Revolutionary Measures

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

Time for PR to change its name?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to explain exactly what public relations is (and what it isn’t) to generally well-informed and otherwise clued-up friends, relatives and people at events. No, it isn’t just Absolutely Fabulous, Max Clifford-style celebrity scoops in the tabloids or undercover lobbying on behalf of big business. Instead it should be a core business function – a way of getting your messages out to the right audiences, through the right channels and at the right time, with the aim of engaging people, managing reputation and achieving business goals.

That’s why the CIPR’s new #PRPays campaign is a welcome step in the right direction. It aims to demonstrate the strategic value of PR to organisations through interviews with senior managers at some of the UK’s biggest companies. The first video, with John Holland-Kaye, the CEO of Heathrow Airport is great. It shows that he sees and understands what PR brings to his business in multiple areas, from communicating change to supporting expansion.

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However, there is a big ‘but’ coming. Holland-Kaye keeps talking about communications in its widest form, from talking to passengers and other stakeholders to getting key messages across to employees and politicians. This got me thinking – why are we even talking about PR at all? At best it is a loaded term (see examples in the first paragraph), and at worst it puts a barrier up between the industry and the people we are trying to talk to. Why don’t we simply replace Public Relations with Communications? I can see four good reasons why we should:

1          It is simpler
Everyone communicates – it is one of the key human characteristics. So, people understand what the term means and the skills that it involves. Yes, that could be said to remove mystique (and as the saying goes, where there is mystery, there is margin), but to be honest the barriers to entry in PR are low to non-existent anyway. All you need is a phone, a laptop and an internet connection, and despite the admirable efforts of the CIPR to professionalise PR, that is unlikely to change soon.

2          It is comprehensive
“No, I don’t do that – that’s internal communications/public affairs/social media (delete as applicable).” That’s been the response of many PRs when clients ask for something that it outside their skillset. But rebranding PR as communications gives us the legitimate right to extend what we do into these neighbouring fields, at both a strategic and tactical level. The basic idea of understanding a company’s aims, and then creating and communicating messages that will successfully deliver these objectives is common to many areas of business – as communicators we should be applying our skills to help organisations in all of them.

 3          It is clearer to business
John Holland-Kaye’s interchangeable use of PR and communications shows exactly the issue that the profession has. Even those that champion what we do are a bit vague about exactly what the borders of our work are. Therefore, if we want to be seen as a strategic imperative for businesses, it makes sense to be clear in our own messaging and language. Talk about communications, and business leaders will see the value, helping the profession to be seen as a key part of successful organisations and ultimately boosting status and budgets.

4          It gives us room to grow
The rise of the internet has clearly transformed communications and given rise to wholly new disciplines such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and social media. Agencies mushroomed to take advantage of the budgets that clients were looking to spend in these areas. Lots of PR companies missed out, either because they didn’t see the opportunity or didn’t understand the technology. Communicating is now more important than ever – and at the same time no-one knows what the future will bring. Will brands need to convince the likes of Amazon or Google to feature their stories on voice assistants? How will AI transform how organisations communicate with their publics? No-one really knows, but if PR acts now and widens its scope, it will at least have a fighting chance of being at the forefront of future changes, rather than looking back in 20 years time to find it has been marginalised.

As I said, I applaud the CIPR’s efforts to demonstrate the strategic value that public relations brings. But I think the whole profession needs to go further – we’re communicators, so let’s be upfront and adopt a name that reflects what we do and gives us room to expand in the future. From now on, I’m not a public relations consultant, I’m a communications consultant.

September 26, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Can marketing help the new NHS app to Cross the Chasm?

We’re currently in an unprecedented time when it comes to innovation. The rise of digital is unleashing new ways of working, communicating and shopping, while underpinning new business models that are transforming whole industries. Clearly, not all of this change is positive for everyone – trends such as e-commerce and AI have led to job losses and closures across the high street. Reflecting this, research shows that a majority of older people feel that life in England was better in the past, a position that correlates strongly with supporting Brexit.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What does this mean for innovation? For a start, a large number of your potential consumers are going to be suspicious of your shiny new product. Even allowing for the different phases of adoption set out by Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm, this leaves those of us marketing innovation with a dilemma. Essentially, how do you get people to change their behaviour, and do something differently – especially if it is something they’ve always done that way. This isn’t about persuading people to change the beer they drink or the shampoo they use, but much more deep-seated, such as how they communicate, or switching from fossil fuel to electric-powered vehicles.

