Listen to PR Week, Reputation Institute and Lansons discuss corporate governance and reputation

Under the spotlight of the media, some of the world’s biggest companies have faced prominent reputation damage over the last couple of years.

From an undercover Guardian investigation into Sports Direct that revealed working practices indicative of a workhouse, Samsung’s exploding Galaxy Note 7 and recent indictment of acting Head of Samsung Lee Jae-yong, and Merlin Entertainment’s handling of the Alton Towers roller coaster crash. Plus many more.

As the old Warren Buffett quote goes,

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently”

Without a doubt, corporate governance and the behaviour of businesses and their leaders is higher up on the agenda than ever before. It’s not difficult to think of examples of poor management, and runaway executive pay at FTSE-listed companies has tested public patience.

To discuss the state of corporate governance and how UK companies have performed so far this year Danny Rogers, Editor-in-Chief at PR Week; Ed Coke, Director of Consulting Services at Reputation Institute; and Tony Langham, Chief Executive and Co-Founder of Lansons; join Jon Cronin, Head of Lansons Broadcast PR and Content, in a special podcast recorded in the Lansons studio.

You can listen to the podcast by streaming it below.

Some of the key topics discussed during the episode can be seen below, plus many more.

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Reputation as a holistic concept

For Reputation Institute, corporate governance is seen as shorthand for responsible business behaviour. This means looking at reputation as a holistic concept where governance is one part of this. By evaluating the seven key dimensions of reputation, products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership, and performance, it’s possible to have an altogether explanation of reputation.

Understanding governance

If we are to say the definition of governance is about fairness and transparency, then the media plays a significant role in how governance is shaped. It is something people would notice or not notice on a daily basis, therefore if a company isn’t in the news then people could think governance is good. Ultimately if society values authenticity and transparency from businesses, then it’s important for businesses to respond to this.

Being seen to communicate

Facebook and Google have both been under fire recently for not communicating or responding to issues. Most prominently Google as major brands pulled their millions out of Google advertising after extremist content appeared against brand ads across Google’s websites. Today there is an expectation from the public that businesses will respond robustly and quickly to accusations (that can cause complications when fake news is spread via social networks).

 

Disclaimer: This is a Lansons podcast, the multi-specialist consultancy I work for. 

Book review of Rich Leigh’s Myths of PR

Meaning of true ‘thought leadership’ has been lost by the media industry due to oversharing. News is being created out of news, opinions of developments are rife and so zealous to render the mere idea of revolution just another dull day in the office. Out of the darkness of ‘fictional futuristic PR’, a place where robots could take our jobs but nobody is smart enough to apply the technology yet, emerges a hero.

Rich Leigh, who started his PR agency as a 27-year-old and well-known founder of the website PRexamples.com. His book ‘Myths of PR: All publicity is good publicity and other popular misconceptions’ due to be released on 3rd April 2017 examines popular myths in the industry and uses them as a vehicle for helping start-up owners, practitioners, and students, to improve their practice.

myths of pr book cover

In Rich’s own words, “Myths are damaging. They hold us back and prevent us from looking at and assessing things clearly and intelligently”.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been lucky enough to have a digital pre-release copy of the book and reading it has been a real pleasure. Unlike other industry books, often tricky to break past academic or theoretical communication models, Rich writes as he speaks – this is not an easy feat. It’s effortless to read through chapters whilst learning and being challenged, almost as if Rich is having a one-on-one conversation with you.

A perusal of the book’s chapters awkwardly reveals the vast number of myths about the PR industry, some of which are not as straight-forward to answer as you may think. Starting from “PR is all spin, smokescreen and lies”, to “the press release is dead”, and ending on a potentially controversial but intelligent analysis on “gender wage gap figures”. One chapter that particularly challenged my way of thinking is “you have to pay to see social media benefits”.

The whole book really is a witty bundle of intelligent analysis brought to life by working world anecdotes. In many ways the launch of the book will breathe life into a quickly aging academic PR library; all of which far too irrelevant and difficult to penetrate by the types of people this book would be perfect for; practitioners, people looking to hire an agency, or students interested in entering the industry.

As Rich covers fairly early on in the book, the reason many myths exist about PR may be because we tend to be background operators. We desperately part with serious amounts of money to be recognised in glitzy industry awards because the reality is most the time practitioners are confined to the shadows. In fact, if you asked somebody on the street to name a PR person then Max Clifford’s name would probably appear, with connotations of unethical practice rife.

