Facebook

Is this the end of Facebook, or just a comms disaster?

On a long enough timeline, the life expectancy of all social media sites drops to zero. Facebook is suffering, but is this the beginning of the end or just another bump in the road?

The Cambridge Analytica story is known to most people now. The large data company bought 50 million data entries from an academic, who had harvested it off Facebook for the purposes of ‘research’. It then used this data to some, as yet, unclear extent (against Facebook’s rules) to help political movements around the world including, according to its own claims, a contribution to President Trump’s victory.

After months of investigative research by The Observer, an undercover reporter from Channel 4 was able to film CEO Alexander Nix making bold claims that the company led politicians around the world into honey traps and bribing officials. He has since been suspended.

For Facebook, the news was damning. After the report was broadcast, and following work from the Observer and the New York Times, some $50bn was wiped from Facebook’s stock market value.

It has since recovered slightly but at one point was 10% down.

Facebook then made a series of seemingly rookie moves in terms of crisis comms: the company suspended whistleblower Chris Wylie’s Facebook and Instagram accounts; its chief of security Alex Stamos is reportedly leaving the company but nothing has officially acknowledged this; Facebook went into the offices of Cambridge Analytica to ‘investigate’ on the evening of the report, a day before the ICO were able to apply for a warrant; and, perhaps most damaging, Mark Zuckerberg was kept from making a comment until days later.

When a listed company takes a dive on the stock market, with investors and clients threatening to sue, advertisers pulling their ad spend, and governments around the world discussing heavy regulation, a CEO needs to respond swiftly to show someone is in control and the situation is being handled.

Instead, we waited four days for a Facebook post to appear, in which Zuckerberg acknowledged Facebook has ‘a responsibility to protect your data’, and ‘if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you’. He explained a timeline of events that led to the crisis, and says that it was a ‘breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it’.

Is this too little, too late though?

This article from MarketWatch certainly thinks so. It quotes Davia Temin, a management consultant who said, ‘This is a totally insufficient response, both operationally and emotionally. Yes, it is prescriptive, yet strangely hollow, limited, unemotional, and lacking any form of apology.’ Temin says that the company should be responding to such a crisis in 15 minutes, because on social media, 15 minutes is an age.

Deleting your Facebook account is now in vogue, thanks in no small part to some big names including the co-founder of WhatsApp, Brian Acton, who tweeted: ‘It is time. #deletefacebook’. WhatsApp, of course, was sold to Facebook in 2014 for $19bn. This issue is damning for the social giant, but as people are pointing out (mostly on Twitter), all the big social companies collect personal data and sell it to advertisers and third parties.

So, if Facebook now fails (and presumably the likes of Twitter, Google and Amazon remain healthy), it will be largely because it didn’t handle its comms correctly to get itself out of this hole.

Obviously, the state of social media, the collection of data and third party access is going to become VERY exciting after the GDPR comes into force. If, for example, the ICO decided Facebook had allowed the data breach through negligence and it was after 25 May – the fine would have been up to $500m.

Imagine.

 

If you’re unsure about GDPR, and not sure how it’s affecting the comms industry, download out our comprehensive guide

National Trust

3 Crisis Comms lessons with Jam and Cream

The National Trust got themselves into a jam over the weekend, foolishly advertising a Mother’s Day cream team in Cornwall, with a picture of a scone where the cream was put on first!

Outrageous, huh? For those that didn’t know, cream then jam is how people in Devon have their scones, while jam then cream is the Cornish way (most middle class dispute ever? – scone rhymes with gone, FYI).

Needless to say(!), the locals in Cornwall were ‘angered’ (as reported by the BBC) at the mistake made by the National Trust’s Lanhydrock property in Bodmin. Some said they would cancel their memberships over the blunder, some said it was ‘horrifying’ and some even went as far as to say it ‘made them feel sick’. Quite.

So, what did the National Trust do to remedy the situation AND totally ace their crisis comms?

The Trust came out all guns blazing, apologising and printing #JamFirst badges for all staff to wear, in support of ‘a proper cream tea’. They also clarified that any ‘rumour’ they were renaming the property to ‘Jamhydrock’ had no truth.

In a Facebook post, they explained that the member of staff responsible for the original offending post had been ‘reprimanded’ and ‘marched back over the Tamar’ (the river that forms most of the border between Cornwall and Devon). They assured their ‘Cornish community’ that the ‘catering team would never make such a heinous mistake’. Also, that the jam and cream are served in little pots so, ‘the order of their application is not subject to such appalling error’.

The post concluded: ‘Rest assured, your mothers are safe here’.

The post managed headline news at a number of outlets, all of which painted the National Trust in a good light despite this being their ‘crisis’.

What should the PR industry learn from this?

  1. Don’t underestimate how much an issue matters
    Outside of Devon and Cornwall, this argument might seem trivial* but the order is a genuine part of both counties’ identities and this really does matter to locals. Can you imagine the national scandal if a UK Prime Minister declared they preferred Bratwurst to British bangers? Good crisis comms approaches problems with empathy, not sympathy; don’t look at the situation as you see it, step into the shoes of those affected.
  2. Use humour
    This obviously depends on the crisis and wouldn’t be appropriate for all problems. By using humour to respond so dramatically (tongue firmly in cheek), the National Trust made this issue seem more serious a crisis that they then had to tackle. It was the Trust’s sense of fun – marching the offending employee back over the Tamar, for example – that helped the story to gain traction in the press. Most importantly, the humour wasn’t making fun of anyone but making light of the problem.
  3. Don’t forget to follow up
    The mistake, still on the property’s Facebook page, was followed by the humorous apology. But it was arguably the badges that really helped take the story to the next level (and gain nationwide attention). Using a second Facebook post, and for presumably little cost, the Trust has managed to follow up, support the original victims of offense and gain positive coverage. Every crisis should teach you lessons, and showing that you’ve learnt from your mistake is vital to conclude a successful crisis comms process.

