Why Does a Career in Public Relations Interest Me?

Why Does a Career in Public Relations Interest Me?

To answer the question why does a career in Public Relations interest me? As well as why did I chose a Public Relations degree to study? The answer isn’t as straight forward as the questions, there are a number of different reasons and answers, for how I ended up on this career path. In this blog I’ll be (roughly) explaining my story as to how I ended up studying and enjoying the field of Public Relations. I will start by explaining what interested and attracted me to the industry in the first place as well as, how I chose my degree and what I have learned over the course of my studies.

For another who doesn’t know what public relations is, it can often be confused with advertising and mis-defined as being just about promotion. Grunig and Hunt define Public Relations as “Management of communication between an organisation and its publics”. Charted Institute of Public Relations defines it as “the discipline which looks after reputation, “It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.” It can be argued that there is no distinct definition of  what Public Relations is, and in many ways it is so broadly scoped it is undefinable. Personally I believe it is about the management of multiple different relationships within an organisation/person of interest and how they use this to communicate, promote and attract attention in their interest across a range of multimedia platforms.

When leaving high school I initially accepted an offer to study Law and marketing, as in the past I had always been torn between what I wanted to study. Soon after beginning my Law degree I quickly became bored. The copious amount of reading, referencing and interpreting became boring to me. The only aspect of law I was interested in was the real life cases and how they were resolved. I was still curious about marketing and business but I had realised I was also very interested in social psychology. I decided to change courses and I began looking for something that would interest me more, within a number of universities. When I came across the course Communication Management and Public Relations I was initially struck by the many different areas of study that it involved. I wanted to learn more about communication and I also wanted to know more about how to use communication in a professional context. I also researched into the career opportunities and found them interesting. I have always been a very confident person and that is why I thought that public relations would suit my personality better.  

Originally what attracted me to Public Relations was its communication aspect, how fast-paced and current the industry is.  Another aspect of public relations I liked was that unlike marketing, they don’t push promotions in an informal fashion towards consumers rather convince consumers by creating connections and relationships that are mutually beneficial.  Take Edward Bernays as an example. Bernays is often described as the father of Public Relations and his work and campaigns were not only successful, but they changed the world that we live in today. For example Bernays was employed by American Tobacco Companies and in 1928 he created the revolutionary  “Torches of Freedom.” Campaign. Smoking at the time was a Taboo in America for women and “smoking by women in North America and Europe had long been associated with loose morals and dubious sexual behaviour.” Bernays thought he could change this idea and he believed “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.” Bernays organised multiple demonstrations of women smoking these women included debutants as well as prominent figures from the Women’s Movement and Churches. The demonstrations obviously attracted huge media attention and as a result newspapers across the country published stories on it. It’s crazy to me that through this occupation it was quite literally possible to change the world! 

During the course of my studies into to Public Relations, I have learned a lot about its uses in politics. I fascinated by the work of spin doctors and I was intrigued at how these people were able to take something that felt like bad news and turn it into something they could use for their benefit. While people often have mixed opinions over whether or not the use of spin particularly in politics is ethically correct Ludlam and Smith define it as “new strategic thinking”. I agree and, I think that there is an art to spin and it requires a great deal of knowledge as well as the ability to work on your own initiative. The labour party in England has often been accused of spinning facts to their own advantage, For example back in 2015 when Ed Miliband was the leader of the labour party, he took part in an interview which was held in the kitchen of his supposed £2 million house. These images then surfaced in an article published by the Daily Mail. The kitchen was in a modest state considering the price of the house, and the Daily Mail article compared it to a “utility room”. The article also went on to suggest that this might be the work of spin doctors as at the time Ed Miliband was running in the general election and he had just promised to introduce a mansion tax if he won. It was thought that by placing him in a less expensive looking kitchen it would favour the idea that he is a man of the people. Another example is throughout the course of Jeremy Corbyn’s time in office he was accused of spin multiple times. Back in 2016 when Owen Smith became the main leadership challenger for Corbyn. Smith gave a speech at the time condemning Conservative spending towards the NHS as well as accusing them of having plans to privatise the NHS. This was in order to present Smith as a socialist and an advocate for free health care, the only problem with this is that Owen Smith had spent five years working in big pharmaceutical companies as well as spending some of that time working as a corporate lobbyist. He also previously had the role of  head of policy and government relations for Pfizer. As this information was being brought to light in the press Corbyn timed a policy announcement well, which was to remove tax relief for pharmaceutical innovation. The idea was to frame Corbyn as someone who was anti/against big pharmaceutical companies compared with Smith the “lobbyist”.

