Three tips for working in a city PR agency

Google works in mysterious ways. Even though I have an in-depth understanding of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) it’s still fascinating to see which blog posts continue to draw in web traffic after a few years. It’s the beauty of blogging – posts act as personal memories attempting to give public advice. Once you’ve kept a blog running for a few years, there are certain posts that keep producing results time and time again.

Out of all the 300+ posts on this blog, one of the popular is ‘How I landed myself a Graduate PR Role’. Written in June 2012; once a year when the Red Consultancy Graduate scheme is running I usually get two or three messages from hopeful applicants asking for advice. Of all the posts on this blog, that post from 2012 was probably my most honest. It talked about personal ambition, bad experiences whilst job hunting, and it seems THE INTERNET enjoys it. Even Google seems to know that it was a brutally honest post.

That post about job hunting was followed up by ‘Now an Assistant Account Executive at Red’ – a happy time, but god. That agency marked the worst period in my working life. In the words of a typical break-up, “It’s not you, it’s me” – seriously. Jumping into London agency working life was tough, as all my previous work experience had been from Cheltenham where the pace of life is much slower.

So, if you’re a student who reads this blog and are going to start out working in a city based PR agency, here’s some advice (and sorry if it’s a bit black and white):

Stop romanticising about PR
I’ve lost count of student blog posts and social media profiles that somewhere say ‘love PR’ or ‘PR 4 ever’. There is nothing wrong about being passionate about the industry, and believe me, you’ll need to be passionate about your job to remain productive. Just don’t lose sight of the realities of starting out in PR for the first time – it’s bloody difficult. Some entry level roles are heavily admin based, may not include client contact and will put enormous amounts of pressure on you hitting close deadlines. Most of the time, it can be a shit place to be. A far cry from the jolly social media activity that exists around the industry.

A competition of contacts and knowledge
As I continue working in the PR industry (although I would now call myself a digital marketer / reputation manager) it’s obvious that there are three types of people who step ahead in agencies (they are usually a mix):

  • Contact driven sales people
  • Knowledge driven business development people
  • Client management juggernauts

In order to reach bigger salaries you need to prove your worth to your agency and constantly refresh your knowledge. You have to offer something to your agency others are not able to, and in the tougher agency environments, protect your job role against internal competition. Which of the above are you? Have you invested enough time in your abilities to be the best?

A way of life
Working in an agency is a way of life. Already in my career there have been moments where I’ve had to leave for work at 5am, not returning home until the early hours of the morning the next day. When you sign that contract, you agree to serve clients to the best of your ability. This occasionally means unsociable working hours and being constantly connected to your agency’s work network to monitor emails. If you want to work in social media, then the role is even more intense – there are usually rotas in place to ensure social media activity is being managed effectively.

 

I would argue the above points aren’t a negative way of looking at things, they are true. What I haven’t talked about is the array of reasons to work for a city agency. Such as the ability to work across a range of different clients, gaining knowledge about multiple industry sectors, career ladder progression and evening entertainment. All of the perks though are grounded on the reality that succeeding takes a lot of hard work, that’s way more intense than university.

I’m aware everyone has different experiences of agency working life, especially those who work outside of cities. The above is just my personal advice and not a reflection of my current role but instead the path I had to personally take so far.

Fintech revolution in UK: 30,000+ social media conversations

London City

It’s been reported that the Danish Chamber of Commerce is recommending that shops and services be given the option of going cash-free. A move, that if it goes ahead, could kick-start a cashless revolution across Europe; from a consumer option to a necessity. The proposal implies that all of us are comfortable as consumers with new methods of payment, made possible by the growth of fintech (financial technology).

Innovation is addictive. You’ll feel what I mean when you step off at Old Street station; the gateway of London’s Silicon Roundabout. It’s the home of Google Campus and a number of other technology companies who all aim to disrupt ‘business as usual’. The most successful of these companies are commonly referred to as fintech. They are making quite a splash in the UK. Our financial services sector currently accounts for approximately 9.4 percent of GDP, with fintech generating £20bn in revenue in 2014.

This year there have been over 30,000 conversations on Twitter about #fintech in the UK, with the future of payments and banking innovation appearing as popular topics, along with a strong relationship with financial innovation and start-ups. These conversations are not just limited to industry chatter, but include consumers discussing and exploring how fintech could provide them with more options in their personal and professional lives.

FintechTopics

The fintech revolution isn’t just happening in London; Edinburgh, Belfast, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff are all emerging leaders. The scale of fintech is astonishing, encompassing mobile payments, P2P lending and crowdfunding.

FintechCloud

The popularity and rise in fintech has generally been associated with two developments: the fact UK consumers are sophisticated and open to new financial models, and high internet and mobile penetration rates. We can see both of these developments present in conversations on Twitter, through mentions of #bigdata and #iot (Internet of Things).

Fintech – aside from providing a positive B2B and B2C revolution, has serious consequences. Significant growth of cryptocurrencies (such as Bitcoin) has been noted by the Bank of England to potentially pose a material risk to monetary and financial stability of the UK. Highlighting that fintech not only provides innovations in payment technology but can also leave central banks with little control of fiscal matters (i.e. digital currencies decentralising monetary control).

