What would we do without PR?

Public Relations (PR) has a valid role in today’s democratic society. Moloney and Colmer (2001; pp.89) suggest “The thesis is that PR is on a journey from being the property of the UK elite to the possession of many, if not most of its citizens.” Liberalisation led to economic growth which created a sustained customer boom, therefore creating an incessant need for PR services in society and this has grown to become a necessity in many parts of today’s society.

The 20th century gave birth to a new type of media relations (Zerfass, et.al. 2016) and this has created a dynamic shift in PR to correspond with the digital age (Toledano and Avidar, 2016).

According to Moloney (2004; pp.163) “The shift to online and social media communication has impacted the practice of PR.” PR practitioners can now create online content to influence public opinion and create awareness of a company/brand but it’s down to the individual if they decide to consume the information online. This epitomises Habermas’ (1989) “The Public Sphere”, reiterating the idea that all citizens in society now have access to transparent information and whether we consume this information, is completely up to us.

PR and Mass Media

PR is now prevalent on social media in many different forms. Businesses are now promoting their brand on their Facebook pages, influencers are now endorsing products on their Instagram and celebrities are expressing their views on their twitter feeds. Therefore, social media is now a powerful way to support PR (LaMarre and Suzuki-Lambrecht, 2013). It is now possible to promote a PR campaign fully online.  Social media is free, easy to use and consumed by much of our society today.  Therefore, PR through social media is very important when carrying out any PR strategy today.

os4

One could also argue that PR professionals are still seeking coverage from journalists but also bloggers in today’s society. According to Walden (2015; pp.526) “Bloggers play an influential role in society by breaking news, discussing news and being cited in the traditional media, which makes this a critical stakeholder group for PR professionals to work with.” The blogger phenomenon has really grown in the past few years and now PR professionals are working with bloggers to promote brands and endorse products on their Instagram and YouTube channels. Therefore, the practice of PR is changing to meet with the current trends in society.

It is now so easy to have a direct means to publics through online PR. Social media allows PR practitioners to maintain relationships with their publics in a more coherent and sustainable way (Komodromos, 2014). PR through social media can reach a lot more people and better communicate a message around the world (Toledano and Avidar, 2016). Morris and Goldsworthy (2016) claim we are living in a creative industry and PR is prominent in popular culture, clearly showing that PR’s role in the media is very important.

Social media is only one aspect of PR in the media. Engagement with newspapers and print media is just as important. Today, PR practitioners work to try and influence public opinion through the media. Morris and Goldsworthy (2016; pp.14) emphasise this idea noting “Public Relations is at the heart of things” through being at the centre of mass media. Van den Heijkant and Vliegenthart (2018) argue “PR materials are an important and easy accessible resource for the news media and might seriously impact the actual content of media coverage.” Therefore, PR has a distinctive role in controlling content in news media today.

os3

PR and Business

PR also has an important role to play within business today. Organisations require coherent PR strategies to promote a new product or service to their consumers. To connect with consumers, maintain relationships with consumers and attract new consumers, organisations need to have a strategic PR plan in place.

PR practitioners can support businesses in many different ways. PR practitioners can manage any crisis that may occur within a business. A crisis can occur at any time in any place and if businesses are not prepared, they face huge repercussions in terms of their reputation and credibility. Companies can hire PR professionals to create coherent crisis management plans that will look at the possible crises and provide steps to ensure the crisis is managed effectively. PR practitioners can also speak on behalf of a company to ensure they respond to a crisis in the right way that is legally sound and will protect the company image. Therefore, PR can have a very important role in managing crises.