 

*Though the disagreement has just started in our office – PR Club is all for cream first, because it’s like the butter and needs a firmer base to spread on. Disagree? Tell us on Twitter @Vuelio.

Improve and maintain corporate reputation

Businesses and organisations are acutely aware more than ever of the importance of protecting their reputation. Some have learned the hard way when crisis situations have hit and they haven’t been prepared or have handled it badly.

There are three sides to reputation management – the first is maintaining reputation when it’s at its highest, the second is developing a good reputation from a new-start perspective and the third is managing reputation and then changing perceptions in a crisis situation.

When conducting studies, the Reputation Institute, the global reputation-based research and advisory firm, uses its RepTrak® measurement framework and measures the perceptions and opinions on:

  • products or services
  • innovation
  • workplace
  • corporate governance
  • public and social impact
  • leadership
  • performance

Reputation can make or break businesses. You can use the above to help with your strategy and management.

Companies or organisations with reputation issues are more likely to feel the wrath of the law and importantly, the public. Nowadays, it may also provoke a cyber attack.

So, how can corporate reputation be improved or maintained when there are so many different elements to consider?

Firstly, it all comes back to the organisational values and objectives. If the values of the organisation are real, ethical and trustworthy, then they should be embedded in every element of organisational work.

Business and organisation have a duty to their shareholders, stakeholders, employees, suppliers and the public, not to mention regulators. You will be held to account.

Public trust is paramount. In the 2008 crash, public trust was at an all-time low in the financial industry, with the public being wary and confused, financially worse off and the impact on the global economy at its worst.

Today’s challenge in reputation management is not only speed but also given the change in landscape, there is media, social media, influencers in their many forms and we must ensure our risk assessments, scenario planning and crisis comms plans are fit for purpose today.

I’m not talking about lying. I’m not talking about coming up with cover-up stories, I’m talking about genuine, ethical business practice. Understanding the business, the scenarios, the likelihood and the potential impacts, will help you understand what you’d need to do, over the short, medium and long-term, to protect reputation.

LauraSutherland_Reputation

Actions speak louder than words

LauraSutherland_Reputation-Listening

You can say whatever you like, but if your actions don’t back this up, then your words are worth nothing and will no doubt be even more detrimental to your reputation.

In addition, the under-rated skill of listening is key. Listening to the people who impact on your business. Listening will help greater understanding and greater understanding leads to better-informed decisions and strategies.

Listening will also help build better relationships as people recognise you are taking their opinions, views and also experiences into consideration. This, in turn will also add greater value to the business and the influence gained will be beneficial.

Listening tools also exist and can be used online, monitoring and listening to different communities. This is essential to keep on top of any issues which may be arising and also in case there are any other groups or communities who you may not even have been aware of. It always an opportunity to respond to issues before they may turn to a crisis.

Top down, bottom up

LauraSutherland_reputation_CEO

As we know, communication works both ways, as does respect and understanding. CEOs and boards have a duty to act as leaders. Leaders should want insights, understand and listen. It shouldn’t just be something for management. Leaders should set an example.

CEOs have the opportunity to really put their money where their mouth is and strengthen corporate reputation by distinguishing themselves and setting a moral, ethical and world-leading standard – no matter how big or small the business or organisation may be.

Charged up CEOs can really set an example and inspire others, too.

Cyber threats

LauraSutherland_CyberAttacks

Interestingly, people find it curious that PR people should be involved or be keen to know systems and protocols in IT departments.

At #PRFest in June, I’ve worked with Craig McGill at PwC to bring their Game of Threats cyber attack simulator to the festival. One of the biggest organisational risks is unhappy employees or those who don’t understand the potential impacts of bad practice.

Take someone using an unknown USB in company IT equipment which could contain malware or unhappy employees spreading negative stories about the company. You are more likely to be targeted if you’re deemed an unethical business or an organisation with an already poor reputation.

It’s so important PR and comms people are on top of recognising issues and impacts and including this within their plans, including simulating scenarios.

Act before a crisis hits

LauraSutherland_mediacrisis

With tools, systems and people to recognise issues as they start, the key is to address them before a crisis hits. This involves insights and data, planning, scenario tests, and regular monitoring to ensure the plan is always fit for business purposes.

Every member of staff at every level has a part to play. Managers are more likely to spot issues further down the chain than say, a CEO would. But do they know how to report or deal with it to ensure it’s handled effectively? This leads to thorough internal communications functions, policies and management.

Systems and processes

LauraSutherland_monitoring

An early warning system using the risk assessments and listening/monitoring tools will play a vital role in any issues or crisis situation. It’s the reporting of a potential issue that is vital – quickly. Without denial.

  1. Insights and data –internal and external – listening and monitoring
  2. Understand what this information is telling you. Also understand what matters to your stakeholders. What do the actions look like that support what you’d be saying?
  3. Wider and transparent conversations. Think of collaborations and partnerships as an opportunity to involved a bigger set of stakeholders and by collaborating or partnering, there is a two-way approach.

