Looking forward to getting back in the s

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Looking forward to getting back in the saddle at Lincoln Uni and to meeting PR course students new and old.

Volunteer Britian?

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Well done Lord Coe for highlighting the importance of volunteers and for calling on the nation to step up its efforts to encourage more people to give their time.

After the boom in enthusiasm for volunteering focused on the Olympics last year it appears the 70,000 “games makers” is not translating into a sea change in volunteer involvement in the UK ( Sunday Telegraph). But one of the key PR messages to come out of the Olympics has perhaps been missed.

The secret to encouraging people to give the time to good causes is not their recruitment – important and challenging though this is – but in ensuring that the people who do volunteer are appreciated and valued for their input and rewarded when they perform well. For too long volunteering has been seen by the Third sector as “free labour”, and the culture has been one of organisations taking rather than giving. This, in my opinion, is partly why volunteering in the UK never takes off in the way it could.

Traditionally there has been too much focus on the role of volunteers and too little on what the volunteers themselves get out of the experience. Certainly the Olympics couldn’t have happened without the volunteers – and whilst altruistic desire to see the games succeed will have been part of what made individuals come forward, the real drivers were much more personal factors, such as challenge, personal development, developing business opportunities, learning new skills and let’s not underplay it – sheer fun.

People working in the Third Sector responsible for persuading people to volunteer and for managing them when they do come forward need to switch their messaging focus from what’s in it for the charity or cause to what’s in it for the individual.

In 1961 JFK said “… ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Perhaps managers and communicators in the Third Sector could re-phrase this and say “Ask not what your volunteers can do for you – ask what you can do for them.

Basil Clarke – a PR hero for our time

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It’s not often a new hero comes along, still yet one who was working on reputation management almost a century ago.

This PR Week article about Basil Clarke was a revelation and I can’t wait to read more about this remarkable man.

Almost a century ago Clarke was developing a way of working which would put many of today’s practitioners to shame. His ethical approach was not driven by codes of conduct or the risk of bad press in the trade media, but on a strong and practical understanding of what was right.

I try to impress on students that working ethically is not an altruistic choice – there are strong business reasons for working in a way which considers the needs of others. Clarke knew that his business relied on relationships and trust and the examples given in the PR week article show him to be a man of great vision and understanding.

Some of this, no doubt came from his experiences in the First World war and the picture of him is one in Uniform – to come through the carnage of the trenches must have made many men question the values of the society in which they lived, yet Clarke shows a down to earth understanding of fairness and honesty in business which many today fail to understand.

We can learn a great deal from men such as Clarke.

Budget no barrier to communication

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Working with a small budget and volunteers is no barrier to PR success, and two examples of this close to my heart show this .

Now, it might seem like a bit of self promotion, but I can assure you I’m awarding a hit this week not for my role in the training, but for the attitude and approach of my colleagues in the Army Cadet Force, who, as volunteers with no previous PR experience are adapting and adopting techniques which just a few years ago would have been way beyond the budget of not for profit organisations.

First I’d like to highlight the work of a delegate on a recent training weekend who started with no video experience at all. A day and a half later this short film, now up on You tube is what she was able to create. It goes to show what can be achieved in a very short space of time with a little guidance (credit to my ACF PR Training team colleague Tony Lloyd) and a willingness to learn.

Where this then heads is my next PR Hit – Cleveland ACF. Their PR Officer, who recently attended our Social Media training weekend, has just placed a video of the cadets from his county achieving success at  athletics on Facebook . In just 24 hours the video had got more than 1000 views.

Together these successes show how easy it is now for volunteers to gain the basic skills and how significant free tools can be in giving not for profit organisations the reach traditionally associated with commercial concerns with big budgets.

 

 

The Biter Bit

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The BBC’s Panorama programme is in a terrible tizz this week, defending its use of covert filming in North Korea and the involvement of a group of students as cover. The story seems to revolve around the issue of the consent of the students to what was happening around them and the role of their University, The London School of Economics.

I’m sure there must be many PR people quietly smiling at Panorama’s predicament having been on the receiving end of their attention in the past.

I speak here from personal experience, and whilst scadenfreud is a rather dirty thought process I can’t help feeling the biter is now being bit. My own experience of Panorams was in relation to a programme in which the organisation I was PRO for wasn’t the main focus of their story, but a key associated player. It was clear that they had decided what the story was before they gathered the information and did their filming with my organisation, and that they were quite happy to play fast and free with some of the facts to make them fit their storyline.

Both this, and much of what has emerged during the Leveson enquiry has made me question the power balance that exists between the media and the corporate bodies they report on. The public image the media like to promote is that as journalists they are the guardians of truth, that they are in some way special and that only they can be trusted to act on behalf of society as a whole.

The breakdown in media standards we have seen emerge into the public glare over recent months has tainted this image and as a result the power balance, which has in fact been heavily weighted in the media’s favour, may be shifting as the moral highground they have claimed for so long sinks to the level of any corporate body or profession trying to get along in the world.

Perhaps at the very least some journalists are now recognising that picking fault is easy – getting it right in the first place can be very very hard.

Horses for Courses

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Well done the Creation Trust based in Aylesbury for their clever use of text messaging ( See Guardian article here ).

One of the big temptations in the communications business is to be drawn to the latest, most shiny toys to get your message across. Yet often the old ways are the best.

In this case the Creation Trust used text messaging to promote their work with great success, a positive result they would not have obtained had they used other channels like Twitter or Pinterest perhaps.

Communication is all about understanding who you are trying to reach. Understanding your publics is not however just about shaping the messages, it’s also about identifying how to reach them. Often the old ways are the best and we can even extend this back to the tools we used before the digital wave broke over the industry. Events, face to face contact, leaflets and media work all still have a role to play. Certainly they may be used alongside digital tools, but it is the focus on the audience driving the mix of channels that is important.

Some of my chums in PR think I’m a dinosaur when I question their automatic focus on digital tools when formulating a communications strategy. It’s not that I am against the new tools we have at our disposal, but that I question whether they are always suitable for the target publics. We have choices and our choices should be based on who we are trying to reach, not what we enjoy or are excited by.

Horses for courses.

Hats off to Hacked Off

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The Hacked Off Campaign, set up to draw attention to press excesses and call for a new way of regulating the newspapers, seems to have pulled off a significant coup with its campaign for greater accountability for journalists in the written media in Britain.

It’s been announced today that all the three main parliamentary parties have finally agreed a way forward establishing a new, more robust approach to press regulation (see here BBC report) and that the main thrust of the Leveson Inquiry may become a reality.

Whether the agreed way forward gets implemented is still up for question as the media are likely to fight tooth and nail for weaker oversight (much as they have now with the in-house, Press Complaints Commission which has been described as as much use as a one legged man in a backside kicking competition), however in the light of their recent activity, with more revelations still coming out about their lack of ethics in news gathering, the tide of public opinion is very much against them.

In my training I work with people ranging from business executives to academics and charity workers – I have yet to come across anyone attending my workshops who comes with anything better than a jaundiced view of journalists and what to expect from them. Indeed many come with downright hostility and suspicion. Truthful and honest reporting of the facts is rarely at the top of their expectations and it would be a salutary experience I’m sure for journalists to attend one of my sessions to see how low their reputation lies with ordinary people. So significant is this, that perhaps 30% of the work I do to help organisations work with the media is focussed on building some understanding and sympathy for the way journalists work to reduce the fear and suspicion people have of them.

The problem for most journalists (who do act fairly and ethically) is they fail to understand that the extent to which the excessive behaviour of some of their brethren has tainted the whole profession, and that the only way to regain public confidence is to clearly demonstrate that decency, truth and honesty are at the heart of their trade. Having a robust regulator is one way to reassure the public that the beast can be domesticated. But the profession has to accept that it also has to embrace these changes and adopt a more ethical approach to news gathering if it is to regain public confidence.

The truth is, straightforward honest journalists, even investigative journalists, have nothing to fear from tighter regulation and everything to gain – because once again their readers will have faith in what has been written, rather than viewing everything with cynicism.

So hats off to Hacked off – not only have they done all those who have ben abused by journalistic excess  a huge service, but they may well have done journalism itself a favour too by forcing the first steps towards it regaining public trust and support.

Bieber Ba**s-up

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Another example of the failure of the music industry to accept it can no longer treat fans like a cash cow, but that they haven’t realised yet, emerges today with two stories in today’s media about Justin Bieber.

The first is a report that his manager is critical of the Grammy awards for passing over Bieber again this week – “The kid delivered. Huge successful album, sold out tour, and won people over. This time he deserved to be recognized and I don’t really have any kind nice positive things to say about a decision I don’t agree with.” he said (BBC report here).

The timing couldn’t have been worse, as Bieber had a major  issue last night at the O2 Arena in London getting on stage two hours late for the latest gig on his “sold out tour”,  having already been late for a previous concert in Nottingham the previous week (See the BBC story here). This time he was so late that many fans had to leave before he began his performance to get their transport home, leaving some in tears and parents incandescent.

The tour may well be sold out, but Bieber still has to deliver or the brand will get tarnished, and if “winning people over” is an aim of his management there is clearly much work to do after last night.

So what has their response been to the failure of the pop idol to appear for two hours? What are they doing to protect his reputation? What’s being done to re-build the relationship between product and consumer?

So far there has been no explanation, no apology, nothing, from the star or his management – just silence.

 

On the other hand, as a music fan I have to admit ……………….. perhaps that’s no bad thing.

The image control cat is out of the bag

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A miss today, for not just Beyonce’s PR people, but the entertainment industry as a whole.

It seems she wasn’t impressed with some pictures taken of her at the Superbowl by fans which were subsequently shared online and her management tried to have the images removed – story here.

I think this reveals how out of touch the image manufacturers and maintainers in the industry actually are. They might be very adept at using social media as a push technology to carry brand messages and associated images to the world, but they clearly haven’t understood that the traditional concepts of image control and management no longer exist in the new world of user generated content.

Just as corporate bodies have had to accept that social media means they are no longer able to shape how they are perceived solely from the top, people in the entertainment industry are going to have to realise that they can no longer easily manufacture stars and impose them on an accepting public.

Like the corporates who “get it” perhaps in the medium to long term we will see more genuine and human talents coming to the fore at the expense of created “plastic personalities” emerging from the entertainment industry and a recognition that honest, open , truthful images build reputation far more than censorship.

We can but hope.

A triumph for short term creativity over organisational narrative

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Driving along yesterday I was amazed to hear the latest radio advertisement for the Royal Society for the Protection Of Birds (RSPB), inviting people to join the Spring Garden Bird watch.

It started off with the sound of a cat meowing, and then the words “do you like watching garden birds”, with more meowing.

Sadly, I couldn’t find it online to link to, but I did find plenty of negative comments about it.

Now, whilst I can appreciate the humour in a black sort of way, whoever approved this at the RSPB has really failed to grasp that creativity doesn’t always mean effective messaging.

To use the noise of a cat in relation to watching garden birds flys in the face of the RSPBs organisational narrative, as even the Society itself campaigns to highlight the damage done to wild birds from domestic cats (see here the RSPB web pages).

As they point out cats and birds just don’t mix – the RSPB quote figures on their web site of 55 million birds estimated to be taken as prey by cats every year in the UK. So what are they doing in an advert about bird watching?

Either the RSPB is employing people with a limited grasp of the organisational narrative , or there is a disconnect between the marketing department and policy staff, or whoever was in charge of this campaign allowed professional copywriters and advertising agency professionals with no grasp of what the organisation is about to sway their better judgement.

However it came into being, an advert for the RSPB featuring a meowing cat just doesn’t sit right and their reputation is diminished as a result.

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