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.

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.

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.

 

How can companies manage their reputations online? [EVENT]

Social media email banner

How can regulated companies use social media for business results?

How can you convince C-Suite that managing and measuring reputation should be a priority?

How can data be used to better manage online reputation?

Please join us for an afternoon debate at Lansons about reputation management as an independent event for Social Media Week London, on Thursday 15 September, from 3.30pm to 5.00pm.

Our expert panel will be discussing how companies can manage their reputations in the digital age. Our influential panel has been specifically selected to represent a range of opinions, based on knowledge and practical experience.

The debate will feature an extensive Q&A section, with opportunities to quiz the panel and provide comment.

To register for a place at this event, please email[email protected] with your full details. Please note that we will confirm your place via email. We’re an independent Social Media Week London event, so you’ll need to book a place in advance and won’t be able to gain entry using your official SMW pass.

Speaking on the panel will be:

Francesco D’Orazio, Co-Founder and Vice President of Product and Research at Pulsar

Francesco is Vice President of Product at social analytics firm Pulsar, Chief Innovation Officer at innovation consultancy FACE and Co-Founder at the Visual Social Media Lab. He designs systems and research frameworks that help analyse social data and extract insights from social data using computational social science and data visualisation. He is a regular speaker at research, innovation and technology conferences such as Big Data Week, Social Media Week, Social Data Week, Strata, WARC, MRS, Esomar, Virtual Worlds Forum, World Business Forum. 

Magnus Boyd, Partner at Schillings

Magnus protects individual and corporate reputations by helping clients to manage unwanted media attention. He is frequently called upon before stories are published or broadcast to prevent inaccuracy and stop businesses and prominent individuals from being defamed or private information being published. Magnus also advises on information security and manages the risk to reputation that arises in the event of data loss. He is ranked as a leader in his field in Chambers & Partners and the Spear’s 500 Index. 

Ed Coke, Director of Consulting Services at Reputation Institute

Ed leads the advisory team at Reputation Institute, a research-based consultancy that measures the reputations of the largest and most visible companies around the world. He provides senior communications and marketing executives at global companies the single-best way to measure, communicate and manage reputation performance. With this insight, companies can protect their reputations, analyse risks and drive competitive advantage.

Rebecca Mayo, Joint Managing Director at Lansons

Over the last decade Rebecca has been responsible for many sector-leading and award-winning campaigns, including: the launch of Metro Bank, Britain’s first new high street bank in over 100 years; the five year market-leading thought leadership programme for life and pensions giant Scottish Widows;  the re-positioning and re-launching of Asda Money; the launch and decade long consumer champion programme for MoneySuperMarket; the integrated PR and PA campaign for the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion; and the decade long corporate and retail programme for Invesco Perpetual, including the recent departure of its star fund manager Neil Woodford. Rebecca has significant experience managing corporate issues ranging from FSA fines, non-compliant marketing communications, mis-selling, mergers and acquisitions, exiting markets, complex pricing strategies, and difficult underwriting decisions.

SEO is no longer a discipline, it’s a skillset

Brighton SEO - registration

Tickets selling out in four minutes, a mile-long queue outside the venue, over 1,700 attendees; you would have thought a West End Musical or international musician was visiting Brighton. No, this is Brighton SEO and over the last five years it has moved from an attic room in a pub that fit 30, to the Brighton Dome.

Last Friday I attended Brighton SEO to hear from top search engine optimisation specialists and digital marketers from around the world. I can’t write about the key takeaways from the event without first mentioning how friendly everyone was.

Brighton SEO queue

Before I even made it inside the venue I struck a conversation with a web design agency from Reading. In that conversation I released that my knowledge of PR was just as sacred as the in-depth SEO insight I was seeking. It highlighted that for modern PR to be successful an intermediate knowledge of SEO is required.

Brighton SEO - registration

As the founder of Brighton SEO, Kelvin Newman, mentioned to The Register:

Newman believes SEO has gone mainstream. “It used to be a discipline but now it’s a skillset,” he said. “A lot of people don’t only do SEO. They’re doing many other things as well.”

When working as a digital specialist it’s important to respect the breadth and variety of skills required in the digital industry. As a near-generalist, I can cover most subject areas, but this enforces the need for me to learn from the true experts at times. That is why I attended Brighton SEO and wow, I didn’t leave disappointed.