Six areas for corporate reputation to monitor and manage

LauraSutherland_reputationmanagment_jpg

  1. Operating and business performance
  2. Legal or ethical
  3. Personnel – particularly misconduct
  4. Political
  5. Environmental
  6. Safety and security

Confidence in you and your business

The importance of confidence in crisis preparation must be underlined. Knowing that you and your business are prepared to face ‘the unknown’ instils confidence. Feeling, being and acting confident are essential groundings for facing unforeseen and emotionally difficult crisis events at a time when you must reassure others that the situation is under control and being handled properly.

The ability to anticipate trouble before it happens is the best source of confidence. Your reputation is your biggest asset. It must be protected.

 

[testimonial_view id=4]

Media Spotlight: Matt Cooke, Google News Lab

Matt Cooke is the Google News Lab lead for the UK, Ireland and the Nordics. Before joining Google, Matt worked at the BBC for seven years as a broadcast journalist. Matt, who is also a frequent public speaker, is passionate about teaching journalists techniques that will enhance their storytelling such as immersive 360-degree/VR technology. In this spotlight, Matt chats to us about why the approach to digital storytelling should be ‘story first, technology second, helping journalists to verify and fact check stories and engaging audiences through visual content. 

Can you introduce yourself and talk a little about your professional background? Hello, I’m Matt Cooke – I’m a former journalist and now I’m part of the Google News Lab where I help editorial teams innovate and experiment with digital storytelling. I cover northern Europe – as I speak I’m on my way back from Finland and earlier this week I was in the Netherlands – I travel a lot! Before joining Google nearly five years ago I was at BBC News for about seven years where I worked across radio, television and online.

You worked for a long time as a presenter, reporter, and producer, why did you decide to switch to online? I started my BBC career at Millbank, but I soon moved to become the Home Affairs Producer for BBC London TV – that’s where I learnt from great journalists and hard-working producers. I started to present on BBC Three, I reported in Birmingham for a year and I presented on BBC Three over the weekend. But, it was just before 2012 when I realized I was ready to make a change. The BBC was experimenting with new ways of storytelling – for a time I filmed my own TV reports, wrote my own articles and made audio packages from a base in East London. This independence from the main newsroom gave me a taste to experiment with new formats and online content.

There seems to be a growing trend of people moving from more traditional media corporations like the BBC to online outlets like BuzzFeed, What’s driving this trend? I’m extremely grateful to the BBC – it was a great place to learn and looking back it was a brilliant place to work. As new opportunities at places like VICE News, BuzzFeed present themselves I think it’s only natural for inquisitive minds to investigate and consider a new challenge.

MattCooke_GoogleNewsLab

What do you most like about being a lead for Google News Lab? And what are the challenges? I spend about 40 to 50 percent of my time visiting newsrooms, talking to journalists – my job is to help them translate their stories and ideas into reality, with the help of technology.

The approach to digital storytelling should be ‘story first, technology second.’ Within newsrooms there are always different levels of experience when it comes to digital tools – some are experts and some are beginners. My background is not tech and I’m not an expert (on anything, actually!) so finding ways to communicate to all levels of interest and experience is something I have to do every day!

Within newsrooms there are always different levels of experience when it comes to digital tools – some are experts and some are beginners. My background is not tech and I’m not an expert (on anything, actually!) so finding ways to communicate to all levels of interest and experience is something I have to do every day!

How is Google News working with publishers to create innovative partnerships and experiments? The Digital News Initiative provides training and research, product development and an Innovation Fund – so far recipients (ranging from individual journalists to major news organizations) have received €51m in awards, a new round has just opened. You can learn more at digitalnewsinitiative.com.

Within the Google News Lab we’ve collaborated with lots of publishers and journalists – we supported projects such as 6×9; The Guardian’s first experiment in virtual reality, we’ve provided free access to training events across Europe (EJC, GEN and more) and we’re working with journalists to help verify and fact check stories surrounding the French election – that’s led by FirstDraftNews.com – a coalition we helped to launch back in 2015.

I just finished a project that helps journalism students gain experience within a newsroom – the Google News Lab Fellowship. We launched this in the UK last year and about 250 people applied, this year that shot up to 650 applications. I launched the scheme for the first time in Ireland and the Nordics too – the Fellowship is offering 28 placements in total!

What has been Google New’s approach to social media campaigns, and what has your experience been like working on them? The key though is to provide the right information, in the right style to the right audience on their platform of choice.

Can you talk about the current partnership between Google News Lab and YouTube newswire, and why it’s important? Eyewitness media, also known as UGC (user generated content) has become part and parcel of the daily newsgathering process for many journalists. Whether it is a breaking news event or a developing story we all now have the ability to capture high-definition video or stills – all with a smartphone. We’ve worked with Storyful to help journalists source the most credible, verified content on YouTube – to help them find video they can use and refer to in their storytelling. Every day the YouTube Newswire provides fresh playlists and showcases the latest eyewitness media. The best place to learn more about working with UGC content and eyewitness media in all of it’s forms it firstdraftnews.com

MattCooke_VuelioSpotlight

When trends do you think we will see this year in regards to how news content is created and distributed? Editors often talk about the renewed importance of video, often live and always shareable – mobile first audiences need video that is made for mobile handsets, not the TV. Traditional broadcasters such as RTÉ have excelled at creating content on a mobile, with video designed for audiences to consume on-the-go-you’ll be able to find subtitled interviews and a heavy use of graphics – all to engage the viewer for longer.

As a hub of the very latest news of everything that is happening in the world, how is Google responding to fake news? We have updated our publisher policies and now prohibit Google ads from being placed on misrepresentative content, just as we disallow misrepresentation in our ads policies. Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property.

