Joining the CIPR’s new Future Practitioner Forum

Without the contributions and academic vigour from the PR community, my degree in PR wouldn’t have been possible. Fast-forward four years and I’m lucky to have spent my time in full-time employment, currently delivering online strategies for a range of clients at Lansons. It’s now time to give back to the community, which is why I’m delighted to be one of the members of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) new Future Practitioner Forum.

You can read the official announcement here. It’s a successor to the Social Media Panel and will,

“support the CIPR in effectively embedding the wider impact of digital technology, innovation and change in PR across its products, services and policy, as well as identify key future trends’.   Part of the remit is to look at how PR professionals can ‘secure their place as trusted advisers to the CEO, the skillset this requires and how the Institute can best support practitioners as they progress throughout their career”

There are big names included on the panel, many of who I used to reference in my essays before my career in PR! The initiative will be led by Sarah Hall Chart.PR FCIPR who started one of the biggest conversations around the future of PR by releasing the crowd-sourced FuturePRoof book in November 2015.

Our group will focus on the CIPR’s professional development offering, horizon-scanning to ensure each product and service is suitably fit-for-the-future and in line with the Global Alliance’s competency framework. We will also organise a series of events looking at how practitioners can up-skill in order to capitalise on industry changes.

It’s genuinely an honour to be involved, especially alongside so many talented practitioners. The agenda for the Future Practitioner Forum is ambitious, timely, and the contributions generated will hopefully help shape the development of the industry.

Reconnecting theory and practice in public relations

In many situations public relations practitioners and academics are isolated from each other. I’ve experienced this first-hand; graduating from a public relations degree in 2012 which was 80% theoretical, to working for a number of organisations who seek experience.

On my career journey I can count on one hand how many practitioners I met who had an in-depth knowledge of the industry’s theory and could apply this to working day examples. This isn’t to say unless you understand the theory you can’t carry out good work, but it does present a number of difficulties (in my mind):

  • Areas of contention remain without absolution (e.g. debate over AVEs)
  • The stagnation of popular theories (mostly from the 80s) as they are not challenged in a digital environment
  • The PR skills gap (are courses teaching the correct skills? Are we attracting the right talent?)

Most importantly, practitioners and academics can learn from each other.

To plug this gap the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has started a Facebook Group community which 72 hours later boasts 250+ members, 100s comments, and 15,000+ words. The project was initiated by Stephen Waddington who explains in his blog post why cooperation between academia and practice is needed.

One of the initial barriers to entry I can see for practitioners and academics alike is the time it takes to debate these issues. If you’re working 50+ hour weeks it can be difficult fitting anything else extra in – I’m not sure how many have found the time already. Anyway, on the train home last night I contributed the following:

It’s thanks to the genius of David Phillips and Richard Bailey that I’m a practitioner today – it feels good to be contributing to these discussions and my primary focus is continuing to build digital practices into the workflow of PR. This includes testing theory to work in digital contexts, securing the future of PR through upskilling workforce/students, and challenging the ‘traditional’ practice areas of PR in the marketing communications mix.

In exploring the relationship between academia and practitioner I believe I can offer a fresh perspective to this group having been a recent grad of the CIPR Approved Course system (2012). It may be due to my particular skillset, but my contribution to agencies has so far been the result of my technical skills; network analysis, website builds, data analysis/measurement, etc.

In this sense I’ve contributed towards client work by providing agencies skillsets that are traditionally ‘new’ but none of these skills were taught on my PR course. Why? Probably because when the course was designed these skills were not a requirement. Not to say that the degree was meaningless, I apply it every working day – but I felt the gap was with the course. Having said that my dissertation was on semantic analysis…

Grads need new skills and increasingly this is more about the whole marcomms mix than just media relations. If we’re trying to bridge the divide between theory and practice, let’s make an effort to apply this to digital practice areas as well.

Before any smart readers flag it I’m aware that part of the industry’s problem may be a semantic one; we really shouldn’t be defining practitioners and academics as separate groups. I consider myself both, and the best academics I’ve met have a solid track record of advising organisations.

