PR vs. Journalism. World War…not sure, I’ve lost count.

It’s the world’s worst kept secret that PR practitioners and journalists have what can most generously be called a fractious relationship. To any new entrant into the PR industry, it can still come as something of a shock. I have seen people reduced to tears mid sell-in by some particularly rude treatment. In all honesty, the industry probably isn’t for them if that’s the result. You need a thick skin to get by, and you need to acquire it quickly. Having said that, being reduced to tears in your workplace is absolutely not right and no one should feel it’s acceptable to do so.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a few journalist rants and have found the best method for dealing with them can be summed up thus: style it out. It’s going to happen, you’ll learn from it, and next time you allocate a press list you’ll probably give that particular journo a swerve.

Whilst the tear-inducing, apocalyptic journalist rants are thankfully few and far between, they do still happen. And it begs the question, why? I am lucky in my job that, in the main, I deal with journalists who are respectful and rarely give me the rude treatment; and I like to think that I am equally as approachable. I think the problem, like with any relationship, is all about understanding. That is, PRs and journalists seem to rarely understand each other, what each other wants/needs, and what each other can do/deliver.

My biggest tip from a PR point of view to gain that understanding would be research. What interests the journalist you’re about to call? What to they write, what are the angles, what do they tweet about, have you tailored your pitch, are you calling on press day, have you spoken to this journalist before? And the biggest question, is this actually news? This (and more) should be standard protocol before picking up the phone, though anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise.

And if I could suggest for our journo friends a little understanding too? We all have a job to do, and our jobs involve ringing you sometimes. And you never know, it might be useful/interesting/fruitful. I know you get a lot of phone-calls, and so do I, but let’s refrain from outright shoutiness and nastiness, eh?

Can’t we all just get along?!

How to win at social media with the Clintons

Here’s a post I recently wrote for the Spark blog

You may have seen recently that Hillary Clinton became the latest of the Clinton Clan to join Twitter, following in the footsteps of husband Bill and daughter Chelsea. And whichever PR pro helped Hillary launch her first tentative social footsteps was something of a genius, she may have only tweeted four times (to date), but she’s gone down a storm.

Bill and Chelsea are far more active, as are all their associated profiles which encompass their many charitable and action foundations. The Clintons have built a formidable presence on Twitter, perhaps learning from Barack Obama himself, whose social media practices have been near flawless. As a ‘brand’, the Clintons are impressive – managing to do what many businesses fail to do; build a cohesive, united, ‘joined-up’ presence on social media networks to get that all important message out there.

Social media, as we all know, is here to stay (as are the Clintons). Having a social media ‘presence’ is deemed as an almost necessity for businesses these days – and whether it is the right thing for your business or not (it isn’t always!), there are lessons to be learned from the Clintons if you’re making the jump to social.

So, what tips can companies pick up from the Clinton’s foray into the Twittersphere?

  • Make an entrance – Hillary’s inspired first tweet, a play on the #TextsFromHillary meme was a great start. Retweeted 11,042 times so far, that first tweet itself generated a whole lot of headlines and goodwill.
  • Have a sense of humour – Well done Hillary, referencing your own meme and taking‘selfies’ with your child; clever, wry and in the best of humour.
  • Choose your time wisely – Do not, under any circumstances, try to gain capital or make jokes out of tragic events (I can’t believe that even needs to be said, but sadly it does).
  • Don’t forget your profile – The 140 characters under you name is your first chance to draw the user in. Hillary’s is excellent, and that clever ‘TBD…’ ending hasn’t put those 2016 rumours to bed.
  • Be active – Now Hillary is letting the side down here a bit, but Bill and Chelsea are regular tweeters; businesses with inactive streams or infrequent updates are not engaging in the conversation which will deliver them customers.
  • Build your brand – Chelsea Clinton does this very well, her Twitter profile page has the Twitter handles of all her other associated accounts listed down the side – a good tip, make it easy for users to find your other connected networks.

