Archive for July, 2007

Harry Potter and the PR agency

July 30, 2007

Like many other avid fans of Harry Potter, I spent last week thumbing through the 600 or so pages of the latest book on the tube, at lunch and in the pub. One thought struck me. 

Fighting Lord Voldermort was always going to be a struggle, finding those pesky horcruxes no easy mission, and keeping the randy Ron and Hermione focused on the pressing task, a constant challenge.

However, Harry could have had a much easier time if he’d enlisted the help of a PR agency and put out a crisis comms brief. Whilst Voldermort was clearly busy lunching various journo from the The Daily Prophet, where was Harry’s proactive PR? 

Harry’s attitude to the press really does leave a lot to be desired and his reliance on the The Quibbler until it sided with Voldermort really does show how naïve young Harry was.

 

Yes, his broadcast strategy was a little better and Potterwatch helped Harry along, but frankly if HP had got involved with a round table event and a sponsored media supplement with the Daily Prophet the whole affair could have been concluded in half the time.

 

Putting PR theory into practice

July 20, 2007

Apologies for the delay in the post, Alex and Alain had asked me to post two weeks ago, to give you all an insight into my first few weeks in “grown up” PR… But it’s taken me until now to have enough time to sit down and actually write something!

So I’m 5 weeks into my new job – and I love it… And I’m exhausted! Life as a PR grad in London is brilliant, but more tiring than I ever could have imagined. I have to admit I expected to be sat next to a scanner with a pile of coverage and told to scan to my heart’s content for my first few weeks… I certainly was for my first few weeks on placement, and naively I expected all entry-level PR roles to be the same.  

Five weeks in, I’ve heard the phrase “baptism of fire” more times than I can count, worked a 19 hour day, taken two of my potential 25 hours worth of lunch break, choosing to eat’n’type in order to get through my ever-increasing ‘to do’ list and been involved in several big events. And I really love it. It has made me realise quite how much I missed working in PR. Nothing beats the buzz and atmosphere of a lively PR agency or office. I thrive on the adrenalin created by looming deadlines for my 4 clients and as I juggle my seemingly precious little time, I’m very quickly learning to prioritise in order to make sure my accounts aren’t over / under serviced and already time spent away from my phone and computer feels like wasted time.  

And whilst the early starts, late finishes, going into work on Friday with a hangover (I’ve also learnt that Thursday night is so the new Friday night) all are a little bit of a shock to my student system, the biggest adjustment comes in the form of the London Underground. Not the over-crowding, stuffy-ness of the world famous tube, not the endless delays due to the wrong kind of humidity on the line, not even the intimidating police presence currently at every station. But “tube etiquette”. 

Understanding that the man who just elbowed me in the head to push past onto a space that really was rightfully mine on that over-crowded tube, probably does deserve the space as he clearly is much more busy and important than I am. Or the fact that even though the lady says it every time the train comes to a halt, it really is important to push your way onto the train before that elderly / pregnant / disabled woman has a chance to dismount.  

Now I’m not new to the tube, in fact in the days B.W. (before work) I regularly visited London for football games (a Spurs fan for my sins) or nights out or shopping or generally to admire our great capital. But I’ve learnt that one’s experience of the tube is divided into three categories, Commuter, Tourist or Inhabitant. Those who are London born and bred have it mastered; they know the right carriage, the right time and the right tube to ensure a relative trauma-less journey around the capital. The Tourist experience involves hovering between the doors as they begin to close, as they still work out if they’re on the right one, loudly telling their friends, family and all around that “it’s just X more stops” every time the train pulls into a station, studiously reading the map on the tube station wall as if they know what they’re looking for, before giving up and just getting on the “Pick-a-chilly Line” as it’s bound to take them to the tourist hub of our capital. As for the Commuter experience, this is dependent upon your length of service. Some fall into the Inhabitant category as they have been in London long enough to know the tricks of the tube, others might fall into the Tourist category, stumbling between stations still trying to work out if they’re heading in the right direction. And then there are those of you, who like me, know what you’re doing and where you’re going but will never cease to be amazed at the trauma the tube can cause. Not enough to ever put me off coming into the capital, but enough to guarantee the dread in the pit of my stomach on a Monday morning is nothing to do with going to work, sickeningly I still love getting up on a Monday for work, no the dread comes from the thought of the Piccadilly line at 8.15am – otherwise known as hell on Earth. If I have to see one more “chancer” getting his head / bag / suit jacket stuck having raced toward an already closing door I’ll scream. Similarly if one more tourist poses for a photo in the ticket gates at Piccadilly Circus on Friday evening, preventing anyone else getting through to their jam-packed train I think I’ll go mad.  

Any tips on how to quickly cross into the Inhabitant phase and to become ignorant to or accepting of those less informed tube-users would be very gratefully received! Beyond the tube, I am thoroughly enjoying my new working girl status, I’m very busy, I’m hugely stressed, and according to Government statistics I’m very much underpaid, but I really do not care… I’m enjoying every minute of it.   

Facing Up To the Legal Issues of Facebook – Part 2

July 18, 2007

Our second instalment of ‘Facebook and the Law’ examines the ‘privacy’ of private messages, questions how legal it is to Facebook the ‘hottie’ who has just arrived for an interview and looks at legacy issues of posting photographs online.

 So just how ‘private’ are your private messages?

Facebook has recently updated it’s privacy policy to come into line with the formal requirements of EU privacy law, and as the site has expanded it’s features, the Privacy Policy and Terms of Use have expanded with it. Litigation is currently underway in America, where the courts are considering whether a person’s messages and wall posts can be accessed by attorneys in criminal cases. Until now Facebook’s private messages have operated in a grey area of the law, it being unclear whether they have the same legal status as emails, or instead have the higher degree of security one can claim with privately written letters. If it is found they are admissible as evidence, the myth that Facebook operates a ‘private’ system of communication will be irrevocably shattered. 

Is Employing Facebook legal?

We’ve also heard the scare stories about potential employers using Facebook to ‘check up’ on candidates for jobs, and indeed it’s not hard to imagine HR departments logging on to see if someone’s Facebook profile matches the CV before them. But is this allowed? Well it is mentionned in the Facebook Terms of Agreement that you may use the site “solely for your personal, non-commercial use”. The key word here is ‘commerical’, and whether the act of looking at the profile of a candidate is a ‘commercial’ practice. If it is found so, then any HR departments indulging in this practice could be breaching Facebook’s Terms of Use, and technically operating unlawfully. Again this is currently a grey area of the law – for example does the location of the computer used to access the profile matter? Even if it is illegal to use Facebook at work, what’s to stop HR personnel merely logging on at home or in an internet café? Afterall, the privacy policy states that We are not responsible for circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures contained on the site”. However, until litigation provides us with a precedent we can merely speculate on this point. 

Smile for the masses – your photos are fair game.

So just how private are all those embarrassing photographs you have tagged of yourself on Facebook? Well many an aspiring public figure or celebrity should be aware that the embarrassing photos of his/her drunken university days will be inevitably dug up by the tabloid press in the future, and here again, the myth that these photos are private should be taken with a pinch of salt. If a photo has been made widely available for people to see on Facebook, then the individuals concerned are unlikely to have any right of privacy in the picture, as it will have already been published to a potentially sizeable audience (potentially all of Facebook’s 20 million users). Effectively, your photos are in the public domain, and as such cannot be granted the title ‘private’. The rationale is this: If journalists do not know who the photographer or even the subject(s) of the picture are, but are still able to view the picture, it is hard to imagine how the picture could qualify as “private” in the eyes of the law. Of course, we are yet to see a case where Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (the right to private life) is evoked in relation to a newspaper or website printing a photo from Facebook without the permission of the subjects, and so again a definitive answer to this question for UK users of the site has yet to be offered by the courts. 

If you have any questions about this post or any others, please do leave a comment or email us at prandcommsnetwork@gmail.com 

Both ‘Facebook and the Law’ contributions are from our resident legal expert who is very fond of his internet anonymity!

Ashamed and embarassed…or loud and proud?

July 16, 2007

Sweaty palms. Nervous gulp. Burning cheeks.

Yep, someone’ s just asked you what you do for a living, and you’ve got to own up to being Satan’s spawn.

Private equity? Nowhere near as bad. Traffic warden? Positively saintly. Hell, even solicitors are more popular.

That’s right, you work in PR.

Who’s to blame for this image [and ironically], reputation issue? The FT certainly thinks it needs addressing to judge by their Weekend editorial.
Well, some might point fingers at Alistair Campbell, although we’d defend him to the hilt, being fanboys of the power behind the New Labour throne. Others would point to a fundamental mis-understanding by the public of the nature of PR and its different functions and divisions. Perhaps its just good old-fashioned British scepticism of any industry producing non-tangible output.

I’d suggest we should look closer to home. Have you ever explained to your friends what you actually do? About the variety in your job? Discussed the career paths available? Nope, didn’t think so. You have, however, probably cracked self-deprecating jokes about employing the dark arts of spin, about an ambiguous relationship with the truth, and [if male] about what a great industry it is for eye-candy.

Not really the sort of stuff to gain you a reputation for being part of a vital area of the economy, performing a valuable service, and deserving of the finest talents.

It probably isn’t fair to beat ourselves up too much though. Journalists have a perennially uneasy relationship. The lines dividing us are paper thin at times, the skill sets not enormously different, and many journos crossover to ‘the dark side’. Understandably they like to write about PR, and not [often] in a flattering way. A bit like the playground, with boys and girls calling names at each other, when- if no-one’s watching- pretences are dropped and everyone gets along like a house on fire, regardless of gender [or industry].