CIPR CPD… Done

I’ve always been hesitant about the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ (CIPR) Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme. I work in PR. I studied PR. Why is CPD important?

I put this to Stuart Bruce when I had the pleasure of sitting alongside him at a CIPR roundtable last month. I came to realise, like so many other CIPR members, that I had a few misconceptions:

  1. CPD costs money
    It doesn’t. In the past I always put off CPD because I had already spent thousands studying PR at degree level. Spending more money on education alongside practically living the role seemed nonsensical.
  2. No time for CPD
    My hours are long enough. I thought CPD would take loads of time, but it didn’t. You just log in to the CIPR website, log your CPD points and submit. Done. It probably took me an hour in total.
  3. Yet more learning
    I learn something new everyday. We have training sessions at work and I read plenty. What I didn’t realise is that many of the activities I already complete gain CPD points. Essentially I was earning CPD points without logging them, therefore not being recognised for my ‘accredited practitioner’ status.

So thanks to Stuart, I’ve logged my first year of CPD. As you will see from my logged tasks, it’s easy getting to that magical ‘60’.

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Logging my CPD points was a rewarding experience and I’m now only a year away from my ‘accredited practitioner’ status – something every CIPR member should strive for. True, you don’t need it to work in PR but the listed activities will help inform my client delivery.

As Stuart said, “I’m betting you’ve done the work, so why not get the credit?”

 

We must protect our access to social media data (#CIPRmanifesto)

I’m not sure whether to read the first line of the CIPR’s manifesto with cautious optimism or pure elation, “The UK General Election of 2015 promises to be most unusual”. Although there is no denying this statement’s truth – from May 2015 we’re going on a roller-coaster ride of unexplored political territory.

The CIPR outlines a number of areas for the next government, including the importance of PR and public affairs, gender equality and Internet governance. Having met the CIPR editorial team, drafting this document may have been stressful – over 11,000 members are about to pass judgement!

However, I feel apprehensive with the CIPR’s summary of data protection in the document. It seems dated as it fails to understand the huge developments that have taken place in the EU. It may also be in danger of going against how CIPR members are currently using social media data to deliver services.

The PR industry relies on the trading of social media users’ data so that it can deliver services and evidence its effectiveness to clients.

When you sign up to Twitter (or any social network), as mentioned by the CIPR, users need to give away their personal data so that it can be bought and sold by Internet organisations. This is the lifeblood of every social media monitoring tool; be it Brandwatch, Radian6 or Pulsar. Without it social media practitioners, such as myself, are unable to effectively manage or measure online activities.

Cynically it could be said that we rely on users blindly signing up to a social networks’ 15,000 word terms and conditions, because without access to user data our jobs are near impossible. Of course, a user only gains from giving away personal (disposable) information and therefore shouldn’t worry what happens to it. It’s just a tiny sacrifice that is made so that a social network can be used.

Keeping all of this in mind, the CIPR concluded on data protection,

“We therefore have one part of our data environment which is highly regulated and in which citizen’s rights are regarded as pre-eminently important, and another in which there is effectively no meaningful control on the use and re-use of data. This lacks coherence, is not sustainable and will ultimately lead to frustration.”

It’s extremely unclear and disconcerting that the CIPR has suddenly decided to take a stand on data protection without consulting the membership. Especially when it is such a hazy view – not good for clear manifesto points. The “… effectively no meaningful control on the use and re-use of data” directly implies the transaction of a social network selling data to a social insights company. That, for the PR and public affairs industry, must be protected at all costs.

Especially as a large public debate will continue to bubble as the current EU Data Protection Regulation considers the impact of globalisation and social media on data protection (across every EU member state).

The point of this post isn’t to say that the CIPR’s stance is wrong, only unclear. It frustrates me that my representative body hasn’t consulted its members on data protection, especially as there must be hundreds of better-qualified thinkers than I who could have contributed to this manifesto.

I would like to see the CIPR take more action on data protection and develop the ideas summarised in their manifesto. However, we won’t even impress our political allies unless we can demonstrate an up-to-date knowledge of current data protection developments.

