership would have gained me an automatic Fellowship (FCIPR). No longer. In our professionalising age, I’m now required to sign up for CPD.
  • The Education and Skills sectoral group may work for its core constituency of HE and FE communications managers, but there’s nothing in it for me (or for other public relations educators, trainers and academics).
  • I registed as an Approved Professional Trainer in 2002, but have only been able to lead one training session because I soon after took a full-time job as a university lecturer.

Harry the PR hero: the backlash

3 Mar

It’s not about a brave young man; nor is it about the restraint shown by the British media for ten weeks. Nor is it about the reappearance of the Drudge Report. It’s about Max Clifford, who entered the fray to say this was all a publicity stunt. Of course!

Peter Wilby writing in Media Guardian follows the Max Clifford line. ‘He [Harry] is a pawn in a PR game.’

Let’s see who’s involved in the ‘PR game’. Certainly the army, and who can blame them, given the problems, unpopularity and bad press they’ve encountered. Certainly the Royal Family, given the problems, unpopularity etc. Certainly the media (in particular the press), given the problems etc. Certainly the Drudge Report which shot to fame when citizen journalist Matt Drudge bypassed the caution of the US media and broke the Monica Lewinsky story. That was ten years ago, so the site was in need of some new notoriety on the global stage.

Some journalists will continue to lament the growing influence of PR (one of the themes of the Nick Davies book); but most of us can accept that everyone’s ‘on the game’. This is also a challenge to university courses teaching the subject, which may struggle to distinguish professional and ethical PR from Max Clifford-style publicity stunts or do-it-yourself ‘citizen PR’.

Questions of ethics

4 Jan

A distance learning student from Robert Gordon University has alerted me to her research into public relations ethics. I’ve enjoyed filling out her online questionnaire, and you may do too: particularly if you’re a current PR practitioner.

There’s one particularly tantalising question (not directly related to ethics) which asks you to rank a series of attributes for success in PR. I found it hard: is intelligence more or less important than organisational skills? Or is having good organisational skills a sign of intelligence? Anyway, it enabled me to bury that myth that you have to be a ‘people person’ to succeed in PR.

The link to ethics comes with the option to rank integrity. I’ll draw the researcher’s attention to the interview with PR practitioner (and PR graduate of this university) Justin McKeown in the current issue of Profile magazine from the CIPR. He places integrity as his top attribute for success in PR…

G force

8 Dec

The next Forward podcast is a live international discussion on the impact of globalisation on careers in public relations. (It’s an example of the technology that’s shrinking distance in our global village – at the same time as gaps in wealth and understanding appear to be increasing).

The questions are big (will the US remain top nation? will English retain its status as the world’s second language?) but small things can make a difference. What are we doing to prepare for change in the twenty-first century? Please join us if you can.