The news that the NHS is going to get a new app brought this issue to the front of my mind. Confusingly described by health secretary Jeremy Hunt as “a birthday present from the NHS to the British people” – does he give other people presents on his birthday? – it promises to allow users to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view medical information held by their GPs.

But will it be adopted and therefore deliver the savings and convenience that it promises? Unlike other tech products it is aimed fully at the mainstream – and given that many of the largest users of the NHS are not likely to be early adopters – it will require a lot of effort to drive change.

Unfreeze, Move, Freeze
Essentially, according to business psychologist Kurt Lewin major change only happens when conditions are seen as sub-optimal. This generates a desire for change, which unfreezes attitudes and leads to moving to new solutions. Once this is the status quo it then freezes back into place, until the process begins again.

Looking at the NHS app, there are four areas where marketing can help drive the unfreezing and hence change:

1.Demonstrate it is easier
We’ve all been in situations where we know that changing how we do something will deliver longer term benefits – but we don’t have the time (or inclination) to invest the additional effort required to learn the new way of doing something. It could be as simple as continuing to access a website on your computer rather than your phone as you can’t remember your password and can’t be bothered to set it all up again. So the experience the new app offers has to be incredibly clear and straightforward. I’d even employ trainers to go around to GP surgeries, install it on people’s phones and get them up and running.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate
As with any mass market product, you need to ensure that everyone is aware of the new app, and how to benefit from it. I’m sure there will be complaints of wasting money in the Tory press if the NHS runs a huge advertising campaign around the app, but it is vital to get it out there across TV, print, online and billboards. And the ads have to be memorable – even if that’s because of the sheer annoyance they cause. Meerkats anyone?

3. Brand it!
At the moment the NHS app is called, um, the NHS app. Hardly memorable or likely to help people find it – and a quick search on the Apple Store brings up lots of apps with “NHS” in the title. It needs a strong, personal and appealing brand – whether than means naming it after a famous doctor or Aneurin Bevan, architect of the NHS or going down the route of creating a cartoon character around it, it needs to stand out.

4. Make the message simple
Too many adverts overcomplicate the message – therefore the marketing for the app has to deliver a clear call to action in a short number of stages. For example:

  • One: Download the app
  • Two: Enter a unique NHS code
  • Three: Start accessing your health records/booking appointments etc

People won’t respond to anything more complicated initially – once they’ve got the app you can effectively extend their use by giving advice on other ways that they can benefit.

When it comes to changing behaviour, marketing (and understanding psychology) has a key role to play. Let’s hope the NHS bears this in mind when it fully launches its app in December.

July 4, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The end of the Mad Men?

Advertising agencies have always exuded glamour and excitement. From Don Draper in Mad Men to more modern agencies they’ve combined mystery and the power to change how people think, act and buy. Take Ridley Scott’s 1984-themed Apple Mac launch ad, Saatchi’s 1979 “Labour isn’t working” campaign, widely seen as helping the Conservative party to win the election, or going further back, the WW1 “Your Country Needs You” recruitment poster.

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All of these iconic campaigns demonstrate what advertising can do, particularly when it is turbocharged by the reach of linear television. This has led to ad agencies rising in importance to essentially command the biggest budgets and greatest influence on how brands market themselves.

However, things are changing – fast. Three interconnected factors are upsetting the status quo and causing industry titans such as WPP to issue profit warnings in the face of slowing revenues.

1          We live in a digital world
We used to spend the majority of our leisure time watching a limited number of terrestrial TV channels and reading newspapers and magazines. All of that has changed with the rise of the internet, which now takes a much higher share of our time, and has introduced new gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook into the mix. The adverts that people run online are different – they can’t be as disruptive as during a scheduled TV ad break, or as big budget. While major ad campaigns still run, they are more seasonal, such as around Christmas – and are seen as marketing events, rather than run of the mill campaigns.