One of the things you’ve championed is data journalism. Can you talk about how Google News Lab has incorporated this and how it connects with Google trends? Google trends provides anonymised, indexed, real-time data that can help journalists gain another perspective – the most searched for terms or the changing trends in themes and topics can be interesting. My favourite data visualisations are the simplest – they make things clear.  On our website we provide self-paced learning on how journalists can use Google Trends to enhance their storytelling.

What has been your career highlight? Working as a reporter at BBC News was great, the chance to produce and prepare stories for television never lost its appeal. More recently, helping members of the Royal Family connect with audiences via Hangout was also memorable!!

Are you working on any exciting projects at Google News Lab this year? Yes, stay tuned – there is a tool refresh that focuses on audio – well worth an experiment!

PR Spotlight: Laura Sutherland, chief of Aura & founder of #PRFest

Laura Sutherland is the chief and founder of Aura, a Glasgow PR and digital marketing consultancy. With over fifteen years of experience in public relations, Laura is now a Chartered PR practitioner and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). Laura is also the founder of #PRFest, the UK’s first festival for public relations and has co-written a best practice guide for the CIPR, which discusses ethical paid and earned media. In this spotlight, Laura, who appears on our top ten UK PR blogs by women, chats to us about how the industry has changed, why writing a press release and placing media stories does not guarantee success, the growing importance of analytics, demonstrating ROI, and how social media is opening up new opportunities for PRs.  

PRFest 1 SA : Pictures from PR Festival June 16th 2016 at Whitespace, Edinburgh. All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2016.. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission.

What do you most like about being the chief at Aura? And what are some of the challenges? Well, I work for myself. I can be flexible with everything! My time, where I work, how I work, what I charge and I am fortunate enough to be able to pick and choose the best clients to work with; brands which I can relate to and where I can make a real difference.

What I have found is a challenge is managing my time with Aura business and client work. I’ve found that segmenting my week and dedicating time to everything at the most appropriate time is essential. The accounts get done once a month so I’m always on top of them. I do my own invoicing and chasing for late payments. I have a new business funnel which I try to keep on top of and often involves a lot of chasing, for briefs to be completed, for dates to be set etc. Some people may say working on your own is hard to keep motivated, but because I work with such great clients, I don’t find that an issue. In fact, I could work from home, but if I did, I’d work longer hours!! I’ve fallen into that trap before!

I’m also involved with independent practitioners communities and lead one in Scotland and I have built a great network of practitioners far and wide, so there’s always someone to talk to.

As someone with over 15 years’ of experience in public relations, events and communications, how in your opinion has the industry changed? The industry has changed massively. It’s very exciting!

When I first started in PR I didn’t have a PC. I had a desk and paper. We used faxes to send out press releases (and resent them many times due to the amount of faxes news desks received), we used the post and couriers to send out images in 35mm format and design work.

I suppose I was lucky in my first PR job. It was an integrated agency so I got to work across media relations, design, advertising, events and all the client relations side. I worked with big brands such as L.K. Bennett, Patek Phillipe, Bvlgari and also did what we’d now call influencer relations, back then. It was a baptism of fire with little guidance and no training.

In terms of the industry now, there are different elements I can break things down to:

  • People – some practitioners are riding the wave and really enjoying developing themselves to be more relevant. To up-skill and learn new things all the time. I see this as essential. However, there are other practitioners who think they can just keep on doing the same thing as 10 years ago, writing press releases and placing media stories. The latter will soon find they don’t fit within the industry as they can’t offer the right skills or knowledge.
  • Business – businesses are slowly grasping the value which public relations has to offer, crudely speaking, the bottom line. We’re a long way off yet, but we’re making improvements. Partly because modern practitioners are leading clients and are offering the best advice. Partly because they recognise that public relations goes way beyond churning out stories and in fact, if it’s properly integrated into the business strategy, there are many more opportunities to help business growth. Everything from using analytics to understand more to using public relations to understand the impact their business is having.
  • Industry bodies and organisations – as the industry modernises, so must the industry bodies and organisations which interact and represent with practitioners. The bodies need to lead the way on behalf of the industry and crack the engagement with business for there to be better understanding of the value of public relations. The bodies have started to offer more modern courses and training which is essential to practitioner development. I see an opportunity for better collaboration as an industry and I think there is also an opportunity for practitioners to speak out and tell the bodies what they think they need. It’s a two-way conversation.
  • Business development – despite that fact we went through a recession, arguably we’re back in a bad place due to Brexit, clever practitioners and agencies placed themselves accordingly, continuing to bring in new business and retain clients. Yes, I did see an effect in Scotland but Aura was launched in a recession (November 2008) and is still going strong, eight years later. That’s partly to do with the changes I made in 2012 and 2014, recognising the need to modernise, for a better approach to developing business and defining exactly what it was I offered.
  • Media – yes, media of course still plays a part in what we do. Traditional print is not a major focus anymore. For me, it never really worked having a blanket approach to media relations. I’ve always worked in a more strategic and targeted way. However, media is slow to modernise too, which means public relations is slow to use some forms of media as there are more effective ways. Social media has developed in a big way with the introduction of live and stories. This has presented public relations with a huge opportunity.
  • Technology – with AR and VR making headlines at all the big shows and conferences, AR is more accessible to smaller brands. VR can be costly and I’m not sure yet that everyone is ready for the tech. I know the music industry is doing a lot of testing with VR for gigs and not getting such a great response. We need to look to tech to create experiences for brands which underline the brand in an authentic way but we also need to remember that evolving tech can only be used in PR as long as the end-user it using it!
  • Industry issues – there will always be issues in every industry, but we’re starting to make headway with gender equality, professional standards and more. What we need is for the industry itself to understand the issues and help each other do something about it.

What trends do you think we will see this year in regards to the PR industry?

  • Consumer loyalty, post-Brexit, is a major thing and brands need to start reinforcing their true values, to ensure the consumer is still loyal.
  • AI – Chatbots and automation are already here but I think we’ll see artificial intelligence. Driverless cars are already making huge advancements and I see one brand has already started developing a flying car! PR has an opportunity to use AI to make user experiences better across the board. Humans can deal with everything emotionally, bots can’t. Practitioners will need to upskill, understand and start developing new ways of using AI.
  • PR will call out fake news and make an example of it. It’s our duty as ethical public relations practitioners to ensure the businesses and organisations were work in and represent conduct any communication in an ethical way.
  • Forums were big in the early 2000’s and I suppose some examples like Facebook Groups are a forum. People like to have conversations as a group in a safe place. Slack has become an everyday tool for me. Perhaps we’ll see more and better use of private spaces for conversation, brainstorming and discussion.
  • I’ve been working with a retailer and I’ve started to get to know a lot more about retail tech which engages and interacts with consumers, but everything is personalised to the specific person. Using data and tech we can really drive home personal messages, offers and experiences to the consumer
  • Content will be considered a much more strategic element to a PR strategy with longer term benefits and across different elements of the business. It’s not as simple as writing a blog post and creating a pretty image! Machine learning will have an impact too, so the content PR has to provide needs to be clever, create, engaging and personal.
  • I’m a member of a Facebook group for PR practitioners which occasionally I love and occasionally I can’t believe some of the people on there even practice public relations! However, in the last six months I’ve seen a shift of conversation, from everyone talking about AVEs and bad reporting to people now asking for tools and advice. This group has helped some practitioners come out of the dark ages and use modern and more effective approaches to improve their work. For examples, AVEs is a common one. Now the group is discussing Barcelona Principles and AMEC’s new integrated framework. Now it may be down to a few of us being involved in best practice and actually leading in these types of areas of public relations, but it does show there is a want from practitioners to come away from fluffy metrics to sound measurement and evaluation proving ROI and impact.
  • In the world of social media – who knows! It was reported recently that Snapchat is seeing people moving to Insta stories. Instagram has now introduced live, which Facebook and Twitter (via Periscope) already do. Instagram has also announced a beta of sharing image folders, for more than one image. It’s coming away from the USP that platform built itself on. I’m not sure that’s what users want? There’s also Facebook’s Workplace which could transform businesses and how they work.
  • Influencer relations will only get bigger and influencers and practitioners will have to have better ways measuring and evaluating the success of campaigns.

Why is an informed strategy, linked to business objectives the best way for public relations to grow businesses? There are two elements. Being informed, means you’ve done your research and you’ve used all the data available to you, to help inform a strategy. It’s not finger in the wind. Everything relates back to a rationale. For example, if I find data that says 100,000 people visit a website in a day, but there is 85% bounce rate on the homepage, I know the website needs to be changed. If the website is changed accordingly, people will stay on the site longer and possibly buy more products which, improves the business.

Why does PR need to be linked to business objectives? It’s a necessity. If a business wants to grow in a new market and to have £1million turnover from that market in year 1, then the PR strategy has to focus on the new market, the new audience and devise a strategy, with relevant activity/tactics, which will see that £1million turnover reached.

Public relations is not a ‘nice to have’. It needs to demonstrate ROI and it needs to show how the PR strategy and activity has contributed to the £1million turnover.

What is your definition of strategic public relations? I use the phrase ‘strategic public relations’ so that from the outset, businesses will know that I am strategic and will devise a strategy. I am not in the business of developing a tactical plan to execute, without having a strategy and relating it back to business objectives.

PRFest 1 SA : Pictures from PR Festival June 16th 2016 at Whitespace, Edinburgh. All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2016.. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission.

All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2016.. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission.

You are also the founder of #PRFest, the world’s first festival for public relations. Why was it important to you to set this up and why do you think it is important for the industry? I was frustrated with the lack of quality top-level events in Scotland for public relations – specifically ones that everyone would want to go to, not just members of an industry body. I like the diversity different disciplines and areas of expertise can bring.

There are many of these ‘big’ events for digital and marketing, but none specifically for public relations. I saw this as an opportunity to a) use my event skills to organise a great event and b) help practitioners modernise by giving them real actionable advice and learning.

I brought back the CIPR Scotland conference in 2012 and 2013, the first one since the 80’s I’ve been told, and there was a real appetite for a quality, learning event.

#PRFest was launched with an international line-up and I expected it to be well received, because I had worked with a group of practitioners to develop the topics. I didn’t think it would be a sell-out, which it was and I didn’t think people would travel from across the UK to attend, but they did.

It’s refreshing to have the festival in Scotland, not in London as per the normal big PR events, and it’s curated and run by me, not an organisation with a political or sales agenda. It also allows me to be a bit more controversial in my approach, with the aim of getting practitioners to react and think.

I think people like the fact it’s a festival and there is a bit of personality behind it. It’s also on my home turf, so it was easier for me to put together and engage the Scottish PR community initially. Start small and build from there.

There is a strong focus on learning, so every speaker has something worthwhile to teach and practitioners can literally go away and start implementing. It’s not about preaching and listening to ‘nice to know’ things.

