Archive for April, 2008

PR Jargon

April 30, 2008

What do you always tell clients?

Make sure you don’t use jargon, unless the language used could be understood by a lay person.

But what do all PRs do?

Use horrendous meaningless jargon, and phrases which absolutely do not reflect their true meaning.

Here’s a top 10 of the worst offending phrases, and their actual meaning. Feel free to disagree, or let us know any real clangers you think we’ve overlooked….

10] “Can you just start this document off?”

=” can you just do the whole document, please?”

9] ‘”low hanging fruit”

= “achieve this, and it will be of no use to anyone, but look like soemthing got done”

8] “We’ll just re-purpose some old material”

= “cut and paste”

7] “Going forward”

= “I have an inability to express myself properly, and mean in future”

6] “That’s a really great idea”

= “That’s now my really good idea” OR “Thank God you have an idea, as I have none whatsoever, and it was getting embarassing”

5] “Could I have this close of play please” [usually said c.3pm]

= “I’ve forgotten to do this/run out of time, and you’re not going home tonight as a result”

4] “managing expectations”

= “making sure they’re not dissapointed when we produce no coverage/don’t do what they want”

3] “Would you be responsible for this…”

= “I hope never to see this piece of work again” OR “I’ve been told to be more consultative when handing off crap pieces of work”

2] “liaised with”

= “they phoned us first” OR “I left a message belatedly” OR “I haven’t even spoken to them, but this will make me sound better” OR ” I actually have spoken with them on numerous occasions” [rarely this one though].

1] “let’s push back”

= “we’ll try and disagree, but end up doing what they want anyway”

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How not to get a job in PR

April 25, 2008

A PR agency genuinely received this as a CV covering letter….amazing.

“Desirous to give a new orientation to my career, in an open and international environment, I permit myself to submit a spontaneous offer. Are you looking for someone dynamic and polyvalent, knowing to achieve the fixed objectives, on an international level, to fill a position with responsibilities?

 

You are treating with an experienced professional in communication and administration, having the habit of success, thanks to his energy and his strength, his enthusiasm and a real interest in a creative and efficient management of the confided duties.

 

In fact, after almost five years on behalf of an important Swiss institution of public utility and charity, I aspire to a new professional challenge in a stimulating sector. I’m looking to diversify and deepen my acquired capacities in PR and corporate communications. My cv enclosed informs you further about my qualities and my past experiences.

 

I inform you herewith also that I enrolled at Westminster University, London, as from September 2008.This in order to obtain a Master in PR and Public communications. These studies will last one year, and during this period, I won’t be able to work full time. Thanks for your understanding.

 

In expectation of a response, which I hope will be positive, I’d like you to acknowledge, Sir, my best regards.”

I don’t think they were ever invited in for an interview.

Communication for Children

April 24, 2008

How many PR job adverts have you seen recently that have required a ‘natural communicator’? With particular relevance to our line of work, being able to ‘connect’ with someone is probably the most crucial thing we do, other than forward features of course.

And so it was that a friend from University cornered me at a party one evening last year and persuaded me that what every school age child needed was to be shown how to speak in public , how to approach interviews with confidence and how to generally articulate their thoughts.

Within ten minutes we had formalised the idea, within half an hour we understood what we wanted to teach, and within 2 weeks we had a website and a timeline to make the ideas happen.  Such drunken ideas are rarely acted upon so effectively. Like a well executed status note, action points were actioned and Speak Up! was born.

That was September 2007. This week we are preparing for our second session in a central London academy, with six more sessions planned for the next two months.

I share all this to discuss a central core belief of the Speak Up! venture which is relevant to anyone currently working in PR– namely that anyone can speak in public, they just need to be shown how.  There is no great secret to public speaking and there is certainly no great secret to giving a great speech; practice combined with confidence as well as being able to deal with nervousness are all you need and these can all be taught.

When I was at University, I had to deliver quite a few speeches as President of the Student Union and rushing through my material was one of my main problems. It was not until a friend recommended I write SLOW DOWN in size 60 font at the top of each speech, did I actually begin to improve and crucially, relax. Having the reminder on the top of each page helped me to calm my nerves, which in turn helped me deliver the speech.

There is no excuse for communications professionals not to be adequate public speakers as so much of what we do is about performing – whether it be in an internal meeting in front of an Account Director, in a client meeting or on the phone to that ‘key’ target on your media , we are all judged on our ability to talk and to persuade.

In my experience, the best way to get better at speaking in public is to participate in, rather than just watch media training sessions for clients. Media training is expensive enough before you add your charge out rate, make best use of the time whilst someone else is paying and slap any completed sessions on your C.V.

 

An age old problem

April 23, 2008

I was at a Frontline event last night which featured Menzies Campbell, discussing amongst other things, his demise as leader of the Liberal Democrats. As a ‘fellow yellow’ such close access to a former top Liberal was un-missable. Sadly, but strangely relevant to theme of the theme of this blog post, the room was only half full.

Are we obsessed with age in the UK?

With John McCain looking increasingly comfortable as a successor to George Bush at the youthful age of 73, do we consign our elder statesman in the UK to the back benches prematurely? Ming certainly thinks so and he holds the journalists of our national newspapers wholly accountable.

I disagree with him

I think there is attitude of unspoken meritocracy when it comes to age that extends beyond Politics to every walk of life in this country. When looking for chinks in your armour the British press will explore every dent, and if age is found wanting, than age will be your downfall. I don’t think there is any premeditated bias against elder politicians.

Consider Vince Cable, Rupert Murdoch, Bruce Forsyth (ok – I am stretching it now) – no one minds if you’re old as long as you can do the job you are paid to do. What Ming failed to do was convince the electorate and his own party was that he was the leader to take the Liberal Democrats forward and inspire the country. The same fate was served to William Hague and Iain Duncan-Smith but no one suggested it was because they were bald. They just simply weren’t good enough.

Politicians should be careful before they play the ‘ageist’ card as it undermines those politicians of senior years who are quite competently getting on with serving their constituencies.

Campbell will be forever remembered for his ‘temporary Leader’ gaffe in the House of Commons and did nothing to improve his authority last night by referring to Blair and Clinton as:

“you know, those two on TV… you know who I mean… you know those two old boys in the 70’s ( Morecambe and Wise someone suggested from the crowd) yes that’s right Morecambe and Wise. Actually Blair and Clinton aren’t like them at all….”

Ming’s failure was more to do with his own performance, that’s my opinion anway. Maybe I am ageist?

Gorkana: the good, the bad, the bloody media lists

April 20, 2008

Love it or hate it, Gorkana is a major part of our jobs. The person I sit next to at work curses it on a daily basis, whilst the person opposite sings its praises all the time. Me, I’m in the middle.

The main gripe I’ve heard about the service is its clunky navigation system. People hate the search engine and think it could be greatly improved. On this I agree as I have conducted many fruitless searches and have ended up having to go through all the paper’s departments until I finally find the one I want.

The other main problem I hear is transferring the media list you have put together. I don’t mind doing press lists; in fact I think they are great as it makes you really familiar with the journalists and what they are writing. However, I never enjoyed having to transfer all the details from the site to Excel.  That was until Gorkana came in the other day and showed me their new feature which automatically transfers lists into Excel. Had it not been wildly inappropriate, I probably would have kissed the trainer!

I do like the journalist alerts I get through everyday updating me on journalist changes and new publications. The forward features alert too is a great addition and hopefully, if Gorkana can nail all the publication, it might herald the end of the yearly slog of pulling together the hallowed forward features list.

Then there are the Gorkana breakfasts which I am a regular at. None of them have ever blown me away with their content, but it is always nice to put a face to a name. On one occasion I even got coverage directly from speaking to the journalist at the breakfast – so it is all good in my book.

The people at Gorkana probably hate me by now as I tend to email them on a daily basis asking questions and getting them to confirm if a journo is still at the publication or not. This is the part of the service that I think is best. I always get my query answered the same day and no matter how dumb my question is, they never take the piss.

If they could just get the search engine right, then I think it would be a pretty good service. Until then though, it will always be flawed.

So, good, bad, ok?

PR PUB QUIZ TIME

April 14, 2008

We like to ask questions.

And we’ve often asked ourselves: ‘Who’s harder- Rocky or Rambo?’

Well this event won’t help us find an answer, but it will tell us who London’s top PR pub quizzers are…

Thursday, May 8th, the Blue Posts Piccadilly will see eight teams of intrepid PRs battle it out. Over several rounds we’ll separate the blaggers from the media machines. And the teams?

Limited by size to eight, so apologies to the many others who were keen, we have:

BUT, that doesn’t mean the rest of you can’t join the fun. Whilst the room we’re quizzing in limits us to the teams above, we’d love to see plenty of ou there for drinks, in true PR and Comms Network style. The quiz runs from 7pm, so come on down. It’s a great pub, and as ever, we don’t believe in name badges. Full details on the Facebook group here

The Devil is in the detail

April 13, 2008

My least favourite part of the job is writing contact reports. They are dull, pedantic and hugely annoying – however, they are pretty handy documents to have, so a necessary evil….I guess.

After many unsuccessful reports, I think I’ve come up with a few tips which should help ease the pain.

1.       Write notes on the agenda – short, concise and right next to the item on the agenda it corresponds to

2.       Write notes  in pencil – if like me you have messy handwriting, then it’s much easier to work out what the Hell you were trying to write if it is in pencil

3.       Read the ongoing status report (if you have one) and work from that as your basis

4.       Don’t go more than 24 hours following the meeting before writing it

5.       If you don’t catch something, make a note and then ask a colleague immediately after the meeting once the client has left

6.       Don’t daydream. As the junior member of the team you probably won’t be making too much of a noise during the meeting, so try to stick with it all the way

7.       Drink a cup of coffee directly before and after the meeting. Having one during the meeting leaves you open to missing a bit of crucial information. Not to mention providing the opportunity for you to pour coffee on someone’s lap……

8.       Ask to look at your colleague’s notes. They shouldn’t mind as in the end, it will save them time

9.        Allow yourself to become comfortable with using the phrase “action it”

10.   Proof, proof, proof, proof, proof. I actually don’t think there is anything more annoying than pouring that much effort into such a bland document only to have it fall at the final hurdle because of a typo. Annoying.

Pretty obvious really, but I wish someone had told me them 18 months ago!

Do all these things and you should have an air-tight report which you can happily send to your client.

I say ‘should’ because I am still waiting to write the perfect contact report. I’ve come close on a few occasions, but no cigar. My fascination with doing the perfect one has seen me ask a LOT of people if they have ever produced a contact report which never needed to be reviewed.

I take comfort in the fact that I am still asking.

Should PR (and Politics) be more regional?

April 4, 2008

With my Yellow Rosette pinned to my coat lapel, my clipboard stuffed with fresh sheets of paper and an earnest, trustworthy and caring expression, I left my house and headed for the mean streets of Cambridge. I haven’t become a door to door salesman, but a council candidate for the upcoming local elections.

If truth be told, Cambridge isn’t a very ‘mean’ place to canvass at all, in fact there are a probably few easier places one could start their political career than the middle class utopia of this famous University town, but still, signatures don’t write themselves (unless you live in a safe Labour seat in Birmingham) and I had doors to knock.

My first observation from my two nights campaigning is that people are a lot friendlier than you expect them to be. One family were so delighted that ‘someone’ from their party was standing that they gathered the whole family together to sign my nomination form and heartily wished me the best of luck (in case you were wondering, I need lottery-esque luck to win the seat). There were of course those people who spied you with suspicion (one woman told me she had the flu and that I should leave immediately unless I didn’t want to get ‘very’ ill) but they were a minority.

I didn’t meet the wave of apathy that I had been expecting, instead confusion reigned.

“are you from the same party as Boris Johnson”

“I think Labour do a good job in this area” (both council and MP have been Lib for the last few years)

“I was against the War in Iraq so I am sorry I just can’t support you”

Does PR (and as part of that, Politics) speak to regional areas in a way we think it does? Not so long ago I worked on a public sector campaign and before we actually had any stats at all, we wrote the press release and left gaps where we later inserted ‘regional’ variation. Does the blind determination to tell the local story contrary to any evidence for that story really help you or the client?

My argument is clearly no.

I think we’ve become accustomed to a London way of thinking in the last few years that is beginning to blight Politics and the news agenda as a whole. As an example of this, consider the way in which the 2012 Olympic debate has been fought and lost. One local campaigner told me the other day that they wanted Cambridge to be an Olympic free zone… What an utter disaster that our biggest opportunity to challenge child obesity and under performance has been turned into a negative thing because the country as a whole has been let down by miscounting and bad PR.

A question then. Are PR agencies that are only based in London equipped to tell the local angle that a story so often needs to cut through the apathy?

Big Scary Monsters

April 2, 2008

When I first started in PR a few years back, one of my favourite tasks was doing the ‘sell in.’ At the time I was doing Financial PR and when we did, on the rare occasion, do a sell-in, we had genuinely interesting news to bring to the journalist. I had no problem calling up some of the most respected journos and letting them know my client had something they might be interested in and then talking them through what they might expect. I spoke, they listened and everything seemed to go well. I had a review recently and media relations skills once again stood out.

Personally, I don’t think there is much to it – I would much prefer to be able to format a document so perfectly that every decimal point was in the right place – but apparently it is something to be proud of.

That said, I have met fellow PR folk who are terrified about picking up the phone and will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it. One person I know just made up responses from journos once when he got a particularly dodgy story which he knew would get no coverage. To keep up the pretence, he called the talking clock and sold-in to an automated response………

There is only one thing I dislike about calling journos and that’s when I have to do it at a time in the day that I don’t feel comfortable with.  I think there is a window of opportunity to call national journalists and that is between 10:30am – 12:30pm. They’ve just come out of editorial meetings, they’re going through emails and they are at a point where they won’t have decided which story to chase. If you call after that cut-off point, you risk getting them when they are trying to get out to lunch (not wise), whilst they are drafting copy (not wise), or when they are trying to escape for the day (very unwise).

So unless I have the next Watergate, I try to stick to that window. However, as is usually the case, we can’t control when news comes to us and we have to approach in the late afternoon.

On one occasion, many, many moons ago, I called a national journo at 4:35 regarding a press release I had sent out 15 minutes before. Of course, he hadn’t seen it – he was instead writing his piece for the next day. So, and I have taken the liberty of cleaning up the language for the kids, he said: “I apologise, young sir. I have been rather preoccupied and have been unable to peruse your release as I have many awaiting my attention. I am also trying to scribe an article and would appreciate it if you would kindly leave me in solace until it is completed.”

It takes a lot for me to blush, but the language that day would have made even Father Jack think twice. On the flip side, my colleague called someone at the same time and got an article out of it which was touted far and wide. I scratched my head.

Good media relations skills? I think on some occasions it’s down to sheer luck, but don’t tell my line manager that!

10 things no-one ever tells you about working in PR

April 1, 2008

We put our heads together here at the PR and Comms Network. Then nothing happened, so we spoke to some people, and here it is; the not-so definitive, more than slightly tongue-in-cheek list of the 10 things no-one ever lets on about working in PR. If you think we’ve missed something out dive into the comments. .. 

1] Publicity isn’t just something you aim at for clients. It’s a philosophy you live by.  And that applies to your own internal PR as much as any client.

2] The glory is never yours. It’s the spokesperson’s, the client’s, the agency’s, the account director’s… then it might be yours. If there’s any left over.

3] Playing on Facebook and blogs would prove useful in the end. Yep, digital is the future, just in case you’d been allowed to forget.

4] You should like living in London. Otherwise your job prospects might be somewhat reduced.

5] Wacky creativity? Indulged with lip service. Outstanding personal organisation? Rewarded with advancement.

6] Whatever it is you thought ‘my God I couldn’t bear to work in that sector’ ;that’s what you’ll end up working on. It’s sod’s law, but true. Hate finance? Hello city calendar work. Technophobe? Welcome to consumer-tech PR.

7] Accountants and Lawyers look down upon your profession. How this reversal of fortune from your previous scorn for their boring jobs occurred is not at all evident.

8] No-one will actually understand what your job involves, achieves, or demands. Quite possibly you never will yourself..

9] Actually the boys aren’t all gay, the girls aren’t all pretty, and virtually no-one is glamorous. Disappointing for many.

10] Why can’t people understand that your industry is not a verb? ‘To PR’ never appeared in any dictionary I possessed.