Another aspect of PR in business is Sponsorship. Sponsorship is used by PR practitioners to increase public awareness of a company, reinforce public awareness of a brand and enhance its reputation. According to Ronald, (2004; pp.42) “PR can help management to get more benefit from sponsorship by guiding management to projects that will produce massive national or worldwide media coverage and the most heartfelt public gratitude.” PR practitioners can use their means to promote the good that a company does and overall enhance a company’s public image. For example, a company can use PR to promote their corporate social responsibility. (CSR) If a company is involved in charitable work or has programs that support the community, PR practitioners can use this to increase brand awareness and improve the company’s image.  Ronald (2004; pp.43) goes as far to suggest that PR can “be like bread cast upon the waters that returns to thee many fold and repeatedly”. Therefore, using PR in sponsorship can have huge advantages for businesses today.

PR and Politics

PR and Politics are hugely intertwined in today’s society. PR has been used in Politics since the 1860’s but Morris and Goldsworthy (2016) argued the Thatcher and Regan years created enormous needs for PR services. Since then, there has been a huge reliance on PR in political communication. Hobbs (2016; pp.372) supports this view claiming ‘spin’ is central to processes that constitute representative democracy.  Nowadays, politicians rely on their PR advisors or “spin doctors” to influence public opinion and control the agendas of the media. Moloney (2004; pp. 967) goes as far to suggest that PR “is an integral part of political presentation in the intermediated mass democracy which is modern UK politics.”

According to Morris and Goldsworthy (2016; pp.12) “PR has become an important role in the battle to secure people’s votes.” Therefore, PR is very important in effectively communicating political messages to the public to gain support and influence public opinion. Especially today and for the past 2 years our newspapers, television screens and social media pages have been infiltrated with the word “Brexit” making it hard to avoid politics in society. Political parties and advisors have been using PR throughout the last few years to try and influence public opinion and sway voters to leave or stay in the European Union. Therefore, PR has a very important role in politics today.

To secure votes and support, political communication is about conveying the right message and PR practitioners today stand right behind politicians advising them the best route to take to gain support (Moloney, 2004). This idea of ‘Spin’ can cause some debate in the literature, some would argue that PR is the voice of people’s values and opinions as Moloney and Colmer, (2001; pp. 89) note, “We can be publicly gay, or single parents; start businesses; go on strike; campaign for consumer rights; speak for war or peace and take up nay faith or hobby which suits.” Showing that PR allows people to have their own views and express these views explicitly.

os5

On the other hand, Hobbs (2016) argues that spin can allow Political advisors to twist the truth and cause some ethical issues in government. An example of this is the Conservative party’s Brexit campaign, Boris Johnson in an effort to secure public support for the Leave campaign, toured around the UK in a bus with a very distinctive message on it….

os6

 

This claim that £350 million pound will be spent on the NHS could have swayed many voters to vote leave in the Brexit referendum on this promise alone, but it was then revealed that this was in fact, not the truth. After the vote it was abandoned by the Conservative party along with many other promises (The Independent, 2016). Therefore, it can be argued that PR in today’s society can be associated with manipulation just to get votes (Moloney, 2004).

Another way Political parties influence opinion through PR is through controlling the agendas of independent media organisations through information management (Moloney, 2004).  In the context of Northern Ireland some newspapers support unionist views and some newspapers support nationalist views and content of each will be targeted at audiences that support these ideals. In the wider UK according to YouGov (2017) The Daily Mail is seen as right wing, The Guardian as left wing and The Independent as centrist. Therefore, one could argue that newspapers are trying to persuade opinion rather than provide information that allows individuals to form their own opinions.

All in all, PR has a very distinctive role within politics today. Moloney (2004) suggests that it is hard to distinguish between PR and Politics and the two go hand in hand. This shows that PR has become an essential part of political presentation to communicate a message and defend this message, PR practitioners are essential to a governing body clearly indicating PR has a very important role in a mass democracy.

So, what would we do without PR?

PR is all around us and with the changing trends and creation of the digital age PR’s role has changed and adapted to these concepts. PR is not just about press releases, it’s about using social media to enhance brand image, a political image or even a blogger’s image. It is hard to ignore PR today, we see it everywhere, in our newspapers, on our televisions and twitter feeds. We are constantly being influenced through PR and PR allows us to express our own opinions and values. Therefore, it’s hard to deny the importance of PR and its roles in today’s society.