It was great to have CIPR and PRCA on the same platform last year, demonstrating their support to a worthwhile event, which by the way, also counts for up to 20 CPD points! The PRCA is supporting the festival again this year.

You are the co-writer of best practice skills guide for the CIPR, which discusses ethical paid and earned media? Why was it important to you to write about this topic? Relating back to the Facebook group I am involved in, a few conversations had come up in recent times about having to pay for advertising to get editorial. At the same, the Competitions and Market Authority was coming down on ad agencies for not disclosing paid activity and influencers weren’t disclosing they were being paid to promote a product.

So, a skills guide was suggested by co-author Gavin Harris and he asked me to do it with him. It was done and dusted in no time but we waited to launch it at CIPR Ethics month.

It’s so important for practitioners to know the difference between paid and earned. If you don’t, here’s the skills guide, worth 5 CPD points.

PRFest 1 SA : Pictures from PR Festival June 16th 2016 at Whitespace, Edinburgh. All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2016.. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission.

PRFest 1 SA : Pictures from PR Festival June 16th 2016 at Whitespace, Edinburgh.
All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2016.. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is expressly prohibited without prior permission.

Aura is a PR & digital comms consultancy based in Glasgow? How would you describe the PR industry in Scotland?

The industry in Scotland is doing well. There was a period in 2015/16 of mergers and acquisitions but it seems to have settled…for the time being.

There are more independent practitioners in Scotland than ever, some of whom have turned to it when they have had a baby, some who have taken redundancy from public sector work and some who are doing it in early retirement years.

There’s a big opportunity for greater collaboration and connectivity.

I recently came across a large public sector organisation asking for AVEs as part of their funding grant reporting – I think this needs addressed pronto! For a large organisation like that to still be asking for irrelevant information is beyond me. Who’s to say more aren’t like that?

What has been the best campaign you worked on and why?

It has to be the launch of “Hello, My Name is Paul Smith” at The Lighthouse in Glasgow. The exhibition is owned by the Design Museum, London and it’s a travelling exhibition. It came to Glasgow before it went to Japan.

Paul Smith and his team were fabulous to work with and there was so much scope to drive a really creative campaign. There was massive awareness across Scotland and we covered every print, online and social channel you can think of, with the support of Paul Smith and Design Museum. That was a whole year ago!

What’s next for you? Are you working on any exciting new projects?

I’ve developed and am leading on an exciting project for the CIPR, which will see its 400+ volunteer community armed and better connected.

I’ve still to complete my 30 day challenge and when I do, I expect there will be further tweaks to Aura’s own strategy and development from there.

Of course, I’ve got #PRFest to continue with for the next six months, too!

At Aura, I’ve got some really great clients in retail, community engagement, health and wellbeing and the last week or two has been really busy for new business briefs coming in.

Everything I do, I do with passion, so I’m excited about everything I’m working on!

Could newsprint see a revival to match vinyl records?

Newspaper publishers and lovers of tangible reading material will no doubt be following the news about vinyl records outselling digital downloads and hoping for a similar resurgence in their fortunes. However, if the newspaper industry believes a return to getting ink on their readers’ fingers is on the horizon – they’ve really misjudged the difference between music lovers and news followers.

Newspapers are a throwaway product – which is why they are printed on relatively cheap newsprint and also why digital (virtually free) distribution makes so much sense. A daily newspaper has a lifespan of day (or less). Most people do not keep newspapers beyond their intended period of consumption and many are abandoned within minutes. As the old saying goes, yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper (it’s not even that anymore).

Music on the other hand is something that is cherished and played time and time again. I’m still listening to music from my student days. Hell, I’m still listening to some music that was made before I was born.

Music is something that can be shared across generations and nothing helps cement that bond more than the ceremony of carefully placing a needle on the spiral groove on a piece of vinyl.

How many family memories or lasting friendships are created over a newspaper? Sure they are useful, informative and entertaining – but they are certainly not something that most young people connect with their parents over. If anything, (terminally uncool) parents used newspapers to physically hide from their children.

The Independent has already proven that a digital only newspaper can work and return a profit. I’m sure there will be no demands for a return to the halcyon (loss-making) days of print there.

So no, newspapers will find very little comfort in the resurgence of analogue music formats – but book publishers – well that’s a different story.

Could shorter working hours lead to greater creativity?

We PR professionals are famed for our dedication to our craft. Often found burning the candle at both ends, attending client events, industry parties and generally hobnobbing with the great and the good until all hours and still managing to haul ourselves back into the office at the crack of dawn. Don’t give me that work/life balance nonsense – work is life.

But could too many hours in the office (or on the town) be impacting on our creative talents?

Chris Lewis, founder and chief executive of Lewis, the PR, marketing and digital agency, certainly thinks so.

In his book, Too Fast to Think, Lewis asks a number of professionals about how and where they get their creative inspiration.

The three most common responses were when they are:

  1. Away from work
  2. On their own
  3. Not trying

Lewis argues that interruptions in the workplace and the pressure to keep up with constant social media and email activities can overload the creative side of our brains and create a blockage. He warns, if we remain in a constant state of overload – we may never regain our creative abilities.

I don’t disagree with him.

My best ideas rarely come to me when I am sat across a desk from a client or staring blankly into a computer screen. Creativity cannot be forced or created in a vacuum. It needs inspiration and space to grow.

Alongside squeezing all those extra hours into the working day to keep clients, managers and our friends in the media happy, we need to find the time to relax, dream, read and go to that “special place” were inspiration finds us.

