Revolutionary Measures

PR and the election – living in interesting times

Given I’m writing this post a couple of days before the UK General Election, there are clearly risks that I’ll both annoy everyone who is already fed up with the campaign, and end up with egg on my face through predictions that turn out to be completely wrong.

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So, I’ll sit on the fence when it comes to the result, and instead look at the public relations around the election itself. In my view there are four interesting topics and trends:

1. Everyone wants to talk about ‘their’ issue

Just as Teresa May (remember her?) spent the last election chanting that the Tories would bring ‘strong and stable’ government, this time around the two main parties are focusing on one key issue above all. For the Tories it is ‘getting Brexit done’ whereas for Labour it is all about austerity in general, and the NHS in particular. Every opportunity is brought back to these key topics, whatever the start point of the question.

2. No-one wants to talk about their leaders

Without being party political it is clear that both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are divisive figures. Their handlers have therefore tried to be careful about when and where they appear in public and in front of the media. Even the leaders themselves have admitted they may be an issue, with Jeremy Corbyn (and multiple Labour candidates) pointing out that this is not a presidential campaign, and voters are choosing their local MP, not the Prime Minister. This may be true technically, but it is also a trifle disingenuous. Nevertheless, in all the election leaflets I’ve had I don’t think any (except the solitary missive from the Liberal Democrats) had a picture or endorsement from the party leader.

3. No-one knows what’s happening

We’ve had predictions from a whopping Tory majority to a hung parliament and the truth is, thanks to the first past the post system and the focus on every step (and misstep) of the parties, it would be a brave person who said the election was over before the votes were counted. Add in tactical voting and you can see why all parties are still pushing hard, with leaders criss-crossing the country and new policies appearing seemingly out of thin air. In my (extremely safe) Tory constituency I’ve not seen a single candidate on the doorstep, but have had lots of leaflets telling me what a good job my MP is doing. And this is despite the fact that it would take an electoral upset of gargantuan proportions to stop the area remaining blue.

4. Online is a key battleground

The traditional left/right division between Labour and the Conservatives has been turned on its head by Brexit. Hence Boris Johnson spending time wooing the leave-voting constituents of Northern seats. This also means that whereas in the past people might have been within a social media bubble of those with the same opinions, this time it isn’t necessarily the case. Hence the push to use online channels by all parties to reach and convince voters – at least £2 million has been spent on social media advertising up until now. And this is likely to grow – traditionally donations to parties ramp up towards the end of campaigns. Given that physical media such as billboards and newspaper adverts are either already booked up or cannot be created in time, the majority of this extra cash will be spent on targeted online ads.

5. Campaigns are not being legal, honest, decent and true

From the first leader’s debate, when Tory Central Office turned its Twitter handle into a supposed fact-checking resource, underhand tactics have been rife. Independent body the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising has highlighted that at least 31 campaigns from parties across the political spectrum have been indecent, dishonest or untruthful. This is probably a by-product of the generally chaotic nature of the campaign, and the rise of online, which makes it easier to quickly launch ads or claims without necessarily worrying about the consequences.

What can we learn from these points? Sadly, that whatever the result, such tactics are probably here to stay. So given the overall political landscape, I expect I’ll be writing a new version of this blog well within the supposed five year life of the next parliament….

December 11, 2019 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning to keep your mouth shut – Prince Andrew

When it comes to public relations I’ve always advocated that people get out there and tell their side of the story. After all, nature/public opinion abhors a vacuum so will fill it with its own views if you don’t speak up.

But of course success depends on both what you say and how you say it, as Prince Andrew is currently finding out, following his recent BBC interview with Emily Maitlis. “Car crash” is probably the kindest description of the programme, which saw the Duke aim to address questions about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein amid claims that he had slept with a 17 year old girl introduced by Epstein.

My suspicion is that Andrew wanted to replicate the success of the late Princess Diana and her own Panorama interview. The difference is there she was very much seen as the victim of the royal family, whereas the Prince’s position is very different. Essentially it appears he believed that an interview would clear his name but I think he neglected three key factors:

1. The nature of the allegations against him

There is clear evidence that Andrew visited Epstein after he was first convicted of soliciting a minor for prostitution. There is also a photograph of the Duke that seems to show him with his arm around Virginia Roberts, the 17 year old who alleges that he slept with her. In the interview he says he has no recollection of ever meeting her, and even says he has checked if the photograph could have been faked. None of this creates much sympathy on either side of the Atlantic, particularly given the strong push by Roberts’ lawyers to get Andrew to testify under oath. The allegations against him are simply too serious to be removed through a TV interview.

