A tale as old as a donkey

What is PR? It was a question that was asked during today’s PRCA 2018 conference. There was no clear definition as everyone working in the industry would have a slightly different view. And if we can’t agree then how are those who employ us supposed to understand what we do?

I have had a week that has had its usual ups and downs. It also had its usual frustrating moments that were caused by demands for work that was about just doing stuff and hoping for the best.

Now let me introduce you to an important creature. Over there is a donkey and the poor creature needs a tail. Thankfully you are the person who can sort this out because you have a tail in your hand. You know how to make tails which will be helpful to other donkeys in need.

To sort this situation out you could study the donkey his physique, his anatomy and where his problem is and then devise a targeted plan to rectify the situation. The result is success and a happy donkey.

Or you could ditch that idea and close your eyes and just start throwing tails towards the donkey in the hope that one might stick. The result is likely to be the status quo and a tailless donkey unless you have a lucky fluke.

It is what we are doing if we set about providing a PR campaign or some communication without understanding the data and insight. If we don’t have the what, where, when and why then we are closing our eyes and just hoping it works.

We need to stand up and challenge those who ask us to do work without this information. We have to break the cycle of being busy with no idea whether we are being successful.

So the next time you are asked to just PR something or to do stuff think of that donkey and make sure you are working to put the tail where it needs to be.

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What really matters?

It is easy to get busy and caught up in your own world. The daily rush to get to work, to complete tasks, to do the chores at home can all occupy all our thinking time. It can be about weather we got that pay rise or the new job. We want the latest fashions, car and to have the perfect life.

But when you strip it away what is really important to you? What would you ache inside if you lost?

Today is World Gratitude Day and a chance to think about what really matters to you and remembering to say thank you.

Some years ago I was going through a tough time. I have been quite open about it because I went to see a life coach. It was bit at all like it is represented on TV nor was it an American experience. It was a chance to consider my thoughts, believes and values and find what was working and what was creating discord in my life.

It was the start of a journey that I am still on but was one that got me thinking about what was really important to me. One of my tasks was to write a gratitude journal. It is something I am still doing most days around four or more years on fro that initial coaching meeting.

It really helps. After a tough day you can forget how lucky you are to have things that you value. Writing them down is a way of emphasising them to you. It is like when I used to write things down to help me revise. It sticks in my head. It becomes what I remember from the day. Keeping the journal has helped me through dark days. Those are the days when it is the hardest to write and those are the days when it is most important to write it.

So today on World Gratitude Day I will be writing a long list of everything that I am grateful for. It will include family and friends and my beautiful animal companions but also the small things like the arrival of my new little bunny ornament and having a lovely breakfast this morning.

How lovely would the world be if we all took the time today to say thank you to at least one person or thing that we are grateful for? Tell me what you are grateful for I would love to hear.

*Note the photo is of my rabbit Digger who has had a tough month or so – I couldn’t be more grateful that he came into our lives and is still with us

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A horse is a horse, of course

Please forgive what is a bit of a self indulgent blog but today is an important day. On this day 15 years ago my life changed dramatically. I hadn’t expected it but I made a choice in my life that had a huge impact.

A decade and a half ago I became responsible for my beautiful equine companion Edward. Many people who know me will know how important Edward is in my life. I can see the moment I took control so clearly. I arrived at the stables to see that he had been moved into the stable I was paying for. It was early afternoon on a sunny September day so he was sin on his own as the rest of the yard inhabitants were still in the field. His sizeable head was hanging over the stable door and snoozing as I arrived.

I could not have foreseen what lay ahead of us on that sunny autumn day and it didn’t matter because I was so in the moment. Since that day in 2003 I have a huge amount of fun, have competed in serious dressage competitions, met and had lessons with some of the top dressage riders, watched dressage at the 2012 Olympics in London and trained as a dressage judge. All this was only possible because of the confidence that Edward gave me and still gives me.

More than all those things I have learnt some incredibly valuable life lessons in the last 15 years.

In a world where things are disposable and people have a short attention span I have had the dedication and commitment to looking after Edward. I make decisions to ensure he has the best of everything and I organise my life around his needs. I didn’t do this for a day, a week or a few years but for 15 of his 22 years and counting.

There are things I cannot afford to do so that I can balance the budget and ensure he has what he needs. It often makes me laugh that when people hear you have a horse they think you have money. I say I have a horse that is why I don’t have any money.

As he had got older those costs have increased just like with older people he has a few health issues now that I have to work with vets to manage. All that is fine I just had to change a few things in my life to ensure we could keep funding the necessary treatments.

Above all this 15 years has given me more than I could have ever imagined. The strong bond we have comes from weathering the rollercoaster of life together. (If it sounds like a marriage then it is a little bit and has lasted longer than many marriages.) I have felt such love from this connection. I have become responsible. I know commitment and dedication to getting up early every day to go and look after him.

Today became Edward’s official birthday so there will be some cake, cards and presents later. It is a time to celebrate and say thank you for everything we have enjoyed together.

Happy birthday Edward.

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A little issue of ethics

Even though I am on a week holiday from work I have still had a few days littered with some key discussions about communication and public relations. The focus has been on ethics and the role communicators should have in the conscience of the organisation.