Fintech will continue to grow in the UK and is a significant part of the future of financial services. For similar insights and deeper discussion, consider attending Lansons’ Future of Financial Services Conference on the 2nd June 2015.

Wikipedia reputation management through collaborative visualisations

If you’re a believer that academic studies in computer science can translate to actionable real-world results; look at the Oxford Internet Institute’s (OII) latest endeavour. Through using visualisations to map the network connections between Wikipedia articles, they may have stumbled across a method to allow organisations to globally monitor their international presence on Wikipedia.

In their blog post “Collaborative Visualizations for Wikipedia Critique and Activism (new publication)” OII describe how;

“… collaborative visualizations can provide Wikipedia editors the opportunity  to reflect, discuss, and edit a common visual representation of Wikipedia content, in the same way that editors can discuss and collaboratively edit the content of individual Wikipedia articles today.”

The tool they’ve developed automatically links pages of several language origins together. In the case of collaboratively working on a Wikipedia project, this means editors can make necessary changes between pages in different geographic regions. However, its use also has an application in global reputation management.

Collaborative-visualizations-for-Wikipedia-Fig1-Wikipedia_Oxford_graph-1024x373

By logging on the OII’s Vis-à-Wik tool (which is currently available for testing) it’s possible to identify an organisation’s Wikipedia pages and their equivalent in different languages. In the below example I was able to identify pages about Microsoft, then see how these connected with Russian equivalents.

Microsoft on Wikipedia, network analysis

It’s still early days for Vis-à-Wik but its function for reputation management could be phenomenal. In just a few clicks it’s possible to identify pages about your organisation, across a whole range of languages, and how they are connected to each other. Perfect for monitoring and, inevitably, debating with the Wikipedia community.

Public perceptions of banking on Twitter

This blog post was first published on the Lansons blog here

Dipping into the sea of public opinion to analyse perceptions of the banking culture is an expectantly gruelling process. It was never going to be positive, although it’s not as gruelling compared to some of the comments that were made during The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards in 2012;

“The professions may not be paragons but they do at least espouse a strong duty of trust, both towards clients and towards upholding the reputation of the profession as a whole. In contrast… banking culture has all too often been characterised by an absence of any sense of duty to the customer and a similar absence of any sense of collective responsibility to uphold the reputation of the industry”.

Ouch.

Following the Commission’s report in 2013 a new wave of change now sweeps across the industry, with the newly established Banking Standards Board tasked with promoting a high standard of behaviour and competence across the UK banking industry (Chief Executive, Alison Cottrell is speaking at our upcoming Future of Financial Services Conference on the 2nd June 2015 – tickets available here).Klout scores newspapers Twitter

Banking influencersLansons has a number of digital specialists continuously monitoring social media for emerging issues; including the perception of banking. Unsurprisingly, the most influential Twitter users discussing bank related matters are newspapers, political parties and prominent organisations such as British Airways. Using Klout scores is certainly not a fool proof method of rating influence online; as this article in Wired explains (you need to take real-world influence into account). topic wheel twitter bankHowever, Klout does show that in terms of online share of voice, it’s a big mistake to dismiss newspapers.

Banking conversationsThis information has been gathered from January 2015 – April 2015 (before the sharp increase of election tweets). The wheel infographic to the right represents a collection of 60,137 tweets from conversations about banking. The inner circle shows the words mentioned most frequently which are then segregated into more specific topics and phrases. In summary:

Bankers
This word encapsulates the primary focus of our search; the public perception of banking culture. Unfortunately it includes scathing references to “Eton Old Boys”. The word “bonus” which has become synonymous with banking features in conversations about public sector cuts and the ‘benefits culture’. There are also phrases featured closely with campaign groups – Eg. “Tories just stole all public land/property for the Bankers”.

Trust
Trust is not only featured in chatter around the Carroll Trust fraud case but also in relation to George Osborne’s pre-election warning that “Deutsche Bank warn of chaos of Labour government. Trust them, they know.”

Bad, Good and Bank Account
This captures personal comments from Twitter users about their bank balance or shopping excursions; unrelated from bank culture and an insight into the buying behaviours of the public. With a larger and more targeted dataset these conversations could indicate periods of credit and debit booms.

Clearly this is just a small snapshot of a much wider debate around the culture of banking in the UK. It is a glimpse into the task ahead for the Banking Standards Board and their march towards industry professionalism.

This blog post provides a social media snapshot of the public perception of banking on Twitter. For similar insights and deeper discussion, consider attending Lansons’ Future of Financial Services Conference on the 2nd June 2015 to hear Chief Executive of the Banking Standards Board, Alison Cottrell, talk about the culture of banking – along with other prominent industry leaders.

Where social media won in the election (#GE2015)

Nobody predicated the 2015 General Election would end with a Conservative majority. Frustrating, as that was going to be my optimistic bet Thursday morning. Even the exit polls Thursday evening showed mixed opinions (although the BBC’s was certainly in my favour). To quote the comedian Tim Vine “Exit polls are on the way out” and that’s exactly the public reaction today.