This needs to change and ‘Myths of PR’ is probably one of the first modern books on the market that understands all current industry debates, tackles myths with humour and evidence, all in a bid to improve the practice and understanding of its readers. I’m going to be buying at least 100 copies to give to people every time they ask what I do for a living.

‘Myths of PR’ comes out on the 3rd April 2017 and you can pre-order from Amazon here. You can also follow Rich on Twitter @RichLeighPR.

PS. I’m not buying 100 copies… but you should buy one.

The day you stop learning in PR, is the day you should stop practicing

University library

Learning is for life, if you’re not learning at least one new thing each day then it’s time for a change. Part of this means having the confidence to throw yourself into situations, occasionally opting for the ‘agree now, learn how to later’ approach. If you’ve got a drive and passion, an inquisitive mind, and a highly controlled inner ego that only wants to be recognised for high quality work, then these are some of the ingredients needed to succeed in the PR industry.

In reality though, what do any of these things mean? It’s emotive. If you were entering other professions such as law or accountancy, then you would have a logical framework to follow for entering the profession. A particular set of qualifications or work experiences needed, even a form of competency framework that shows you the core skills needed to progress from A to B.

In this respect the PR industry needs to work to identify the core competencies required in a role, the various ways to enter the profession, along with an effort on Continual Professional Development (CPD). To my knowledge the piece of work that gets closest to outlining the capabilities required in PR is Global Alliance’s ‘The Global Capabilities Framework Project’ – although do leave a comment if there is more recent research to read.

Both industry bodies, the PRCA and CIPR, offer CPD programmes and to complicate matters further, various agencies run their own development programmes who have accreditation with either industry body. Given this complicated landscape of qualifications and CPD programmes – how do you make sense of everything?

PRCA Industry vs. Academics Debate

To (eventually) help find an answer to this question, the PRCA ran their first ‘Industry vs. Academics’ debate in London last month. Chaired by Stephen Waddington of Ketchum, the panellists were:

Faith Howe, Director & Partner, Head of Talent Development, UK and Middle East at FleishmanHillard

Chris Owen, Director, M&C Saatchi PR

Dr. Nicky Garsten, PR and Communications Programme Director, Greenwich University

Robert Minton-Taylor, Senior Lecturer, School of Marketing, Public Relations and Communications, Leeds Becket University

A deliberately contentious title to draw in the crowds – It worked. Around 120 people filled the room, a mixture of academics and practitioners, many of who have gained industry recognition and influence for their dedication to the subject. It was a unique opportunity to catch up with old friends and contacts; all united in the belief that the PR industry needs to formalise education and career development.

The event led with the question ‘Is it necessary to have a PR degree?’ and obviously the answer is no… But the panel’s two main focuses were how people enter the profession and dealing with attrition later in a PR career. Particularly how PR education is often guilty of focusing too heavily on theory without giving practice enough attention. For a full write-up of the event visit Marcel’s blog.

The evening was not short of discussion and occasional moments of debate, particularly from some passionate supporters (mostly on Twitter) who saw PR degrees as providing the critical foundation knowledge for entering the profession. Although where higher education can provide a theoretical foundation of knowledge, it was noted many students lack the necessary ‘soft skills’ needed for activities such as holding conversations on the phone.

Even though I invested £20,000+ in a PR degree, it’s clear that there are many ways you can enter into PR. These days you could argue ‘degree required’ entry-level roles actually inadvertently filter for the same old ‘blueprint’ candidates. In this area the fabulous work of the Taylor Bennet Foundation to get Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) graduates into full-time work is critical – the fact this initiative is needed at all is a little embarrassing, why isn’t the industry diverse already?

What’s the answer?

The big question students were asking at the event was ‘Have I wasted my time and money on a PR degree?’ – my answer to that is no! I’ve blogged about that before here, my PR degree has paid off well for me so far and has probably accelerated my career journey in many ways.

There were many answers to the ‘industry vs. academics’ debate:

  1. To improve the quality of people entering the PR industry, there needs to be a better working relationship between practitioners and academics (often there is a blend between the two)
  2. There is a responsibility of managers and HR teams to recognise the importance of accepting a wide range of candidates to PR roles – don’t just get drawn towards the same white middle-class degree laden mould
  3. Despite the innovation brought by digital over the last 11 years, we’re still slow to accept the fact developments in automation (among other things) could have severe consequences to our bottom lines
  4. Given the importance of grounding PR work in theory, in my view there isn’t enough theory being updated to account for how digital has changed everything
  5. There are many ways to enter the PR industry, each way in relies on experience and eventually contacts

Ultimately, the day you stop learning in PR, is the day you should stop practicing.

