11 things journalists hate about PR

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The love-hate relationship between journalists and PR people has sparked endless debate over the decades.

There is no getting away from the fact that we NEED each other to survive – but each profession harbours at least a few pet peeves about the other.

Today I’m featuring 11 PR practices which REALLY annoy journalists – from putting kisses on press releases, to phoning on deadline and spelling absolutely everything wrong.

Next week, it will be the turn of PR peeps to fight back – all comments welcome!

 

1: Don’t share the love via press releases…

Writer and author Glenda Young, who edits @CoroStreetBlog,  has a No.1 pet hate about PR people – kisses. “I get emails from entertainment PR people sending out press releases, and they put kisses on them. I hate it!,” she said.

2: Don’t keep chasing up emails – at least, not obsessively

Sam Slaughter, spirits editor for @themanualguide, felt moved to take to Twitter after just such an incident: “Three emails, each within 24 hours of each other. Dude, really? Calm down.”

3: DON’T ANNOY YOUR TARGET JOURNO

US-based crime reporter Therese Apel, of @Reuters, @USAToday and @ClarionLedger, has threatened to set fire to PR missives which annoy her. Indeed, she Tweeted: “PLEASE DO NOT SEND AN ENTIRE PRESS RELEASE WRITTEN IN CAPITAL LETTERS. I WILL PRINT IT OUT AND BURN IT ON GENERAL PRINCIPLE”.

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4: Don’t ignore press enquiries

North East journalist Sue Kirby finds PR people who don’t return her calls particularly annoying. “I recently rang a press office with a question and, when I got no response after several hours, I rang back and was told they had been too busy to look into it! That should never happen.”

5: Don’t keep calling – especially not on deadline

Casey Newton, Silicon Valley editor at @verge, often finds calls from PR peeps annoying. “At any given time, more than 90% of all PR people are just following up on an email they sent yesterday”, he Tweeted.

6: Don’t over-promote

Consumer savings writer Josh Elledge believes the cardinal sin of PR is over-the-top self-promotion. “Seriously, do not over-promote when a journalist interviews you as an expert source,” he advises.

7: DO know your facts

PR people who don’t know their facts are a pet peeve of Peter Kafka, senior media editor at recode.net. Indeed, he was recently asked to email his questions to a person named on a press release – because “they might not have all the facts”. A #PR fail.

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8: Don’t stalk

Sydney Cromwell, managing editor of Starnes Publishing, got so fed up with PR people trying to attract her attention that she begged on Twitter: “After follow-up email #9 with no reply, you can safely assume I’m not interested.”

9: Not everything can be made relevant

Guardian columnist Rhik Samadder was so stunned to receive a press release about the “Brexit Brow” that he felt compelled to Tweet it. The brow, according to the release, was to help people “feel more in control” in such uncertain socio-economic times. “I don’t even know where to begin with this”, said Rhik.

10: Dump the jargon

Keep press releases clear, to the point and accurate – dump the jargon. Kerry Sheehan, ex-national journalist and now head of comms at NELFT NHS Foundation Trust, states: “The only way a jargon-laiden press release is going is spam filter!”

11: Brush up on your spelling

Spell-check your masterpieces before sending them out – or risk the wrath of technology writer Holly Brockwell. Indeed, one particularly bad specimen of a press release made her so grumpy that she not only Tweeted the contents – but corrected it as well.

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*** If you have any pet peeves about PR or journalism please comment below ***

 

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PR “more stressful” than most jobs

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PR is one of 2017’s Top Ten most stressful jobs according to a new survey – but why?

Fire-fighting, protection duty, event co-ordination and news writing are among the 2017 Top Ten most stressful jobs in the world according to Forbes – and, to some extent, PR covers them all.

Of course, most PR practitioners are not actually serving on a front line, but every day – in offices world-wide – they are fighting brand fires or reputation battles, and organising the odd event too.

“Endless deadlines, the need to achieve objectives, managing client expectations and challenging strategic decisions – this profession can certainly be stressful,” said Laura White, of Laura White PR.

“It’s PR not ER; however, the pressure of keeping a reputation healthy can certainly feel like a weighty responsibility at times!”

Public Relations has been named among the Top Ten most stressful careers by Forbes/CareerCast since at least 2012 – making the list just below pilots, firefighters, military, journalists and event co-ordinators.

The top three jobs all have personal risks attached but, while PR is deemed “safer”, the profession is still seen as stressful due to client demands, tight deadlines, long hours and the potential for “crisis”.

“The communications industry has always put the job first and people second,” said Paul Sutton, who wrote about PR stress for the book #FuturePRoof last year and is to speak on the issue at #PRFest in Edinburgh later this year.

“There exists a very strong ‘yes culture’, where no ridiculous deadline is unachievable and no unrealistic expectation is too much trouble. Personal lives and issues take a back seat.”

Paul has also contributed towards a report on mental health in public relations, which was published this week, and added:

“Pushing people too hard leads to emotional trauma; stress, anxiety, depression and, ultimately, burnout. Just look at the churn rates in PR.”

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Matt Clements, a communications manager for the railways, also agrees that PR lives up to its reputation as stressful – for a wide variety of reasons.

“A PR person is probably thoughtful, empathetic and a bit of a rebel, a critical friend, and that’s not easy. Like vicars and police officers, we’re never really off duty. But the plus of standing up for beliefs is being able to sleep at night,” he said.

Meanwhile, Michael White – digital account director at communications consultancy Lansons – is calling on the PR industry to take more action to recognise mental health and stress in the workplace.

“I was discussing three big PR agencies today. All operate with junior “workhouse-type” environments. We need to start with looking at changes to internal culture, ensuring all line managers are able to recognise the signs of potential mental health or stress issues early,” he said.

“Especially for junior practitioners, if an agency works you all hours and doesn’t provide the necessary support, then it can wrongly damage your entry into the industry – when the fault fundamentally comes down to the culture of the company and probably not having the right support.”

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Not everyone, however, thinks PR deserves such a terrible world-wide reputation for stress – at least not all the time.

Indeed, although Mandy Pearse, PR and marketing consultant at Seashell Communications believes “culture is key”, she added: “Some PR people love drama and make their own stress. Good strategy and planning increase control.”

However,  Chris Owen, director of technology at @MCSaatchiPR, is of the opinion that a lot of stress in the PR industry is ‘self-inflicted’ by poor legacy behaviours – especially “poor management training, poor tactics, and lazy, arcane approaches to what should be more strategic activity. That and unnecessary rollickings”.

He added: “There are perhaps two types of stress – ‘workload’, and psychological. The latter is driven by peer-to-peer comparison which is a little embedded in such a competitive industry.

“There’s a habit of looking sideways and comparing yourself to others, and (as is always the way), not looking properly and instead perceiving others as better, smarter, more able to handle the job, and then thinking working longer hours is a way to tackle what doesn’t exist.

“The workload element is something endemic which needs eradicating from the sector; this mentality of being seen to be working harder, longer hours just for the sake of it. Sending emails out of work hours, during weekends, or chasing things up before the office opens. It brings stress unnecessarily and is usually little more than preening.”

The final word, however, goes to PR and communication management strategist Judy Gombita, (who is also a principal of PR Conversations, including curating the @PRConversations stream), who suggests the various staff and agency positions that comprise “public relations” need to be defined and understood before potential stress can be considered.

“If someone works in the area of publicity or (marketing communications) promotions, most of the times the “stresses” would be average,” she said.

“An in-house person whose position revolves around issues and reputation management and the possibility of an operational or individual “crisis” situation, maybe.

“What I find ironic is that it’s typically (younger) people employed at agencies who claim their job is so stressful; however, when you look at the outcomes of what is trying to be achieved (more sales or profile,) it’s rare that anything of real, long-time importance is on the line.”

** The film below has been released as part of the report on mental health in public relations. Do you feel strongly about this issue? Please feel free to comment.

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5 tips for creating a winning blog

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Today’s guest blogger Arianne Williams was named Britain’s Best PR Student Blogger in Behind the Spin’s 2016 competition. Here the Sunderland University graduate shares some hugely helpful hints and tips on writing a winning blog. Thanks Arianne!!

 

Anyone who’s anyone has a blog these days, all with a different purpose, a different idea and different things to say. For students – particularly those studying PR, communications or something similar – it’s a great way to showcase what you can do outside the constraints of assignments.

As a PR student, a blog is the perfect platform for showing your writing skills, putting your social media strategy to good use in sharing your posts, and demonstrating you’re up to speed on industry news. And all of this is good news when it comes to getting a job further down the line, which is what I know every student has on their mind at the moment. But to get noticed for the right reasons, you need to do it well.

 I’m proud to have been named Britain’s Best PR Student Blogger 2016 in Behind the Spin’s competition. And because of that, Sarah invited me to share some tips on how to create a winning blog.

  • Plan – This first one is pretty self explanatory, but have some sort of strategy or plan in place including how often you’ll post, how you’ll share content and what you will post. It always helps to plan out some ideas in advance too so you’re not scrapping around for content on your less-than-inspired weeks.
  • Read other blogs – Lots of them. You’ll get ideas, inspiration and insight into what works and what doesn’t. They don’t even have to be industry related, they just need to be posts you enjoy and find interesting. And (at risk of sounding like your school English teacher…) reading regularly is one of the best ways to improve your writing too.
  • Don’t be afraid to have an opinion – Your blog is your own little piece of the internet where, within reason, you can say whatever you want. So if you want to share your opinion on some industry news, comment on PR trends or anything that is relevant to your blog, do it… just make sure you justify what you’re saying. Sharing your views helps to demonstrate that you know your stuff!
  • Be consistent… if you can. I add that little after note as I know that university work always takes priority, you get called in for a few extra shifts at work or (lets be really honest) sometimes you just can’t be bothered. But whenever you can post regularly and on topic to help build a following of engaged readers.
  • Be passionate – As cheesey as it sounds, blogs that have some thought, knowledge and enthusiasm behind them always read better. I think the aim of a blog post is always to make people think – whether that’s through inspiring them, informing them or sharing insight – make people think with your content.

There you are. My five tips on creating a winning blog – I hope you found them useful!

I’d love to hear any other tips you might want to share or comments about this post – head over to my blog prprointraining.wordpress.com or tweet me at twitter.com/ariannewills

And thank you Sarah for having me!

 

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Journalism versus PR

 

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What is the greatest profession – PR or Journalism?

Forget the eternal question of “What is the meaning of life?”, or even the more mundane “Can I really justify drinking another bottle of wine?”, it is the Journalism vs PR quandary that has been giving me sleepless nights for quite a while now.

So, in an effort to get some shut eye, I decided to turn to the internet for help. Surely, the “great God” Google would help me finally find a definitive answer to the question that keeps rattling around my sleep-starved brain at 2 in the morning.

Or perhaps not.

There are, that is certain, a lot of positives and negatives given for both professions. Indeed, a search of “PR is great” racks up an impressive 209,000,000 hits, while “Journalism is great” trails behind at just 104,000,000.

But, just when I thought Google might have answered the all-important question, I decided to switch out “great” for “crap”… “PR is crap” scored 818,000 hits, while “Journalism is crap” got 709,000.

So much for Google – both professions are officially great, and crap.

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After finally abandoning Google, my thoughts turned to writers past and present, as well as business chiefs and industry leaders. Perhaps they, in their infinite wisdom, may be able to settle this burning question once and for all.

Good old Oscar Wilde totally muddied the waters for me with this quote: “By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

Meanwhile, George Orwell retorted: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

But it is clear that fantasy writer Ray Bradbury was on the side of the hacks when he retorted “Journalism keeps you planted in the earth” and British-Iranian TV presenter Christiane Amanpour is also a supporter, saying: “I believe that good journalism can make our world a better place.”

However, a recent poll of 3,000 UK adults found that journalists were the third most distrusted professionals – just behind politicians and bankers. Electricians and plumbers were deemed much more trustworthy.

And poet Gilbert K. Chesterton was obviously no great fan of the noble art either, claiming “Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.”

So much for journalism, what of PR?

“Show me a PR person who is ‘accurate’ and ‘truthful,’ and I’ll show you a PR person who is unemployed…” stated CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen on a TV show back in 2008.

Andrew’s comments created a storm of indignation amongst PR professionals and, at least in the world of business, his views were clearly not shared by some of the biggest movers and shakers.

Bill Gates, of Microsoft fame, obviously appreciates the need for good PR: “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations,” he once stated.

Fellow businessman Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is also a supporter. “Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad,” he said.

Even John D. Rockefellar, an oil industry magnate who died in 1937, recognised the importance of PR, quipping: “Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing.”

Perhaps, after all this research and Googling, there is no answer to be had on the Journalism vs PR question. I suspect it might eventually boil down to personal opinion.

Meanwhile, my quest for the truth continues – as does my pursuit for an answer on “What is the meaning of life?”….

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67 must-follow Twitter accounts for PR pros and newbies

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The PR industry can be a confusing place when first starting out – but following the right PR professionals on Twitter opens up a whole new world of hints, tips and in-depth knowledge about the business.

In this, my first ever crowdsourced piece of research, I’ve named 67 must-follow Twitter accounts for PR students (and professionals, too) – as suggested by the very kind (and knowledgeable) people in my Twitter network.

I apologise now for missing out potentially thousands of great accounts – but this list is based purely on recommendations received after I made a plea for help on Twitter last week!

PLEASE feel free to add further suggestions in the comments section – and I’d love to hear some suggestions for PR blogs as well. Congrats to all on this list – you have all given me PR inspiration.

So, in no particular order AT ALL:

Perfect to inspire and inform PR students and professionals:

@ConorMcGrathPR – Lecturer in PR and Lobbying @UlsterUni. Great tips for PR students.

@wadds – Stephen Waddington: partner @KetchumPR. Packed with PR news, hints and tips.

@Hallmeister – Sarah Hall: @CIPR_UK President-Elect 2017. Great for PR trends and blog ideas.

@behindthespin – Richard Bailey editor of Behind the Spin. Wide range of PR news, views and tips.

@AllthingsIC – Rachel Miller: Consultancy director/blogger. Tweets packed with PR ideas.

@HelReynolds – interesting mix of communications photos, PR news and PR links

@GoooRooo – Sarah Stimson: chief exec @PRstarsTB. Huge/helpful range of Tweets about PR.

