What in the world is PR?

Having studied a degree in English and Drama at undergrad level, for my masters I wanted to throw myself into something I had never done before; the world of PR. Public Relations, to my untrained mind – my PR role model being Samantha Jones – was writing press releases, going to fancy events and ‘schmoozing’ clients. From just one lecture I soon realised this certainly is not the case. I will not profess that after just one week on my PR and Communications MSc I am immediately a PR guru, however, I can say that I now know what in the world PR actually is. For me, this image sums it up perfectly…

 

PR-vs-Ad

It is easy to tell someone that something is ‘great’ but getting someone else to say it, is an art form. PR practitioners are utilizing their communications skills to uphold the reputation of companies, big and small. In today’s competitive marketplace, for a business to be successful it must be able to withstand its competition. Look no further than the Ryanair scandal which has dominated social media and the press for the past few weeks. Other airlines have cleverly cashed in on their competitor’s misfortunes…

 

AL-Ryanair

Alongside my first week at Ulster University, I had the pleasure of hosting my sister’s Hen Party in Edinburgh. I quickly realised that planning a hen party was great experience for my future PR career. From the early stages of planning, my sister was adamant she did not want anything ‘tacky’ at her hen. No inappropriate straws or strippers popping up at any point. My main focus had to be my sister’s reputation, which I can say was very much still intact by the end of the weekend. Although it was gratifying to hear my sister’s admiration for her wonderful hen party, it was even nicer to see her seventeen other hens posting on social media about their fabulous experience.

 

Bride To Be

When I first set out to write this blog I did some online searching for other young PR bloggers to gain some ‘blogsperation’. I stumbled upon Livi Wilkes on twitter (@LiviWilkesPR), and soon became hooked on her blog ‘Live Love Laugh PR’. The first thing that really stood out for me was her advice to gain experience alongside my degree. I immediately got myself into gear and began sending out emails to PR companies in Northern Ireland to generate work experience (which I assume is what most of my class have been doing). To attempt to stand out from the crowd I revamped my CV, making it as aesthetically pleasing as possible using Canva.

As pretty as my CV may be, I recognise that it alone will not get me a job. Having gone straight into a masters from my undergrad, it was daunting to hear the amount of experience my peers have already achieved. I did not let this dishearten me, and in fact, it made me more determined to get my name out there in the world of PR. My twitter newsfeed has gone from Gemma Collins memes to PR companies and bloggers imparting their words of wisdom. A simple follow or like on a company’s post could mean that my name may be remembered.

Basically, as scary as it is to start something completely new, delving into a fresh world can be daunting but exciting. My journey into the big bad world of PR is just starting but I will keep you updated on where it leads me to…

Olivia x

 

Olivia McAleenan is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Advertising at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @OliviaMcAleenan / LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/in/olivia-mcaleenan-88774413b /Facebook – Olivia McAleenan / Instagram @oliviamcaleenan

The Clare Balding & Saga magazine saga

If you have even the slightest bit of interest in sport, chances are that you are familiar with Clare Balding the sports presenter who works for both the BBC and Channel 4. Balding’s ubiquitous sports coverage was memorably lampooned by British comedian Tracey Ullman earlier this year in a sketch that seemed eerily accurate. 

 

Balding presents a wide range of events from the Olympic Games to Crufts (the world’s largest dog show) on Channel 4. She is one of these presenters who always seems to be on television. She appears to be someone who has a genuine love and passion for what she does. She comes across as unassuming and approachable on any broadcast that she makes. This is why I was absolutely mystified at an article that was published in The Guardian on Saturday, where a journalist claimed that Balding was a controlling diva who wanted the final say over an article that was to be published in Saga magazine. In the article “How BBC star Clare Balding nicked my byline” Ginny Dougary lamented the fact that Balding insisted that she have final say over what was included in the article. “Who is this insecure diva who does not know better about what should be an essential divide between journalism and public relations? It must be one of those Hollywood actors, you might think, represented by aggressively image-controlling agents. Well, it is disappointing to report that it is one of the nation’s darlings and a champion of other women, particularly right now in the battle for equal pay at the BBC. Yes, it’s all-round good egg Clare Balding.”

