Archive for the 'industry issues' Category

CIPR Awards 2008

September 17, 2008

Monday night saw me fortunate enough to have a jolly at the CIPR awards, where we were shortlisted for agency of the year. (Blue Rubicon won the category).

It was pretty good fun, and there were a lot of people from right across the industry there. Great, I thought, there’s probably loads of people here whose views on the winners and night itself I’ll be able to catch up with online. Tuesday came and went, and nothing really appeared. Maybe it is the hangovers I thought, I’ll have another look Wednesday night. Yet still there’s next to nothing.

Why? (I appreciate I’m only just blogging about it now, but I’m pretty convinced we’re not all involved in some giant social media stand-off). Does it reflect a lack of interest in the CIPR awards generally, or just a lack of relevance for the more digital-minded section of the PR community who are likely to be blogging? If it’s the latter, then the CIPR awards are at least gamely trying to engage us with social media campaign of the year etc.

I’m never quite sure how I feel about the CIPR generally. I’m not a member, but have been to events there etc, and do feel it is important for us to have a coherent voice as an industry. I’m also acutely aware that you can’t stand on the sidelines, not getting involved, and complain about how things proceed. So I don’t.


A woman of little substance

June 24, 2008

A first-time post here for Nicola Miller, Communications Manger, Thames Valley University. If you’d like to contribute, please do drop me/James a line on Facebook.

This week, the international PR industry gathers for the fifth annual World Public Relations Festival & Conference, being hosted in the UK for the first time. But whilst there will no doubt be plenty of healthy professional debate taking place, what about the global debate that needs to be addressed surrounding the unhealthy image of our profession? I’m talking about the comprehension of public relations beyond its own sector, and the image of its female practitioners in particular.

I know from experience that the practitioner role is taken very seriously by those working in and with us in our industry. But when will the rest of the world, the television-watching one that lies beyond the CIPR’s doors, finally catch on?

Sex and the City has a lot to answer for. Like most viewers of the multi award-winning TV series and now box office smash, I’ve been amused by its characters’ exploits, baffled by their wardrobes and staggered by the number of sexual partners they’ve collectively worked their way through (it’s 95, in case you were wondering). But from a professional viewpoint, I have one ‘Big’ problem with SATC, and it’s not a Mr: It’s Samantha Jones, the PR woman.

Friends think that I ought to be flattered by the show’s portrayal of a strong-minded, sexy female working in the same job as mine and who knows what she wants. But it’s the depiction of this ‘profession’ that makes me want to pull my hair out.

Samantha’s job seems to revolve entirely around casually throwing together every exclusive bash in New York and then attending them with her friends in tow. We all know the reality would be very different. I guarantee Samantha would be found running around backstage at any of her events, trying to keep everything and everyone to a watertight schedule. Just to shatter illusions even further, most of us in PR do not occupy our time planning lovely parties. Events are far more likely to consist of a corporate lunch or two or, if you’re lucky, working on a stand at the occasional conference, which is bound to be on an exciting topic, such as steel production or beekeeping.

Sex and the City is not the first programme to have damaged the reputation of women in PR. Jennifer Saunders did it first, of course, with her satirical portrayal of Edina Monsoon in the brilliantly funny ‘Absolutely Fabulous’. But a big part of the comedy lay in the ‘joke’ that Edina worked in PR, a job with so little substance to it that turning up was optional and when you did, it was an endless round of parties, drinking and the occasional lunch with Lulu. And don’t forget Bridget Jones famously ‘fannying around with the press releases’, to quote Hugh Grant in the film as Daniel Cleaver.

They say ‘sex sells’, but there is a loaded sub-text to the chosen profession of the sexually experienced character of Samantha. She even states in one episode that; “’I’m in PR’ translates as ‘I’m good in bed’”. Would Samantha’s character be as convincing if she were an accountant, or a chef, perhaps? The not-so-subliminal message is that working in PR is suited to women and neither they nor their profession should be taken too seriously. When you consider that SATC sets out to empower its female audience, it’s rather depressing. Even if it were a true depiction, what about the corporate communicators, those working in politics and generally making a difference for their clients or within the organisations where they slave away?

I cannot be alone in cringing at the thought of my mum watching Kim Cattrall play Samantha in SATC, but I recoil at her opinion of what her two daughters do for a living. No wonder she still thinks I’m going to come to my senses one day and ‘get a real, professional job’. I have a profession, just not the fictitious one that the rest of the world sees on screen.

I think it is time for some non-fiction please. The PR industry needs to do more to counter the stereotypical image of PR as an occupation that can be entered without relevant training and education. We need to do a better job at policing the reputation of our own industry.

Ironically, though perhaps not surprisingly, Samantha, Edina and Bridget are doing nothing to damage the appeal of working in public relations. Nothing could be further from the truth, with roughly 48,000 people working in the industry and PR regularly featuring amongst the top three career choices for graduates, many of them female.

Furthermore, a recent salary survey from industry bible PR Week illustrated that a career in public relations can command an increasingly attractive salary with employers set to maintain levels of graduate recruitment levels in this industry.