@KeithLewisComms#InternalComms at Zurich Insurance. Lots of links to PR news and views.

@michaelwhite1 – Digital account director at @lansonslatest. PR tweets, tips, blogs and hints.

@Jenny_Sanchis  – works @UKPrimeResearch. Great for blogging ideas and PR tech tips.

@markwallcomms – Mark Wall Communications. Packed with PR blogs, features and ideas.

@ariannewills – Winner of #bestPRblogs 2016. Jam-packed with PR tips/blog posts.

@MGreer_PR  – PR columnist for @TheDrum. Wide variety of PR-based tweets.

@RobBrown –  Author of Public Relations and the Social Web. Lots of PR tips and ideas.

@jasonmackenzie – President @CIPR_UK and lecturer @BCUmedia. Serious/humorous PR tweets.

@AM_LaceyPR – Anne-Marie Lacey: Social media MA lecturer at Sunderland University and PR director at @Filament_PR. Top tips for PR newbies.

@CIPR_UK – endless supply of great PR material, including blog links, news stories and PR trends.

@prconversations – Collective global public relations site, reflecting a wide variety of PR voices.

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Perfect for PR hints and tips:

@Spinwatch – Public interest reporting on PR, lobbying and power networks.

@eacdonline – Network for communicators across Europe – with PR posts to prompt discussion.

@PRUKDistilled – “A bot finding tweets the UK PR Community is reacting to” – excellent resource.

@lissted – A Social Listening rather than PR account – good for finding/following trends.

@eightytwenty – Digital centric communications agency – good for global roundups.

@pisarose – Content marketing hints and tips.

@WordStream  – Marketing software and free Social Media tools for PR people.

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PR practitioners:

@RodCartwright – Director of Ketchum’s Global Corp & PA Practice. PR/reputation/politics tweets.

@rijsmith – Editor of Influence – the mag from @cipr_UK. Journalism/PR/blog tweets.

@Padsky – Head Comms, Peninsula Petroleum. Very active on Twitter, with interesting PR views.

@EmmaJ70 – HE marcomms professional with interest in education, PR, social media.

@AlexMyers – Founder & CEO at @ManifestLDN. Tweets a mixture of PR ideas and campaigns.

@aCupOfLee – Ex-pat Irish content marketing/author. Tweets feature PR hints, tips and blogs.

@telecomtails – Kevin Taylor: owner of Robertson Taylor PR. PR/politics/football posts.

@greenbanana – Heather Yaxley: public relations educator with mix of PR/public affairs/blog posts.

@CatMTurner – Head of Consumer Services PR for the Co-op. Mix of personal and PR Tweets.

@seanearley – Digital Creative Director @NewSlangIE. News/political/digital links.

@AlpineJoeJoe – Founder and creative director of @HelloRomans. Mix of sport and PR posts.

@PRCAIngham – Francis Ingham: director general @PRCA_UK. PR tips, retweets and news.

@andymturner – “Piffle-free” posts on marketing, PR, reputation, comms and social media.

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Academic PR:

@AcademyKev – Co-founder of @pracademy. Great source of academic PR hints, tips and features.

@GregsAnne – Professor Anne Gregory: Author and former CIPR President. Excellent PR posts (and really helpful if you have a PR query too!).

@i_kostopoulos – Head of PR & Journalism at Leeds Beckett University. Blogs, news and PR posts.

@DrJonWhite – Management and public affairs consultant. Quality news/political posts.

@museumofpr – US-based PR educational institution offering tips to PR newbies and professionals.

@sequins16 – Diane Green, PR lecturer at Sunderland University. Tweets on wide range of PR issues.

@ByNeilMac – Neil Macfarlane, journalist and lecturer. Journalism/political/sports tweets.

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Perfect for PR fun:

@DearPR – A fun US-based account featuring tweets from journalists grumbling about PR peeps.

@prbants – Packed full of #prfails, as well as hints and tips for PR newbies.

@commscartoons – A fun account packed with PR/comms doodles.

@RichLeighPR – Rich changed his name to Public Relations (really!) and founded @Radioactive_PR.

@thatmarkperkins – Fun tweets from creative director of @mhpbrand @EngineLondon.

@FeilimMac – A PR cog in the Paddy Power marketing team – lots of Irish/jokey tweets.

@MarkBorkowski – Publicist, strategist and Tweeter of satirical posts – about PR and world news.

@10yetis  – Andy Barr: Head of @10yetisdigital agency. PR/satirical posts.

@Matt_Muir – Freelance communications consultant with an eye for witty/weird PR tweets.

@itsjamesherring – Co-founder of creative comms agency @taylorherringUK. Comic/PR tweets.

@danslee – Co-founder of @comms2point0 and @commscamp. Posts to put a smile on your face!

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Perfect for news and PR views:

@Cam_CommsGuy – Ex-Apple PR guy. PR and employee communications news and views.