2. The Prince’s manner and previous behaviour

I’ve been at a couple of events that Andrew attended, and while I certainly didn’t speak to him directly, I’d say he didn’t have the strongest interpersonal skills in the world. He certainly seemed to mean well and clearly had an interest in technology/engineering (which is what the events were about), but came across as awkward and difficult to relate to. For all I know all royals of his generation share the same traits, particularly as he wasn’t being groomed for potential future kingship. However, this manner came across in his language and behaviour in the interview, which didn’t earn him any sympathy. Saying that he felt he’d “let the side down” through his visit to Epstein doesn’t come across as remorseful in an age where we expect public figures to show more empathy. He’s also not helped by his previous behaviour – being branded “Randy Andy” in his navy days for his sexual exploits, as well as being alleged to have used his connections to benefit from deals with shady oligarchs from Kazakhstan.

3. There’s an election on

While the public like the chance to peer into celebrity/royal private lives at the best of times, we’re currently in the midst of an election. So frankly, anything that isn’t about manifestoes, political posturing or Boris Johnson wearing boxing gloves is going to hit the headlines. This is not the time to bury such news, or think the that media and public will move on quickly. I even heard Alistair Campbell being asked on Radio 4 if this mirrored the Royal’s (in)famous annus horribilis when Diana died and Windsor Castle caught fire. Clearly, that’s a real stretch, but demonstrates the media’s appetite to keep the story running.

Most people believe that Andrew forced through the idea of doing the interview, against the better judgement of royal PRs. However, there’s one tantalizing, Machiavellian alternative. Perhaps he’s just been sent out to show what old-school royals are like in order to both deflect attention from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and to show instead how much more in touch with both their feelings and the population they are. Or perhaps the royal family is bored with the election too. If that’s the case, Alistair Campbell has nothing on the Queen when it comes to successfully spinning a story for the greater good……

November 20, 2019 Posted by | PR | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The state of PR – underpaid, overworked and under representative

Over the 20+ years I’ve worked in PR I’ve seen the profession become much more visible, if not necessarily better understood. However, while we’re not there yet, there’s a growing realisation at a senior level within organisations about the business benefits that strategic, well-executed and effectively evaluated PR campaigns can deliver.

So, the latest PRCA PR and Communications census provides the perfect opportunity to take stock of where we are now – and where we need to improve. Reading through the results, and the analysis from my ex-colleague Stephen Waddington, five things jump out at me:

1.PR is big business
Total industry turnover is £14.9 billion, up 7.9% since 2018. To give some perspective this is bigger than the UK space industry (£11 billion) and about two-thirds of the defence sector. This is positive news, particularly as I believe that there’s a lot of PR and communications that isn’t covered by the census, either because it is carried out as part of other people’s roles, or that those doing it don’t realise it is PR.

2.PR is growing
As well as turnover increasing, so is the number of people working in the industry, rising by 9,000 to 95,000. That’s the size of a large town or small city – the PR industry has grown from being the equivalent of Chester (population 86,011) to Bath (94,872). All very lovely, as it shows that the market need for PR is growing, hence the profession’s expansion.

3.Average salaries are down
Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends. The average salary has decreased across agency, freelance and in-house roles, falling from £45,950 to £42,700. That’s a drop of 8.75% that the PRCA puts down to increasing numbers of more junior staff in the industry. PR has always been a pyramid, with lots of account executives and fewer account directors, but widening the base of the profession brings risks. Automation and AI are likely to remove the need for many of the traditional parts of the account executive role, and if we are to be seen as more strategic (and win a place at board level), we need to grow the amount of senior talent that is correctly remunerated. Otherwise skilled people are likely to either leave the profession or not even consider it in the first place.

4.And workloads are up
Not only have average salaries dropped, but they don’t tell the full story when it comes to workload. Half of PRs work for 45 hours a week (10 more than their supposedly contracted 35 hours), with senior professionals most likely to work overtime. That means that not only are people being paid less, but they are expected to do more. As well as being financially unfair this risks stress, burn-out and mental health issues. It is therefore sad, but unsurprising, to read that 32% of PRs have suffered from, or been diagnosed with mental health issues.