But… despite the little bit on data protection, the rest of the manifesto is fab!

 

 

Trends and issues affecting the PR industry in 2015 (#PR2015)

The value of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) comes from the sum of its members. The #PR2015 guide launched today highlights this, with each CIPR group looking ahead to the coming 12 months. There are a number of trends and issues.

PR2015 logo

Common themes include: content marketing, media change, integration, the blurring of internal and external audiences, etc. Just read the foreword.

I’ve had a read through and found these interesting titbits of insight.

“The demise and contraction of local media, newspapers in particular, is a blow to local democracy and also to the pool of capable people able to quickly assimilate complex issues and recreate them into focused content.” (Pg. 8) Stuart Baird MCIPR, Committee member of CIPR Midlands

The CIPR was key to bringing my new blood into the profession. I studied on a CIPR approved course at University and was a CIPR Student Ambassador for a year (AKA. The cool kid). Some, shall we say, more traditional PR practitioners find this path odd, considering their generation mostly hailed from journalism.

“Digitally focused PRs will need to understand how paid, owned and earned channels work together, and the role their skills can play in supporting the development of fully integrated campaigns” (Pg. 10) Abi Whitfield MCIPR, Chair of CIPR North West

The piece goes on to describe the shortage of able practitioners to deliver such skills, especially as client budgets decrease. Whilst I agree that more outreach is needed in schools to talk about the benefits of the PR industry, I’m also highly aware that the next ‘digital’ generation may be a threat to my own role! In my view the PR industry needs to work closer with technical third parties (such as measurement companies) and be more willing to share transparently with Open Source programming communities. We need innovation here. Yes, part of innovation is delivered through training new blood.

“… we are living in extraordinary political times! The certainty we got from knowing the date of the General Election five years in advance has been blown away by the fact we have probably not seen an election where no one can say with any confidence what is likely to happen…” (Pg. 26) Simon McVicker FCIPR, Chair of CIPR PA

Could the two-horse political party race be over? It’s difficult to predict what will happen in May 2015. Especially as party advertising budgets dwindle and the importance of social media is recognised. Our democracy today is blighted by low turn-out and as recognised by Demos, a digitally empowered civil society may reconnect Europeans with democracy. This will be a social media election; although some of my public affairs colleagues may disagree! Another post on this later on…

#PR2015

Anyway, I’ve rambled on for far too long now. Find the embed of the guide below.

I work in PR, but haven’t pitched to a journalist for a year

Somewhere in-between the next coffee and wishing that the morning would end to excuse the monotony of breakfast (an important meal I refuse to appreciate), an email will be delivered.

“Dear Michael,
We’ve been shortlisted for another award!”

DELETE

As the owner of a mildly read blog, my personal email is regularly doorstepped by PR requests. Occasionally so thwart with poor grammar, it can leave a bitter taste of failure – as an industry we just have to be better. If I think that, then one can only imagine the frustration of journalists.

The last time I pitched to a journalist was on a graduate scheme – that was almost 2 years ago. Yet I work in the PR industry. I can even prove it; my MCIPR membership has just been renewed.

This isn’t going to be a post examining the different definitions of PR because that would be tedious. But for argument’s sake, here is the CIPR definition:

“Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”

From this definition I can confirm that I…

  • Look after the reputations of clients through earning understanding, support, and influencing opinion and behaviour;
  • Maintain a mutual understanding between organisations and its publics.

The only difference is, I don’t need a journalist acting as a mediator between my client’s organisation and its publics. That’s partly because I work in digital/social media, and journalist liaison doesn’t blight my to-do list – others do that. It’s mostly because digital alternatives provide a means to get in touch with niche audiences that mainstream publications are unable to target.

Journalists still have enormous value; they know how to frame stories, sell them to their audience, and hold the most influential positions online. In all the social reporting I’ve done, mainstream news outlets command huge engagement rates and sway conversations. Traditional media is very much alive, don’t let anyone tell you different.

