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.

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.

 

Keep up with 350+ news sources without breaking a sweat

‘Don’t you ever worry that you’ll run out of things to say?’ was a bemused line delivered by a University friend back in 2008. Today it’s amusing; a Public Relations person running out of things to say? Bah… as if! Although oddly, I feel like he was onto an idea that I actually believe in today, if I’m to provide consultancy to organisations then I must have done my reading.

If you work in PR then you’ll relate to this next bit, if not then you’ll soon understand. Explaining what PR is to normal people is tough.

The industry agrees it is primarily about managing reputation but the growth of online has spurred evolution in the industry. Instead of speaking to journalists, the steady growth of social media over the last eight years has changed the way reputation needs to be managed. As a digital account director at Lansons my primary focus is how to manage the online reputations of organisations.

It’s a big job, but I’m thankful it’s not a physical one. The intensity is on the brain and I need to know the pulse of the digital industry including social media news, search engine optimisation updates, and online analytics. Keeping up-to-date about an industry that changes on an hourly basis is challenging and if I enter a client meeting without the latest news then my consultancy will be poor.

So whilst my friend’s innocent question was quaint, it touched on a truth; for every 10% of consultancy I provide it must be backed up by 90% research. In my professional life I treat clients like essays, the hardest part is the learning and analysing, the easiest part is the delivery of information. This balance of knowledge is part of what makes a good or poor consultant; in the agency world this is financial life or death.

Of course there are other factors at play. For instance, you could be the smartest person in the room but a real arse to deal with!

I know for certain that to be a successful consultant then you need to have a timely plan for how to digest and analyse news. This needs to stand tall even when your working weeks go into the interstellar 50+ hour mark. In the PR industry we’ve recently started calling the mixture of internal business cultures and balance of tools part of a business workflow.

Using Feedly to make news digestible

I’m dependent on Feedly, an online platform and app that delivers me the latest news from every blog, magazine and newspaper I choose to follow. Without Feedly most people would struggle to keep up-to-date with one newspaper, let alone that and 349 other news sources!

Feedly, overview of topics

As social media sites have progressed, Feedly has been a reliable tool to return to. Twitter has become too noisy, Facebook prioritises old viral videos, and Google+ is near extinct. For in-depth news my first visit is Feedly; on iPhone during commutes and via the browser whilst at work. It’s even played a small role helping position myself professionally in the industry through the Feedly app’s ease of social sharing.

Feedly finance

Whether you’re new to the industry or an old-timer, Feedly remains a simple and free way to keep up-to-date with the news. After having used the tool since the closure of Google Reader in 2013 I’m beginning to consider pro features such as collection sharing to help inform my client teams. As it’s my source for news, it has helped me maintain relationships with fellow bloggers and has been integral to the consultancy I’ve delivered for the last five years.

So my honest (unpaid!) advice for PR professionals is to consider Feedly as part of your PR workflow. It will only help make you smarter.

 

 

#FuturePRoof: A guide for managers of agencies and communications teams

FuturePRoof book cover

The challenge of the public relations industry is to remain accessible to future generations whilst striving towards professionalism. It’s this drive for constant improvement and reinvention that has brought 40+ practitioners together to complete 39 essays, forming the second edition of #FuturePRoof.

The second edition builds on the success of the first #FuturePRoof book, launched in October 2015, which secured over 2,500 sales and downloads. The book continues the discussion around key opportunities facing public relations, from convergence and skillset to Boardroom recognition and the pace of change. Its aim is to assert public relations as a management discipline and demonstrate its value to organisational success.

The second edition of #FuturePRoof has launched at a poignant time for me as I reflect on how my own public relations career has progressed. As a digital specialist, the only form of media relations I regularly undertake is blogger relations; most of the time I help organisations become their own newspapers.

I would be called in to assist with online reputation management, digital monitoring, and programme strategies. At times I question whether the work of the PRCA or CIPR adequately represent my daily workload or training requirements, especially as flagship events such as BrightonSEO talk more directly to my skillset.

With this in mind, I’ve been reading #FuturePRoof trying to understand its target audience. At first I struggled. All of us who are involved in the online public relations community are used to calls to professionalism, ethical practices, and equality. So whilst I agreed with chapters than ran this route, it’s the same beating drum. Perhaps this will raise awareness amongst senior practitioners in the industry to change their practices, but I think this is the point; words help bring topics to light but only we can work for change.

The 39 essays that form #FuturePRoof are wide ranging. Topics include audience insight, employee advocacy, influencer relations, tools and technology, agile strategy and business models. For this reason, the book won’t just appeal to one audience, but a range of different people who form the public relations industry.

One of the most memorable chapters for me is by Sarah Stimson, Programme Director at the Taylor Bennett Foundation, on the importance of hiring smart people who have diverse socio-economic backgrounds. It doesn’t speak directly to my role, except if I’m involved in a hiring decision, but highly relevant to HR teams.

The main message weaved throughout the book is clear: Corporate investment in people and technology and an individual focus on continuous professional development (CPD) will drive the public relations industry forward.

Agency owner and CIPR President-Elect candidate Sarah Hall is #FuturePRoof’s founder and editor.

She said:

“The success of #FuturePRoof shows that public relations practitioners are aware of the direction of travel and are no longer prepared for other disciplines to eat their lunch. The public relations fight back starts here and now.

“Demand shows professionals want to close their competency gaps in order to provide strategic advice at management level.

“What’s more, the public relations industry is waking up to the fact that if we are truly guiding organisational strategy, it is common sense that other disciplines answer to us within the corporate hierarchy. I expect this narrative to get louder and louder.”

#FuturePRoof: Edition Two is dedicated to Dr Jon White, a guiding force and inspiration for the project. His book How to Understand and Manage Public Relations celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

#FuturePRoof is available in hard copy via www.futureproofingcomms.co.uk and on Kindle via http://tinyurl.com/j8ocm4z.

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 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.

For PR success, have a rest

I feel on top of the world! Out of breath, struggling up a boggy slope. That’s exactly what an office lifestyle will do to you if not balanced with some honest exercise. It was worth it for the view, the Lake District really is god’s country. I took the below photos, it was effortless for the camera.

DSC_0471

Why is it that the most beautiful places in the world don’t have mobile signal? It’s either a coincidence or a reason why they are beautiful. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then my eyes require less internet connected fodder. At times I still found myself mindlessly scrolling through social media updates, an unhealthy habit that only teaches me that 90% of the social media shares are nonsense, irrelevant or worse, uncalled for.

Before going to the Lake District I popped over to one of my favourite travel bloggers, Adventurous Kate. I had the privilege of meeting her face-to-face in Rotterdam at a travel blogging conference in 2013. A lot (I gather in both of our lives) has changed since then, but I still make an active effort to keep on top of her posts. Funnily enough, she published about her trip to the Lake District in January. Having returned from my holiday, I can picture some of the spots where she may have captured those landscapes. After a long weekend staying in a quaint cottage sitting by a fire, only a week would have been long enough!

DSC_0327

The point of this blog post is this; sometimes to be professionally successful, you need to disconnect. This is especially true in the PR industry where we tend to be tied to emails, contractually responsible for social media, and (if agency side) constantly changing subject and sector topics in the mind. It’s demanding but rewarding, but will take its toll on the body unless you take the opportunity to disconnect. Unwind by admiring the rolling hills of the English countryside?

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