Where do you find the time and space to break free from the constant pressures of work in the PR industry get creative? Share your comments below

Regional titles receive financial support to continue covering cricket

With football often dominating the back pages of the UK press, it’s easy for smaller (but nonetheless popular) sports clubs to feel slightly disenfranchised by the media.

But as the commercial pressures of running a newspaper continue to squeeze editorial budgets, editors need to make tough decisions. Football sells papers, and while readers may also be interested in athletics, cycling or tennis, it makes little financial sense to invest in coverage that won’t drive circulation (or page impressions).

Many sports journalists won’t like their craft to be talked about in such cold business terms but minority sports coverage doesn’t deliver a ROI.

Sports teams know that a lack of media coverage makes it harder for them to get new people involved in their sport. The less people get involved, the less the media are interested. It’s very much a case of ever decreasing circles.

This is why a scheme run by The England and Wales Cricket Board known as The Cricket Writers’ Club, which has recently awarded financial assistance to a number of regional titles for their coverage of professional cricket, makes so much sense.

Mark Baldwin, chairman of the Cricket Writers’ Club, told journalists: “The Cricket Writers’ Club’s continued support for ECB’s initiative in running these awards now includes offering prize monies in the Regional Newspaper of the Year category, precisely because the club wants to do what it can to support hard-pressed cricket writers in the regional press and also to underline its belief in the value to the game of coverage of county cricket in this area.

John Collings, editor of the Sunday Independent who received a £2,500 financial reward from the Cricket Writers Club said: “We’re honoured to win this award because its values share our values: a passion for and commitment to sport all levels, particularly grass-roots sport which these days too often struggles for the comprehensive coverage it deserves.”

PR has always been about earned media over paid media but when titles have to make editorial decisions based on cold economic facts, perhaps it’s time this line become a little more blurred.

How long before The Guardian follow The Independent’s profitable lead?

The Independent has made its first profit in 23 years after abandoning print and focusing 100% on digital channels.

The Independent’s owner, Evgeny Lebedeb told journalists: “By going online-only we freed ourselves from the unwieldy infrastructure of print, and allowed ourselves to be far more flexible.

“It is still early days, but the first six months have shown that by being more nimble and digitally focused we can better serve our new, much bigger online audience.”

Highlighting a bright future at The Independent, Lebedeb added: “We are profitable for the first time in 23 years, which brings with it new opportunities.”

And it’s not just revenues that are on the up at newly digital Indy.

ABC figures in September showed a 17 percent year-on-year increase to 3,253,850 daily unique browsers.

Justin Byam Shaw, chairman of The Independent echoed Lebedeb’s comments by saying: “This historic return to profitability demonstrates the opportunities our move to digital brings.

“This puts The Independent in a strong position and with a sustainable long-term future, as we continue to grow our audiences globally and serve our readers and commercial partners with reliability and flair.”

The Independent made a brave move abandoning its print edition earlier this year.

Rivals at The Guardian even mourned the loss of the print edition of The Independent with an editorial in the paper’s Comment Is Free section stating: “Great newspapers which have survived for centuries find their business models challenged as never before. So no one will celebrate the end of the Independent in print. It was. Are you… next?”

Well, I imagine both Evgeny Lebedeb and the many journalists and editors whose futures are so much more secure now that The Independent is in profit will disagree and definitely by celebrating.

The question is, how much longer with The Guardian, The Telegraph, The FT, etc., etc. continue to be burdened by the high costs of print and distribution? If I was a journalist (or a shareholder) in any of these companies, I would personally be lobbying them to follow the Independent’s brave move online.

The Independent is profitable.

It is. Are You?

ITV blames Brexit for 120 Job Losses

ITV is looking to make £25 million in savings next year to counterbalance a decline in advertising revenues which the broadcaster is blaming on “political and economic uncertainty”.

According to media reports, TV advertising is facing its worst year since 2009 with revenues set to decline by 2 percent.

As part of the savings process, ITV is planning to reduce its workforce by 120 people. The broadcaster currently employs 3,000 staff in the UK.

Speaking about the job losses, an ITV spokesperson told journalists: “At a time of political and economic uncertainty in our key markets, it’s important that we are in the strongest possible position to continue to invest in our strategy, and to meet any challenges and opportunities ahead, as we continue to grow a successful business.”

Because of continuing political uncertainty in the UK market and the financial impact it has on advertising market, the ITV is looking bolster its overseas operations.

The UK market currently accounts for 85 percent of the broadcasters revenues. However, recently the company has spent hundreds of millions of pounds investing in TV production in the United States.

A spokesperson said: ““We have taken costs out across ITV in a managed and sensible way over the past six years and we must continue to keep a tight control on spending to ensure that we are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible, while maximising our ability to invest in the high-quality programming that drives ITV’s success.”

Prior to the Brexit vote, the TV advertising market was expected to grow by 7.4 percent in 2016, following a similar pattern over the previous year.

The ITV now predicts advertising revenues over the first 9 months of the year will be down by 1 percent, year-on-year while a number of media booking agencies suggest the market has dropped even further due to fears over a “hard Brexit”.

Trinity Mirror continue with freesheet cull

Trinity Mirror has announced it will close three local freesheets in Milton Keynes, Luton and Northampton in what is being described as an ongoing purge of Local World titles. 

According to the National Union of Journalists, the newspaper titles, OneMK (formerly known as MK News), Luton on Sunday and the Northampton Herald and Post, are to close without consultation.