@prweekuknews – Excellent source of PR news and views.

@betonykelly – Engagement specialist @beisgovuk and campaigns to help those whose stammer.

@shelholtz – interesting mix of US-based news, PR views and digital comms tips.

@Vuelio – links to PR blogs, news and views.

@wonky_donky – Director Tech & Innovation @MCSaatchiPR. Thought-provoking posts on PR/news.

@maxtb – Max Tatton-Brown. Founder Augur Communications. Excellent digital posts.

@stellabayles – Author of PRs Digital Resolution. Posts useful for PR hints and tips.

@crystal23tipps – Communications Team Leader in #localgov. Mix of personal/PR posts.

@GeorgeTrefgarne – excellent source of serious issues links.

@KingofSW6 – sporting, political and news discussions.

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Credibility is vital to future of PR

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The age-old tensions between hacks and PR folk should be abandoned and forgotten, believes PR business owner AND freelance BBC journalist John Gelson. Here he reveals why.

 

 

 

“Credibility is vital in PR. That means being as open as you can, and working WITH journalists – the old adage of ‘them and us’ simply doesn’t work for PRs OR hacks.”

This is the view held by media all-rounder John Gelson – who not only runs his own PR agency (Next Stop Communications), but also works as a freelance journo for the BBC.

“I guess I’m living proof that it IS possible to be a journalist AND a PR person at the same time!” said John, whose first job in journalism was at the Hartlepool Mail in 1984.

“Despite what some journalists will tell you, there isn’t an enormous difference between what they do and what a PR does – and yes, journalists DO need PRs to keep those stories coming.

“The lesson is simple – if you’re a PR, think about how the journalist works and how you can make it easier for them to tell your story. That helps immensely when you come to sell your story; whether as a press release or by a call to the news editor of a local newspaper.

“Social media has undoubtedly changed the game though. It’s how journalists communicate with us as PRs, as well as with their readers – and it has fuelled the rise of ‘citizen journalism’ too – with images and film footage able to go live around the world from a phone in seconds.

“But social media is also increasingly important as a way to positively promote PR events – and that side of PR is only going to get bigger. Anyone entering the industry today needs to know it inside out.”

Life on radio waves not all plain sailing

John’s move into PR took several decades, via a sub-editing role at the Sunderland Echo, reporting on Wearside for BBC Radio Newcastle and work as a producer at BBC Radio Cleveland.

“I was involved with various small radio projects at first, and once broadcast from Hartlepool in a room with walls covered in cardboard egg boxes – the cheapest of soundproofing – while a turntable which had just caught fire was lifted out over my head!” he said.

“Working in Sunderland for a radio station with the word ‘Newcastle’ in its name was also interesting – as was turning up in a radio car covered with pink logos!

“Digital broadcasting was still a couple of years away and recordings were still made using reel to reel tape on a heavy recorder called a Uher – usually held together with elastic bands.

“Those bands snapped one day while I was on the staircase of a bus in Sunderland, rushing to get a story on air. The tape cascaded down the stairs, with me gathering armfuls of it up and gasping to bemused passengers “BBC … hurrying with the news!”

Switching track and changing careers

Despite these early mishaps, John went on to become news editor for BBC Radio Cleveland; helping the station win a Sony Gold Award for Live Coverage of a News Event in 2003.

But, after spotting a job ad in the Guardian, John changed career tracks quite literally just the next year – when he was appointed Media Relations Manager for rail operator GNER.

“Ex hacks have lots of transferable skills for the PR world – writing being the obvious one,” he said. “But, much more than that, it is knowing how to tell a story with journalistic credibility that sells the product you’re trying to PR.

“PR is a great career move for former journalists as well as new starters. It’s varied, even exciting at times.

“My best moment was watching a flypast over York by a Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane trio of aircraft over the unveiling of a train named after the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight by TV’s Carol Vorderman – broadcast live and watched on the ground by several thousand people. Show me the ordinary 9 to 5 job that puts you in the middle of that!”

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John was part of the GNER team which won PR Week’s Gold Campaign Award in 2005 and, while working for East Coast a few years later, he helped the rail firm secure several PR plaudits too.

“We broke new ground with the launch of 24-7 social media, a train naming programme which won extensive media coverage and even a partnership with Bond movie Skyfall, which saw images of a specially liveried train shown around the globe,” he said.

“But internal comms was a key part of the story too – a Sky One TV series ‘All Aboard: East Coast Trains’ took viewers behind the scenes to meet the characters who keep the railway wheels turning.”

In 2015, however, John decided to leave his rail job and, with help from business start-up agency Yorkshire Coast Enterprise, set up his own PR firm – Next Stop Communications.

Bus operator Transdev is now among his clients and, when John isn’t PR-ing, he can found working as a freelance journalist and newsreader with BBC Tees in Middlesbrough.

“So – I have a stake in both PR and journalism, at the same time. And I’m happy in both – that’s what really counts,” he said.