Don’t let this deter from the fact that, depending on your clients, PR can be achieved without journalist liaison. Whilst a journalist’s skills should be envied, their media world is no longer exclusive. Only a few weeks ago I was chatting with a blogger who sways a collective influence comparable to the Mail Online.

At the recent Social Media Week event I helped arranged, one member of the audience remarked that bloggers are perfect for communicating with particular niches. They also have time to review products, know how to spread the word across media channels and engage with their audience at an individual level. This is more than most time-strapped journalist can offer, or frankly technically achieve.

Yes, I’ve been around journalists who scream that bloggers are mere amateurs. So what? This is just a typical British cynicism, when really Amateur in French means ‘lover of’. I’m a proud amateur of blogging. It has led to this blog receiving 30,000+ visits this year; it is why I will never demand a penny from those who read my words. It is why an industry PR book review on my blog would gain far more influential coverage in comparison with a mainstream publication, as I attract beautifully niche visitors.

That all-encompassing “little black contacts book” that my lecturer once mentioned contains the names of bloggers, not journalists. It is also a lot smaller, because I’m able to give organisations the ability to publish their own content, to far more specific audiences.

Digital marketing and social media provide other options to fulfil the goals of PR. We all know this, but sometimes it’s worth highlighting as a blog post. Especially as there are some in the industry, who I’ve spoken to, who believe speaking with journalists defines PR as PR.

 

 

 

 

 

The PR Professional’s Handbook by Caroline Black [Book Review]

Michael White PR Professionals HandbookIf you’re starting out in public relations for the first time then be sure to get yourself a copy of The PR Professional’s Handbook by Caroline Black. This new CIPR stamped book covers key communications theories, provides practical advice around skills and uses case studies to highlight proof points.

As a former PR student I’ve spent the last few weeks diving into the book and refreshing my memory of theories I first learnt about in 2008. Including Grunig and Hunt’s four models of communication, the Patrick Jackson (and others) people change ladder theory and the Elaboration Likelihood Model. Of course all these theories have their weaknesses that are covered yearly in 2,500 word essays across the UK. Yet, the summarisation of these theories by Caroline is highly useful and will serve as a good reminder whilst studying on a communications course.

As a practicing PR I found the most useful section of the book to be the chapter on planning and evaluating campaigns. With the stresses and speed of the real world, it can be all too easy to occasionally forget steps of preparing and planning. In the words of Caroline, “If you don’t plan, you have no control…” True! This section includes aspects such as PESTLEE, SWOT and account management stages. PR students will even benefit from an affordability analysis table which lines research stages with different levels of cost. It’s a big chapter and worth the cost of the book itself.

Without a doubt the part of the book I take the most interest in is digital marketing and social media. As per the rest of the book, this section is brief and summarises key tactics and features. Describing what makes a successful website, a good social media campaign and understanding virtual communities. This section of the book is far from geeky, not dealing with code but discussing content and audience considerations. In this sense you can tell a thoroughbred PR professional has written it, but this isn’t intended to be demeaning. It is valuable and serves as a reminder for technologically astute geeks that in the end, everything comes down to a strong content strategy.

The Consultant Editor, Anne Gregory, sums up this book well in the foreword. It’s a selective book that covers ‘the ground’ of PR effectively, to remind us of the basics and favours those who are pursuing a career in the industry. However, I also believe it serves as a valuable reminder for those who also work in the industry. You can currently purchase this book via the CIPR using a 25% discount code or from Amazon (Kindle format also available).

Disclaimer: I’m extremely fortunate and grateful to have received a copy of this book by Kogan Page Marketing for the purpose of this review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The PR Masterclass by Alex Singleton [Book Review]

The PR Masterclass bookThere are various books about PR on the market. Some are timeless classics such as ‘Exploring Public Relations’ by Tench and Yeomans. Others provide a more up-to-date approach such as ‘Public Relations’ by Averill Gorden (a past lecturer of mine). Then there are a multitude of books written by authors who have mindlessly bashed together an eBook who claim to be PR pros but boast no relevant qualifications or links to professional bodies (such as the CIPR or PRCA).