Creativity vs. Compliance: 5 tips for managing healthcare PR

PRCA Health’s event on ‘Creativity vs. Compliance: Striking the balance on social media in healthcare’ earlier this week provided a glimpse into how The King’s Fund and Hill+Knowlton Strategies manage integrated healthcare programmes.

As with managing strategic consultancy programmes in financial services, healthcare is another highly regulated industry that requires prior knowledge before suggesting creative campaigns to support a business purpose. Sadly such programmes can feel like ‘creativity vs. compliance’, but in reality it’s about building a relationship with regulatory teams and that’s done by being clear about what communications programmes are set out to achieve.

With most healthcare programmes the purpose is usually educating people about a particular condition or product, or creating empathy. Social media plays an immediately obvious role in this as we share health updates with friends, family or colleagues, seek advice online, and offers companies data to initiate highly targeted campaigns.

Despite the compliance aspects, it’s health campaigns that tend to be the most memorable for their creative flair. Such as Give Blood’s 2015 Missing type campaign, British Heart Foundation’s #RestartAHeart campaign, or Abbott’s #FreetoDream campaign. Proving compliance doesn’t need to be considered the enemy of creativity, but just an unavoidable condition of working with healthcare companies.

No matter what your compliance stage is as a health company, there are a few aspects to consider as you embrace digital.

#1 Work with compliance teams

Grumble behind closed doors about how limiting compliance teams can be, but it’s the role of PR practitioners to provide solutions. This is usually about building a relationship with compliance teams and often this starts with understanding each other’s goals and guidelines. Particularly when it comes to digital as it can’t be approached as an academic piece of text and has to consider compliance frameworks that allow for conversations.

#2 Experiment in the beginning

Every journey requires a first step, integrating digital activities into healthcare activities is the same. Rather than develop an all-encompassing digital strategy, focus on a small piece of activity with estimated deliverables. Use this project to gradually innovate healthcare programmes and as a proof point for senior decision makers.

#3 It’s 2017, the word ‘digital’ can be unhelpful

The King’s Fund don’t have a digital strategy, instead they focus on content and ensure all relevant teams are involved at the start of the content creation process. This is so social media doesn’t remain an afterthought. Whilst every journey requires a first step, it is 2017 and newspapers alone are just not going to be enough.

#4 Jargon is your enemy

Do you harness forward thinking strategies? Leverage best of breed practices? Look to achieve sustainable clarity of message for strategic communication plans without getting too granular? Please STOP! Health is full of enough jargon without introducing management speak, especially if you want compliance teams to understand PR plans. Oh, and follow @managerspeak for some more jargon wankry.

#5 Use people and online communities

The ones who know best about their health condition or your product are customers/patients. Give people a reason to engage with your campaign, sometimes this is simply about putting people in contact with each other such as Colontown, ‘an online community of more than 40 “secret” groups on Facebook for colorectal patients, survivors, and caregivers’.

 

Leading on Lansons’ digital activities means being experts in compliance based industries, health is by far the most challenging and potentially innovative industry when it comes to creative campaigns.

2017: The year of opportunity

Virtual reality on a bike

The PRCA’s ‘2017: the year of…’ event provided a moment to reflect on the current and upcoming opportunities and challenges facing the PR industry. If we want to become better communicators then it’s critical to understand virtual reality, automation, social media advertising, the skills gaps facing our industry – read the PRCA’s blog post for the full list.

Without a doubt, the theme of this year is uncertainty as the term ‘post-truth era’ is used to describe when politicians lead with dodgy statistics to fuel an emotional message or the reputational trouble fake news poses online.

As the panel on post-truth communications concluded at the PRCA event, half of the problem with post-truth is PR, often full of jargon and devoid of reality. Another observation is that this isn’t about truth at all, but instead the public questioning traditional sources of authority. As we know from the latest Edelman Trust Barometer,

“The general population’s trust in all four key institutions — business, government, NGOs, and media — has declined broadly, a phenomenon not reported since Edelman began tracking trust among this segment in 2012.”

Part of the PR industry’s general uncertainty could very well be born from our recent reliance on managing data. Listening to conversations on social media, running polls, and quizzing workgroups, has made us assume we know the answers.

Although we hadn’t considered that humans are inherently irrational beings – we don’t always tell the truth, social media bubbles can warp popular opinion, and emotional response may win over logic. If we painted the recent referendum with a broad brush, then both deal with emotional claims on ‘truths’, potentially a polite term for lies.

