The future of PR

There seems to have been a lot of discussion of what the future of PR can and should be. Some of it is aspirational and some is hamstrung by the past.

Both the Chartered Institute for Public Relations and the Public Relations and Communication Association have given views about what this may be. It is helpful but at the heart of this is a key issue – we have to define the future ourselves. As PR and communication practitioners it is vital that we shape the next five or 10 years ahead.

This week the Government has announced a frontline policing review and central to it is going to be gathering the views of those doing the job on the streets every day. It is something we need to do for the future of the industry.

There are plenty of opportunities for people get their views known through the industry bodies but also by discussing issues among their peers.

But first we have to think beyond what we are faced with at work on a daily basis. We have to give ourselves space to consider the developments needed and what might challenge us in the years to come. We have to care about the profession.

I am a communication and PR geek. I love it. I love the creativity, the difference it can make, the human aspects and the opportunities it brings. This has to be one of the most enjoyable, challenging and interesting professions. We need to capture what it is and share it particularly with the young people considering their career choices.

We also have to move away from the images of PR that have formed over the years from Absolutely Fabulous and the likes of Max Clifford. It means casting an eye on how we portray ourselves to other PR people and to the wider public. Perhaps sometimes we conform to stereotypes and reinforce the past.

The future is unknown but what we do know is that we can and should be shaping what it looks like.

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Thinking ahead

Crisis communication seems to be something that I think about on a weekly basis. After almost 20 years in police communication there is rarely a month goes by when there isn’t some form of emergency or critical incident. It is part of the day-to-day work and something you come to accept.

But it is not just something that emergency service communicators should be thinking about. All communicators must be ready and able to respond no matter what happens and when it happens.

I had the opportunity of speaking to a group of apprentices at the well-known Juice Academy in Manchester. They train social media apprentices who work for a whole range of businesses and organisations. We have taken part in the past and have had the benefit for some time of a young and skilled social media officer. Myself and my senior digital officer explained about how we deal with crisis communication online to give them some food for thought.

The key is to recognise that there are more similarities than differences in how we all can and should approach managing a crisis. Watching what is happening, how others respond and when it works and when it doesn’t should be something we all do. I have said many times that it is a career defining moment when the crisis hits and often it may be the only time you face one in your working life.

One of the main questions that the apprentices had was how you can keep up with the massive flow of information, comment and conversation that happens on social media. The answer is in short you can’t in the first few moments and hours but then a few well-chosen words then may make all the difference. As soon as you can then you need to be listening, responding and speaking directly to people needing help through social media.

It was interesting to take part in tonight’s #Commschat Twitter chat on the same subject of crisis communication. It sparked some useful discussion about approaches to take, points to consider and how to manage the overwhelming social media noise that happens. Again, there was a consensus about the importance of planning, preparing, remembering to communicate with staff as a priority and ensuring speed, honesty and transparency.

Crisis communication may not be your daily business but it has to be important for us all as we never know where or when the next one may appear.

Posted in challenge, communication, crisis communication, emergency services, police, policing, PR, resilience, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A human being

There was an interesting definition of PR made at the PRCA Council meeting this evening. We often struggle to explain what it is we do and how it benefits society, people and businesses.

I heard Kate Stevens talk about what it is and she used the phrase ‘PR is a human career’. It isn’t about policies, spreadsheets or legal frameworks. At its heart it has to be about people and their lives, their issues, their requirements.

It is something I have been talking about a lot in the last 12 months but even before that. One of the most enlightening pieces of work that I carried out was going out and listening to people and their issues at public meetings. As PR and comms professionals we have to understand people and that starts with listening and not talking. For those who want process this is about gaining insight and we don’t do it enough.

New products and services are launched, items are promoted and if there is no view from those affected then the actions will be hollow and lack substance.

Don’t get me wrong this isn’t as easy as it sounds. You have to invest time and money. You have to be open to hearing the feedback and acting upon it. You have to make sure you are open to all and not just the people you want to hear. But if you can gain that information and customer voice then you can develop from a firm foundation.

If PR is a human career then we need to include support to help people recognise and develop those skills. Being able to talk to anyone about anything should be something all communication professionals can do.

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Taking a timeout

I have written many times about how difficult life can be and how we need to take care of ourselves to deal with it. Over the past few weeks and months I have felt like I have lost my way a bit. I have struggled to keep focused on things. I have been lacking patience. I have been extremely sensitive to issues that have arisen. At the heart of it I was functioning but in a disconnected way rather like I was watching myself go through the motions every day.

Why am I telling you this? Partly it is so that if you have had to deal with me and have been frustrated about things being last minute or that I have been slow to reply then you may forgive me. But also it is because many other people will feel the same way but may be afraid to openly discuss it.

My antidote was to head of to North Wales this weekend for a retreat. It may sound a bit wacky, religious or out there but it is very real and grounded. I spent the weekend with around 20 women who were strong and inspirational.