Now, the Clintons were starting out with a good deal of reputation and cache already in place – very, very few businesses will have that type of expectation or welcome if they decide to go social. Building a social media following is a slow and involved process, and can’t be done half-heartedly. But whether you decide to make the social leap, or if you already have, why not strive to be like the best?

The North/South divide: Still a thing.

Disclaimer: I’m a northerner.

Check out this story on ComputerWorldUK, about a new competition launched to find the next £100m tech start-up, with a £1m prize and advice and support given to the winner. Where is it based? London. This is part of the government’s continued effort to create a tech hub in East London. Because of course, absolutely no technical expertise, skill and innovation happens outside of London. The Tech City initiative is just one more example of the government’s inability to focus on anywhere outside of London. It is so hopelessly short-sighted.

We can talk all day about the North/South divide, but the fact remains it is there. As someone whose office is in London but is a home-worker based in Manchester, I make the trip from North to South regularly. I’ve also lived many years in the South East and many years in the North West. I have seen first-hand the disparity between wealth accumulation and job availability in both locations. In short, London and the South East have money to burn; the North West is haemorrhaging jobs and increasing poverty all over the place. And it is not getting any better. This government is so wholly focused on its London bubble, it has all but forgotten that the rest of the country exists, except when it needs some votes and it has to muddy its feet north of the Watford Gap.

Sadly, some very good London based friends and colleagues are stuck in the same bubble. The disdain for anything outside of London is quite astonishing sometimes. I don’t rise to it, mainly because I’m used to it, and it’s something of a losing battle to begin with. But I also recognise the difference between a bit of harmless banter, and, well, some pretty nasty and disparaging views about anyone/anything in the North. The North of course in these situations referred to as some mystical, far away land, populated by people in flat caps, eating pies and claiming benefits they are not entitled to.

Honestly, it’s boring. So very mind-numbingly boring that these types of views still exist. But they do. And until the government looks outside of London and starts to do something for the rest of the UK, you know, like invest some actual money somewhere, the situation will remain the same.

It’s time for a rant. It’s been building for a while.

What has happened to our ability to spell, punctuate and grammatically construct even the simplest of sentences? It never ceases to amaze me the number of written missives I am on the receiving end of that are littered with spelling and grammar errors. I’m not talking about words which might be hard to spell, but simple words, like ‘simple’. I’m talking about incorrect use of their/there or your/you’re. I’m talking about entire paragraphs not threatened with a single punctuation mark. The basic stuff, the really basic stuff.

The saddest bit? I work in an industry where writing skills are considered a prerequisite. It’s genuinely disheartening! Don’t even get me started on CVs which haven’t had even the most rudimentary proof. I remember long afternoons at school filled with spelling tests and grammar lessons, it was important and we were taught that it was important. That emphasis on getting the basics right seems to have disappeared. I’ve heard people boasting of their inability to spell like it is something funny or to be proud of; or chuckling over the fact they don’t know what an apostrophe is.

I’m not saying I’m an expert by any stretch; I make mistakes, I have to check things, I use a dictionary, I check APs style guide and I am somewhat over judicious with my use of the semi colon. That’s the point though, I check. If I ever spot a typo on something I have sent or distributed I am aghast! At my current agency, we have a practice of making sure written documents are proofed before being sent externally, be it to a client or journalist. It is a good practice, often in PR things are written in haste because that’s the nature of the beast; mistakes are easily made and a second pair of eyes can often spot them quickly. It also means you learn and get into the habit of proofing as you go, because let’s be honest, no one likes to be picked up on a silly mistake.

It’s that pride in your work and the desire to get things right the first time that seems to be missing from many people’s writing. You don’t need to be able to write like Oscar Wilde but being able to put together something like a CV which reads well and has good spelling and grammar shouldn’t be out of the bounds of expectation. First impressions count, and if you can’t be bothered to get your CV right, you’re not going to get on the good side of any employer.

Another corporate comms post from elsewhere…

I’m back to being an infrequent blogger, at least, for my own purposes I am. For work however, I’m a lot more on it!