NUJ national organiser Laura Davison told journalists: “This announcement has come as a bombshell to staff on these titles. Once again Trinity Mirror has announced a shutdown of papers with no consultation with journalists or readers. Local people, democratic bodies and businesses are going to be stripped of a voice and plurality will be massively undermined.

“The company’s actions smack of arrogance. These operations are already run on a shoe string and now more jobs are set to go. It is another big red warning flag hoisted over the crisis in quality local journalism. We urge local people to join our campaign for properly resourced local journalism.

Trinity Mirror, which has closed 20 titles over the last two years, is unrepentant.

A spokesperson for the publishers said: “We are closing three free weekly titles in Luton, Milton Keynes and Northampton as part of a review of our portfolio to look at how we best serve our readers and advertisers in these markets.

“We are not exiting these markets but will retain a presence in a different way. We believe there is a better way for us to provide content and commercial solutions for the local communities, for example through a schedule of niche products and awards and events.”

“We will also be increasing the focus on Bedfordshire on Sunday which remains as both a print title and website. We will be increasing distribution of this title into Luton and broadening our online coverage.

“The number of roles we require to deliver the new portfolio of products is less than the current structure and as a result the business proposes to reduce the headcount, so unfortunately a number of roles in editorial and commercial are at risk of redundancy as part of these changes.”

Trinity Mirror is obviously making some very unpopular decisions regarding the closure of titles based on the cold, hard, financial realities of running a newspaper company in the digital age.

The question is, do these regions still offer an opportunity for smaller, more agile publishing companies to exploit? If journalists and editors think there is still an opportunity to make money from local news, now’s the time to prove the big guys wrong.

Trinity Mirror Continue With Freesheet Cull

Trinity Mirror has announced it will close three local freesheets in Milton Keynes, Luton and Northamptom in what is being described as an ongoing purge of Local World titles.

According to the National Union of Journalists, the newspaper titles, OneMK (formerly known as MK News), Luton on Sunday and the Northampton Herald and Post, are to close without consultation.

NUJ national organiser Laura Davison told journalists: “This announcement has come as a bombshell to staff on these titles. Once again Trinity Mirror has announced a shutdown of papers with no consultation with journalists or readers. Local people, democratic bodies and businesses are going to be stripped of a voice and plurality will be massively undermined.

“The company’s actions smack of arrogance. These operations are already run on a shoe string and now more jobs are set to go. It is another big red warning flag hoisted over the crisis in quality local journalism. We urge local people to join our campaign for properly resourced local journalism.

Trinity Mirror, which has closed 20 titles over the last two years, is unrepentant.

A spokesperson for the publishers said: “We are closing three free weekly titles in Luton, Milton Keynes and Northampton as part of a review of our portfolio to look at how we best serve our readers and advertisers in these markets.

“We are not exiting these markets but will retain a presence in a different way. We believe there is a better way for us to provide content and commercial solutions for the local communities, for example through a schedule of niche products and awards and events.”

“We will also be increasing the focus on Bedfordshire on Sunday which remains as both a print title and website. We will be increasing distribution of this title into Luton and broadening our online coverage.

“The number of roles we require to deliver the new portfolio of products is less than the current structure and as a result the business proposes to reduce the headcount, so unfortunately a number of roles in editorial and commercial are at risk of redundancy as part of these changes.”

Trinity Mirror is obviously making some very unpopular decisions regarding the closure of titles based on the cold, hard, financial realities of running a newspaper company in the digital age.

The question is, do these regions still offer an opportunity for smaller, more agile publishing companies to exploit? If journalists and editors think there is still an opportunity to make money from local news, now’s the time to prove the big guys wrong.

The Canary Proves Online Journalism Pays (If You Give Your Readers What They Want)

The left leaning news website set up a just over 12 months ago on an initial investment of just £500 is proving that online journalism can pay if you give you readers what they want.

The Canary turned over £250,000 in its first year of operation, has grown to become a top 100 UK news site and now employs an editorial team of 25 (mainly) part-time workers.

The site is funded, like many other online publications, through a combination of advertising, sponsorship and subscriptions.

Unlike many other publications, The Canary doesn’t feel it needs to offer readers any other incentive to support the title other than their content.

The Canary’s editor-in-chief Kerry-Anne Mendoza told journalists (http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/the-canary-from-500-start-up-to-top-100-uk-news-website-in-the-space-of-a-year/): “Paying subscribers for this whole first year don’t get anything. They don’t get a mug, they don’t get a t-shirt, they don’t even get an email from us saying welcome.

“They are paying for content that they could get for free purely because they want our writers to earn more money.”

Highlighting the success of the operation Mendoza said: “What people seem to like us for is breaking open legislation that’s coming through and actually explaining it in a way people understand and can see what the risks are and then take action.”

The Canary operates a unique business model which it explains on its website:

  • First, we pay tax. We are based in the UK and are happy to contribute our share to develop a wonderful country, not without its problems of course.
  • Then we pay costs which we keep below 5% of our gross revenue.
  • What is left is our net profit. We split this simply:
    • 50% to our writers
    • 10% to our section editors
    • 20% to our leadership team
    • 20% goes back into the company for marketing and new projects

Each writer and editor is paid in two ways. Firstly, each article receives a flat rate equal payment from our monthly income from supporters. So with each new supporter the pay per article goes up every month. Secondly, each article receives a top-up payment based directly on the percentage of web traffic, and therefore advertising income, that articles generate during a given calendar month. It’s as simple as that.

While The Canary’s politics might not be everyone’s cup of tea (including many left-wing supporters), their approach to business should be of interest to any writer or publisher that wants to invest in the future of journalism.