‘The PR Masterclass’ by Alex Singleton (Amazon link) is the best sort of book. Released in January 2014, the book serves as refreshing practical guide for how to work in PR. If you’re starting out in the industry for the first time then make this book the first on your reading list. Even if you’re an old hat in the industry, the book serves as a useful reminder for going back to the basics. As the Director General of the Public Relations Consultants Association, Francis Ingham, states in the foreword talking about the more theoretical books in our industry,

“It all has a place, and I do genuinely respect that place. But it is far from being the entirety – or indeed the mainstay – of our industry. And sometimes when people seek so very, very hard to create an artificial intellectual construct with which they can frame our industry’s work, they serve only to obscure what it does, and to confuse us all. The glory of this book is that it doesn’t make any of those mistakes”

What’s inside?
Alex Singleton’s background as a journalist at the The Daily Telegraph, writing for The Guardian, The Daily Express and Mail Online, along with being interviewed on countless news programmes, really shines through the pages. He is a journalist turned PR pro and each page of The PR Masterclass just oozes insight into our industry.

Undeniably a large focus of the book is about how to recognise and craft a newsworthy story. Looking at how press releases should be structured, what makes a good headline and what are the best angles to approach stories. It’s a gentle reminder that often the stories that clients expect to hit the newspaper, often doesn’t focus on the best angle. Sit on the side of your audience, not your client.

The book even covers the practicalities of maintaining media lists, advice for how to communicate with journalists and dealing with incoming media enquiries. At first glance, everyday practitioners may find these subjects a little too simple but personally I found chapters to be littered with words of wisdom. Such as,

“There is no shame in resisting a request [from a journalist] for an interview [with a PR’s client] until the editorial line being produced is revealed”

“As a result of the lazy use of these databases [media databases] by bad PR people, journalists are endlessly harassed by press releases that they have no interest in”

On the whole, I am personally against the use of media databases unless they serve the purpose of providing you the contact details of a journalist and publication you are already aware of. As a discovery tool they cannot be trusted. I’ve worked for agencies where colleagues have attempted to phone journalists who have long since departed from this mortal realm. It makes for awkward conversation with their colleagues…

“Journalists have a particular dislike of excessively bubbly copy, which they always add to their mental list of bad things the PR industry is responsible for.”

You can quite simply flick through Alex Singleton’s book and find insights around every corner. It’s a book that’s a must read before running a media campaign or if you want to find ways to improve your existing pitch. Next time I need to pitch to the media, I’ll be reaching for The PR Masterclass.

This is media relations, not social media
This book is certainly a practical guide to traditional PR but lacks digital focus. As a Digital Consultant working for Keene my focus is not traditional PR but to support the teams within the agency by providing a digital backbone to activities. It would be unfair for me to pick this out as a real downside to the book because from the very start The PR Masterclass states, “This book focuses on media relations. Public relations is undoubtedly broader than just trying to generate media coverage…” with a list of other things PR is, including board-level advice to blue chip companies.

Yet I did squirm when I read, “Some people – especially, I’m afraid to say, those who are unskilled at securing press coverage – assert that the conventional media no longer matters. What is important, they claim, is social media… an important part of public relations… these people are wrong if they believe conventional media is dead.” Is this a fair assessment? The format of news is moving online (trade press is slow to progress) but I’m skeptical to say that online campaigns have to still utilise traditional news sources. In my experience, if the client is right, then campaigns can reap spectacular results without a PR pro having to ring a single journalist.

Verdict
Whether you are new to PR or just want to brush up on your skills then I highly recommend you buy this book. Alex Singleton urges for professionalism in the industry, delivers solid advice packed full of personal insight that could help change your campaigns for the better. If you want to build your understanding of digital then find another book, but before you do read The PR Masterclass.

You can buy The PR Masterclass on Amazon and can read Alex Singleton’s blog here.

I received a free copy of The PR Masterclass straight from Alex Singleton at my work address. It was a delightful surprise, coupled with a kind message (photographed below) but with no expectations of the book to be reviewed. It was the perfect desk drop and it’s been a pleasure reading it.

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