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Where there is uncertainty, opportunity prospers for those who see it. The PR industry isn’t short of developments, especially afforded by technologies such as virtual reality. For instance, Jeremy Bailenson, Associate Professor of Communication at Stanford University, is leading research looking at how people’s virtual experience is affecting their real-world ones. If someone cuts down a tree in a virtual forest, will the emotional response trigger a change in recycling behaviours?

In my view 2017 is the year of opportunity. Whilst fake news and conversations about #AlternativeFacts rage on Twitter, there is no denying the digital opportunities are plentiful this year. It’s almost like we’re back in 2006 again.

How to write a social media compliance procedure

Looming buildings

Whilst the best known digital campaigns tend to be consumer focused, regulated industries are the heartbeat behind the UK economy. The services sector in the UK accounts for 80% of GDP and financial services are an important part of this.

Digital innovation for highly regulated companies isn’t just about virtual reality, chat bots, and embracing the world of open APIs – sometimes it is posting a tweet or sharing a picture on Facebook. It is the challenge of meeting the real-time demands of social media, balancing creativity with wordy disclaimers. This often results in communications teams choosing to stay clear of online channels to not get on the wrong side of compliance teams or infighting.

As a solution, social media can be conquered with an operating procedure. A framework that links into existing regulations and guidance (such as the FCA social media guidelines), providing a set of procedures to follow. Such a procedure can be agreed between multiple teams internally, referred to as an active document, and provide step-by-step instructions for issues/crisis escalation.

If you’re looking to write a procedure for social media compliance, then here are some sections to start you off:

Overview of the team

It sounds straightforward, but list who the members of the team are. List out all relevant titles and contact details. You may be surprised how quickly members of a team change over time and keeping an up-to-date list helps when seeking sign-off or if something on social media needs escalating.

Managing content and approvals

Social media is instantaneous, 24/7, and it never sleeps. Regulated companies on the other hand can be slow to move and occasionally even be their own worst enemies when it comes to social media communications. I’ve worked with regulated companies who put all of their trust in their PR agency to post content, equally I’ve managed social media programmes with a month sign-off process. Regardless, you need an approvals process for content and a regimented way of working that still allows for creativity.

Cyber security

The resurgence of fake news making headlines is raising questions of what to trust online. Fake news isn’t just an issue for journalism and social media, it’s about ensuring the websites you’re visiting are safe. Fake information has always been around, as exampled in my blog post from 2015, “In the USA, Dow Jones plunged 140 points after a rumour spread on Twitter from Associated Press’ Twitter account. The estimated temporary loss of market cap in the S&P 500 totalled $136.5 billion.”

If you’re a regulated company then have a process to ensure best practice in cyber security. An easy way to start his looking at the format of your passwords and making frequent refreshes. Eventually consider expanding this policy across to your IT team educating people about the sites they are visiting to prevent security breaches.

Social media monitoring

If you are a regulated company then you may have specific social media monitoring requirements to follow. For instance, the FCA require companies to keep a complete record of their communications on social media for auditing purposes. However, social media monitoring is also about understanding the online community you wish to engage with and spot opportunities to take advantage of; whether commenting on a relevant story or assisting a customer in difficulty.

Escalation

By the very nature of social media, sometimes people won’t agree with you or unfortunate instances can occur. Sometimes an employee may get caught doing something they shouldn’t, confidential documents may appear online, and the governance of a company can fall under question. Ensure you have a solid escalation procedure for these situations, supported by a modern social media monitoring solution, and a talented team that knows when (or not) to engage.

Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

One of the biggest bugbears of highly regulated industries are the timescales involved. Make sure your social media compliance procedure includes agreed SLAs, not just for the sign-off of online content, but for compliance feedback and the timeframes of monitoring. For instance, if social media requires continuous active monitoring, then you may need to outsource teams across different time zones.

 

At Lansons we work with regulated companies on a daily basis, often introducing social media compliance processes. The above list is just a starter of some things to consider. If you have any questions or bits to add, comment below or get in touch.

53% of Wikipedia articles don’t “provide encyclopaedic coverage”

Wikipedia_mini_globe_handheld

Despite the English Wikipedia having 29 million registered users, only 119,453 have been active within the last 30 days, and it’s just 24% of this group that make over 5 edits each month. This is putting strain on the biggest crowd-sourcing project of the 21st Century as almost 30,000 active editing users are attempting to maintain 29 million English articles – let alone cover new topics (explore the stats here).