Brighton SEO Kelvin Newman

After 9 hours of talks and SEO conversations, I left Brighton not tired but buzzing! On my desk sits a mountain of reading, notes and ideas. I’ve wanted to attend Brighton SEO for the last three years and now that it’s happened, I just want to go back.

My mind is still recovering, and whilst I chew through the information shared, here are some of the top resources shared at the talks I attended. Word of advice: if you want to cover all the talks at Brighton SEO then you will need three or four people – it’s that big and busy.

Three must-read resources from Brighton SEO

How to fix any SEO problem by Jon Earnshaw

This had to be one of the best presentations I attended because it provided a practical insight into troubleshooting an SEO problem. Jon transparently covered how he fixed an issue Waterstones was having with Google UK when a number of its links were being replaced by the competition. He has kindly provided the full presentation on SlideShare.

Ranking-Factors reloaded – Why content is key to success by Marcus Tober

This Star Wars themed presentation hooked the audience immediately and provided a data-led insight into Google ranking factors. The best bits have to be the industry-specific research and the difference this makes to online user journeys, how modern content is being viewed online, and rethinking link strategies. This clever guy has also hidden his presentation behind a data capture form – fill in your details and download here.

Introduction to personal branding by Mel Carson

I’ve frequently expressed my disbelief at how so many people who work in PR or digital marketing don’t bother maintaining their own online brand presence. This was a lesson I learnt years ago at university when maintaining an active online presence allowed me to get my foot in the door for digital roles in London. After eight years of writing about digital, I’m still personally reaping the benefits of maintaining an online presence.

Brighton SEO Mel Carson

Mel’s talk provided straightforward advice about why a personal brand is important and how to do it. His book for 99p on Amazon is worth buying if you’re starting out.

 

The above is just a tiny snapshot of the talks I attended at Brighton SEO and over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing more. Keep your eyes on the Lansons blog as I’ll be writing a financial services specific post in the next couple of days.

UK Blogger Survey 2016: It’s all about fashion and poor PR pitches

It’s all about lipstick, dresses, and fancy underwear when it comes to the UK blogging community. This is one conclusion that can be drawn from the biggest ever survey of UK bloggers, conducted by communications software company Vuelio, in conjunction with Canterbury Christ Church University.

The survey of more than 500 UK bloggers found that over three quarters were female and that they tended to concentrate on traditionally female interests such as beauty and fashion. Blogs written by men covered a broader range of topics, ranging from stereotypically male pursuits such as sports and gaming to traditionally gender-neutral areas such as food (there are twice as many male food bloggers as female), and health.

MaleandFemalebloggers

Those interests were further reflected in the social media UK bloggers use to promote their sites. While Twitter was ubiquitous for both genders, female bloggers were much more likely than their male counterparts to be found on Pinterest and Instagram, while men were twice as likely as women to use LinkedIn and, perhaps surprisingly, more frequent users of Facebook.

Although a third of respondents described blogging as a hobby, more than a third said they blogged either professionally or with a view to commercialising their efforts in future.  Most said that, while they had good relationships with PRs and brand managers, they often felt second-class when compared with journalists working in traditional media.

How should brands work with bloggers?

This is the big questions for PR practitioners taking their skills beyond media relations to engage with blogging communities instead. Being a blogger myself, I contributed to these survey results and could understand some of the frustrations bloggers have with PR pitches.

PRpitches

Some are atrociously bad, often without regard of what the blogger gets in return; especially in terms of the value of content, bloggers are not second-class to journalists. The results revealed that more than two-thirds of bloggers agreed that they were all-too-often asked to support brands for very little in return.

“It’s clear from the number of pitches our respondents said they received that PRs and brand managers recognise the enormous potential of UK bloggers,” said Kristine Pole, programme director at Canterbury Christ Church University and co-author of the research. “But there also seems to be a fundamental disconnect, when you look at the efforts PRs are putting in compared with what they’re getting out, and the often mismatched expectations of each side.”

Almost two fifths of respondents received six or more pitches from brands every week – but only 30 per cent of bloggers said that more than one post a week was the result of brands coming to them.