5.Diversity is not happening
Two-thirds of PR people are female – yet there is an average gender pay gap of 13.6% across the industry. This is shameful, even if it has dropped from 21% last year. Clearly skilled, motivated women are leaving the industry or not getting the senior jobs that they should be. Equally concerning is the lack of diversity in PR – 89% of the industry is white, although it is more diverse at more junior levels. PR needs to better reflect overall society – there shouldn’t be any barriers to entry for people. After all, you don’t need access to specialist equipment to enter the profession, meaning it should be open to all, regardless of background and ethnicity.

To me the PRCA census shows both sides of the industry – accelerating ahead in many areas, but still needing to fix fundamental issues around pay and diversity. Without overcoming these challenges it won’t have the talent and backing to truly establish itself as the strategic, vital profession that it actually can be.

May 29, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

6 areas every PR brief should cover

I recently saw a tweet from Mark Lowe of Third City stressing the importance of companies providing a budget when they are looking for a PR agency. I’d agree in most instances, particularly when omitting one is basically down to laziness. However, there are times when companies and marketers genuinely need help and guidance on what they should be spending, particularly in the early stage of a business.

Mark’s tweet made me think of some of the other things that companies routinely fail to include when briefing a potential PR agency or creating Requests for Proposal. We’ve all had briefs as basic/non-existent as “get us some press coverage” or “write us some press releases” and you can learn to recognise and avoid this type of company – after all, if they don’t know what they want now, it’s unlikely things will improve down the line.

man standing near of wall

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Given that, and without trying to teach clients to suck eggs, here are the top six things I think every brief should include:

1.Business objectives
What is the organisation trying to achieve overall? Does it want more customers, to enter new markets or to retain the clients it already has? Is there an exit planned, and if so, what is it? In this case PR can be a really powerful method of attracting the right attention from the right potential purchasers – but only if the PR agency knows what the end game actually is. Be honest and you’ll get the best fit for your needs.

2.Marketing objectives
What are the marketing objectives and how do they support the overall business? What other activities are planned and how can PR piggyback/complement them? We’re in an increasingly joined-up world and any clued-up PR person should be able to demonstrate how they can support overall marketing and therefore maximise results (and budgets).

3.Who is your competition?
If a prospect says they have no competition I’m immediately suspicious. Is that because there is no market for what they do – or because the prospect has no idea what is actually happening in the sector? Outline clearly the type of business you come up against and your differentiators. At the very least this will help prospective PR agencies to see what the competition is doing PR wise and use this insight to create a strategy that out performs them.

4.What is your timeline?
This covers both the pitch process and overall expectations about when results will start to meaningfully impact the business. I know everyone is busy, and a PR tender process is normally run on top of full-time jobs, but try and give a reasonable idea of when agencies can expect a response to their proposal. For a start it will stop them hounding you with calls and emails asking how things are going.

PR doesn’t always deliver immediate results, so you need to be sure that you are realistic about your timeline here – and that the expectations of everyone in the company are well-managed. You’re not going to get straight onto the front page of a national newspaper or to immediately arrange a meeting with a key influencer.

5.Don’t forget measurement
What does success actually look like? Either give enough information for agencies to come up with measurement metrics of their own, or share your own with them, and make them as close to your business goals as possible. If you need external measurement then make sure that’s covered in the budget too.

6.What do you actually want?
It is always a good idea to think through what you want from an agency. Should it be small or large? Specialist or generalist? On your doorstep or is distance not an object? Able to expand into marketing if required? Take the time to meet prospective agencies to ensure that the chemistry works for both sides – and be firm that you want to talk to the actual team who would work on the account, not just an account director you’ll only see every quarter.

Set criteria for how you will judge the agency, particularly in a pitch situation with multiple people involved in the decision. By using a scoring framework you can take some of the emotion out of your choice and avoid too many internal disagreements over the pitch process.

While I’ve detailed six things that I believe that PR briefs should contain, I’m sure this isn’t exhaustive. Do chip in on the comments section with your suggestions – and marketers share your thoughts on what infuriates you about agencies during the pitch process too………….

May 2, 2019 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

6 differences between PR and marketing

After one of my previous posts on what public relations can (and can’t do), Ann Hawkins of Drive suggested exploring what the differences are between PR and marketing, leading to this article. To begin with, it is important to stress that PR is a marketing discipline, alongside the likes of advertising, direct mail, brochures and digital. So there is inevitably overlap.