Wikipedia classes each article on the website according to its importance and quality score, a complete list of the quality scores can be found here. To date 53% of the articles on Wikipedia have been rated as stub class meaning “an article deemed too short to provide encyclopaedic coverage of a subject”. As studies have shown Wikipedia pages appear in 99% of Google results, this presents a reputation issue for companies wanting to provide internet users with accurate information about their operations, especially as even non-registered Wikipedia users are able to make public changes to pages.

When agencies and in-house teams worked with Wikipedia to form the ‘Statement on Wikipedia from participating communications firms’ in 2014 and sign the agreement that included to not make direct changes to the encyclopaedia due to conflict of interest, perhaps Wikipedia was in a better place? Perhaps Wikipedia editors were more likely to make factual changes on behalf of public relations practitioners?

Practical experience of working with Wikipedia editors and advising clients has shown me a potential lack of activity from once influential users on the website. With over 5.5 million articles on the English Wikipedia, there is simply not enough crowd-sourcing activity from maybe 30,000 people alone to ensure information on the website is kept up-to-date. The knock-on effect for the internet in general could be catastrophic, as Google and Facebook frequently pull the free information from Wikipedia to generate information around search results.

Wikipedia’s current situation presents both a risk and an opportunity for the public relations industry. Practitioners are being pushed into making direct factual changes to pages where they have conflict of interest, as the two-year-old signed agreement becomes difficult to follow in practice. Of course, the foundations of Wikipedia are also beginning to crumble as over half the information on the encyclopaedia isn’t seemed detailed enough to provide coverage of a subject.

The current situation Wikipedia is in requires an honest and upfront discussion with administrators on the website. As long as current active editors remains flat and the number of articles increase, the long-term content sustainability of Wikipedia is in question. Even though from a financial point of view, Wikipedia appears in the black.

If you’re trying to work with Wikipedia but are finding it difficult to find an active editor who can provide support then ensure you follow Wikipedia policies and guidelines before making changes and don’t be afraid to use ‘Wikipedia: Ignore all rules’:

If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipediaignore it.

Only 36% of PR practitioners admit digital efforts are “very effective”

Woman using laptop

New research shows that the Public Relations (PR) industry still seems to be struggling to remain relevant in an online world. One of the headline stats reveals that only 36% of PR practitioners admit that their digital campaign efforts are effective, with 24% claiming little to no effectiveness at all.

When surveyed about the greatest challenges expected in their industry over the next 12 months, prepare for difficult reading as a lack of investment, time, and training appear top of the list:

  • 61.9% say they expect a lack of resources or funds
  • 57.7% find it challenging to find the right measures/metrics to evaluate work results
  • 58.8% expect a lack of time to try new strategies/technologies
  • 51% say there is a challenge when it comes to internal skills and competencies

This is unchanged from 2015 as PR practitioners are forced to deal with growing workloads and expectations to produce creative campaigns without always the budget to support.

Appropriate measurement for PR programmes is an important area for me as it helps demonstrate the value of investment into digital activities. Whilst 61% of respondents say that return on investment is an important measure, 84% use follower increases as the most frequent measurement. Whilst nothing wrong with this, it does suggest that the PR industry is generally finding it difficult to deliver business results. Of course, this could also be a general symptom of social media and its challenge to be an acquisition channel without paid-for support.

The research that surveyed 2,500 PR practitioners across nine different countries was conducted by Mynewsdesk and Berghs School of Communication. Respondents work across local, regional and global PR firms across 17 different industries including media and entertainment, business services, software and internet, government, and non-profits. The results of the survey are being compiled into a three-part eBook series that is being published between December 2016 and March 2017.

Digital PR study

The first eBook boldly begins by explaining PR has an opportunity to implement digital tactics, potentially replacing traditional advertising that “… is often viewed by consumers as an imposition and an unwelcome intruder…”. A deep marketing transformation partly driven by consumer trends of streaming or recording television, paying for music services, and using AdBlocking software, provides the PR industry an opportunity to have a “revolution”.

The revolution of PR is a passionate ideal I once held when studying PR at University and practicing in entry-level roles, but today I’ve changed my mind. Looking back at my work throughout 2016 I would say only 50% of what I do could be considered traditional PR in the sense of issues management or media relations. The other half consists of digital marketing, working alongside public affairs, contributing to change and employee engagement programmes… PR cannot be an umbrella term, it’s too misinterpreted by its media relations undertones and it’s not practical for PR industry bodies to represent the entire marketing mix and management consultancy space.

Draw your own conclusions from the new research. Sign-up for the PR Revolution e-book series to discover more of the challenges, opportunities, and solutions the communications industry is facing.