“My predictions for PR in 2017 are that the rise and rise of social media will continue, but that the decline of newspapers will continue too. This saddens me as an ex hack but the reality is, local papers will continue to shrink in size and influence, especially outside the big cities.”

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Who is more trustworthy – PR people or journalists?

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It’s an age-old topic for debate, producing compelling arguments on both sides… But who really is the most trustworthy – PR people or journalists?

 

 

Journalism regularly tops the polls (see Opinium, Gallup, Ipsos Mori and many others) as one of the UK’s most untrustworthy professions – usually second only to politicians.

Hairdressers, according to those polled, are apparently much more likely to tell the truth than journalists – as are police officers, nurses, doctors, judges and estate agents.

PR people are rarely, however, even mentioned in such polls – although they did score well for trust in a recent one commissioned (perhaps some-what ironically) by PRmoment, topping the list over everyone from bankers to journos.

So… Does that mean PR peeps are more trustworthy than journalists? As a former journo with over 25 years in the business, I don’t actually believe this – but I wanted some unbiased opinions.

One Twitter survey later – as well as very welcome contributions from a TV star, Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications and an indie rock band singer – and the situation still remains unresolved.

A total of 25 people responded to my Twitter poll question: “Who do you trust most – journalists or PR people”. PR scooped 56% of the votes – with journalism only a few points behind on 44%.

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Voting for most of the 24-hour period was absolutely neck-and-neck – perhaps because, as Paul Chuckle (of Chuckle Brothers fame) later remarked: “Neither seem to tell the whole truth mate”.

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Frankie Francis, singer with Sunderland-based band Frankie & The Heartstrings, was also torn: “It’s tricky – you’d hope journo.

“But journo depends on the news association used to publish a story, and PR’s can spin to however the person paying requires.”

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Finally, Alastair Campbell – journalist, broadcaster, author and former Director of Communications for Prime Minister Tony Blair – pretty much summed up the whole situation in four words:

“Depends who they are!”

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I have to agree with Paul, Frankie and Alastair. I’ve known trustworthy and untrustworthy journos, and trustworthy and untrustworthy PR peeps. It is unfair to tar all people with the same brush.

Good old Ernest Hemingway once said that the “best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them”.

So, to cut right to the chase – only if a person fails you is it then fair to deem them untrustworthy.

 

 

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PR has a bad reputation “because it deserves it” says agency boss

edEd Zitron – one of Adweek’s Top 30 Under 30 Emerging US Communication Leaders – once described a career in PR as “flinging shit into a void and hoping you won’t get shat back on”.

But, despite being dubbed “the world’s most self-loathing PR person” by Newsweek, the ex-UK games journalist – now a PR agency boss in the US – is more than happy to help out PR rookies.

Indeed, he has even written a warts and all book to ease newbies through their first year in PR and, below, Ed chats exclusively about his unconventional take on the public relations business.

 

No fluff, no jargon, just results – here’s Ed

 

  • What prompted you to write the book How to Kick Ass in your First Years of PR?

 I had a really, really bad first job in PR. Verbal abuse, threats to my visa, threats to my well-being, deliberately being kept late on Fridays (and the days before what England calls Bank Holidays – Americans call them holidays). I was told to form pitch, I was told to phone call people endlessly – things that were ethically painful and I hated doing, until I just decided not to do them and focus on knowing reporters, either by reading or by actually talking to them, and focusing on matching up clients with reporters that liked what they were writing about.

PR just isn’t that fun a career at times. I love doing it because I carved out a niche for myself and a business that works for me, my clients and the people that work for me. It’s a really debilitating industry with a lot of middle and upper management problems paired with a strange public persona where everyone is always talking about how great it is. Other industries – sales, journalism, management in general – have a very deliberate group of people who criticize bad practices. PR people actively attack people who attack bad practices like cold calling, despite the fact that reporters truly hate it.

Why should you read my book? I don’t know. If you want to understand if it’s worth being in PR, and if you do go into it, what to expect.

 

  • You once stated that you found the world of PR a place of “passive-aggressive emails, office back-chat and an oppositional, saccharine reporter-PR relationship” Do you still feel like that?

I 100% stand by that statement. PR has become – as an industry – obsessed with covering up its own mistakes rather than creating ways for it to do better. People are obsessed with talking about how smart they are, how great they are, how impressive they are because the substance of much of the work we do is quite dull and focused on…emails.

We want to believe we are the Samanthas of the world, at big events with well-known clients, or White House Press Secretaries. Most of the time…we’re not. And it’s much easier to blame the world, or the journalists, or something else for your failings as a person than to admit that perhaps you’re not putting in your all, or that perhaps your job isn’t that important. It’s not a BAD job, it’s just not that important or fancy! It’s not impressive if you describe it in real terms.

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  • Does your quote of a couple of years ago – “The career of a PR person is like flinging shit into a void and hoping you won’t get shat back upon” – still ring true?