As Ann rightly points out this overlap has increased over the last few years, as marketing disciplines have coalesced, but there are still differences between PR and other areas.

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Here are what I think the six main ones are:

1.PR is less guaranteed
Any marketing campaign can fail, with even the biggest of advertising campaigns coming a cropper. This could be down to poor planning, inadequate targeting or simply not having a strong enough creative idea. However, even the most unsuccessful marketing campaign will have a very visible outputs, whether that is a website, a piece of direct mail, or an enormously expensive TV ad. The outputs of PR appear much less substantial – a press release, a conversation with a journalist or influencer, or an email to a stakeholder. So if the campaign fails there is much less to show for it. You don’t have the 10 foot advertising poster to impress the CEO with. PR is much more of an iceberg – there’s a huge amount of work behind the scenes to get a campaign up and running, and much less guarantee that it will succeed. PR is not just media relations, but I’ve been in the position of having a journalist write a piece which was dropped from a national newspaper as the news agenda changed and there simply wasn’t space.

2. PR is (or used to be) less measurable
Historically, one major difference between PR and marketing was that most marketing campaigns could easily be measured, whether in terms of leads, sales or other outcomes, unlike PR. This is one area where PR has changed dramatically over the last few years. When I started in PR 25 years ago, measurement was calculated on the physical coverage you received, using Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs). Full page article? Find out how much buying the same ad space would cost, multiply it by three (as PR is much more credible than an ad), and you have an impressive figure that shows ROI.

Thankfully, things have moved on, with much greater professionalism. Digital technology enables specific tracking of where people go to after reading an online article for example, and it is now much easier to measure outcomes, not just outputs.

3. PR often involves a gatekeeper
Marketing campaigns normally directly target the audience they are trying to influence. For example, you want people to watch an ad and buy your washing powder or click to sign up to join a service online. In contrast PR is more likely to reach the audience indirectly, through a gatekeeper. This could be journalists/publications in the case of media relations, or other stakeholders such as analysts, consultants or other influencers. So, you need to create a message that not only resonates with the final audience, but also convinces the gatekeeper as well.

4. Marketing is trying to drive direct revenue
According to a post on a PR company’s website, marketing is always linked to revenue goals, while PR is about reputation. To be honest, I’d only partially agree. Some PR is about boosting your reputation, but it has always been about driving leads as well. For example, if you launch a new product press coverage is a crucial part of not just creating awareness but getting people into the sales funnel. However, it is true to say that marketing campaigns tend to be more linked to sales goals, whereas PR can be much wider in its results and targets.

5. PR is more credible
To me, this remains the most important difference between marketing and PR. Even (or especially) in an age of fake news and widespread disinformation, the outputs of PR, such as media coverage are seen as more credible than an advert. This is because it has passed through a gatekeeper meaning it has been verified by a hopefully independent third party before reaching its audience. Yes, there have been plenty of examples of PR being used to support dubious causes or campaigns (take the work of Bell Pottinger in South Africa), but those that clearly cross an ethical line or have no basis in fact are normally discovered and called out. In the case of Bell Pottinger, the resulting scandal brought the whole company down.

6. PR isn’t always visible
One of the key aims of public relations is managing reputation. While this can be a relatively straightforward job of aiming to build a positive profile with key audiences, it also covers crisis management, mitigating (or even avoiding altogether) negative stories. I appreciate that this sounds dubious, and I’m not advocating PR being used to keep bad stuff out of the media. However, we live in a more and more complex world, where it is more common for things to go wrong in some way. Having a crisis management PR strategy is therefore crucial if brands are to react to minimise any reputational damage. That’s something that you can’t really do with other marketing disciplines, although the likes of VW and Facebook have tried, taking out full page adverts explaining how sorry they are for various corporate misdemeanours.

I’m conscious that while I set out to outline clear differences between PR and marketing I’ve ended up with a fair few caveats that show that different disciplines are getting closer in many areas. That’s actually a positive for PR, as it shows how its reach is spreading, not just in marketing but other areas (such as internal communications) and demonstrates its business value. No marketing campaign (or company) can afford to neglect PR, whatever its overall objectives.

