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My skills (according to you)

30 Apr

LinkedIn skillsI’ve not been a fan of LinkedIn endorsements.

These are the professional network’s equivalent of the Facebook ‘like’ button, taking little time, asking for little engagement and requiring little thought.

(LinkedIn recommendations remain the exact opposite; they are hard won and hard to give, a gold standard.)

And yet, is LinkedIn onto something? Though each individual endorsement means little (though it’s pleasant to know that someone remembers you and thinks highly of you in some way), collectively they add up to something.

They paint a picture of your skills and expertise that’s an honest picture because it’s composed of lots of small votes.

What does this popular vote say about me? That I have expertise in public relations is not surprising as my job title (senior lecturer in public relations) proclaims it, as do my professional experience and memberships.

Next to this, I’m evidently an expert in media relations. If you add press releases to media relations, that’s my main specialism, eclipsing all others including my social media expertise.

How can I be such an expert in a field I’ve not practised for over 15 years? The vote probably comes because of the number of students I’ve taught over the years, and a few may even have read the chapter I wrote on ‘media relations’ in a well-known textbook. I can’t disown my past, and I am proud of the classes and lectures I’ve given in this field.

But is there a problem with crowdsourcing? Does it encourage crowd-like behaviour? Are some endorsing me for skill simply because they’re following the herd and being swayed by the popular vote? In verifying our past, does LinkedIn make it harder for us to reinvent ourselves?

Disruption

14 Mar

Drew Benvie PR WeekDrew Benvie has resigned from Hotwire, launched a new consultancy business Battenhall and used his Huffington Post column to explain why the Comms Agency model is ripe for disruption.

So what does the future hold? I firmly believe a new kind of agency that is built for the social media economy can thrive, where everything starts with social, but the experience backing that up in each individual adds another dimension. Disruption of the agency model as we know it.

He’s not alone. Jed Hallam (author of The Social Media Manifesto) writes that PR isn’t dying, but PR agencies might…

It used to be that public relations was the pipeline to the public, but now that’s no longer true. So the role of PR now has to become more strategic. It has to evolve and has to take centre stage at a more strategic, and senior level.

Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington probably share this thinking. Last year they resigned from leadership roles within a mid-sized consultancy and are now in senior roles in different international consultancies.

To me, this suggests that boutique public relations businesses can thrive if they find their niche, but mid-sized businesses might be squeezed between the specialists and the large international networks.

I’m sure I’ll return to this theme because it interests me – but my blog’s theme is public relations education. For many of the same reasons, education is also ripe for disruption. That’s what I want to explore here.

Back to earth. Back to reality.

5 Sep

There's a feeling of 'back to school' this week. But that's not the reason for the jolt.

The reality check is the decision to fold the Media Guardian supplement (and Education and Society supplements too) into the main paper. Clearly, this is a commercially-driven decision taken because of the migration of job advertisements from print to online (and elsewhere). Decades ago, before the world of the web, each Monday's Media Guardian had page after page of job ads and was the place to find a whole range of graduate opportunities. Times change, and so does technology.

The second jolt relates to this first one. Here's a very lucid perspective on the issue of unpaid internships from an MSc Marketing student. The phrase that leaps out at me is this uncontentious-looking one: 'I’m 23 and aspire to a career in advertising'. Only connect. The Guardian loses its well-established Media supplement  because of the migration of classified ads online. Then ask some questions about the future of display ads and print media.

Yes, but surely broadcast ads have bounced back in the past year. Perhaps; but what's the wider picture? The future of advertising isn't in advertising. It's in creating ideas, delivering compelling communications, fostering communities and managing digital campaigns (as this student is already aware). In other words, the future of advertising looks very like public relations…

Hopefully smart graduates are alert to this. Hopefully their lecturers and textbook authors are too. But I very much doubt that university marketing and management teams are when they offer courses that appear to promise glittering careers in glamorous twentieth-century industries that evoke a Mad Men world.

Bump. Back to reality.

It’s not what we do, it’s whether it works

1 Jun

Measure what matters Book review: Measure What Matters: Online Tools for Understanding Customers, Social Media, Engagement and Key Relationships by Katie Delahaye Paine. Wiley.

Let's start with one of the author's anecdotes from her own practice experience.

"I spent millions of dollars each year writing, designing, and producing pieces of paper that were supposed to make my sales force more effective," she writes. "Whether it ever worked was never questioned, it was what we did."

She's right. The emphasis in public relations practice has traditionally been on what we do, not on whether it works.

This is true of public relations practice. What doesn't or shouldn't change are the principles behind the practice. Now for another quotation from the author:

"The future of public relations lies in the development of relationships, and the future of measurement lies in the accurate analysis of those relationships. Counting impressions will become increasingly irrelevant while measuring relationships and reputation will become ever more important" (p 219).

This quotation is from the conclusion to the same author's 2007 book, Measuring Public Relationships. She cites it again in this new text to point out that what was true then remains true now. Four years ago is not a long time, of course, unless you live in Twitter time.