Orlaith Strong is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @orlaith_strong and Linkedin: @orlaithstrong

Celebrities in Crisis: Is all PR really good PR?

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘Crisis’ is composed of two characters: One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” John F. Kennedy.

This quote pokes the bear in the great debate about Celebrity PR scandals, and as we move away from the archaic belief that “All PR is good PR”, it’s clear to me that one critical element of Public Relations remains; Crisis Management.  Feel free to disagree, but from my experience the two go hand in hand and every PR campaign should have an element of crisis built in, just in case the “What if?” situation becomes the “What now?” situation.

What has really grabbed my attention over the past year is the amount of crises I have seen in the celebrity world amidst the huge Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Harvey Weinstein has really piqued my interest in this area over the past and I along with the rest of the developed world have watched as the dramatic, complex, and undignified scandal unraveled before our eyes.

In case you missed it (or have been in a coma for the last year) back in 2017, Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul always pictured at glamorous Hollywood parties pictured with many famous A-List stars was slammed across all media channels after a number of different women came forward claiming they were sexually harassed by the now former film producer.

OS10

In the early hours of the scandal, The Weinstein Company released a statement to the media saying that they were launching an inquiry into the allegations,  which translated in PR language means “give us some time to try and come up with a wordy statement that doesn’t answer any of your questions but makes it look like we know what to do in this situation and has been picked apart by our lawyers to ensure limited legal liability.”

After 13 more women spoke out, celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and George Clooney condemning him, his lawyer resigning, his wife leaving him and the inevitable dismissal from his own company there really was no scope for any kind of crisis management plan. Weinstein could only deny the allegations but the mass effect the media coverage had on this huge scandal meant his reputation had no hope of a recovery.

The Weinstein case seemed to cause a ripple effect in the celebrity world and soon enough many PR practitioners representing many different celebrities, business people and even government officials were facing this unprecedented crisis.

Another case that caught my eye was The Spacey Scandal…

Kevin Spacey was one of Hollywood’s most decorated actors and personally starred in one of my favourite Netflix tv series- House of Cards.

OS11

So, naturally when this crisis came out I was stunned.

A grand total of 30 men claimed that Spacey, made a sexual advance upon them dating back to 1982.  Kevin Spacey’s response?

OS13

Personally, I found his response quite interesting in terms of crisis management. He doesn’t try to deny the claims like Weinstein, he also doesn’t admit that he did it. But he tries to protect his image by apologizing and revealing something very personal about his life. In terms of PR one could raise the question… is Kevin Spacey revealing his sexuality as a PR spin? Is he trying to deflect from the situation? Who knows. But, a common tactic especially for PR Spin Doctors is to bury bad news in bad news, so it could be argued that this is a tactical move.

Anyway, it’s not all about sexual allegations when discussing PR scandals in the celebrity world. Comedian Kathy Griffin faced a huge media crisis when a picture was released of her holding a decapitated head of Donald Trump (look away if you are squeamish).

OS12

Her management of this crisis was completely different to both Spacey and Weinstein. In fact, she admitted she was wrong and explicitly begged her fans for forgiveness claiming she “went too far”. Interesting, but her career and reputation were still damaged, and she was pulled from a huge TV ad as well as having to cancel several comedy shows.

All in all, crises in the celebrity world are usually unprecedented, erupt suddenly with little time to figure out how to recover. PR has an important role to play in the world of celebrity, there are many different ways to manage the type of crises I have mentioned but no matter what, when stories are leaked in the media they are everywhere. Forever. Try as they may, it can be difficult for celebrities and top figures to comeback from these types of catastrophes.

