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Why Sundays are still special (in PR)

16 Jan

On the face of it, there's nothing special about a Sunday. It's just another shopping day; just another day of professional sport.

Sunday is a religious holiday for just one of the world's three great monotheistic religions – and in this part of the world only a minority attend church regularly.

Yet a Sunday is still valuable as a punctuation mark in a busy, monotonous week. It's a pause; a semi-colon (like that).

When PR people were primarily media relations advisers, the better practitioners knew the value of announcing news on a Sunday. The 'Sunday-for-Monday' story was well-established practice, since Monday's newspapers are being produced from quiet newsrooms today and there's less competition for space in a Monday paper.

Something similar is going on in the blogosphere. It's a quiet day, so a good time to get noticed (or to get ahead of the pack by preparing for the week ahead).

Here are three blog posts I've noticed today. What's more, they're all reflections on milestones in life from three different ages of man (and woman). Leading with the youngest first:

  • Jazz Chappell has life ahead of her, and I hope to help not hinder by highlighting her exceptional early promise.
  • Wayne Burdett is in a tougher place having graduated in a recession and during a period of public spending cuts. He's charting his challenges in finding worthwhile work and I hope the process of blogging will help (it should be cathartic, at least).
  • Shonali Burke wishes herself a happy birthday and provides a photo gallery of her serene-looking progress through life.

(I've not met any of these three, but feel I'm getting to know them through social media).

White space

3 Aug

Designers are conscious of the value of white space on a page. It seems to me that white space is a universal concept that goes beyond page layout – it's the concept often described as 'less is more'.

  • Novice writers and bloggers often forget to break up long paragraphs. (Look at any newspaper to see how it should be done.) Nothing reveals an amateur more readily than too many words.
  • The conventional two week summer vacation provides white space in busy working and domestic lives (so please turn off your phone and try to avoid the newspapers too).
  • In a busy, noisy world, silence is sometimes the best way to make a loud statement. (Tip: don't raise your voice to quieten a roomful of schoolchildren or students: give them the silent treatment instead. It works.)
  • Don't always assume that exposure is a good thing. Kate Moss doesn't appear in the newspapers any less because she refuses to give interviews. Less is more.
  • How to avoid becoming overstretched by spreading yourself too thinly across social media spaces? Jim Horton recommends focusing on the relationships that matter in his latest white paper.

The bad-on-paper problem

18 May

You know about good-on-paper people? They tick all the boxes – on paper. In person, they can be disappointing to meet: there's just no chemistry.

Many public relations consultants are good-on-paper, I feel – perhaps because dating is such a good metaphor for the competitive pursuit of client relationships.

Most undergraduate students are the reverse of this. They're confident presenters and persuasive and personable individuals. It's just that they're bad-on-paper. When you come to read their essays you realise that inside that confident exterior lurk the thought processes and writing skills of a child.

Of course, it's easier to fix the bad-on-paper problem than the good-on-paper problem. Students have time on their side and need to be told when and why their written words let them down. The obvious fix for a good-on-paper consultant who's not winning new business is to be more modest – advice they're unlikely to heed in a recession.

The word on storytelling

28 Apr

Children love stories; Jesus taught through parables; journalists call their output ‘stories’. But corporate storytelling sounds like a fiction (‘one upon a time…’). That’s until you remember that there’s a limit to facts unappreciated by Thomas Gradgrind in Hard Times:

Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!

What value is the fact that WPP was originally Wire and Plastic Products, a manufacturer of shopping baskets? It’s now a quoted advertising and marketing services group and the interest is in the narrative (how did they get to here from there?)

So corporate storytelling has an important and respectable role (and a large and growing literature). Steve Rubel predicts a great future for digital storytelling. I filter out ads but stopped to read a persuasive advertisement from Shell in The Economist print edition; its narrative is the greatest story ever told. The story of how a nomadic people became city dwellers but never gave up the restless urge to travel. No greenwashing, but a persuasive case for the need for energy.