What isn’t on the way out is social media and its effectiveness. As far as I’m aware, the only serious study to understand if social media can predict election outcomes was conducted by the University of Warwick (their latest post here). Other studies were the product of social insight tools marketing their abilities. Although you don’t need to be a mathematician to know people do not always tell the truth in public, for pollsters or Twitter.

University of Warwick are using Twitter to predict the outcome of the UK General Glection
University of Warwick are using Twitter to predict the outcome of the UK General Election

Where did social media win in the General Election 2015?
If you want to run an effective political campaign then the blueprint has to be the Obama campaign in 2008. It changed the rules of election campaigning because, through its success, proved that social media could be used for real-world results. The secret ingredient was community. It’s the heartland of social media.

It’s the birthplace of the social web, 4Chan and IRC chatrooms, the forum systems that provoke debate. Community is how Wikipedia became a crowdsourced intellectual database that signalled the death of Microsoft’s Encarta.

Blue State Digital devised Obama’s 2008 and 2012 digital campaigns, which were powered by a social media community platform. A platform very similar (or the same – difficult to tell) to NationBuilder. This was the social platform chugging away in the background for political parties in the UK. Without wanting to sound like a sales pitch, it connects people who use social media to real-world campaigns, driving results. The way in which it connects offline and online community efforts is astonishing, and was part of the reason why the Obama campaign was so successful… twice.

Just look at the bottom of your emails from the Liberal Democrats: email “printed (hosted by) NationBuilder”. I guess they would use the tool, they did help develop it. Anyone can choose to purchase this tool today and it was part of the hidden armoury of political parties in the UK during this General Election. Although where campaigns got really exciting was in the marginal seats.

NationBuilder

Highly targeted social media in political campaigns
Lynton Crosby: the man who really won the election for the Tories”, one of the most popular Guardian articles post-election, the subtext now part of his legacy. It explains how the Conservatives won through a highly targeted national campaign, focusing on voters in the marginal seats that mattered. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to work on the initial stages of a Conservative candidate’s election campaign – getting into the detail of where gains could be made. I was undercover – sometimes candidates choose to hire professionals from London to inject new approaches into their leafy constituencies.

The trick with using social media isn’t to simply setup a Facebook Page or a Twitter profile, then mindlessly broadcast updates. To be honest, it’s not even that effective running these social media channels in an election campaign focusing on just building engagement (e.g. likes, retweets, favourites, comments, etc.). Use these metrics as guidance, but the ultimate aim is election outcome – a real-world impact on state of mind, therefore voting behaviour.

There were candidates during the election who were using ward data to understand constituency voting behaviour, then micro-targeting these voters via social media. We know that one of the ways in which the Conservatives helped reach this goal was through targeting marginal seats through Facebook advertising. I know that a couple of candidates used social media monitoring insight tools to GPS target Twitter users.

The Conservatives used Facebook Advertising
The Conservatives used Facebook Advertising

Outside of these activities, certain MPs stand out as making the best use of social media. The new Conservative MP for my area, Paul Scully, was brave enough to try a growing social media app called CliqStart to rally real-world support. The previous Liberal Democrat MP for my area, Paul Burstow, frequently shared newsletters and was supported in his Councillor wife’s blog. Just across the constituency boundary, Liberal Democrat MP, Tom Brake, held Facebook surgeries.

Paul Scully used CliqStart
Paul Scully used CliqStart

The truth is it’s the large-scale untargeted social media activity that gets noticed. Highly targeted social media tends to fly under the radar. Social media was used extensively throughout this election in my professional circles, but mostly under the radar.

Opportunities were missed
Opportunities were missed during the election:

  • Engaging youth and non-engaged voters: A report published at the end of last year by DEMOS called “Like, Share, Vote” explored how social media could be used to engage the disenfranchised youth and non-engaged voters. At the launch of the report talks explored social media gamification methods, using rich media to instil support, and integrating offline methods into the digital space. The truth is more work could have been done to engage young voters during this election but parties are not interested because most just don’t vote. This election we saw a 58% turnout of young voters. A small rise but not enough to warrant serious campaign investment.
  • Integrating digital into Government: At the start of this year the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy was published. It explored the ways in which digital could be used in elections, including electronic voting, updating laws so they understand digital and how to facilitate political discourse on social media. This all needs to happen over the next five years for a ‘thoroughbred’ social media election in 2020.
  • Integrating digital into local campaigns: Whilst there were examples of good practice during this election, more could have been done. Local newspapers still seemed to be the primary mouthpiece of propaganda! It’s old hat and online communities of volunteers could have been mobilised across the country. It’s a point I believe Stephen Waddington makes in his post “Social media didn’t win anything”. Although I must kindly disagree that this wasn’t a social media election – I’ve done too much public affairs based work to claim this.

Nobody predicted the outcome of this election and now the Conservatives have a job on their hands convincing the UK we are “all in this together” (an awful dictum by the way). Let’s see how political parties of all hues use social media during this parliament – hopefully there will be some innovation.