Things haven’t changed.

Social media has allowed PR people an even larger pulpit to circle around themselves using hyperbole to describe their actions, and places like the Plank Institute and the PRSA have allowed people to continually drum in their own self importance. They need to stop. They corrupt students now – the PR Students Society of America is the most fetid organization, failing to warn students of the actual things they’ll do each day – that their clients won’t be a Beyoncé or a Tesla or a Dell. They will not be speaking to stars or running million-dollar parties. They could say this but they don’t. They post 500 posts a year about “great ways to win over a room” or “ways to manage a team,” useless things that have been written 400,000 times.

  • Do you still believe that “Reporters hate PR people, and they should?” If so, why? Is it because some PR people go about things the wrong way – or not your way?

A lot of reporters do, and “my way” is a suggestion I’m not particularly keen on. I’m not suggesting some insane, crack-potted theory about having to inject thetans (soul) into emails. I’m saying email them stuff they want to hear about, get to know them, understand them, don’t call them. Normal human things that people who are desperate and ignorant don’t understand. If “my way” is a problem to anyone, I’ll gladly have it out with them.

  • You were described as “the world’s most self-loathing PR person” by Newsweek back in 2014 – is that still the case?

That’s the reporter’s way of putting it, but I loathe how my industry is. Self-effacing jokes are my thing, and I’d 100% say there’re times that I am very down on myself. I do loathe what we are. I loathe a lot of my peers. I really do. I just can’t stand them. They are half-people with personal branding injected into them.

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  • What are the differences between PR in England and the US?

British PR is generally a lot more forward in person. It’s similar on email, but in person people are more amicable and human.

The presidential campaign was one that was very much proof that the echo-chamber of social media and what people perceive to be popular culture is vastly different to that of the real world. Twitter is no indicator of a real electoral body. Hillary didn’t lose because of the racists on Twitter (I should note I would, if I could, vote democrat either way), she lost because she didn’t campaign in key states and had a genuine lack of charm. Trump won by breaking entire systems of good taste and expected decorum. How the next four years go is going to be very strange and scary.

  • What four words would you use to sum up PR?

“Oh no, it’s today.”

  • Why do you think that PR has a bad reputation?

PR has a bad rep because it deserves one. There are many agencies, big agencies, small agencies, one-person shops too, all of them spam and are just plain bad. They scam clients. That’s why PR has a bad rep. It’s not the cultural trope of “PR people lie.” It’s that PR people are deceptive with what they offer.

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  • Do you have any advice for PR students/rookies?

 Really look into what this job entails. You won’t be doing big events, or if you do you’ll be doing the very unfun work. You won’t be hosting things. You won’t hang out with celebrities. You won’t work on the biggest products directly. You will, ultimately, have to handle so much drudgery you will have to either accept it or lie to yourself until five years passes. Also, get good at Microsoft Office and formatting emails.

** Ed is the founder of US-based PR firm EZPR and author of  This Is How You Pitch: How To Kick Ass In Your First Years Of PR.

Have Ed’s words made you re-think PR as a career, or do you disagree with him? Any comments welcome below.

 

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Why it’s harder on the “Dark Side”

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Behind the Spin editor Richard Bailey talks to PRVirgin.com about the “dark side to PR” – but it’s probably NOT what most journalists think it is.

 

Journalists enjoy describing public relations as the dark side.

It comes from a sense of moral superiority, because journalists are trained to produce truthful accounts of events.

By contrast, PR practitioners are necessarily biased because of their affiliations – and at best can only strive for accuracy.

To an unsubtle mind, the distinction becomes a stark one of truth against lies (since public relations amounts to propaganda).

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Journalism has a heroic history. Free speech is a key element in a free society – so journalists can present themselves as on the side of the angels.

Why, then, is there a well-trodden one-way path between journalism and public relations?

  • Perhaps because of the gap between myth and reality. The Leveson Inquiry, let’s remember, was into the ethics and practices of the press, not into the lies of the PR industry.
  • It could be job opportunities and salaries (there are over 60,000 PR practitioners in the UK and average salaries are around £50,000).
  • It could be that every journalist has tales of useless PR people contacting them with crass promotional stories and believes they could do the job so much better.

So for all those journalists yet to move over to the dark side, let me tell you some home truths.

There is a dark side to PR, but it’s not what you’re thinking. The dark side of PR – and the reason for the higher salaries – is that it’s a management discipline. (I call it dark because it’s hidden from view).

Sure, you can manage your time and meet deadlines. But can you manage clients? Can you win competitive pitches, develop strategic programmes and manage expectations?

Can you manage teams and budgets and make a profit out of your PR activity? Can you measure the effectiveness of campaigns and prove a return on investment?

Or can you fit within a corporate hierarchy, and let the boss take credit for your work? Can you work with marketing, IT, HR and legal teams?