But what of those professional storytellers, journalists? Adrian Monck discusses stories, truth and trust in Media Guardian.

Copywriting tip

2 Dec

Vince Cable has been a surprising success as temporary leader of the Lib Dems. Following his ‘from Stalin to Mr Bean’ jibe, here’s his advice on using striking, visual language (quoted in The Observer):

I’ve begun to realise that you can’t use academic language; you have to think in images. So when I was trying to describe the crisis of Northern Rock, I felt that the amount of money that had gone into it, £24bn, wouldn’t mean a lot to people because it’s so vast, so instead I likened it to 30 Millennium Domes.

Behind the Spin: call for contributions

22 Oct

BehindthespinIssue 18 of the UK’s ‘public relations magazine for students and young practitioners’, to be published in March 2008, will have two main themes:

  • Public Affairs (eg lobbying, political PR, issues management)
  • PR for transport (bicycles, cars, planes, trains, space rockets etc)

Proposals to write articles on these themes are welcome now. We also welcome articles on perennial themes such as careers in PR and the value of a PR degree. As well as writers, I’m looking for photographers and editorial assistants.

You can contact me (the editor) via the comment box or by email r[dot]s[dot]bailey[at]leedsmet[dot]ac[dot]uk or through the email link on the right.

Academic casts a spell

13 Aug

It makes a great news story: the university tutor who has collected and published examples of poor spelling and illiteracy from his students.

The problem is that good spelling is more a sign of experience than of intelligence given the notorious irregularity of written English. While I agree that good written communication skills should be expected of all graduates – and are essential for PR graduates – it helps to admit to our own howlers. Here are some of mine:

  • I circulated a questionnaire among staff when at school as research for a magazine article. Many gleefully corrected my use of ‘favor’ in place of the conventional UK spelling.
  • When I worked as a typesetter, I produced a menu for a local pub. They came back months later to ask me to insert a second s in ‘lemon mouse’.
  • As a PR consultant, I pitched my plans for a product launch to a very large client. Problem was, the slide said it was a ‘press lunch’. Hard to justify the expense.
  • My wife – who now writes for a living – once completed a graduate job application for the role of a university Accommodation Officer. She spelt accommodation wrong throughout (easily done) – and failed to be shortlisted.
  • In recent years, I misnamed a local university in a presentation to colleagues. There’s a second s in Teesside. Odd, but true.

You say effect and I say affect

29 May

This is unfortunate (and it’s rather unhelpful of me to point it out), but how about this from a spokesperson for two dyslexia charities responding to an academic’s claim that the condition is/are in effect/affect not real? I know, the mistakes are the BBC reporter’s and editor’s too:

Once again dyslexia seems to be making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. It is frustrating that the focus should be on whether dyslexia exists or not and claims that it does not is very upsetting to the one in 10 people that it effects.

Effect or affect; its or it’s; compliment or complement. There are some spelling and grammar problems that are so common that they shouldn’t catch anyone out anymore (accommodation anyone?). There are so many harder ones to adjudicate between: adviser or advisor; judgment or judgement, focuses or focusses etc.

The food issue

16 May

Btsjan07 Food is nutritional, fashionable, cultural and political. It’s also big business.

Now that issue 16 of Behind the Spin (the environmental issue) has been published, we’re looking for ideas for issue 17 of the public relations magazine for students and young practitioners. You could write about:

That’s without mentioning drink. But what are your ideas? Brief proposals are welcome now (copy deadline will be in August). Please send your ideas to John Hitchins or to me.

The devil is in the detail

28 Mar

Spot the difference:

  • XYZ Corporation were loyal to our customers
  • XYZ Corporation we’re loyal to our customers

One small apostrophe for man or woman, one giant reversal of meaning. That’s why punctuation isn’t pointless, as Lynne Truss has so lucratively explained.