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.

screen%20shot%202017-03-01%20at%2013-32-021

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/ 

And the award goes to…?

One of the main roles of public relations is crisis management. This relates to how you as a business act and respond to a disruptive situation that can damage your reputation. Some key examples of times when crisis management was needed include disasters like the BP oil spill and the infamous Tesco horse meat scandal.

While these were massive environmental and health and safety disasters, a more minor call for crisis management came just a few days ago during the 2017 Oscars. So let’s talk about how they did.

What exactly happened:

So, during the 2017 Oscar ceremony “La La Land” was called to receive the award for Best Picture. The cast took to the stage during the usual applause and began the usual speeches thanking family and everyone involved in the movie. What was then unusual, was the interruption during which Jordan Horowitz, producer of the film, took over the microphone and announced that actually they hadn’t won and called Moonlight to the stage. Warren Beatty who made the false announcement, then explained that the card had read “Emma Stone-La La Land,” and that this had caused the mistake. The whole process was altogether awkward and confusing, made no better by Jimmy Kimmel’s following attempts to lighten the mood.

Who was at fault:

Many media outlets took to placing the blame solely with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway for reading the wrong film. However, later  focus shifted from the presenters to the people in charge of the envelopes containing the results. This responsibility fell to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) who are in charge of calculating and distributing the results for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who run the awards ceremony.

It was then discovered that Brian Cullinan, chairman of the US board of PwC, was the one who gave Warren Beatty the wrong card, intended instead to announce Best Actress. As two members of PwC are the only ones to know the results during the ceremony, the blame could be placed entirely with them.

However, there is some speculation that the Academy attempted to alter the entrance of the presenters too close to the results, thereby affecting the flow of the whole process and confusing the PwC representatives.

This suggests that both parties were to blame.

So how did they do:

It took exactly two minutes and twenty five seconds for the mistake to be rectified from the time when the wrong announcement was made. This may not seem like a lot but if we instead say that two members of the cast had time to make heartfelt speeches before they were told something was wrong it comes across as a lot more significant.

Moreover, it then took three hours for PwC to release a statement of apology. While this also may not seem like a monumental amount of time, let’s remember that this event was broadcast live meaning that there was no gap between when the mistake was made and when it was discovered.

We sincerely apologize to “Moonlight,” “La La Land,” Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.

We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.

-PwC

This was also three hours of silence compared to the previously very active Twitter accounts of the two PwC representatives; activity that only further suggested that they were not paying attention and careless with their roles of handling the results. This three hours allowed media outlets to start placing blame on all parties including the innocent presenters.

Accountant Brian Cullinan's now deleted tweet which he posted just before the envelope mix up

Only after PwC made the statement accepting all accountability did the Academy issue their own apology to the presenters, cast and fans. This significant gap of three hours during which no comments were made by either PwC or the Academy allowed the media to speculate that neither party wanted to accept responsibility. This simply painted both parties in a negative light, furthering the damage done.

Moreover, the crisis was made worse by the fact that it overshadowed the opportunity for positivity on behalf of the Academy. After last year’s #OscarsSoWhite trend which called for more diversity in the awards, the victory of Moonlight would have been the perfect circumstance to highlight for some much needed positive publicity. The fact that this was overshadowed by the new trend #OscarFail made the crisis all the more damaging.

In conclusion, both parties attempted to manage the crisis separately in order to avoid shouldering the blame. It would have been better dealt with if PwC had accepted responsibility while the Academy brought the focus back to the success of the night. A united front accepting blame immediately but emphasising the positives might have limited even more confusion.

Chloe Peoples is a 2nd year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Twitter @ChloePeeps or on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/chloe-peoples