Tonight I took part in the #powerandinfluence Twitterchat about whether PR is, or should be, the conscience of the business. Opinion was definitely divided and it is understandable why. After all do we really want to take on the responsibility of this for the whole organisation. But we do need to be able to advise and have the confidence of those senior people in the business.

It is the communication professionals that have to have the credibility to be able to recognise and speak out about the Emperor’s new clothes. This puts us under significant pressure but if we don’t do it we will never have the confidence in us as professionals.

Earlier this week I discussed ethics and PR with a range of professionals. There was a universal recognition that we have to reclaim our position and operate to the highest standards. The future of the profession depends on it. Why would you choose a profession that is frowned on and looked down on? The next generation need to take on the work to operate ethically and demonstrate the positive impact we can have.

Both the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and the Public Relations and Communication Association (PRCA) have put a huge emphasis on ethics and quite rightly are prompting the discussion. Now is our time to take on that conversation and push the communication business forward.

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Widen your horizons

It has been an interesting year with highs and lows. One thing I didn’t expect from 2018 was to make two trips to Norway which is definitely one of the high points.

I have to admit to knowing very little about Norway other than it gave birth to the pop group of my youth A-ha and my horsey friend Rachael was born and brought up there. Of course most people will remember the events of 22 July 2011 when there was an horrific terror attack. It is always referred to as the 22 July incident by Norwegians and for good reason.

It was a brutal attack on young people and in a small country it impacted on many people. Being asked to talk to the country’s communication professionals about an effective crisis response has been a privilege. They face some unique challenges due to culture and geography but there are so many similarities with the issues we all face.

We need to work closer together across public service communication teams so that it is a coordinated approach and we can maximise the impact of the response.

We all need to focus on the impact of events and incidents on people and ensure we make the right decisions for them. Within this we need to build our own resilience and that of our communication teams to ensure we are looking after ourselves and able to do our best.

We need to spend more time preparing ourselves for that moment when we are faced with a crisis and have to take action.

These are challenging times when there are an ever growing number of possible crises that may happen and that we may become involved in. Most of these things are global and have the possibility of touching us all. Of course we have to look at our readiness and our internal processes and procedures. But more importantly we need to be looking wider so that we can work together to deal with global threats and issues.

There is a lot that I want to take forward from my two trips to Norway and mainly it is to have a global perspective on crisis communication where we help each other.

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A lonely place

I was asked recently what I did to relax from a stressful job. As any reader of his blog will know I am lucky to have a strong support network of family and friends as well as my menagerie that keeps me grounded.

The role of head of communication in any organisation is a challenging one and it is often a lonely place.

You are expected to be at the top of your game with communication and have up-to-date knowledge and skills

If you read a few weeks ago about the head of comms at Netflix’s you would see his recognition that heads of comms have a leadership role and are expected to demonstrate the highest professional standards all the time.

In this modern social media and connected world it means you are a head of communication representing your organisation 24/7. There is always someone potentially watching you ready to raise an issue. It is a huge responsibility.

Personally, I am very aware of it but refuse to dwell heavily on it for fear that I won’t be able to do my job. Along with everything else a head of communication is supposed to be and do you are also a risk manager and a risk taker. You need a clear head to be able to do that effectively.

Being a head of communication is a lonely and pressured place but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I enjoy every minute of it (well almost!) and can see the positive difference I and the team make on a daily basis. Who wouldn’t love that?

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Sweet sixteen

I have been lucky enough in recent years to have the opportunity to discuss PR and communication with people from many countries. This has been both at meetings and conferences overseas and hosting visits at home. Every time I get this chance I am always struck by the similarities that exist in developing and delivering communication across the globe. We wrestle with the same problems, face the same challenges and see the same opportunities. The more work we can do across the globe the better because we can then develop universally accepted standards.

Today the Global Alliance has unveiled new global principles of ethical practice in public relations and communication. It follows six months work from a task force including the PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Association) alongside the ICCO, IABC, CPRS and PRSA. In information released today the Alliance chair Jose Manuel Velasco says:

“As communicators and public relations professionals, we have the potential to influence economies and individuals. This carries obligations and responsibilities to society and to organisations.”

I completely agree with this statement. We have the chance to be a force for good helping people and making their lives easier. It doesn’t matter who we work for we have this opportunity ahead of us. However, if we succumb to pressure or take a negative approach it can lead to cynical manipulation that is damaging to people or communities. This is serious and important stuff.

Strong ethical standards are essential. I have written many times on this blog about the importance of this and of ensuring that reputation management does not overtake a focus on people. The 16 principles that have been agreed are going to be incorporated into the codes of ethics of all those involved. Reviewing the codes of ethics should be something we regularly do to ensure we have taken account of the environment around us.

So what is in the 16 principles? In short, nothing in them will be a surprise to any PR or communication professional. They range from working in the public interest, having integrity, and providing honest, truthful and fact-based communication through to being an advocate for the profession, having a commitment to professional development and demonstrating behaviour that enhances the profession.

Personally I can support all the principles because they are so relevant and important to the work I do on a daily basis. If we can bring organisations across the world together then we can really start to improve the understanding of what we do. We can clearly explain the standards we work to and that they are the same across the globe. It gives us the perfect opportunity to drive the profession forwards and respond to those who challenge the role of the PR and communication professional.

We may be worlds apart but if we can all work together across countries then we can elevate the profession to where it should be at the heart of organisations.

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