Addressing PR’s PR Problem and the search for the answer to ‘What is PR?’

Does anyone else know that slightly perplexed look you get when you tell someone you’re doing a degree/work in PR? When people ask me what I’m studying at university and I tell them ‘Public Relations’ they usually look confused, like I’ve made it up or, if they think they do know what PR is they’re usually wrong and find it difficult to believe that you can actually do a degree in it. It’s a bit ironic really; the PR industry do a poor job at their own public relations.

This has led me to thinking about the definition of PR, my understanding of the industry and its place in the world of business today.  If nothing else, a little bit of research into what is meant by ‘PR’ will at least give us a few well-informed lines to offer the next time someone asks ‘What’s that?’ or suggests that we’ll be selling tickets to events for the rest of our lives.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) defines PR as ‘the discipline which looks after reputation’ and emphasises its importance in today’s flooded and competitive business market, where ‘reputation can be a company’s biggest asset – the thing that makes you stand out from the crowd and gives you a competitive edge’ (CIPR, 2017).

It’s true; PR is concerned with promoting and protecting a company’s reputation but, I think it’s so much more than that. If we were to describe our profession as simply ‘looking after a company’s reputation’ we’d be selling ourselves short. Public relations encompasses an extensive list of specialities and skills (shown in the table below) and today’s PR professionals have to be able to turn their hand to many of them.

PMK4

Taking a look at this list, if I had to sum up PR in just one word I think ‘communication’ is more relevant than ‘reputation’. PR professionals are ‘communicators’ and use expertise in communications to help companies build bilateral relationships with their publics. Better still, we can effectively describe PR as ‘strategic management of communication’ (Ledingham and Bruning, 1998).

For those of us coming to the end of our degree, having already experienced the crazy world of PR while on placement and those of us already working in the industry, we are well aware of the long list of skills we are expected to master (it’s difficult to keep on top of it all)! The problem lies with how the media portrays the industry and subsequently the perceptions (or lack thereof) our friends and family have of the jobs we do.

After all, PR is an invisible industry and it usually hides behind the camera. Albeit with the exceptions of those few portrayals in the public eye; the real people or fictional characters that have somehow come to be the ‘faces’ of PR and shape the way the industry is perceived. I’m thinking Downing Street Press Secretary Alastair Campbell and Sex in the City‘s Samantha Jones, who respectively helped to cement PR’s reputation as one of two evils. Apparently we are either nefarious ‘spin doctors’ accountable for some serious media manipulation or glamorous schmoozers in designer pencil skirts, attending star-studded parties.

Admittedly, there are small elements of truth in both depictions but the real thing isn’t quite as juicy. Yes, we are involved in developing messages and sharing stories with the media to help shape public opinion, and we do organise/attend an event or two in the average working week. But more importantly we are strategic thinkers, effective communicators and extremely hard workers, and to give credit where credit is due, most industries and business sectors could not exist without PR. People are quick to throw around the term, ‘PR stunt’ with ephemeral negativity or affiliate PR with pretty girls promoting nightclubs. But in discovering more about the profession we quickly realise that PR is everywhere and every career field has a PR element related to it. We are living in a noisy world where we are inundated with information every day and as PR pros we help to communicate the messages businesses, organisations, charities, and governments need people to know in order for them to continue to exist.

PMK2

The truth is, there is no single all-encompassing answer as to what PR professionals do and each of us have our own unique talents that we bring to the table. But together we manage to uphold a long-serving industry that supports the world of business in helping professionals communicate more effectively with their customers, stakeholders and the public.

Paula McKay is a 4th year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be contacted at http://www.linkedin.com/in/paulamckay55, and on Twitter @paulamck55

Let’s talk about diversity at Oxbridge – from a PR perspective

The UK’s elite universities have a major problem, one that needs to be dealt with now rather than later. It’s a problem that probably won’t come as a major surprise to a lot of people which is a fact that is in itself disturbing and deeply upsetting. Everyone knows that Oxford and Cambridge are the best universities in the UK and that their student intake tends to consist of people from socially privileged backgrounds. A report published recently sparked controversy regarding Oxford and Cambridge University’s student admissions.“As part of a set of data released by the two universities that also revealed a stark regional and socio-economic divide in their intake, the figures showed that just 1.5% of all offers from the two universities to UK A-level students went to black British candidates.” This is completely unacceptable, it does not reflect the true diversity of the United Kingdom. The attitude of both of the Oxbridge universities in reaction to this also leaves a lot to be desired. From a PR perspective it does not seem like Oxford or Cambridge care enough about how this will negatively effect their public perception.