Continue reading

With the benefit of hindsight

27 Mar

The question came via Twitter from a thoughtful student: 'Why do PR professionals still prioritise print coverage over online?'

Sean's question

It's a good question. Assuming they do – and with the exception of a few social media specialists it probably is true – then there are several likely explanations:

  • Print is tangible, and thus has a higher perceived value than online (or broadcast even)
  • Practitioners do what they know best (and avoid the risky and the uncertain)
  • Clients and bosses demand and expect it

I then asked myself a different question. Knowing what I now know, would I have practised differently back then in the bad old days before the web and social media rose to prominence?

I should have focused more on outcomes, not outputs (attendance at events, press coverage). But this would have meant turning away business. I recall the look I had from my consultancy managing director when, in a meeting with a potential new client, I asked 'what do you want press coverage for?'

I wish I'd focused more on finding the issue than promoting the product or service. Again, this would have meant turning down some easy hits in the media for a more sustainable strategy. We did try (and we knew we should), but sometimes the low hanging fruit was just too easy to pick…

What's interesting is to note how little has changed. These two should still be high on the wish list of current practitioners wanting to avoid obsolescence. Focus on the outcomes; and develop an issues-led approach. Otherwise what value are you adding, and what's to differentiate your advice from anyone else's?

Book review: Loose

13 Mar

Loose

Loose: The Future of Business is Letting Go
Martin Thomas, Headline Publishing Group 

Marketing consultant Martin Thomas was co-author of Crowd Surfing, one of my favourite books in 2008. When I saw the new book's contents page containing such chapters as 'Not a place for tidy minds' and 'The end of planning?' I knew I was in for a treat.

In follow up to Crowd Surfing and Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody (my top pick from 2008), this feels like a radical manifesto. It's certainly a challenge to the micro-managers, the planners and brand consultants whose traditional role has been to offer predictability and certainty.

We live in a complex, non-linear world – and the challenge is how to 'embrace the chaos and ambiguity of modern life'.

The author is keen to stress that this is not a web phenomenon. 'Something interesting is happening beyond the world of social media: public meetings are suddenly all the rage.'

It's a social phenomenon – and an understanding of behavioural economics is more useful than mastery of technology, Thomas argues. 'The simplistic view of man as a rational economic animal doesn't appear to fit the mood of the times.'

Simple prescriptions obviously won't do, though the author does offer some broad guiding principles for successful loose organisations (on page 168). He also gives many case studies to show where loose principles prevailed (ASDA, Pret a Manger, First Direct and Unilever among them).

He quotes Google's Shona Brown discussing loose management: 'The way to succeed in fast-paced, ambiguous situations is to avoid creating too much structure, but not to add too little either.'

Those singled out for criticism include business schools that have inculcated a rational approach to business. 'We are witnessing the unravelling of the most fundamental building blocks of the commercial world and a collapse of faith in tight, empirical rational models and ways of thinking.'

Thomas writes well of the millennial generation who 'take great pleasure in subverting any attempts by authority figures to silence them.' But I should say that I'm more likely to be criticised by my students for teaching in too 'loose' a way by those who want me to give them much more precise instructions ('just tell me what you want me to do').

The author is an articulate and well-read guide. Though it's a business book and not an academic text, he frequently makes me feel inadequate by his erudition.

While there's nothing I can disagree with the in the book's premise, it's not an original idea. I'm surprised the author makes no reference to open source, whose concepts have already been taken beyond software development into politics and marketing.

And a book that makes an even more compelling case for creativity and innovation in business is Charles Leadbeater's We Think (not cited here).

But it's an enjoyable and valuable read and the challenge for many will be to learn the lessons and put them into practice.

'The principles that appear to determine the success of any social media initiative are becoming well established: be responsive, be human, be transparent… Unfortunately, most institutions struggle to live by them.'

A week in the life

27 Jan

Increasingly it seems that education never sleeps. Particularly if there's an educational aspect to one's presence on social media.

I'm not complaining: it's a privilege to teach and I'm fortunate to be busy. Here are some things I'm looking forward to over the next seven days:

  • Teaching on a CIPR Diploma course in Bulgaria (Saturday and Sunday)
  • Teaching public relations to second year business, marketing and journalism students (Monday)
  • Moderating a batch of Diploma scripts and some MA PR Writing assignments (Tuesday)
  • Starting delivery of a new, experimental Public Relations and New Media module (Wednesday)
  • Giving positive feedback to returning CIPR Diploma students and first year PR students (Thursday)
  • Planning a paper for the International History of Public Relations conference
  • Discussing a proposed chapter for a textbook
  • Designing new social media modules for a revamped Sport Marketing course
  • Giving feedback to dissertation students
  • Hunting out more stories for our subject group blog
  • Attending the CIPR networking event on Thursday
  • Editing new stories for Behind the Spin
  • Keeping up with RSS, Twitter, blogs, news, email and books (last, not least)

We all fall short of our highest expectations, and I'm sure I'll slip up and forget some things I should be doing, but I like to keep my eye on the goal. If I can put it in one word, I aim to be encouraging.