So, next time you’re asked what you do for a living, beat back the blushes, and in your loudest, proudest voice, announce;

‘I’m a communications consultant’

That’s bound to do the trick, and we’ll be celebrated in no time.

Ahem.

Why you don’t, won’t, and quite probably shouldn’t blog.

July 10, 2007

I’ve always avoided blogging about blogging here. Not least because it isn’t usually very interesting, but also because we didn’t exactly start this blog ‘to blog, so much as to expand upon the conversations and issues which were arising within the Facebook group which spawned this.

However, PR can’t ignore social media [much as some would like to try], and so perhaps the time has come for this blog to bite the hand which feeds it. So to speak.

I’m not going to excitedly proclaim ‘blogs have peaked-hurrah-I knew it was all a passing phase’ as someone excitedly assailed me with recently. I’m not going to claim you should all write blogs, rather than just lurking around reading us, with your only shadowy trace being an IP address. Most of you shouldn’t, wouldn’t, and in some cases quite possibly couldn’t.

No-one is defined by the act of blogging, however much they try. Indeed only some people are suited to doing so. usually the very confident, or the deeply insecure who couldn’t usually articulate their thoughts in real life. It’s a theme Hugh Macleod [of Gaping Void fame] has been addressing recently, as he appears to be re-appraising his activities and pl,atforms. I’m a big fan of Hugh’s, and he doesn’t buy into his own celebrity and celebrate his own status in quite the way some of his contemporary ‘a-listers’ do. He is honest enough to note, and enthuse about the current momentum away from blogging, towards Facebook.

His observation that blogging is essentially another form of the traditional capacity to broadcast, is astute when we apply it to our own experience with the PR and Comms Network. Sure we get lots of readers here [relatively speaking-we have niche potential audience], but people are far more inclined to actively participate on the Facebook group. There are many who would run a mile before posting a comment here [even though they could so anonymously], but will send us messages on Facebook about activities we have going on, or posts which have appeared. Individuals will post up on the group wall, but not do the same here. And as Hugh notes, many people just feel more at home inside the sandbox of Facebook, because it is where their existing ‘real-world’ network is. Simply in electronic form.

And that’s great as far as we’re concerned. We need to blog, in the sense it is the appropriate way to explore issues like these. It is where other bods hitting out on extended themes like this pursue their conversations. See Simon, Ed or Stephen for probably our three favourites, although David gets the interest up too. But if it comes to sharing your quicker, more direct and personal moments, I’m going to point you in the direction of Twitter and Facebook, not encourage you to blog.

Blogging doesn’t make you a great person, or supremely interesting. But it does help develop conversations [wherever they are pursued; in flesh, FB, or blog comments].

The 8 hour day?

July 3, 2007

Last weekend I sat down with a friend who is a fast streamer in the Civil Service and explained why I hadn’t been able to meet for ‘that after work beer’ as I had promised to do months ago. To my utter incredulity, my so-called friend replied that he had been offended that it had taken me so long to get back to him considering my ‘PR lifestyle’. 

PR is an industry that desperately needs some of its own communications advice. Most of my University friends (Lawyers, Management consultants, Teachers etc) imagine that I roll into work at 9ish (hung-over) and leave again at 4.55 for the next party. Another friend asked me last week how I got any work done with all the ‘schmoozing’ that I must do?! 

Maybe it’s just me? Maybe the rest of my contemporaries within the industry are passing through their graduate schemes through a haze of coke (zero or otherwise) and champagne? But if they are, I wish they’d stop, because it’s giving the rest of us (who actually put in the early mornings and late nights) a bad name. 

Is there an average amount of time a PR work week is expected to last? Does it differ between financial and consumer? Maybe the ‘PR’ lifestyle is more associated with in-house roles rather than us agency folk? 

Air kissing aside, it’s time for PR graduates to reclaim the PR stereotype type cast by Joanna Lumley, and in true PR terminology, get the key messages out. 

PR is a great industry to work in, is more interesting that anything my friends do and after a couple of years, PR is as well paid as even the most glamorous of careers (apart from maybe Law!).

Career anxiety or genuine grievance? I’d be interested to hear the opinions

Fresh blood…

July 2, 2007

So, You may have noticed our series of profiles came to a rather abrupt halt last week. [Don’t pretend you weren’t checking to see if it were someone you already knew!].

Never fear, like a less muscular, more eloquent Arnie, they’ll be back. We’re going to tweak the format slightly, ask a few new questions, do a couple of things differently. ‘Mix it up’ as people trendier than us would say.

Fancy being profiled? Let us Know.

Fancy writing for the blog? Let us know.

We’ve had great contributions already, and as we repeat ad nauseam, it’s your blog. For all of you, just like the group. We don’t get any money for doing all this, just the warm glow from bringing PRs together.

Also, while you’re at it, sign up for our first ever dinner, and enjoy an evening of [modestly priced] top PR banter.