I always assumed that Oxford and Cambridge were universities reserved for those with superior intelligence (which is fine), and for those who come from a wealthy / upper middle class background (which is more problematic). It should not be like this, everyone who is intelligent enough should get the chance to go to Oxford or Cambridge. It is hard to blame students for feeling discouraged from applying to Oxbridge when media coverage of both universities seems to revolve around the lack of students from diverse backgrounds being able to attend these prestigious universities. I mean where is the incentive to apply when you feel that you might end up being marginalised? Thankfully for both Oxford and Cambridge some of their students have been taking their own action to combat this problem.  Student vloggers such as Mohammed Ibrahim (IbzMo), Courtney Daniella and Nissy Tee (who has now graduated) have been uploading videos to Youtube discussing the real issues that arise when attending these universities from a less “traditional” background.

I first stumbled across IbzMo’s channel in March of this year whilst I was finishing my undergraduate degree during a major procrastination session. I don’t know how I found his channel but I am very glad that I did. Mohammed has an enthusiasm for learning which is very infectious. His channel is fantastic, providing a real insight in to what it is like to be a student at the University of Cambridge from an ethnic minority background. From just taking a quick glance upon his twitter feed you can see the very real impact that his channel is having upon secondary school students throughout the UK. It is heartwarming to see how these school students are becoming empowered through Mohammed’s fine example. Representation is a key factor in encouraging students to see beyond the stereotypical view of the Oxbridge, at the end of the day Oxbridge should be for everyone not just privileged groups.

Courtney Daniella also does this on her Youtube channel with one of her most popular videos deals with encouraging young people from ethnic minority backgrounds to apply to Oxbridge universities. Sadly Courtney has been the victim of trolling in the past, receiving hateful comments that she only was able to attend Cambridge due to a diversity “quota” not due to her obviously high intelligence and individual talent. Despite these nasty comments Courtney continues to encourage diversity in higher education institutions and continues to act as a role model to those students who without her guidance and help may never have decided to apply to more prestigious universities. I am certainly very grateful to these student vloggers for highlighting these issues and for being brave enough to try and tackle these injustices. I just hope that Oxford and Cambridge will try and do more to support them in the future as they are carrying out vital PR work for both universities in terms of encouraging students from ethnic minority groups and lower income backgrounds to apply to these institutions, despite what the press and wider society might be saying about their chances in getting there.

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

 

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.

 

Social Media Crisis Management

Social Media Crisis Management

Having recently completed the dissertation aspect of my MSc qualification, it seemed timely to revisit the crux of the subject area which I explored, for the purposes of an initial blog.

My area of study focused specifically on social media crisis management, and the technicalities of proactivity, prevention and management.

I set out to analyse, collate and form information (and practical tactics) which could help businesses/organisations/public figures minimise risk and protect reputation during (and in advance of) social media crises.

As a communications consultant I work (on a daily basis) with various clients who operate within the digital sphere. Providing digital consultancy is part of my daily routine, and having worked on large scale crisis projects with commercial clients, I became fascinated by this area of communication.social-media-crisis%20image%2011

The hand of business has, in many ways been forced into the age of social media. Businesses are now well aware of the market potential within social media and, with research showing that 82% of people are more likely to trust a company which engages on social media, businesses are left with little choice but to communicate on digital platforms. Trust aside, social media is increasingly geared towards sales, thus, to avoid such a lucrative channel would be to limit market potential.

Despite the fact that social media has been growing steadily for over 10 years, my findings concluded that many businesses are (to this day) ill-equipped to deal with adverse social media situations, with many of the practices ad-hoc and reactive.

Members can comment on your brand, and there’s not much you can do about it. The marketing channel is reversed- rather than top-down, things now move from the bottom up. Now that your customers can talk back, it pays to listen to what they have to say.”