So, can celebrity PR scandals be managed?  In my opinion, it depends. It depends on the context, the scandal, the fan following, the time, the circumstances and sometimes, just sometimes, these factors can create the perfect storm. They can be managed to an extent but evidently, PR teams cannot prepare for the types of crises that can implode on them out of the blue on a Monday morning.  Hats off to them for the effort!

Orlaith Strong is a Final Year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @orlaith_strong and LinkedIn @orlaithstrong

Placement Year: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Each year, a number of Ulster University students are given the opportunity to leave the comfort and safety of their cosy, convenience-filled university existence to go out into the big bad world of work as part of their studies to get the much-sought after experience they’ll need for life after education.

I’m currently in my final year of studying Communication Management and Public Relations and as part of my course I was offered the opportunity to be one of those students. I’ll be honest, when I first heard about it I thought ‘no way’, working life is not for me yet and I want to just power through with my studies and get final year done.

But, as the weeks went on I got more information, heard more success stories and invested some time researching the benefits. It became hard to justify not taking the opportunity. After all, research has shown that the average salaries of those who do placement is 8% higher than those who don’t. Money talks.  My classmates started applying for jobs, and the inevitable FOMO kicked in.

I’m not going to lie to you, the placement market is tough, it’s competitive, and after a few months of applications and interviews (some better than others) I had secured a placement in the third-sector with a really great charity.

I was delighted, scared, and eager to make a good impression.

Now, it’s time to get to the good stuff. Going on placement is a big undertaking, one that requires thought and research so let me impart some of my insights on the good, the bad, and the ugly life of a placement student.

The Good…

  • Get ready for your CV to shine- As I head into final year I am now starting to think, what next? I am starting to think about my future career and where I want to go when it’s all over. Thankfully, my CV is now bursting with lots of different examples of my skills and experience that I have acquired through my placement. Doing a placement will allow you to put your foot in the door and help you stand out to an employer when applying for jobs in the future.

CV

  • Networking- Fortunately, throughout my time in placement I was to be able to meet and chat with lots of different people within the industry. Doing a placement will allow you to make necessary contacts that may be useful to you in the future. It’s a big world out there and getting yourself known is essential to any job in PR/Communications.

tenor

  • Experience- Probably the best reason to choose to do a placement year. It’s an experience. It will allow you to see first-hand what it’s like to work in your chosen field. For me, before doing my placement I had no clue what I wanted to do in terms of my career, I felt like I was just floating by hoping someday a light bulb would go off and I would know what I want to do. My placement year was an eye opener, it allowed me to see what I’m good at, what I need to improve on and most importantly where I would like to go career wise.

The Bad…

  • Trying to find a placement- This was a toughie for me. Once I made the decision to do a placement year I then had to go and get it myself. The university is a great help in terms of advertising jobs and providing interview tips but ultimately, it’s all down to you in the interview.

Hired

The Ugly…

  • Adapting to the change- Doing a placement year allows you to get out into the big bad world and have a serious role in a field you are interested in. At first, this can be overwhelming and a big change compared to university life. You may have to miss out on a few Wednesday night drinking sessions due to having work at 9am or you might end up in this situation…

Did you go out last night

  • Your financial situation- You might be one of the lucky ones that gets a placement that pays fairly well. However, more and more placements are now unpaid or will only pay travel costs. It may be unfeasible for you to afford to leave your current job or you might have to take on a job elsewhere which can be stressful. At the start of my placement I was working six days a week, two jobs isn’t easy!

Ultimately, deciding to do a placement in third year is completely up to you.

Personally, I wouldn’t look back. I think I made the best decision and I loved getting the experience of working full-time. I now feel well prepared to apply for graduate jobs with a lot of experience behind me.

However, it may not be for you and that’s completely fine too. Speak to your lecturers, career’s advisers and even your friends to help you decide.

Don’t stress just do what’s best for you!

(Orlaith Strong is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @orlaith_strong and Linkedin: @orlaithstrong)