But why do so many fresh-faced young graduates want to work in PR over most other areas of employment? Should the industry be slapping itself on the back for offering such excellent salaries, working conditions and job satisfaction, or be concerned at the possibility that PR is being viewed as a soft-option, a Mickey Mouse career that can be done by anyone who knows how to hold a conversation and a wine glass simultaneously?

My suspicions that PR is not viewed as a serious profession were aroused when I learned that, across the country, applications to study public relations degrees were down once more this year, according to UCAS figures. Do those planning their careers not consider PR to be a vocation that values or requires the tailored education provided by universities? If you were pursuing a career in anything you perceived to be a true profession, wouldn’t you want to study for the appropriate qualifications in order to practice it?

I hope the delegates at the World Public Relations Conference remember that not all the world views PR as we do. If not, I know of a beekeeping conference they may prefer.


January 27, 2008

I don’t like clubs. I don’t like going to gigs. I couldn’t tell you where a single cool shop is. I’ve never been to Brixton, Hoxton, or anywhere else that might be considered ‘cool’

Instead I like ‘proper’ pubs, watching sport, going rowing. I live In Barnes, and eulogise about Northumberland.

On no grounds could I be considered cool. Thankfully, my agency are sensible enough never to call on me to be a barometer of cool, due to being younger. Yet in many agencies, when they want to know ‘what’s cool’, it’s the younger staff they look to.

But teenage culture is evolving faster, as well as achieving more autonomy than ever before known.  There’s a great piece in today’s Sunday Times on the new series of Skins [which I love], underlining this very point.

Or this post by Ian Green recently, about his son, underlining how the average teenager uses the internet to, share, create and absorb a culture which can be entirely distinct from that of people just a few years older.

But one of the biggest differences between current teenagers and people even of the ripe old age, of oh say 23/4 [like myself] won’t become apparent for a few years yet.Wired recently had a top piece about ‘microcelebrity’, or the process by which those of us who live extensively online, are in effect, celebrities to a few people. Although some people already in the workplace are used to the need to manage your personal reputation like you’re being PR-ed, most are not. But the generation who will soon be with us view at as de rigeur. You’re broadcasting, conversing in public, in an accessible fashion 24/7. Even more frighteningly [or empoweringly] your conversations will last if not forever, at least as long as Google want them too.

So, if you want to know what the cool kids are into, don’t ask your AE or AMs; they don’t know. And neither do I. But you probably know a kid who does.

Don’t mention the flaw – A true story

September 21, 2007


“So you want me to arrange the briefing for two ‘o’clock at the cabinet war rooms… ok good stuff, see you there”.

I put the phone down to my client with a resigned sense of dread. Getting a journalist to anywhere other than a nice restaurant is always a struggle, but getting them to mingle with tourists, in a pre war relic, near damn impossible. The phone rang again.

“Oh I forgot, could you also invite the customer spokesperson, I am sending details now”

The email arrived the second I replaced the receiver. This customer would have to do some travelling by the looks of the German international dialling code.

Customer: Hallo

Me: Oh hi there, I’ve just sent you an email

Customer: Ah yes, dis is no problem. Vhere exactly am I going?

Me: Um the Cabinet (sudden realisation that the customer is German) War rooms…

Customer: Um…ahhhh…….. Do you really think that this is an appropriate place for meeting a journalist?

Me: um…… well…. Um…. I guess I’ll see you next week. Bye.

The day arrived, as did the journalist, the customer, and my client. Gathering at the front desk of the Cabinet War rooms in Westminster, the party of four descended deep into the secretive passages of the war rooms. On we went, through to ‘the bunker’. ‘Why in the name of god did she choose here’ I muttered to myself.

Client: It’s great here, isn’t it. So historic.

I shot a glance at the customer, who looking deeply unnostalgic.

As we entered ‘the bunker’ I got the immediate impression that we were about to be blown to pieces. A virtual simulator in the corner recreated the ‘path of the Luftwaffe’, complete with real bombing sounds and air raid sirens. The realism however was timed, on a 3 minute loop to be precise. Every three minutes, a German bomber (complete with engine roar) would begin its deadly descent to Blighty, the air raid sirens would sound and then the bombs would hit. Every three minutes for an hour.

The journalist quite clearly thought he was being set up and eyed me with a nervous ‘when do you turn into Jeremy Beadle’ stare. I looked helplessly back. The Cabinet War rooms attendant left us to own devices and to the most painful hour of my PR career.

Once the interview was complete, the customer wasted no time in awkwardly shaking our hands, quite clearly already working out how he was going to explain this behaviour to his family.

The journalist also made his way from our military den, whispering that he would write up the interview and find for a space for the article in his magazine (needless to say, 5 months on, no article has ever appeared) and the client continued to congratulate herself for her foresight in holding the briefing in such a ‘cool’ place.

I made my way back to the office and explained what had happened in my account team meeting to roars of laughter and derision.

Another day, another expertly executed briefing.

PR-Not really THAT bad…

August 9, 2007

You may well have read the generally amusing Cityboy column in the London Paper the other day. [Apologies for our non-metropolitan readers] Suggesting a career in PR was worse than working in an abattoir seemed harsh.

After all, there is eye candy like this to brighten your day [I’ve got reservations about ‘The Hot Hack Blog’s’ raison d’etre, but amusing nonetheless. And how many industries would see your company making videos of your away day quite like these from Golin Harris?!

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.