There have been countless instances of social media crises at both a local and international level, and, interestingly, “during 2016, 19% of PR crises broke on Twitter, more than Facebook (16%), YouTube (4%) and blogs (4%). Brands appear more likely to receive criticism on Twitter than they are on other social networking platforms, with users being 17% more likely to send a negative tweet than a negative Facebook post.

As noted by many voices of authority in this sphere, “a social media crisis can (in certain cases) be something that occurs offline and is then brought to social media channels, or it can begin on social media channels, and then spread.”

One notable, worldwide example of the former was with Volkswagen, when what started as a product feature, spiralled into a social media storm and created subsequent reputational damage. Volkswagen’s manner and speed of response was strongly criticised “with video apologies from respective CEOs the only posts addressing the crisis after more than a week.”

With social media, your reputation can be completely eradicated in 48 hours, so you don’t have the luxury of time that you once did to methodically put together a step-by-step process.”

To conclude, here are 5 tactical recommendations for business (more to follow in next blog)

  1. Be prepared, a social media crisis can happen at any time- audit your social media channels to ensure you are equipped
  2. Create and implement an organisational crisis policy (particularly for organisations with multiple users)
  3. Make speedy decisions on action. Consider whether to reach out publicly (in a crisis situation) or take the conversation off line, and out of the public domain
  4. Tactics like disabling or reviewing posts (via Facebook) from visitors can be a useful first step in crisis situations. Also, think about how ‘boosted’ posts can take content out of your control and place it into (for example), previously banned page users and ‘non-likers’ of page
  5. Hide/delete unwanted or dangerous comments/posts/messages where necessary

John McManus graduated from Ulster University in December 2016 with an MSc in Political Lobbying & Public Affairs. He is a consultant at Turley PR & Public Affairs in Belfast. John can be contacted on Twitter @JohnPolMcManus and on LinkedIn: https://ie.linkedin.com/in/john-mcmanus-82509a49

Destination Social Media

When does social media become more than just another trend for likes, shares and followers? Social media is revolutionising the travel and hospitality industry across the world with sites such as Instagram, Facebook and TripAdvisor, providing a platform for consumers to research their trip or to share their experiences through selfies, check-ins and reviews. It has modernised the consumer’s approach to industry, becoming big enough to encourage thousands of people all over the world to jump on a plane and boost the tourism industry.

Trip Advisor

TripAdvisor is one of the world’s largest travel sites with 475 million reviews and opinions covering 7 million businesses and properties worldwide, reaching an average of 390 million people per month. In a survey by TrustYou, 95% of respondents read reviews before booking their trip. This platform provides credible and authentic user generated content, which is changing the face of customer service, in particular how customers make complaints. Often customers voice their frustrations publicly on social media rather than deal with the hassle of phoning the company. Due to this, often complaints go ‘viral’ triggering a response from the business to address the issue.

tripadvisor-revie_6221

Instagram

At six years old, Instagram has 600+million active users monthly and 400+ million users daily. Instagram has built a community of personal users, brands and influencers who share high quality, vibrant photographs, which inspire others to travel. In 2015, Wanaka, a small town in New Zealand, attracted Instagram influencers to the country who captured and shared wanderlust-inducing photographs. Specifically, they brought in American photographer Chris Burkard, who has 1.5 million Instagram followers; his photos received up to 50,000 “likes” each. This strategy saw tourism rise 14% within the town.

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Facebook

With about 1.23 billion daily active users, Facebook is becoming a travel motivator. Often we see our friend’s check-in and post photos of their trip, which in turn you begin to imagine yourself there and soon you have flights booked. In 2011 a survey by Travel Industry Wire found that 52% stated they were inspired to book a trip after seeing friends’ Facebook photos and posts.

Innovation Norway took advantage of Facebook’s increasing popularity in order to promote Norway. They created and executed a 45-day Facebook campaign inviting people to take part in the campaign with a chance to win daily prizes through taking part in a daily competition. This campaign saw Innovation Norway’s Facebook following boost from 12,000 to 31,000 and the traffic to the company website boost 40% year on year.

norway1

Social media has impacted the travel industry massively and often influencing how or where consumers make their travel arrangements as a survey revealed that 92% consumers trust earned media more than any form of advertising.

Lauren Sharkey is a 4th year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted at https://www.linkedin.com/in/lauren-sharkey-25776ab0/