2          Consumers want a personalised approach
The internet has also encouraged and enabled us to demand a more personalised experience. We don’t want to be subjected to irrelevant adverts for things we aren’t interested in – and analysing our browsing habits and demographics should give advertisers the ability to segment their audiences and target them in a more individual way. The cost to our privacy is an ongoing debate – as is how capable platforms are of really delivering a personalised approach. All of these adverts tend to be smaller, more focused and therefore lower budget – in some cases even using AI to analyse response rates and automatically tweak copy so that it best reaches target audiences. So less Mad Men, more Metal Mickey.

3          Content is king
Consumers are more suspicious of advertising, and want greater transparency from the brands that they deal with. This is driving a much greater reliance on content across the buying cycle, helping build relationships, and overcome objections on the way. This requires a different set of skills to big budget TV advertising – in fact it is more akin to the copywriting side of public relations, with more information and less overt selling.

All of these factors are shaking up the marketing hierarchy and putting the role of the traditional ad agency under threat. At the top end, consultants such as Accenture are entering the sector, buying up agencies and focusing on providing strategic business advice as well as execution. Digital-first agencies are jockeying for position, and a greater share of budget, backed up by their ability to offer transparency, value and accountability. Brands are even taking key activities in-house, with many companies now employing digital marketing specialists, or even, as in the case of Pepsi, in-house advertising studios.

So does this mean the end of the ad agency, and in particular large international networks? Not necessarily – in a fragmented world clients value talking to one trusted advisor, rather than having to juggle a series of relationships with overlapping agencies. However, to prevent that trusted advisor being a strategy consultancy or digital upstart, agencies need to reinvent themselves quickly, learn new skills and become more of a high-level partner. One way is to move up the value chain. Back in the advertising heyday of the 1980s, Saatchi and Saatchi bought analyst house Gartner. The plan backfired, with the company sold less than two years later at a loss. But the idea clearly had strategic promise. Perhaps now is the time for ad agencies to think big again if they want to retain their power for the long term?

April 11, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Artificial Intelligence kill creativity?

Listening to the news recently, one of Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) researchers was extolling the virtues of the technology, and how it could help humans. Many of the examples mentioned – such as using machine learning to analyse millions of medical cases to alert doctors to symptoms they might have missed and describing the world around them to the blind, all have a clear benefit to society, as does the ability to understand conversations and use the knowledge to improve customer experience.

Artificial Intelligence Programming Robot Ai Ki

However, the interview then turned to how AI is being incorporated into Microsoft Office, where it will be used to help ‘improve’ the documents that we write, and the presentations that we create. And that’s where I began to get worried. Everyone has a personal style when it comes to writing, and while some mistakes are obvious (such as spelling and punctuation), ‘correcting’ what we write so that it fits with what is seen as good by an algorithm worries me a lot. I do a lot of writing for clients and each one has its own, individual style, dependent on who it is aimed at, the message I’m trying to get across and the medium being used. How can a machine understand this? I’ve already switched off the grammar checker on Word as it always seems to recommend using shorter words and shorter sentences, even if they don’t give the impact I’m looking for.

It also made me think of the impact on overall creativity. Through the ages writers have developed their own unique styles, often going against the current orthodoxy to stand out from the crowd. Imagine e.e. cummings poems with all the words capitalised, or Marcel Proust sentences shortened so that they don’t stretch over multiple pages. Or the fact that computers don’t seem to yet understand puns and double entendres, removing the humour from documents.

In short, the risk is that we end up with bland, homogeneous copy produced by everyone. It may be understandable by a 10 year old, and meet all SEO requirements but it doesn’t have real impact, and the good doesn’t stand out from the average. To my mind that doesn’t help anyone – amidst all the worries about AI and robots taking over the world, I think we need to start with its effect on creativity. Perhaps it is time to go back to pen and paper?

Photo via Max Pixel http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Artificial-Intelligence-Programming-Robot-Ai-Ki-2167835

July 19, 2017 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments