The shape of the PR business

The PRCA launched the latest PR and Communications Census today and it makes for interesting reading. It shows the business is booming and the sector is growing which is all really great news. However, there are also some worrying findings within it.

We are still an industry that is not representative of communities. It is massively concerning because how can we really provide a service if we don’t have a diversity of views, opinions and ideas? Alongside that we have actually seen an increase in the gender pay gap and this is despite 66 per cent of the business being made up by women.

I also found it hugely concerning that there are still PR and communication practitioners that are using AVEs to evaluate their work. More than one in 10 of us still thinks that is an acceptable way to review what they do and we have to change this. After all if we can’t effectively evaluate what we do then I am sure the upward trend will get turned around. No CEO or senior manager is going to keep funding PR and communication activity if they cannot see and understand the impact, and also that impact has to boost the business objectives.

The press release launching the Census includes a quote from PRCA Director General Francis Ingham “As an industry, we should be proud but not complacent”. I agree with that there is a lot to celebrate that we do. We boost businesses, we help people, we protect communities, we educate and the list goes on. But what next?

It is vital that we use the information and figures within the Census to improve what we do. We need to look at accelerating work to make the industry more representative, to improve social mobility and to remove inequality. We need to push standards and share best practice.

We all have a responsibility to ensure we continue to build the reputation of the profession. The information is useful but it is what we do with it that matters and that includes using it to help explain the role of PR and communication within business and society. If you haven’t looked through the Census I would recommend you do.

Find details here
http://news.prca.org.uk/prca-launches-the-pr-and-communications-census-2018/

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A world of opportunity

Communication must be different across the world after all we don’t even speak the same language. It is easy to think that the activity within our country is unique or even that what we do in our business is set apart from the vast majority of PR and communication. In short it isn’t any of these things.

I was very privileged to be given the opportunity of attending the World PR Forum which this year was held in Oslo, Norway. It was a far cry from the usual day-to-day activity that I am involved in. Amazingly there were representatives at the conference from 44 countries. Many had travelled a significant way to attend the event.

At the end of my short time in Oslo I had come to the conclusion that we are all wrestling with the same issues and challenges no matter where we live. From Manchester to Oslo, Australia to China there is more that should bring us together than put us apart. That is if only we could see it.

My short trip made me realise that there is lot to gain from discussing everything from evaluation to crisis communication. We are all looking at how to ensure PR and communication is a profession, that we can find the links between what we do and what impact it has, and to make the most of the new technological developments. The Forum had three things at the heart of it: truth, profit and intelligence.

For me truth is something we must all seek to deliver in what we do and we must be able to articulate what it means. Profit well that is about making sure we can evaluate and show what we provide to the bottom line of the business. Finally intelligence has to be about maximising the data and technology we have at our fingertips but also to link what we do to the purpose of the organisation. The elements were relevant to everyone no matter where they were from around the world.

There was so much to bring communicators together from around the globe. I made some new friends and had an amazing welcome at the conference. I had the opportunity to look up and out and see what the global discussion was, and it was reassuringly similar. I think we all need to look out and make connections to those working in other countries. We have a lot to learn and share if only we make the time.

I have to thank the World PR Forum organisers and the Norwegian Communication Association for supporting me and giving me the opportunity to attend the event.

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Questioning social media

There seems to have been more written about the decision by JD Weatherspoon’s decision to withdraw from social media than any piece of communication activity for a very long time. I have resisted the temptation to get involved in the discussion but have given in now.

Anyone that knows me will realise that I am a fan of social media. I admit to being a little addicted but also enjoying the benefits that it brings to me as an individual. In the past 10 years with the team I have spent a lot of time developing our use of social media at work. It has been really useful for law enforcement. Many people will now contact police through social media who would have avoided contact, and it has helped to break down barriers.

In a crisis situation social media is essential as alongside traditional media it can get a message out really quickly. When your sole focus is on preserving and protecting life then you need to be ready to act and do it quickly.

There are, as we all know, huge problems with social media. It can distort situations, share fake news, support rumour distribution and give another environment for criminal activity.

The growth of social media has seen many companies and organisations jump on-board with little understanding of what they are doing and why. It is the latest thing everyone is doing so businesses feel they have to. I have seen many occasions where companies are doing things with no understanding of what business benefit it brings. My question is why do something if it doesn’t bring anything to the business?

JD Weatherspoon have taken a very interesting decision and I don’t think anyone can know yet what impact it will have on the business. It may mean they are not involved in conversations that take place online, which may in the future damage the reputation. It may mean they aren’t using social media to promote their offers but these are still available on their website. It may mean they miss out on opportunities to engage with new customers.

I will be watching the impact of the development with interest as I can’t think of another major brand that has taken a similar decision in recent years. If the impact is as minimal as Weatherspoon’s thinks then perhaps it will make us all question how and why we are using social media.

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No dress rehearsal

You might have spotted a new programme being promoted by Channel 4. In this latest lifestyle series people have the chance of leaving their life behind to go and do something more exciting. But why don’t we do this anyway?

I have had a week away from work which has been time to recharge my batteries, to relax and to spend some quality time with my animals. It made me realise again that this is no dress rehearsal and there is no waiting for the future as it is here.

How many times do you have something that you think you will keep for best? You wait to use it at some fictional point in the future. I have stopped doing this and instead have started to use things that I have.

I may really like my new T-shirt but if I wait for the right time to wear it then it may remain in my wardrobe for some time. I love the make up that I was given for my birthday but why keep it unopened?

Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. We can’t predict it we just have to live it. That means living today and getting the most from it whatever that is for you.

I realised this week that I have today and that is all I can be sure of. It means making sure I am living the life I want to, doing what makes me happy and making the most of what I have. I hope never to be the person who wants to go on that new TV show because I want to be making my own changes and living as I want to.

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Employees first

There was another interesting Commschat that took place last night and once again the focus was heavily on reputation management. In the Twitterchat this time it was the role of internal communication on reputation that was under discussion.

It was clear that internal communicators and those working in public relations need to develop more effective influencing skills. We aren’t yet able to promote the importance of internal communication and employee engagement to the future of the business. The workforce have to be at the heart of work to develop the reputation of the business. They are the brand ambassadors and the people who should embody what the business is about. In times of crisis they should be the first thought in the communication planning as they can have the biggest impact on developments.

There is a fundamental part of reputation management that impacts on the workforce and that is doing the right thing and focusing on what matters to the people. Honesty is critical in developing a positive reputation and it is as important to the workforce as it is to the people buying the product or using the service. If it doesn’t exist then your reputation will be damaged and possibly by your own workforce.

So what do we need to do? We have to understand that reputation is what is developed through what we do and not just what we say. We have to see honesty and transparency as essential to communication both with the public and with employees. We have to build trust in what we do so that we can influence the boardroom and put internal communication at the heart of reputation management.

It is work that we need to do now when we have the time and are not under pressure because of a reputational crisis. But who will take up the challenge to refocus our approach to reputation so that employees come first?

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In a personal capacity

I was taken today by the phrase used in a statement about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s attendance at an event. The question is as the head of any organisation can you do anything in ‘a personal capacity’ or as leader are you always representing the business?

After almost 20 years working in the police it may have clouded my view. Police officers are that 24 hours a day and off duty are still subject to high expectations. It is something that goes with the job and people will not take anything less.

The same can be said if anyone a senior position in any organisation or business. They are directly associated with the company and this doesn’t stop when they go home. CEOs embody the business and both staff and customers will be looking for behaviour that is appropriate. This scrutiny comes with the job and is only set to intensify as social media goes mainstream.

Communicators face a difficult position if those at the top don’t recognise the importance of their actions both in and out of work. They have to be able to explain and demonstrate how people engage with brands and this is very different than some years ago.

As public relations practitioners we also have to see the impact of what we do. In writing this at home in my own time I am very aware of the potential for it to be linked with my day job. Most of the time that won’t be an issue but we have to recognise that it exists. We also have a responsibility to make sure that those at the top of organisations see the true extent of the role and that there can be no ‘personal capacity’.

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Stop the boardroom debate

Once again the issue of PR as a strategic management function has been raised this time in the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) State of the Profession 2018 report published today.

The report says

“Senior representation for the PR function matters to practitioners; respondents consider that under-representation of public relations practitioners at board level is the biggest challenge facing the industry”

I am going to say something that may be seen as quite controversial now – we have to get over this issue of being strategic because the more we raise concerns the further we can move away from a seat in the boardroom. The report adds that practitioners believe that organisations are systematically undervaluing the PR function by a lack of access to the boardroom.

But have we equipped ourselves sufficiently to take up a seat in the boardroom? Do we know about the operation of the business? Can we talk about the frontline activity and see how it relates to the strategic direction of the organisation? Do we have business skills? In short have we earned the position or are we just waiting for it to happen?

For me you cannot expect to have that position in the top table until you have proved that you not only know communication and PR but you understand the operation of the business. It is the blend of the two for me that will ensure you have the ear of those at the top. I am pleased to see that the report recognises that “senior practitioners need to build their business acumen to break through beyond PR”.

The starting point has to be spending time on the frontline and in many aspects of the business. Know how A relates to B and C and D happen so that you can talk convincingly about the nuts and bolts of work. You can then start to make the links to PR and communication activity and show the direct impact that it can have on those business processes.

In 2018 it is time to stop talking about it or even being seen to be moaning about it. Instead we now have to prove what we can do, learn, develop and talk as though we are already in that boardroom. Don’t wait for someone to wave a magic wand and make it happen show that you are ready to operate at the top level of the business. If we do that then we can demonstrate our value and finally move on from this discussion to then drive the industry forward.

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