I posted earlier this week on our work blog about Hyundai’s recent ill-advised advertising campaign, featuring possibly the worst idea in the history of bad ideas, a suicide joke.

You can check it out here: When ‘shock advertising’ goes too far http://sparkcomms.co.uk/wp/index.php/2013/04/when-shock-advertising-goes-too-far/

A couple of posts from elsewhere…

Some recent posts I wrote for the work blog (@Sparkcomms), both on corporate comms.

The first takes a look at BlackBerry’s evident lack of media training. There’s really no excuse in this day and age…

Why media training matters: BlackBerry has (another) bad day at the office

And the second examines Tesco’s recent ingenious crisis comms. Sonnets of sorrow, whatever next eh?

Crisis communications and saying sorry: not just when, but how

World’s worst blogger.

Well, it’s been a while. I blame my very busy work schedule and the fact I’ve moved cities four times in the past 12 months. Now here I am back in my home town of Manchester and can be regularly spotted on the Pendlino to Euston travelling between my London and home office.

No longer am I a PR newcomer but am three-ish years into my PR career, currently working as an account manager for a London based b2b tech agency. I have clients in all areas of tech; and also in telco, life sciences and engineering.

I can safely say that one of the things I love best about my job is how much I learn on a daily basis. I can talk at length about software licensing, OTTs impact on 4G networks, oil and gas exploration, application performance management and medicinal chemistry. All of which means I might be exceptionally boring but at least I’m good in a pub quiz.

I do solemnly swear that I will now blog more often.

The changing of the guard

Amongst the thousands of articles written about the superinjunction/Ryan Giggs debacle, one woefully out of touch article from The Guardian stood out. Written by Richard Hillgrove, who is described as a ‘business and political public relations consultant’, the article seems only to emphasise the divide between the old and new guard.

Many of the below the line commenter’s make the point that regulating what people write on a social network is nigh on impossible. Indeed, a couple liken the article’s point to the Royal Mail being sued for something they have written in a letter to a friend, or the fact the Twitter is somewhat analogous to a phone network.

Twitter is primarily a medium of communication, as is Facebook and numerous other social networks, people use them to chat to friends, make new friends, and sure, gossip now and then. No different really to a conversation I may have with a colleague around the watercooler surely.

Except the key difference is the potential for it to be heard; I may say something on Twitter which may get re-tweeted, replied to, discussed, even trending. Now, I may be somewhat overstating my Twitter reach here, but you get the point. It’s the same theory as when something goes ‘viral’; it might start off as a conversation between two people, but end up as it has in Ryan Giggs’s case, as one between millions of people.

And I suppose that’s the beauty and the terror of social media in a nutshell. Whatever the musings about whether social media is here to stay or not, the question of how it can be regulated is ultimately academic in my opinion, unless we really want to experience even more of a big brother society.

Current libel and privacy laws are not compatible with modern forms of communication, which seems simplistic to say, but changing the law is more feasible than fact-checking the trillions of status updates and tweets made on Twitter and Facebook. Which are just two of the ever growing number of social networks.

Twitter is not in and of itself a media outlet, it’s a conduit for words to be spread, between individuals, corporations, businesses, governments, and myriad other organisations. There is a fine line between free speech and libel, and walking that line becomes more perilous as our social and digital networks grow, but ‘reeling it in’? It’s not only an impractical suggestion, but a very naive one.

And if Richard Hillgrove needed proof in the power of Twitter, he now has his very own parody Twitter profile

Free speech? Evelyn Beatrice Hall had it right

I love Louis Theroux, and have religiously watched all of his documentaries, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed with his latest examination of ‘America’s most hated family’. Theroux first visited the Phelps of Kansas, who founded and run the utterly abhorrent Westboro Baptist Church in 2007; this documentary (BBC2, Sunday, 9pm) is their second meeting.