As all good PR students know, there is a divide between PR and journalism, or at least there should be. What interested me about this article is the fact that previously I would have thought nothing negative about Clare Balding, now I am not so sure. The seed of doubt has been planted. It seems crazy to me that what is essentially a fluff piece (my apologies to journalists but unless you are a sort of Lynn Barber type interviewer, that is how they come across, but if they help you stay afloat in your chosen career by all means carry on) merits such rigorous protection.

Apparently, one of the main problems that Balding had about the article was that it focused too much on her sexuality. “The next day, I receive an email from the editor, Katy Bravery, apologising but adding: “Clare and her agent have complained that there is way too much about her being gay in the interview, and I have to say I agree.”  Now here is the thing, it could be that Balding spoke at length about her sexuality to this journalist, however upon reading the article felt that it was not doing enough to promote what she really wanted to talk about, her new children’s book. Balding is very clear about her sexuality in her daily life but could it be that she just didn’t want it to be mentioned within this particular article? I don’t really understand why Dougary seems so fixated on Balding’s sexuality, could it be that Balding inadvertently said something that she wished to be kept “off the record” and realised that this might be included in the article. Maybe Balding herself thought that it was not information that the readers of Saga magazine would be interested in. Is Balding within her rights to retract some things that she has said over the course of the interview or not?

Here is the real issue though, the article goes on to mention that Balding has clearly added quotes to the interview, which the journalist was previously unaware of. Alarm bells should be going off by now, Balding’s job is to answer the questions she was asked, not to suddenly decide after a while that she now has something better to say.  A journalist should have the final say not the interviewee, a journalist’s job is to scrutinise power after all. Does an interview with a celebrity do that though? Are they a clear opportunity to scrutinise someone’s position or are they simply a PR exercise? There is far too much emphasis nowadays on what celebrities have to do and say.  Each article or pre-recorded chat show interview seems the same. If you want to gain a real insight into how a celebrity thinks or feels then you need to talk to them one on one. Average people such as you and me do not get this opportunity though, so instead we turn to our magazine articles and chat show interviews desperately wanting to relate to these celebrities. We want to believe that their interviews on Graham Norton et al are real, unrehearsed, spur of the moment events.

However, do journalists really believe that each interview that they have with a celebrity is not a carefully constructed PR exercise? Do we the readers really believe that? Think of Hollywood’s stars of the Golden Age, everything was controlled. There were no photos of actors falling out of nightclubs. These stars were “perfect” supposedly.  Has anyone ever seen a bad photo of Lauren Bacall or Grace Kelly in their heyday for example? Call me old-fashioned, but I fail to see how this could lead to accusations of “fake news”. The interview would have to be newsworthy in the first place, celebrity interviews are not the most important thing that someone will read over the course of a day.

I am going to end this long-winded post by saying that both Saga magazine and Clare Balding have come out strongly denying Dougary’s claims. However, the damage has been done for me. Now every year when I watch Crufts I will be thinking is Clare Balding actually nice or is she a controlling diva? It’s highly ironic that by trying to control this interview, Balding has damaged her brand for many people including myself. I am sorry if this comes across as a rant against objective journalism, it is not meant to be. Impartiality in journalism has never been more important, I just want all parties involved in celebrity interviews to acknowledge the unspoken truth, that these type of interviews are a type of PR exercise. Celebrity interviews are where public relations and journalism collide, like it or not. Maybe it’s time we started to have a look at how we view the journalistic merit of such interviews in the first place.

 

Catherine Leonard is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Political Lobbying at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @CLeonard1212

Ribs, Bibs and Blackboards: In At the Deep End

I started classes for my Masters in Communications and PR in the University of Ulster on the 26th of September and one of the first things I’ve learned so far is that jokes about domestic violence are a terrible way to sell ribs.

That’s going to need a little context. Ribs n’ Bibs is a small restaurant in Belfast owned by a man called Malachi Toner. On the 27th of September images started doing the rounds on social media of their advertising blackboard:

 

 

Eesh. A “joke” in really poor taste that is deeply offensive to victims of domestic abuse. It did not go down well.

First things first, if anyone reading this has been a victim of domestic violence, here’s a link to Womens Aid NI. A lot of smarter and more eloquent people than me have written about why domestic violence jokes are so horrible, for example.

This blog isn’t about the joke itself but about how the company reacted and what I think they should have done. It’s going to be a bit of an experiment to look back after my Masters and (hopefully) have much better ideas and be able to back them up with way more knowledge.

When the image above started circulating on social media, there was an immediate call from some users to let Ribs n Bibs know how out of order the joke was in the easiest way possible; by leaving 1 star reviews on their Facebook page. A company like Ribs n’ Bibs lives and dies on its Facebook reviews. If you’re visiting Belfast and looking for somewhere to eat, you check online. You also  avoid the places with one star reviews.

Within a matter of hours, the restaurant had received approximately 200 1 star reviews, dragging its overall rating down to 1. As of writing there are currently 756 1 star reviews and 98 5 star reviews. It’s overall rating is currently 1.5.

Ouch.

The restaurant’s first reaction, or at least the first reaction of whoever was running their Facebook page was this:

 

 

I have a three month old niece. She’s the most perfect baby who has ever lived, but her entire communication skill set consists of staring, the occasional grunt and crying when she’s hungry.

I am certain that she could have come up with a better response than the one above.

The next morning the owner, Malachi Toner, did the rounds of the local Talk Radio shows to try and undo the damage. These will be on demand if you want to listen back. He apologised (which is good) and talked about training and fund raisers (also good) without any actual details (not so good). It didn’t go down as well as Mr Toner would have hoped. Many people online accused him of deflecting, of trying to paint his staff and himself as victims.

What Ribs n’ Bibs  have ignored is their conversations with their customers are two-way and symmetric. I gave it a bit of thought and came up with a three step process to try and deal with the problem. I like to think my 3 step programme is a) the right thing to do and b) helps the company resolve a difficult PR problem.

  • Apologise. Do it soon. Do it sincerely. Ribs n’ Bibs didn’t get a proper “I’m sorry” out for over twelve hours.  The boss needs to take the heat and needs to do it with humility. The most important thing here is speed. Social media doesn’t sleep, the earlier you get involved, the more you can direct the narrative.
  • There are plenty of charities and organisations across Northern Ireland that provide help, advice and support to victims of domestic abuse. Contact one of them, explain that you realise the joke was deeply offensive and you want your staff to go through training to explain why it angered so many people and what they should do in the future. Set a date.
  • With this same charity organise a fundraiser. I don’t mean a vague promise, set a date. 

Once step 2 and 3 are done, put out a joint statement with the charity with details of the training and fundraiser.

By the time you go on the morning radio circuit, you have the chance to move the narrative from “Restaurant makes offensive joke” to “Restaurant quickly learns lesson, donates to charity”.

The very same people who get angry and go destroy your rating on Facebook are the same people who will actually reward you for attempting to right your wrong. This might have been turned into good PR exposure while also raising money for a good cause.

Or maybe not. It’s my first week.

 

Jason Ashford is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Political Lobbying at the University of Ulster. He can be found on Twitter @jasonashford89.

 

GE2017 For Dummies

An Election Guide for Dummies: Take 2

This time around it is the recent General Election I will be breaking down, which sees the electorate take to the polls to vote for one candidate from a political party to see them through to one of the 650 seats up for grabs across the UK (18 of which are in Northern Ireland).

My thoughts on this election are summed up in these 5 words.