Everyone had gone there for different reasons but what united us was a desire to confront our issues, deal with them and move forward in a positive way. We did this individually and together. There is a huge amount of strength, love and support in 20 women coming together.

The retreat was in a beautiful house run by nuns who allowed us in to that spiritual and serene place. The weekend itself was run by Amy Lawrenson who I have known for a few years through her life coaching, reiki and workshops.

It may all sound like I am a bit of a hippy but it was a great opportunity to step off the treadmill of daily life. I could take some deep breaths and to gain some head space. I was able to see what had been in my mind causing me to lose focus, patience and clarity. We only get one life and as I have blogged before his isn’t a dress rehearsal. Don’t wait for tomorrow to tackle those issues do it now. Don’t hope everything will sort itself out, you have to make a positive change.

I have given myself time to unwind and have a bit of a digital detox (more of that in a later blog) and to refocus. The hard work really starts now when I face the pressures of life. But I can do this. I have the tools and techniques thanks to Amy. I have the mindset to make it happen and above all I have the support from close to home and from the amazing group of women I shared my weekend with.

This might not work for you but we all need to find ways to keep mentally fit, strong and healthy. Find your way or just give yourself some time out and you will feel the benefit.

Posted in happiness, kindness, learning, patience, resilience, training, women | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Back to school

I recently marked two years being a Chartered PR practitioner and it is one of the major achievements in my professional career. I have been committed to my own development for many years. If you think about it if we don’t develop then I would still be faxing press releases out and waiting for the pager to beep.

There is a lot of training and support that is available for comms people to assist their development. You can do things from the comfort of your home or by attending formal sessions in a classroom.

You can tailor it to your own requirements and you can find a mentor to help you define areas for development. You can spend a lot of money or do it with just an investment of time.

With all that how can we decide not to get involved in professional development?

There is a lot of talk about PR as a profession and the need for us to demonstrate it to ensure a seat at the top table. Yet we so often just assume that we can achieve that without any effort or hard work.

Some believe that professional development should be provided during working hours. Businesses and organisations may be supportive but I don’t think many would see hours and hours of time being written off to training. Personal development plans are just that – personal. About you and driven by you.

It is only when we invest in ourselves that we can see PR becoming a recognised profession. One that is learning and constantly developing because those with it are learning and constantly developing.

It is time to look at the opportunities and your personal position and take action.

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Under pressure

I was in the middle of writing another blog when I felt I had to confront the issue that emerged yesterday and last night. I was shocked to see the photograph of a Lush shop with the comments about police. At first I thought it must have been Photoshopped or it was a spoof image that had been created. I think I am still aghast at the fact it has been created.

I have worked in police communication roles for almost 20 years. For all that time it has been under pressure from all sides and it faces the most intense scrutiny with decision making reviewed and assessed as well as the behaviour of officers and staff analysed constantly. It is something that is accepted because of the ability that police have to take away people’s liberty. But the activity of Lush is poorly thought out and I am still not sure what they are hoping to achieve.

For almost two decades I have worked with some amazing people who do amazing things day in and day out. They push themselves to breaking point to help others. They put themselves into dangerous situations so that they can protect lives. They go above and beyond on a daily basis.

I have seen some of the bravest acts and those involved will say ‘I am just doing my job’. A year ago colleagues did things that no one should have to do. And then there are the times that police officers give their lives in the line of duty.

I am struggling to think of any business or public sector organisation that would have been the subject of the kind of attack by a retailer that we have seen from Lush. I read their statement in response but it still feels unacceptable to have such images on the high street and who will go online to read their lengthy explanation?

All organisations get things wrong and all public sector organisations have to face scrutiny but surely it should be in the right place, at the right time and in the right way. I am heartened by the response from lots of people across the country that can be seen online. I can only hope that those responsible for the campaign at Lush review the feedback and reconsider the approach they are taking.

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The people versus

In a world of GDPR and AI it is very easy to lose sight of what is important. We are all busy people with a long list of things to do, boxes to tick and tasks to achieve. The modern communicator needs to have many skills and to know everything from media relations and the latest digital developments through to data protection and behavioural change. It is no easy ride.

At the heart of what we do is something that is incredibly straightforward and that is people.

People are what matters whether they are customers, supporters, staff or service users. The world is what it is both good and bad because of people. People make decisions, people run businesses, and people make plans.

As communicators, especially those in the public sector, the focus is often on delivering the work required and doing it on time. We want to be supporting the organisation and of course that word reputation rears its head again. But we have to look beyond that.

If you analyse it PR is about the public or in other words people. The work we do should have people at the centre. We should be considering what they need, think and want. For me it means thinking about victims and their families and making decisions based on them.

We must relegate to history the approach which sees communicators taking action purely for the benefit of the business. Forget people and you are forgetting what you are there to do. Public sector communication is a privilege to be involved with. We are part of the work to provide services for people. So we must now ensure we are putting people first in our planning and decision making.

I would love to see a conference or awards event that put the focus on attention to people rather than the organisation.

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