“When you think about the subjects that occupy the majority of UK bloggers, such as fashion and beauty, and then look at the enormous audiences for their sites, and finally consider the extent to which traditional media relies on PR in these areas, it’s hard to see anything other than a huge opportunity,” said Vuelio’s Head of Content, Chris Wheeler. “The bloggers want to make the effort to improve their relationships with brands.  If brands can better understand bloggers’ expectations of these relationships, it has to be a win-win.”

If you work with bloggers or are tempted to start, I highly recommend you download the full UK Blogger Survey 2016 here.

UK companies struggle to manage their reputation in their home market

Reputation Institute, ranking

UK companies are struggling to manage their reputation on their home turf. This is according to a new report published by the Reputation Institute today that is based on more than 50,000 ratings collected in the first quarter of 2016 from members of the UK general public.

The Reputation Institute mix academic vigor with a real-world understanding to measure a company’s ability to deliver on stakeholder expectations based on the seven key rational dimensions of reputation: products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership, and performance.

This enables them to rank on a score from 0 – 100, based on overall reputation and grouped into categories:

  • Excellent (80+)
  • Strong (70-79)
  • Average (60-69)
  • Weak (40-59)
  • Poor (Below 40)

This has revealed UK Plcs are losing out on reputation in their home market. Only two of the top 10 companies are UK Plcs, and international companies dominate the top 50. Home-domiciled companies make up just 26% of the top 50 and 41% of the top 150.

As shown below, only four UK companies have been able to build an “Excellent” reputation with a RepTrak® score above 80.

5. Rolls Royce Aerospace (82.6)
6. Aston Martin (82.1)
13. ASOS (80.4)
14. Jaguar Land Rover (80.4)

At the other end of the scale, of the 27 companies who scored “Poor” and sit well outside of the RepTrak® 150 (ranking 251 and below), all but two are UK and Irish companies.

UK companies ranked “Poor” include five utilities and financial services companies, three transport companies, and two gambling and telecom companies. Although it might be unsurprising that UK companies from these sectors perform the worst, there are notable exceptions.

Nationwide Building Society was the top scoring of all UK retail banks, with a “Strong” score of 72.4. O2 also rated strongly in the eyes of the UK general public at 74.9, whereas all other UK telecoms providers failed to score higher than an “Average” performance of 64.

Biggest moves

The following companies have seen the largest improvements from 2015 to 2016:

58. Airbus Group (+12.6 points)
228. HSBC (+9.8 points)
9. Aldi (+9.7 points)
48. Burberry (+9.7 points)
140. Hershey Company (+8.9 points)

The below businesses have seen the largest declines from 2015 to 2016:

267. Volkswagen (-27.4 points)
192. SABMiller (7.9 points)
156. Nestle (-7.7 points)
163. Admiral (-7.3 points)
247. EDF Energy (-7.1 points)

Unsurprisingly, Volkswagen AG falls from having a top 10 reputation (ranked 8th) in 2015 to a vulnerable position in 2016 (ranked 267th) following the high-profile emissions scandal.  The critical factor in this loss of reputation has been a huge drop in the number of consumers willing to support the company in specific circumstances, as shown below.

Recommend company Buy products Give benefit of doubt
2016 24% 28% 20%
2015 56% 58% 53%

Recommendation and trust of Volkswagen AG has decreased by more than half during this time, which underscores the impact that corporate reputation has on the business.

 Why reputation matters

Reputation Institute’s research reveals that reputation drives business results. The better the reputation, the more support a company gets. For companies with an average reputation, only 12% would definitely buy the products; this climbs to 28% if the reputation is strong, but increases to 76% if the reputation is excellent.

“The impact from reputation on the business is massive, which is why the leading companies in the world are managing this asset in a systematic way,” says Nielsen.

In the UK, consumers must consider companies’ reputations “Excellent” in order to have more than 50% of those surveyed claim that they would say something positive about a company, recommend its products, trust it to do the right thing, welcome it into the local community, and work for or invest in it.

Reputation Institute, ranking

The Lego Group, IKEA and BMW Group top the UK RepTrak® 150 ranking of the most reputable companies among the UK general public, Reputation Institute announced today, based on more than 50,000 ratings collected in the first quarter of 2016 from members of the UK general public.

 

Disclaimer: I work with the Reputation Institute at Lansons but I had full editorial independence when writing this article.