From the examples I have given I can understand as to why someone would question the ethics of the use of spin. However, I believe that spin is a strategic thought process that involves a lot of planning, timing and driving of the news agenda. This skill requires a good judgment and knowledge about the industry you are working in.

Another aspect of Public relations that I find interesting is crisis communication. When an organisation gets into a crisis situation it usually contributes to public distrust. It is the PR practitioners job to ensure as little damage as possible is done to the firm. For example Pret a Manager dealt with a severe crisis in 2016. A 15-year-old girl died after having an allergic reaction to one of Pret a Manger’s baguettes. She collapsed on a British Airways flight and went into anaphylactic shock which caused her to go into cardiac arrest. Pret a Manager became the centre of the scandal as the baguette did not have any allergen advice on its wrapper. At the time food allergen advice was produced on site, and there was no legal requirement to provide it on the label. It was expected that staff deliver allergen information orally when asked. Pret a Manger received heavy criticism from both the press and the public. In this case Pret had to take some of the blame, in the beginning they tried to blame the British airways staff but in order to save company reputation the company CEO realised a statement saying that the firm was “deeply sorry” and that they were making “meaningful changes” to prevent something like this happening again. As a result Pret called for changes on the food labelling laws, gave the family compensation and encouraged other businesses to create change in their food allergens labelling. This is a successful example of the skill involved in crisis communication and how they were able to create a positive out of the terrible situation by getting the law changed.

A career in public relations interests me deeply. Although, I’m not entirely sure as to what direction or aspect of PR that I will end up working in. I feel safe in the knowledge that it always interests me, sometimes this is a quality I think people over look when planning a career. I think if you’re interested in what you do not only will you do well but you will enjoy your work as well.

Alicia Fox is a third year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at Linkedin and Twitter.

A PR disaster? A reflection on how Ireland has reacted to the events presented by covid-19 situation.

A PR disaster? A reflection on how Ireland has reacted to the events presented by covid-19 situation.

It’s no secret that Ireland both North and South haven’t been the best at coping with the Covid-19 situation. In saying that, it’s not like any country or government could have prepared for the pandemic. I going to be reflecting on a few, let’s call them “situations” that have happened over the last couple of months and investigating how the two governments reacted to them. After reading it may cause you to re-think the phrase “any publicity is good publicity”.

Lockdowns

Both North and South of the border there has been a number of lockdowns put in place as we are all aware. In my personal opinion I feel that the Irish government has been more consistent with their use of restrictions. Any announced restrictions by the Irish government has included a timeline which thus far they have stuck too. Unlike the Northern Ireland power sharing executive which has made itself look like they can’t make an informed decision. I say this in regard to the most recent restrictions the executive has put in place.

The Northern Ireland executive initially imposed what was supposed to be a four-week lockdown on the 16th October, this lockdown saw the closure of pubs and restaurants as well as a two week closure of schools. The lockdowns as we all know have been having a very harsh effect on businesses in Northern Ireland. Restrictions were due to end at midnight on 22nd  October, however there were calls made for those restrictions to be extended, lifted or somewhat altered. The government left the whole country waiting and it wasn’t until Thursday night before any announcements were made. The decision was to extend the lockdown and impose further restrictions. As a result pubs and licensed restaurants, which were due to re-open on Friday 27 November, will remain closed for another two weeks.

The idea of another lockdown has caused serious unrest within the public, and I think how the government handled the whole situation was a catalysis in why there is so much unrest about the current guidelines. Firstly, the fact that it took so long for the executive to make a decision was disgraceful. Businesses that were due to open didn’t know how to react or prepare for the next coming weeks.  DUP MLA Paul Frew himself called the situation “an absolute farce”. He further stated that “It is a shameful position to be in. It is an act of vandalism to not be able to tell a business on the Tuesday that they can open up for sure on the Friday, that they can fill up their fridge, bring in their stock and pay their supply line – it’s no way to run a business and no way to run an executive.” The delay in an informed decision highlighted the problems in the power-sharing executive and has since caused me personally to lose faith in their ability to take ANY immediate action.

Secondly, another issue with the new lockdown regulations is that it doesn’t seem to be entirely thought through. There is another lockdown until the 11th of December, however the government are allowing certain business to open for 7 days and then shut again for two weeks? This part of the restrictions is where we begin to see problems. It is unfair to be selective to certain industries while ignoring the needs of others. Hairdressers, retail and beauty industry organisations are allowed to open for the next 7 days before they have to shut again. Meanwhile restaurants and pubs will continue to be closed in which should have been their busiest period. The problem with allowing certain business to open for a week is that business owners will take advantage of this and rightly so! I know that in my area that hairdressers and beauticians have over extended their opening hours working on even on a Sunday until 11 at night. Shopping centres have done the same now opening until 11 every night until the lockdown is imposed.

Lastly, the idea of retail only being open for a week has sent shoppers crazy. With thousands of people flocking to the shops. An image emerged on Sunday after the restrictions were imposed of the queues outside Primark in Belfast. This caused serious unrest with restaurant and pub owners. The picture has since been retweeted thousands of times and has been circulated throughout the media. Bob McCoubrey, the owner of the Mourne Seafood Bar in Belfast’s city centre, said he could not understand why his restaurant had to stay closed while shops were still open. He retweeted the photo on Saturday, with a message that read: “Hard to accept pictures like this when we can’t even use our outside area.” Many Belfast nightclubs such as the Limelight bar and venue have followed in his footsteps. Stevie Higginson the owner of two restaurants in Lisburn and Ballynahinch,  told the BBC that the current rules were a “joke”.

It is understandable the unrest this would likely cause, it again shows how the Northern Ireland executive as a government does not think its decisions entirely through.

The leaving cert fiasco

It’s safe to say that leaving cert results was one massive f*** up. I think the Irish Times sum it up best by stating the only positive to come out of the whole ordeal “ The only good thing that may emerge from this debacle is that calculated grades will probably never be used again”

In case you were living under a rock and didn’t hear the grading system that the education authority in Ireland used to mark the Leaving Cert results caused thousands of incorrect results to be given out. The fallout from this critical error couldn’t be more destructive with many students having already taken their second choice options for university, even though they may have had high enough points the whole time to get into their first choice. The worst part is that the government knew a week before about the error before even telling the public therefore wasting even more time.

Education Minister Norma Foley apologised to the class of 2020 for the “anxiety and worry” that the Leaving Cert debacle caused. She explained that two errors had been found in the calculated grade system. She also pledged that all affected students would be able to gain the university places they deserve, something that isn’t realistic now as many students had already accepted places in different universities and organised accommodation for the year.

Minister Foley also said in her speech to the Dail “For the students who might have taken up one offer and may now be in a situation to receive a higher offer, we are going to move might and mane, to ensure that students will be in a position to receive those offers this year, to the best of our ability,”. That sounds all good in theory but the words “to the best of our ability” don’t sound all that promising to me.

Phil Hogan Sandal

I have to admit that the situation regrading Phil Hogan almost made me laugh I mean, can he really be that ignorant? As a Commissioner to the European Union surely you can’t be that unaware of your self-image. I’m pretty sure not everyone has stuck to every covid-19 guidelines throughout the course of the pandemic, but then not everyone is a working in a global position.    

Phil Hogan who was Ireland’s European Union Commissioner for Trade had to resign in regard to his actions when he attended an 81-person golf-society dinner. This dinner directly contravened government guidelines on social distancing. The same guidelines that he agreed to enforce. Senior government figures in Ireland (who he was a member of) told the public not to congregate in crowds, especially indoors, and to avoid traveling abroad for purposes other than emergencies or essential work reasons. So why was Phil Hogan reportedly seen dining in a public restaurant of a country club, despite the fact that he was supposed to be partaking in a 14-day quarantine on return from Brussels? 

The media obviously had much to say on this, The Daily Mail called it: “A Toxic Scandal.” As well as this  The Daily Mirror, released an Irish edition in which led with photos of some of those who attended the dinner and a one-word headline: “Muppets.”

Breffni Burke, a public-relations consultant had this to say “Small-town thinking like this has been a major slap for me, and many like me, who have observed all of the restrictions, who didn’t hug their parents or see their parents for months.”

The Take-away

So what to take away from this then? I understand that the Covid-19 situation is crazy and hard to handle for everyone and it must not be easy to be a position of power about how to enforce guidelines. However, if this is the case should these people really be making the decisions? All I can say for sure is that the previous few examples I gave have clearly shown that it a learning curve for all governments and they obviously  made some mistakes along the way.

Alicia Fox is a third year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at Linkedin and Twitter.

The impact of Covid-19 on hospitality, events and entertainment. Where does that leave us now?

The impact of Covid-19 on hospitality, events and entertainment. Where does that leave us now?

It’s no secret that Covid-19 had a massive impact on how businesses operate now, whether or not that’s adopting new business practices or cutting staff. It’s no secret either that some areas have been hit worse than others, especially if that area is the hospitality, events and entertainment industry.

Hospitality and Tourism

Sure many businesses adopted the eat out to help out scheme in August and, yes this did help for a while. It created more work not only in hospitality but also in marketing and PR roles and it was probably one of the most notable PR campaigns for many businesses across the UK after lockdown. But did it fix things? While on the surface it did boost economy and present a sense of normality, but was it enough to compensate for months of closure for many restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and pubs? The answer is No. The graph below from statista.com, shows the record for the monthly number of seats booked in restaurants across the UK. As you can see the number of booked seats raises and remains its highest in August, but then once the scheme is finished these figures dramatically drop again, as it stands the figures for September 2020 for the amount of people seated in restaurants is 9.34 percent lower than the last year’s figures.