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The dark side of PR is that it’s an intermediary role: you navigate the uncertain territory between organisations and publics, requiring a mastery of media and communication channels and well-developed listening skills.

Writing press releases and dealing with journalists is not the hard part of PR. Nor is it even the most important part of PR. Nor is it growing in importance given the rise of digital and social media.

But nor is content marketing and SEO the whole story either. Nor even is this a communication discipline.

So when you see a flashy PR person driving an expensive sports car, you might think you’re looking at an over-promoted spiv. I think you’re looking at an agile entrepreneur who has developed a niche business service in a highly competitive environment.

Or you’re looking at a manager with broad shoulders who can cope with the vanity and insecurity of chief executives and celebrities and provide them with calm advice in troubled times.

Could you do that? It’s not that easy – and nor is newsroom experience necessarily the best preparation.

** What are your views? Please feel free to comment below:

 

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Growing Pains for PR

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Former CIPR President Stephen Waddington calls for a revolution for professionalism in public relations.

“When will public relations grow up?” says Stephen Waddington five seconds into our telephone call.

I’d just asked him about an issue that I should blog about for 2017. His response was far blunter than above – but I’ve edited it to save his embarrassment (!).

But the comment makes me jump, drop my pen, and then nod in approval.

Yes, I’ve only been involved in the public relations world for a matter of months but, during that time, I’ve met many intelligent, articulate and conscientious people.

Passport to travel

However, while public relations is full of professionals, it not classed as a profession such as law or medicine. Indeed, PR practitioners can’t even sign a passport application – while even a trainee journalist is officially allowed.

“I want public relations to be recognised and valued as a profession. I want my mum to understand what I do, and for it not to be all spin and bullshit,” says Stephen, partner and chief engagement officer at public relations firm Ketchum.

“Max Clifford is a good, or rather a bad, example of this. My mum, and others, would see Clifford as a public relations practitioner, but he absolutely is not. He broke every single rule – he was a publicist.

“Public relations has a long way to go before it can be considered a profession. It has started to exhibit some qualities of professionalism, but needs more. There is a growing movement – but it’s slow.”

No barrier to entry

Stephen’s stint as president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in 2014 saw him study the issue of public relations as a potential profession in detail, with the aim of crafting a brighter future.

It soon became obvious, however, that the lack of formal qualifications required for those setting up as public practitioners was a huge stumbling block. Indeed, anyone with a mobile and laptop can claim to work in public relations.

“There isn’t a defined career route into public relations in the UK. People join the sector with a range of qualifications and backgrounds,” said Stephen, who is also a Visiting Professor at Newcastle University.

“There’s no barrier to entry, and a combination of on-the-job-training and raw ability frequently sees people progress quickly without formal training or qualifications.

“The challenge is reconciling this with the increasing drum beat of practitioners claiming that public relations is a profession or management discipline. It isn’t, at least not yet – and probably not in my lifetime.”

Slow march to professionalism

Stephen’s research revealed there were five distinctive characteristics within officially recognised professions such as accountancy, architecture, medicine and law.

These included the need for professional qualifications – to convert into practice – as well as continued professional development, ethical frameworks, codes of conduct and knowledge sharing.

“To move forward and make public relations a real profession we need embrace all these points, but at present they are a work in progress. We are making progress though – slowly, but surely,” said Stephen.

A critical component of this progress has been the re-evaluation of Chartered PR Practitioner status; just 50 people achieved status from 2004 to 2014.

In the last 18 months this has increase by more than 100 as the scheme has been modified in line with other professions.

“1,600 CIPR members completed CPD last year. That’s around 2% of the 80,000 people that work in the profession,” said Stephen.

Chartered status – much like a proficiency test for journalists or qualifications in law, accountancy and medicine – reflects the breadth of a practitioner’s experience and achievements.

“The challenge is now to scale Chartered status so it becomes the norm,” said Stephen. “It needs to be recognised as a benchmark of quality by anyone hiring public relations services – and the broader public.

“In medicine, law and journalism people need to reach a minimum standard to practice, but that doesn’t exist in public relations. It must eventually happen if our business is ever to be seen as a profession.”

Stephen believes that public relations courses at university, such as Masters and BAs, will also help boost the industry’s chances of becoming a profession – as will embracing an ethical Code of Conduct.

We need a revolution

But people must work together to achieve this professional status – and it will be a lengthy battle.

“I have been banging on about this for years. I’m going to grow old and grey banging on about it,” he said.

“I’ve reconciled to the fact that we’re not going to see revolution. It will take a generation to sort out.

“Public relations is a very young profession; it only really dates to the 1900s. We just need to make steady progress. And it will be slow and steady – rather than a revolution.

“There is a drum beat that people are starting to march to, and eventually there will be a critical mass of people who have achieved a set standard.

“At some point those who aren’t qualified will become the exception – but I don’t think that will be in my lifetime.”

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