April 3, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Apple bets on reputation to drive streaming success

This week’s news that Apple is expanding into multiple new markets, including TV, gaming and finance is not unexpected. The market for iPhones is becoming saturated, with revenue from iPhone sales dropping 15% in the last quarter. So, increasingly Apple wants to be seen as a services company – it already has a successfully streaming product (Apple Music) and generated $10.9 billion of revenue from services, more than from selling Macs or iPads, in Q4 2018.

The announcement is also unsurprising for two other reasons. We now live in an experience economy, where people are more likely to rent or stream products and services than to buy them. And it joins a stampede of companies that want to be the digital provider of choice, for everything from entertainment and news to healthcare and control of your smart home.

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This trend is turning digital companies that previously co-existed relatively harmoniously, such as Amazon, Apple, Google and others, into competitors. Combined with the rise of Netflix, this is disrupting the business models of existing content providers/film studios, leading them to scale up (witness Disney’s purchase of Fox) to try and compete.

Apple’s glitzy launch featured a host of A-list celebrities, from Oprah to Steven Spielberg and Big Bird from Sesame Street as it promised to spend $1 billion a year on original content. However, it is up against the likes of Netflix (which spent a reported $12 billion last year), and Disney, which counts best-selling franchises such as Marvel and Star Wars amongst its properties.

So can Apple succeed in streaming? After all, its existing Apple TV service has never really taken off. There are two factors it is betting heavily on:

1.Reputation as the champion of privacy
Throughout all the storms that have hit tech companies around privacy and use of personal data, Apple has aimed to position itself as the champion of the consumer. It has repeatedly stressed that it won’t share user data with advertisers, and even refused to allow the FBI to access locked iPhones belonging to criminals and terrorists. Apple boss Tim Cook continually reiterated the focus on privacy at the launch event, and clearly it is one of the ways it is looking to differentiate itself.

2.Market power
As Oprah said of iPhones “they’re in a billion pockets”, and Apple clearly has a huge, loyal fanbase to appeal to. That’s what has driven its services success to date, and even if it can only convert a small percentage of customers to its new offerings, it will be in the money. However, an awful lot of iPhones are in markets, such as China, where the new services are unlikely to be available, while most customers already have subscriptions to the likes of Netflix. The new Apple TV+ will allow consumers to bundle some existing services (such as HBO and Hulu), but not Netflix. And while it will be available on other hardware (such as Sony TVs), making it appeal to non-Apple owners may prove difficult.

So, when it comes to services and effectively its future revenues, Apple is essentially betting on its reputation rather than the deeper content reserves of its rivals. Can it take a bit out of streaming? Whatever happens expect a long and bruising battle as more and more companies try to differentiate themselves from the chasing pack and use communications and reputation to dominate the market.

March 27, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 things that Public Relations can – and can’t – do

In the 25+ years I’ve been working in public relations I’ve seen the entire industry shift, as digitisation has transformed media relations, content and the channels that businesses use to communicate with their audiences. We’ve moved from a situation where media relations was king to a more nuanced, wider ranging and more interesting world, where PR is more strategic and (hopefully) more valued.

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However, one thing that never changes is that a lot of people I talk to are still not 100% sure what PR can, and cannot do. And while, like many things, what it is achievable can change, here are 5 areas that commonly cause confusion:

1.Immediate PR results take time
To communicate your messages to your chosen audiences, you obviously need to know what you want to say and who you want to reach. And this has to be realistic – you can’t expect a start-up with nothing more than an idea to immediately appeal to a mass consumer audience. It takes time to build a brand, and that requires patience and an ongoing supply of stories that show momentum and are of interest to the people you want to communicate with, whether they are potential or actual customers, partners, investors and/or relevant media. So my recommendation for any company is be patient – we may live in an accelerated news cycle, but it still takes time and sustained effort to get your messages across.

2.Honesty is central to successful PR
Despite the talk about spin and companies using PR to pull the wool over people’s eyes, the profession can only do so much. The public is rightly cynical about companies that have a bad reputation and fail to own up to past mistakes. The first step to turning round perceptions is to be honest and make a real attempt at changing. It has to be genuine, rather than a smokescreen, and that often means cultural change is required. Look at the likes of Uber, which transformed its approach with a new CEO – it may not have rebuilt trust completely, but it is clearly committed to working on it.