With unprecedented levels of bile and vitriol, the Phelps have made it their mission to tell the world just how angry and vengeful God is,  and just how much he hates gay people, anyone of another faith, or of another race. I can’t even begin to explain their absurd and offensive views, and quite how one is able to conjure up so much hatred toward another person is beyond me.

It does however, raise the interesting question of free speech and that famous quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall, ‘’I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’’ These words resonate especially when watching the Phelps, and their ilk, waving offensive placards and chanting shocking insults on small-town street corners, and the funerals of military personnel.

The legal question of free speech has become somewhat entwined with the moral question, as the Phelps experienced in a protracted Supreme Court battle with the family of a soldier killed in Iraq, over whether their demonstration at his funeral constitutes an expression of free speech (Snyder Vs Phelps).

As much as I hate these people, and what they stand for, you cannot mandate what someone puts on a sign, what words they speak or indeed what thoughts are in their mind. The minefield of what is offensive to some and isn’t to others is a never-ending discussion. The Supreme Court found 8-1 in the Phelps favour; an unprecedented level of consensus amongst the Supreme Court bench’s ideologues.

I am not for a second suggesting that their demonstration is right, decent, or acceptable; it is deplorable to me and the vast majority of observers.  But our society, and that of America, is a society founded on individual freedoms, and one where we fight to protect these rights both at home and internationally. So as galling as it may seem, the Phelps do have a right to express their opinions.

What one would hope for is that general human decency and sensibility would inspire some modicum of self-restraint in their behaviour. There is a time and place for expression of views, and the funeral of a young man isn’t one of them. I may hold views which are offensive to some, in fact I’m sure we all do; it’s the nature of the human race, we are all different, but most of know exactly when to bite our tongue.

Unfortunately the Phelps being the people they are, they haven’t quite mastered that subtle art of simple human decency. So although the legal outcome may sit at odds with our moral opinion, the fact of the Phelps existence is absolute. And while I certainly couldn’t bring myself to defend their rights, I leave that to the minds of the Supreme Court and Beatrice Hall, the best I can hope for is to laugh at them.

The Good, the Bad, and the Fees.

Tuition fees are just one of the current victims of our much vaunted ‘swingeing cuts’;and are sure to ignite impassioned discussion amongst varied groups. I’ll be honest and say that I’m not quite sure exactly where I stand on the subject. Sure, my blood boils when I see the current crop of privately educated, wealthy politicians who enjoyed generous grants inflicting vast amounts of debt on the current generation of students; but at the same time I recognise that higher education, whether subsidised or otherwise, is not a right, but is a privilege.

I’ve had the privilege to attend university for undergraduate and postgraduate study, and I certainly have the debts to accompany it. I would advocate university to anyone; I had some of my best and most valuable experiences during my time at university. But I appreciate how daunting debts running into the tens of thousands must appear to prospective students.

I’ll also be honest and say that I don’t fully understand the numbers (I didn’t study maths at university for a reason). But as it has been explained to me, universities are in the main charging the maximum, or as close to the maximum £9000 limit as possible for two crucial reasons; the actual reduction in government funding, and the predicted drop in student numbers. Combined, this leaves little other way for universities to cover the cost of delivering a degree.

The ‘bad’ I am referring to in this post’s title is the negative publicity problem this has created for universities. Leeds Metropolitan University, where I took my Masters degree, this week announced their intention to charge fees of £8500 per year. Leeds Met has built a strong reputation on widening participation and of traditionally charging lower fees. As the first of the ‘newer’ universities to announce this news, they’ve taken a good amount of flak as a result and face something of a battle to justify the cost. The below the line comments on this Times Higher Education article are scathing to say the very least.

The ‘good’ I am referring to, is the devilishly good PR move executed by the coalition government. By leaving little other option than to raise fees, the government has effectively managed to deflect blame to individual institutions, and shift the focus away from themselves. Forcing the hand of universities this way, means we tend to blame the announcing institution and it is the institution that becomes the object of our ire.

So, as much as I hate to congratulate David Cameron and co, they seem to have their PR machine pretty well oiled this time.

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