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.

 

2016: The year social media hit maturity

iPhone 3G Launch 2007

What better way to close off the year than with another Lansons newsletter? Predictions are for weather presenters, so I’ve instead written about a topic that has been weighing on my mind – the year social media hit maturity. This article first appeared in the Lansons newsletter.

Mainstream social media sites have reached maturity, they have come of age; either hitting the precipice of user registrations or continuing to climb further into the millions. They should definitely not be considered ‘new channels’ anymore as more than seven in ten internet users have a social media profile. They are even commissioning journalists and companies to create stories, and public relations teams must be more experimental with sharing stories to be heard among the online noise.

This means there is a pressure for us to create immersive content, such as using 360 video or broadcasting live. It’s no longer about creating a community around stories/campaigns/products, but being noticed by a mature social media audience who expect you to speak their language.

If 2007 was the year of technological innovation when Apple entered the mobile market with the iPhone, Facebook and Twitter began to really gain registrations, and the Amazon Kindle was launched – among many others; then 2017 will see the continuing maturity of the same social sites and a growing field of experimental marketing led by products such as augmented reality headset Microsoft HoloLens.

Aside from the maturity of social media, internet usage as a whole has matured with people consistently spending the same amount of time online, and accessing familiar apps and websites. Ofcom’s “Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes” report reveals that almost nine in ten UK adults use the internet, on any device, in any location and are spending an average of 21.6 hours online each week, which is unchanged since 2014.

Maturity has also spurred some big business deals and content developments. To name a few:

  • Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for a whopping $26.2 billion in an all-cash transaction, a move that is likely to see better LinkedIn integrations across Microsoft products.
  • Live video is now the hot content marketing opportunity. More Facebook Pages are live streaming, 529,000 in total in June 2016, now expected to be nearer a million. 10 million people are using Periscope, with over 200 broadcasts to date.
  • It’s been the year of messaging apps. Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and Snapchat have all seen huge user growth, giving public relations practitioners the challenge of knowing the conversations that are taking place in private and often encrypted parts of the internet.

Never has the internet, social media, and any other online touchpoint been so crucial for all industries across the UK. Especially highly regulated industries such as financial services and health, many of whom have developed social media compliance procedures to meet the expectations of their stakeholders – whether business-to-business or direct to consumer.

In 2016 we’ve seen social media come of age, witnessed continued growth of digital services, and many companies have become comfortable producing immersive video content. 2017 will be about building on these developments to reach their audiences in more creative ways

Experiencing augmented reality with Microsoft HoloLens

It was only when I had taken the Microsoft HoloLens off that I had appreciated what I had witnessed. For a few moments the digital displays on my Apple Watch, iPhone, Windows PC, even games consoles had been one and the same world. Graphics were no longer confined to screens, but a tangible real-world thing.

It felt so natural at the time, but the graphical human skeleton standing before me that Microsoft HoloLens had projected into my eyes felt real. It stood neatly on the floor, you could walk behind it, even stick your head inside to see different parts of the body. When I used the internet for the first time, I knew it was different, marking the next technological leap – the same emotions were with me when I took off that headset.

In the same week I saw the Virtual Reality (VR)/augmented reality power of Microsoft HoloLens at the Integrated Live show at the ExCeL London and then at Lansons’ GIANT healthcare event, held at the edgy start-up-esque venue The Coronet. The first time the headset was being used it showed how prototype cars could be engineered without physically having to build. At GIANT it was being used to train medical students about parts of the human body.

Just imagine, using augmented reality in healthcare could mean loading up a virtual human tragedy in front of 10 students to explore. Together they would witness the same simulation, knowing how to tend for different crash victims. Alternatively interior designers could load up the finished product of 3 months of work, before their work has even started. The possibilities are endless.

Whilst experimental digital marketing isn’t new, over the last 12 months the discipline has thrived thanks to the availability of VR and augmented reality. You can pre-order Microsoft HoloLens for £2,719 today, but prices will considerably crash over the next three years. It’s only a matter of time before this experimental technology becomes a mainstream consumer option.

The same applies for other technologies making our shopping lists. Virtual assistants such as Siri and Cortana continue to become more intelligent, and Amazon’s Echo is bound to make shopping lists in the US and UK this Christmas. In addition, wearable technology such as fitness devices and smartwatches offer platforms for PR campaigns to target. A few years ago my mobile was just for simple games, texting and phone calls – today it knows my heartrate, GPS positioning, and even the number of stairs I’ve climbed.

The “diffusion of innovations” theory shows us the rate of how new ideas and technology spread. You can read more about the theory on Wikipedia. When the late majority adopt a piece of technology, such as smartphones in 2007/8, it’s easy to begin taking the technology for granted. Today the innovators are creating software for the early adopters to use on VR headsets.

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As I write this, I can’t imagine taking VR or augmented reality for granted, but it will happen… fast. Will you offer it to your client first or will your client request it?