3.PR is not just media relations
For many, media relations – talking to journalists and writing/sending press releases is what PR is all about. However, while media relations can be a key part of a campaign, it is not the only tool in the PR box. Reaching the right people, with the right messages, covers a wide range of tactics outside just talking to the press. I’ve seen PR campaigns that involve no media content, or that are focused on getting to customers, employees or influencers directly through other channels outside the press. This does make the boundaries of PR fluid, and the profession should embrace this rather than funnelling resources just down the media relations route.

4.PR can’t guarantee coverage
Time and time again, I’ve had potential clients come to me asking to get into the Financial Times or an equivalent title. That’s despite having no news or messaging that will appeal to that particular audience – or even any reason for actually reaching a certain group. I once had a PR manager ask me to get their company into the print edition of the Daily Mail, as “that’s what the CEO’s wife’s friends read,” and they wanted to something to boast about at the bridge club. Equally, there’s no such thing as guaranteed coverage – a journalist can write a story and then it doesn’t make it into the paper/onto the website due to any number of external factors. So look very closely at any promises from PR agencies that they will get you into certain titles – are they actually able to deliver?

5.PR can’t hide bad news forever
We live in a world where everyone has a smartphone, an opinion and the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences. That means it is extremely difficult to keep bad news out of the public eye over the long-term. As the likes of Sir Philip Green have discovered, even expensive lawyers can’t achieve that. What PR can do is help you communicate your story, but your story has to be believable to start with. Creating a strong, genuine brand reputation, built up over years, is the best defence against any negative news that does arrive. It won’t prevent damage completely, but it will provide a context and the chance to explain and apologise.

The power of public relations is growing as more and more brands make it a core part of their marketing, rather than a tactical add-on. However, it is vital to be clear where its limitations lie – don’t fall for the spin.

March 20, 2019 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Public relations – bring on the clowns

I recently read a fascinating piece of research around the human element of manned Mars missions. Given the length of the trip (9 months each way plus a wait before returning) and the fact that everyone is cooped up together in a small space, the risk of the crew disintegrating into warring factions is clearly high. How can it be stopped or at least minimised? NASA is obviously giving this a lot of thought, studying similar situations, such as groups posted to the Antarctic, to get some tips. What these studies have shown is that you need a mix of personality types to ensure team harmony. But most of all what you need is a clown – someone who can bridge between different people, defuse tension and create empathy with everyone, whatever their role or personality type.

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It made me think that quite often this is the role that PR has (or should have) within an organisation. Starting with your business goals, you need to gain information from everyone in the company, across every department to set your communications strategy. Implementation requires buy-in from everyone – you need to keep everyone happy that their needs are being met, while getting them to realise that there is a bigger picture which means that PR can’t solely be about their department. You need to show empathy, understanding and be able to master all the different areas of your organisation, all while seeing it through a PR lens.

If you look at PR in this light, it reinforces its strategic importance – done right it is the glue between the departments in the company, and the multiple roles that people do. There’s no-one else, except perhaps for the CEO, who has this company-wide oversight. And, let’s face it, often people lower down an organisation may feel too overawed by the big boss to tell her or him the whole truth.

So next time someone describes public relations as a profession full of clowns, take it as a compliment, not a slight. We may not be putting humans on Mars (yet), but we’re essential to bridging gaps within every organisation and contributing to the smooth running of a business – all without having to resort to scary wigs or flowers that squirt water.

March 6, 2019 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Huawei – communicating innocence?

For this week’s blog it was a hard choice between focusing on what the rise of The Independent Group means to political PR, and how Chinese communications equipment giant Huawei is meeting its own communications and PR challenges. Given British politics is likely to have changed over the next week, and we’re currently in the middle of telecoms industry shindig Mobile World Congress (MWC), I’ll go for the Huawei option.

In many ways Huawei is a victim of its own success – from a brand that nobody knew how to pronounce a year ago, it has rocketed into the public consciousness, although not for all the right reasons. Allegations of potential backdoors in its communications kit that could allow the Chinese state to spy on data have led Donald Trump to call for it to be banned as a worldwide supplier to future 5G networks (Australia and New Zealand have obliged). At the same time its CFO has been arrested in Canada at the behest of the US, being accused of sanctions busting, and an employee arrested in Poland for alleged industrial espionage.

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And how has it responded? Essentially it has come out swinging, in a way that is either very confident, very arrogant or a combination of both. At MWC it has signalled that it wants to break the Apple/Samsung high end smartphone duopoly by launching one of the world’s first foldable phones, the Huawei Mate X, just a week after its Korean rival announced its own model.