As you might have already heard, the Conservatives suffered crippling losses at the hands of Theresa May’s ‘gamble’ to call this premature election in the first place. In order for the Tories to take sole leadership in the UK, they must hold a majority of 326 seats. Although, they only managed to gain 318 seats, meaning they lost their reigning majority in the House of Commons and ultimately the sole power to run this country.

 

But lets be honest, it was probably the farmers revolt against Theresa for ruining their crops.

 

Although they still hold the most seats of any party in the UK, they need the help of a smaller party to form a government  – this is when the DUP come in to play.

The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn triumphed in this election, turning around their less than satisfactory polling in the 2015 election to gain 29 brand new seats, upping their total number of seats to 261. I am pinning this unbelievable result on the students who registered to make their voice heard in an election campaign where Corbyn capitalised on student debt worries and promised a free ride to higher education if he was voted PM. It was the mass student outcry in key Uni areas such as Kent and Leeds that helped Labour win over the Conservatives in historic proportions.

 

Image result for jeremy corbyn fur coat
This is the way I’m currently imagining Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction

 

What Labour did in this election, is similar to how the Sinn Fein removed the DUP majority in Stormont elections just months ago. This is a tremendous achievement for both liberalism and socialism.

 

What does this mean for NI?

In NI, a vote holds a completely different political agenda as to if you were voting Labour or Conservative in the rest of the UK. Instead of voting Left or Right, you most likely voted Republican or Loyalist. The reason I use the two more extreme versions of the NI division (instead of Nationalist and Unionist), is because Northern Ireland has seen a surge in radicalisation, as the NI voters decided to mostly go DUP or Sinn Fein.

As predicted in my last blog, we have seen a total annihilation of the UUP and SDLP, two ‘softer’ parties with less hard-line policies (despite the UUP and DUP being as backward as each other). The Foyle constituency, described as a ‘Citadel of the SDLP’, was a historic win for Sinn Fein as it has been for decades the political stronghold of the SDLP. Another huge success for SF is South Down where Chris Hazzard won the seat from SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie. DUP also stole the seats of South Antrim and South Belfast.

  • Sinn Fein will continue their policy of abstention where they do not take their seats at Westminster.

 

Where do the DUP come into all of this?

Since announced by Theresa May that the Tories will be entering into an official partnership with the DUP to be able to form a minority government, the DUP have been the most searched political party on Google in the UK. Voters will be wondering who Arlene Foster is and what her political agenda is. They will come across articles on the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal, her bigoted stance on gay marriage and abortion and her pro-Brexit policy. Of course, English news websites have highlighted Foster’s troubled past with the IRA, likely to resonate with those in England still fearful of the terrorist group since the 1990’s. I should not need to go into the ancient, obnoxious policies of the DUP, but it is imperative that you know that their stance on some key humanitarian issues have no place in modern day society in NI.

 

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As a line dancer myself, I find the first one most upsetting…..

 

The DUP’s aim with working with Theresa May is to help achieve their Brexit goals, like pushing for a soft border due to the special circumstances which surround NI and the ROI. In a way, it is good that Northern Ireland finally have a significant impact on the going-ons in Westminster, but on the other hand I am frightened that it is the DUP who have the say.

So there we have it. Despite the British people showing a clear want for a political reform, we have against all odds seen the most shocking election in decades, with a Conservative government upheld only by the Democratic Unionist Party.

In 2 and a half years, I have voted in 4 elections. Each time I made my voice heard, despite belonging to one of the most secure nationalist constituencies in the North. I still need to utilise that vote to make sure the party I believe in are getting popular support. If you didn’t vote, I have no doubt you will get the chance to very soon.

 

Shannon Quinn is a 2nd year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/shannon-quinn-556236132 and on Twitter @ShannonQuinnPR.

Don’t tweet lies – strategise

Is your company using digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in order to reel in more interest in your product or service?

They are? Ok. Now ask yourself, is your company using digital platforms effectively?

‘Digital strategy’ can be summarised in seven words – “achieving marketing objectives through applying digital technologies” (Chaffey and Ellis-Chadwick, 2012). Seven words can also be – “Did you see that video on Facebook?” or “Just found the cutest bedsheets on pinterest!” – So A LOT can happen in seven words.

You may be applying these ‘digital technologies’ and clicking send on an aimless Facebook status, but what you want to be doing is ‘achieving marketing objectives’ by doing so. And to achieve marketing objectives, you need to create them through a well thought out strategic plan! This blog will help show you the benefits of developing your own digital strategic plan for your business – big or small.

What does ‘Digital’ include?

Since the creation of the first website in 1989, the digital world has been expanding to include more than just websites. Today you can advertise your business through SEO, email marketing, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest etc.), online video content (YouTube), pay-per-click advertising and mobile marketing.

You might have a sound marketing strategy for your physical business, but when it comes to connecting to your target audience on a digital level, you need to know which of these platforms are applicable and which you can utilise in order to build your brand and boost your revenue on a digital scale.

The benefits of going digital are endless….

It is now easier to satisfy customers with an easy to use website, promotional messages that work and are coherent with the rest of your social media and a quicker response time for customer service via messaging.  This can be an amazing way to boost your brand image, creating personal and intriguing content that will entice customers to purchase and repurchase from your business – for example video content has the power to go viral with the click of the ‘share’ button, all you have to do is be creative.

Tip:  With Instagram now introducing a ‘shop now’ feature without the user actually having to leave the app, it is those online retail companies with formidable strategic digital plans who will respond first to this opportunity and increase their online presence further whilst also up-selling their products.

With the help of tools such as Google Analytics, it is now easier to track and monitor your website statistics. This is an easy to use tool that can help you interpret data, transform it into tangible information and increase your awareness of your target audience.

Tip:  Ask your customers to subscribe to promotional emails when they purchase an item from you. This can further your revenue through repurchase whilst gently increasing awareness of your brand.

BUT you need to be careful too!

In the modern age, not just the basic needs of the customer need to be satisfied, but there are numerous extras that are expected from a company’s online website. The ease of use, performance and presentation are all considered when a website is launched, and these are inadvertently judged by those using it.

Be creative, but be coherent. Your website can’t have any broken links, as no one wants to go to the effort of clicking something (exhausting, I know!) to be disappointed with a webpage that doesn’t work. Even worse, for a webpage that doesn’t include the information they clicked on.

Lastly, the reputation of your brand is dependent on the reviews customers give the company – whether by word of mouth or online. Both have the potential to be damaging if they are stories of poor quality, customer service or of a bad experience. A good recommendation by an individual with a strong following on Facebook or Twitter could make or break your business – use this as an opportunity for celebrity endorsement of your product in order to boost your reputation, but make sure they like your product/service first!

Let’s look at Missguided for example

Innovation is at the heart of Missguided’s solid digital strategic plan. They realise that their targeted value market sector – “the determined dreamer, stylish professional and cautious creative” all have strong online presences. They took advantage of this. The aim of their 2015 Executive Summary was to ‘elevate the brands positioning, increase sales and endorse the brands core values and messages’. Instead of their marketing team posting aimless status’ and tweets, they filled the consumer with meaningful content which helped improved the image of Missguided.

Their marketing primarily focuses on competitions, celebrity endorsements, guerrilla marketing, web advertising and a cohesive social media campaign. Building the brand’s personality through informal and fun interactions on social media has been a key part of Missguided’s strategy creating a fun, quirky, youthful and above all – affordable – alternative to the online retail experience.

Most importantly, Missguided realise the need for an integrated strategy for both their digital and physical markets, resulting in both components complimenting each other. For example, their Facebook offered a competition to win two VIP tickets to their store opening in Manchester, they showed sneak peeks on Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr of their new store’s interior which emulates the brand values projected on their website, and their website also featured a live countdown of the opening of the store.

Within the store itself, digital screens were used to display social media engagement, such as when someone hash tagged a photo of a new purchase, and signs which encouraged customers to follow the brand on Snapchat. Even the writing around the store – “99% unicorn” and “eat, sleep, slay” – mirrors the brand’s playful tone of voice that can be seen across its social platforms.

 

Image result for missguided whats snapperin

 

So what can you do to develop your strategy?

PR Smith’s SOSTAC is an excellent framework for developing aims and goals stemming from a detailed situational analysis which looks at your outside and inside environment. This scan helps you get an advantage over your competitors, whilst keeping your own business focused and efficient. Alongside some of the tools mentioned above, SOSTAC will also help you monitor and control your strategy so that you know what to do if something goes wrong.

Image result for sostac

 

In conclusion, don’t tweet lies – strategise!

Shannon Quinn is a 2nd year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/shannon-quinn-556236132 and on Twitter @ShannonQuinnPR.

Queen of Crohns

It has been a while since I have put fingers to keyboard to blog about things close to my heart, but as May marks ‘Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month’, it is only natural I write a feature blog on one of my best friends, Rachel Nugent, who battles this disease fearlessly every day of her life.

I have known Rachel since I was around 14 when we went to hip-hop classes together (hilarious, I know), but I have always known her as a happy, positive and care-free girl. If something was ever wrong, all she had to do was stick on her earphones and play ‘Cascada-Everytime We Touch’ until she was feeling better. Or was it Tiesto?

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Like how could I forget December 2011….

But despite being obsessed with terrible EDM and hip hop dancing, she always seemed have these bouts of sickness which had never been explained. Her back would give her problems, damaging her thriving hip-hop career (if you can’t already tell, this is a joke), her mouth would be full of ulcers making it difficult for her to speak and her foot would randomly swell making it look like a ballooned animal. Her symptoms were so random, that it took until Rachel went to A&E with excruciating stomach pains for them to discover she suffered from Crohn’s disease. In 2014, after being put on steroids, she suffered depression which she eventually overcome, until she was discovered to have an abscess in her bowel. After this Rachel then underwent a ileostomy, or for the every day person – “The bag”.

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Doesn’t stop her topping up the vitamin D.

So what is Crohn’s?

I don’t want to go online and get some faceless definition from a health website. So in Rachel’s own words, Crohn’s is “the devil lol”. But in all seriousness, she sent me this as the best definition of the disease.

Crohn’s is a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system or gut. As well as affecting the lining of the bowel, Crohn’s may also go deeper into the bowel wall.  Crohn’s is a chronic condition. This means that it is on-going and life long.

How it has affected her

So far you have only heard a very brief overview of Rachel’s story, and it does not show the fear, anxiety or the pain that Rachel had to feel throughout the last few years. Before people knew Rachel suffered from Crohn’s, and due to the severe swelling of her lips, she went under intense scrutiny from the local area over an alleged ‘lip job’. I spent the majority of my energy explaining to these people that Rachel suffered from a disease that even I didn’t understand and that she hadn’t had her lips done. There were times when Rachel couldn’t even produce words from her mouth because her lips were giving her that much pain. It broke my heart, I couldn’t even imagine how she felt.

 

A lot of people didn’t know Rachel was going through the post-traumatic stress of one day having full control of your body, and the next having to rely on a bag. This played on Rachel’s mind for months, severe anxiety haunted her behind closed doors, depression came as a side-effect of the steroids – despite partying with her friends almost every weekend – it took her a while to come to terms with the disease.

Where is she now?

After her disease meant that she had to quit her education in Belfast, Rachel then trained with numerous MUA’s and is now one herself. She has set up her own Make-Up Salon from her house where she performs literal miracles on people like myself. Currently, her ileostomy is temporary and there is always hope that she will be able to get the bag off, but right now she is focused on raising awareness for this invisible disease.

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Rachel in action

But she still gets her bad days, despite being the most incredibly positive person I have ever come across! She has expressed her fears over not financially being able to cope as you never know when the next bout of sickness is going to come, not meeting someone who understands fully how to handle this disease, never being able to move away as she relies so heavily on the NHS and her mum and dad. She has helped my own family with advice and tips on the bag, always offering herself up as someone for them to talk to about it.

She is one of my biggest inspirations, and she should be yours too. x

How can you help?

Share this blog, let your Facebook followers see how Crohn’s can affect someone.

Or you can attend Rachel’s Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Casino Night in Sense Nightclub on the 26th May. Event details @ https://www.facebook.com/events/125075944713760/

 

Shannon Quinn is a 2nd year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/shannon-quinn-556236132 and on Twitter @ShannonQuinnPR.

The Power of Protest

As a final year student, I am currently writing my dissertation. The topic I chose to explore was Public Relations and Lobbying within the agriculture industry, as the recent news topics sparked my interest as a farmer’s daughter.

 

2015 saw the farming income for Northern Ireland fall from £311.8m to £182.5m, which was largely due to supermarkets and processors driving down farm produce prices. This was not an issue just within Northern Ireland, but throughout the whole of the UK.

 

So to understand why this campaign matters so much to farmers, I will explain the complex system (for myself if nothing else). Dairy farmers milk their cows twice or three times a day 365 days a year, which is collected by a milk tanker (nearly every day) to be taken to the processors where it will be pasteurised for human consumption. The majority of dairy farmers are locked into a contract with these processors and unable to leave. Combining the facts that supermarkets and processors are cutting the prices of milk and the inflation of the prices of fuel, feed and production, farmers are struggling to keep their farms afloat. They can’t stop feeding their cows or harvesting crops as (1) it is cruelty to animals and (2) a farmer’s actions will have a long term effect in how they can run their farm in the future.

Power of protests

Discouraged by this, farmers took to protesting, which sparked the biggest grassroots campaign the farming industry had seen in recent years; partly funded by the Scottish Government who contributed £100,000. This campaign achieved national media coverage and saw the issue fought through social media, peaceful protests and farming coalitions who communicated on behalf of the farmers.

 

SOS Dairy harnessed the full power of the Internet through using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to bring the farmers together and to share the issue with the general public. More than 800 individuals added the SOS Dairy ribbon to their profile photos on Twitter, with hundreds more showing the same support on Facebook and using the #SOSDairy hashtag. During this campaign a video called ‘The #SOSdairy song,’ made up of protest footage, became an Internet hit, gaining over 38,000 hits on YouTube. Through the videos’ popularity, the BBC approached the creator to request he preform it on the radio- enabling them to promote the cause further.

To demonstrate a united industry, the issue saw farm groups set aside their differences to form a coalition between NFU Scotland, NFU Cymru, the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, Tenant Farmers Association and the Women’s Food and Farming Union. It also brought together those who relied on the farming community such as farming suppliers, vets and lawyers all over the country. Whilst leaders of the coalitions held talks with the processors and supermarkets to achieve fair prices, the farmers named and shamed the milk processors and supermarkets while carrying out protests throughout the country by obstructing processing plants night after night, to show their strength.

 

Through this campaign major supermarkets backed down by announcing fairer prices for farmers who directly supplied the supermarkets, and processors eventually backed down and in result abandoned their second price cut. A poll carried out by YouGov and The Grocer found that 83% of the public were aware of the protests and 67% stated they think farmers should be paid more, even if it increases the price of milk.

 

Although this campaign achieved what it set out to do, capturing the public interest and winning the support of the consumer, there is still a long way to go for the industry in order to create a sustainable industry where farmers will profit.

 

Lauren Sharkey is a 4th year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Twitter @lsharkey_37 or on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/lauren-sharkey-25776ab0/.