As for flights and tourism this area is a complete no go, with the likes of Ryanair having to sell off runway space in order to cover costs. Across many of the world’s cities, personal planned travel went down by 80–90%. The figure below shows the drop in flights across the lockdown period. As you can see for yourself at one point flights in nearly every country across the world dropped to nearly zero percent a phenomenon that we thought we’d never see in the 21st century. It is statistics like this that make you question, how long will it actually take for the tourism industry to recover, and will some businesses every fully recover?

Pubs and Clubs

You’d expect after months of being stuck in the house the first place people would run is straight to the pub, well that was my thinking anyways. Incorrect! Government measures as we all know saw the closure of many pubs and clubs and while restaurants and hotels were allowed to open, for places that didn’t serve food this wasn’t the case.

Over the period for the month of March alone bar sales dropped by 60 percent. Yes, some pubs and clubs redesigned to suit the new measures that the government brought in but that also takes time and money to fit new infrastructure and not all were even ready in time for the August scheme, as well as this redesign just wasn’t feasible for every facility to do at all. It was estimated in May that when lockdown was lifted only 69% of late night venues would have actually been able to open. From what we know now, due to ever changing measures brought in by the government this number could have been lower.

On the topic of Pubs and Clubs, may different establishments have been quite pissed off recently at recent government guidelines and rightly so… Oh and they been quite vocal about it. Many different nightclubs in the Belfast area have been using their social media pages recently to cause quite the stir. Outraged at the fact that clubs and bars have to close at 11pm as well as the ban on live music a number of different nightclubs have took to social media to express their opinion. The venue known as Limelight went viral on Facebook and twitter gaining thousands of likes and hundreds of comments and shares, with students across the area sharing the page on their social media and hash-tagging Limelight in the picture. Limelight made a statement on Facebo stating “The effect that these curfews will have on jobs, morale and mental health is immeasurable and we call for the Executive to review them as a matter of urgency.” As well as this the nightclub went on to contradict the measures put in place by stating “we believe we can deliver (and have already delivered) Live Music events safely within government guidelines” They finished the post by calling for the Executive to engage in the events and entertainment sector before” imposing seemingly arbitrary decisions on an already struggling industry”. Many other nightclubs such as Filthy McNasty’s and Thompsons Garage have since followed the trend showing images of their empty venue after eleven o’clock.

We Make Events NI

We Make Events NI is a group made up of a range of professions that make up the live event industry, they have a substantial following on Facebook and among them are some of the people responsible for taking the empty nightclub photos we spoke about earlier.

They recently made headlines as they held a socially distanced demonstration in Custom House Square in Belfast. More than 500 live event workers attended to raise awareness about pressures on the industry. The protest was held in order to call on the government to provide more support for workers who have had little to no income for six months.

What Now? Where does this leave us?

Well what now? and why am I even bothering to write this today? Well like everything surrounding this pandemic everything I have just told you leaves us with a large amount of uncertainly, and not to depress but the idea of normality to me seems like a million miles away. In Northern Ireland around 7,500 jobs are at risk due to a ban on some live events in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The recent outrage by the late night venues has become a bit of a PR nightmare in my opinion for the NI executive, who at the moment don’t seem to be able to answer anyone’s questions. As someone who works in hospitality and events I can’t see a return of anything resembling a gala or black-tie dinner any time soon. The only thing to look towards is possibly the internet? It seems to becoming the answer to all our problems recently, as we have seen many award ceremonies and events such as the Emmy’s and the MTV music awards were broadcast virtually and there was no audience and very little people attending. Neil Dalzell the owner of ND Events recently stated that he has “delivered virtual events from a purpose-built studio for clients. The events have the same look and feel as they did pre-lockdown but the only difference being that the audience watches the speakers or presenters from home.” As well as this Anna Connor the  head of events at MCE Public Relations, has stated that they too will be looking into more virtual events in order to ensure that they go forward.

It difficult to know what the answer is to anything these days, whether or not if that involves longer opening hours or virtual events, although I’m not sure how much money I’d be willing to pay to virtually see any music performances when I have YouTube for free, but it guess only time will tell. My leaving piece of advice, after reading this maybe decide to tip your waitress an extra pound, or support your local hospitality sector a bit more where you can even if it’s just sharing a Facebook post, because from what I can see they need it!

Alicia Fox is a third year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at Linkedin: Alicia Fox and Instagram: alicia_fox3