It has also used MWC to go on the front foot and completely deny that there are or ever will be backdoors in its products, with its chairman Guo Ping stressing, “We don’t do bad things” and describing US accusations of security issues as lacking any evidence. Given the importance of 5G to a whole range of innovations, such as the Internet of Things, driverless cars, and being able to download a whole film in 6 seconds, questions about security are valid, whoever is providing the kit. But by going on the front foot and calling for industry solidarity, while having a pop at Trump, Huawei seems to feel confident that it can win doubters round.

And this isn’t the total of its comms strategy – there’s been a huge rise in glossy print advertising emphasising its trustworthiness (following a recent Facebook tactic), and it has been touting its relationship with Britain’s communications security agency, GCHQ as a model to follow. Under a partnership, GCHQ has been testing Huawei’s technology and will report back on any issues it finds. However, this has been undermined by a hardening of rhetoric, with GCHQ head, Jeremy Fleming, stressing the need to understand the opportunities and threats that China’s technology advances provide.

From a market position it is easy to worry about Huawei, as it has grown rapidly to a position of power in a key global industry as it is about to adopt new technology. Unlike other Chinese companies such as JD, Tencent and Alibaba which are focused on their domestic markets and developing companies, Huawei is unashamedly looking to lead on a worldwide scale. Not for nothing does its name translate as “Chinese Achievement”. And at time when we’re getting more conscious of our privacy, both individuals and governments are much more focused on who has access to our data. Despite its communications so far, Huawei hasn’t convinced security experts or even the general public of its benign intentions – it is difficult to prove a negative in an age of conspiracies and social media. My advice? Focus on openness and innovation, and the benefits of 5G, build relationships with the right experts and invest locally to get governments on side. And if you can sort out Brexit, you can spy on my communications all you like………….

February 27, 2019 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nick Clegg – the worst job in PR?

There are lots of jobs in public relations that could best be described as ‘challenging’ – and at worst be considered nightmares to avoid at all costs. Press secretary to Donald Trump or Elon Musk’s PR handler both spring to mind. However, these revolve around trying to control a wayward individual known for having their own communications style. In these cases the PR issues come with the territory as they are part of the brand.

So what are the worst jobs in PR when you take the figurehead out of the equation? I’d say that at the moment they revolve around Brexit and Facebook. I won’t go into Theresa May’s communications strategy as I’m not sure there is one beyond repeating the same stock phrases over and over again and hoping that the world will change.

Instead I’m going to focus this post on the challenges facing Facebook’s PR team, and in particular Sir Nick Clegg, the company’s recently appointed head of global affairs. First, a quick recap of the issues in his intray:

  • The Cambridge Analytica case, where data was illegally collected and used to target Facebook users
  • Failure to regulate fake news or Russian interference in the US election
  • Allowing posts that promoted genocide against the Rohinga minority in Myanmar
  • Automatically recommending content involving self-harm to vulnerable teens on Instagram
  • Not paying its fair share of tax

I’m probably missing a few – suffice it to say that in PR Moment’s annual review of 2018’s PR disasters, Facebook was villain of the month on three separate occasions, well ahead of any other business.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What hasn’t helped has been its ‘solution’, which seems to amount to taking out a lot of adverts and whingeing a bit about it being so unfair (being 15 the company is going through a sulky teenager phase).

Oh, and hiring Nick Clegg. Obviously Clegg had a background in public affairs before he entered politics, so the combination of his experience seems like a good fit. But since he joined little has really changed. There’s still a refusal to engage with politicians – Mark Zuckerberg has dodged requests to appear in front of politicians, apart from one hearing of the US Congress. And all the time revenues have been increasing, adding fuel to the allegations that the company puts profits above doing the right thing.

Clegg’s job is not one I’d relish as clearly Facebook needs to undergo a root and branch reform to make it more open and accountable. And the clock is ticking – murmurs of breaking the company up in some way are growing, with splitting the different services it offers (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) into separate entities, providing what looks like an easy solution to lawmakers.

I’ve previously outlined what I think Facebook needs to do, along with other tech companies, to turn around its reputation, focusing on openness, confessing to past wrong doing, investing and matching words with deeds. Essentially Facebook needs to engage and that means communicating in a more human way – for its sake let’s hope that Nick Clegg is given the space and resources to deliver real change, rather than propping up the status quo.

February 6, 2019 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments