What the papers don’t say

Despite plummeting sales figures, newspapers remain an important part of any PR campaign. It is not just because newspaper titles exist online, as well as in conventional hard-copy as bought in newsagents or from news-stands. It is because they are staffed by a range of journalists, specialists and commentators who are opinion formers beyond their immediate readerships.

NewspaperReview

Many are often called upon to appear as guests on daily ‘newspaper preview’ slots on channels such Sky News and the BBC News Channel as the papers hit the streets the night before publication date, from around 10.30am. This raises one of the other important reasons why newspapers remain important to PR campaigns, and in society more generally – their power of agenda-setting.

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The content of these paper previews fills a good chunk of the airwaves on the TV and Radio at the end of each day. The content of the papers themselves frame much discussion in news programmes during the day, and provides source copy for plenty of other presenters to refer to, whether on phone-ins, DJ chat, or inspiration for booking guests.

Anne Diamond

Anne Diamond

It’s no wonder that if you catch these preview slots on a regular basis, the lack of diversity of the faces and voices filling the sofas/seats becomes a real concern. Viewers and listeners get used to the same names. Too many of them are names that too many aged under 40 would never have heard of because they are merely names from the 1980s being give profile resuscitation.

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Where are the voices from the regions and nations on an on-going basis, outside of the Independence debate, for example? Where are the young? The old? Ethnic minorities, the disabled and the unemployed?  Fresh thinking, established thinking.  Voices from the regional press, and voices from the bloggersphere?  People from inspired campaigns, like Long Live SouthBank for example, who might have a unique take on the news?

Financial commentator Louise Cooper

Financial commentator Louise Cooper

Unless you have been to one of the more rarefied schools, you are unlikely to have shared a classroom with a pundit on one of these shows. They share a similar lack of diversity as our politics. I’m lucky enough to have been to a comprehensive with one  of the exceptions – financial commentator, and opinion leader, Louise Cooper.  More voices please – more imagination in booking guests.

One other  problem which raises a bigger ethical dilemma is the number of senior PR practitioners appearing on these slots. Journalists are one thing. There is a reason they should be appearing on these slots, providing insights into how stories develop, and profferring the very opinions they are employed to write.

George Pascoe Watson, Portland Communications

George Pascoe Watson, Portland Communications – star PR turn.

Having PRs on such slots could provide a conflict of interest, as the audience cannot be expected to know who their clients are, and whether they might be representing them in what they say in the discussion. They could also be using their access to such a slot to secure new clients in the future.

Phil Hall, founder, Phil Hall Associates

Phil Hall, founder, Phil Hall Associates – star PR turn

I’ve even watched one such PR refer disparagingly to a PR in such a slot as “a mere PR man” as if he was excused, unlike myself, from being a member of such esteemed company.

Much better to have a wider range of voices from across the journalist world and beyond amongst the wider audience, than rely on “the usual suspects”, whether PRs or not – and only call upon PRs when there is a direct relevance to their insight being called upon as part of the news agenda, or in a specialist edition of such a review.

For all their faults, I still switch on as often as I can to get a quick fix of the news agenda – whether it’s the previews on Sky News, or BBC News Channel on the TV, or BBC Five Live, or LBC on the radio.  Since it is more realistic than them listening to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, it’s also one of the first things I recommend my new students do too!

Connected Learning in an Open World

The keynote speaker at the Academic Practice and Technology (APT) conference, Stephen Downes blew me away.  It wasn’t just a question of knowledge, or space for new reflection, but I found what he had to say surprisingly political.

Keynote APT panel featuring Downes (2nd right)

Keynote APT panel featuring Downes (2nd from right)

His call to arms for a totally open approach to online content in education struck a chord, and left me resolved to do more to make time to make more of my teaching available online, as well as my thoughts and reflections.

One of the first things he said we could do is record everything we present, including conference presentations.  As I didn’t do this for the paper I presented to the conference, I made sure I recorded it soon after so I could post it here.

The Prezi on which the presentation is based can be found here: Prezi

It was about my case study of a project using digital camera equipment, to take an experiential, transformational approach to embedding digital skills in the curriculum, and improving employability, expanding on why images and narrative are such important concepts.  It elaborated on three main areas we focused on:- 1) real-time execution of creative briefs; 2) shop-window digital footprints on Pinterest, and 3) using the skills to raise the profile of guest speakers from the profession via the student-run society, the PR Fraternity.  Full details above, and here.

PR Fraternity students at Weber Shandwick HQ

PR Fraternity students at Weber Shandwick HQ

There was particular interest in the scope for the possibilities for students to be representing their own clients, and in particular, taking clients from elsewhere within the university – projects which might not have otherwise been deemed a priority, or which otherwise might not have been able to afford mainstream PR representation – for example, end of year degree shows.

There was also particular interest in a paper I referenced – Mull, I.R. and Lee, S-E (2014) “‘PIN’ pointing the motivational dimensions behind Pinterest,” Computers in Human Behaviour, 33, pp. 192-200.  Well worth a read.

The next step for the project in 2014-15 is to expand from photo skills, to video/film-making skills, using the Nikon Coolpix L320 camera as a simple device for capturing, and then students editing, remixing and curating content for a number of PR uses in the same was as they did for photo ends.

There was a great range of content at the conference, and I came away much more inspired than I thought I would by a conference that I thought would be restricted to functional rather than a philosophical gaze too.  A big ‘thank you’ to Stephen Downes for opening my eyes.

A photo-call for digital media practice in PR education

I have just had a paper accepted for the APT (Academic Practice and Technology) conference, 2014, due to take place on my home turf of Greenwich in July this year.

It follows a project I received Greenwich Connect Seed Fund resourcing to provide thirteen digital cameras, together with Photoshop editing software for use with students throughout this academic year.

'Team Emily' interpret the brief for 'Project Wild Thing'

‘Team Emily’ interpret the brief for ‘Project Wild Thing’

We’ve used the cameras in a number of ways, and the Greenwich Connect team interviewed me themselves for a paper they presented at the LSE earlier this year – Bryant, P., Coombs, A. and Pazio, M. (2014) Are we having fun yet? Introducing play and experimentation into learning innovation through social media. In: OER14: Building Communities of Open practice, 23-25 Apr 2014, Newcastle, UK.  Excuse my fat face…..

Introduction to Project:

Generating Greater Engagement:

Developing Professional Identity:

Developing as a Community:

While I will discuss this in the academic context in which it is posed in the paper I have put to the forthcoming conference in a future post, I thought it was worth sharing a few examples of the way students have been able to get their hands much ‘dirtier’ with regard to photography, as outlined in the videos above:

1)  Generating Greater Engagement:

Students have been able to use the cameras to produce collateral in response to real live briefs, as opposed to such responses being ‘academic’ exercises.  For example, students were asked to develop ideas for media photocalls, and executions to encourage audience participation and sharing for the ‘Project Wild Thing’ initiative (see photo above) – and to include in assessed portfolios.

2) Developing Professional Identity:

Final year student (2013-14) Nenna Ofoegbu

Final year student (2013-14) Nenna Ofoegbu

Students were encouraged to use the digital cameras to develop a image that they felt comfortable with to be used in a ‘shop window’ on Pinterest.

3) Developing as a Community:

PR Fraternity students at Weber Shandwick HQ

PR Fraternity students at Weber Shandwick HQ

Within the team, students such as Nara Mackenzie took on responsibility for documenting guest speaker visits such as creative publicist, Mark Borkowski and Polly Ravenscroft (whose clients have included X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and Hollyoaks) – and group visits such as that to Weber Shandwick HQ, or client-side discussions with the 2012 winner of BBC Great British Bake-Off, John Whaite.

Students with PR Squared's Polly Ravenscroft

Students with PR Squared’s Polly Ravenscroft

Social media editor for the PR Fraternity, Jo Ayre tweeted links to the photos, which were also posted in Pinterest.  This not only raised the profile of the events, it made students who had come together at the events (across 1st, 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate, plus postgraduate) develop a stronger sense of community – and made those who hadn’t come feel they had missed out on something – encouraging them to attend next time.

More on my paper in a future post, but I thought I would let you know a little bit about the project.

 

Reflections on a lifetime in campaigning, public affairs – and changing the world

It’s not often someone can lay claim to have played a role, in no small part, in changing the world – and to a life whose record can provide such a rich set of reflections from which students of PR, communications and public affairs can learn so much – but Des Wilson is such a person.

Campaigner (with thanks to http://www.performingartistes.co.uk/artistes/345/des-wilson.htm)

Campaigning legend Des Wilson

I remember hearing from him at my first ever major political public meeting in 1988.  It was in the illustrious setting of the Farnborough Community Centre (almost as glamourous as the setting for my first music gig in 1978 – that was Blackbushe Airport, but it was Bob Dylan, both local venues to my parents, but I digress).  Des was taking part in the hustings for the first presidential contest of the then Social and Liberal Democrats, alongside the leadership contest between Paddy Ashdown and Alan Beith.

Farnborough Community Centre

Farnborough Community Centre

As ever, I didn’t back a winner.  Despite having previously been the Liberal Party’s president, he didn’t win that contest (the party seemed to think that if we had an ex-Liberal leader, we had to have an ex-SDP president) – but it didn’t matter.  By 1992, Des returned to a role much better suited to him, running Paddy Ashdown’s much lauded General Election campaign, for which he won a PR Week award for outstanding individual of that year.

It is one of the reasons I am personally so excited that the PR Fraternity, in conjunction with the University of Greenwich Big Picture series have secured Des Wilson to speak on campus this week over 25 years later.  In fact, I was dumb-founded when I heard that he had accepted our invitation – such a major player, such a shifter of opinions.  He’ll be reflecting on the lessons of decades of campaigning and public affairs experience – but I’m sure he’ll have something to say too about the current campaigning tactics of the Liberal Democrats since he (and I) long vacated that particular pitch.

Des will be speaking at the University of Greenwich on Wednesday 12th March, from 5.00-7.00pm.  If you want to join us, register for a place/ticket here:

Campaigning legend Des Wilson shares stories from his years delivering change

Campaigning legend Des Wilson shares stories from his years delivering change

In case you need reminding, or were born too late to know, Des helped set up the pioneering homelessness charity, Shelter, becoming its launch director.

In 1983, he became chairman of Friends of the Earth.  Also during that decade, he took a lead role in the campaign that led to Freedom of Information legislation, and launched the Clear campaign that successfully removed lead from petrol.

On the back of his work for the Liberal Democrats, Des became director of public affairs for Burson-Marsteller, and subsequently, director of corporate and public affairs for BAA from 1994-2000.

Throughout that fifty year career, Des also had a career in journalism, numerous other positions in public affairs and campaigning, and served on numerous boards in the public sector, such as the British Tourist Authority, and Sport England.

PRFratFEB

Des is the latest in the series of high profile guest speakers secured by the University of Greenwich’s student-run PR Fraternity this year, whose members include the students of the BA (Hons) Public Relations & Communications, and the MA Public Relations.

Having recently welcomed Mark Borkowski; Megan Carver (who shared her wealth of experience with The Outside Organisation, and within the music industry); and Andy Parfitt – the remaining two speakers after Des will be MD of PR Squared, television and celebrity publicist Polly Ravenscroft, and head of PR for Sky One, Tessa Matchett.

Guest Speaker series: PR @ University of Greenwich

With Frances being crowned the winner of the BBC’s ‘Great British Bake Off’ 2013 over Kimberley and Ruby this week, the University of Greenwich PR Fraternity is delighted to kick-off its guest speaker series for this academic year with the winner of the previous series, John Whaite.

John Whaite drops in on Nick Grimshaw's BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show

John Whaite drops in on Nick Grimshaw’s BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show

As well as discussing his experiences on the series and his views on how this one went, John will be discussing what it was like managing the media attention that the victory brought in its wake, and the consumer PR for his subsequent cookery book  and Greenwich-based cookery classes.

John Whaite makes the cover of Attitude magazine

John Whaite makes the cover of Attitude magazine

Immediately afterwards, John will be judging the audience’s attempts to bake, so if want to join us, bring along your buns, cup-cakes – even pretzels – for a cake-fight to the finish.  So please join us – Wednesday 30th October at 12.00pm to hear John Whaite in conversation, and for a bit of a network over a taste test afterwards.  Email me for venue details – p.a.simpson@greenwich.ac.uk .

Our PR Fraternity 2013-14 PR Speaker series to date is:-

John Whaite speaks as well as bakes!

John Whaite speaks as well as bakes!

Wednesday 30th October:   John Waite; Winner, BBC Great British Bake Off, 2012.

Greenwich graduate Igrid Asoni returns from Marrakech to discuss her PR experiences

Greenwich graduate Igrid Asoni returns from Marrakech to discuss her PR experiences

Tuesday 5th November:  Ingrid Asoni; founder, Asoni Haus lifestyle management, event design and PR management company with a focus on London and Marrakech.

Simon Long welcomes Nicki Minaj to Kiss FM's Central London studios

Simon Long welcomes Nicki Minaj to Kiss FM’s Central London studios

Friday 29th November:  Simon Long; Deputy Programme Director, Kiss FM.

After a pivotal role at the BBC, Andy Parfitt now advises Saatchi & Saatchi on talent issues

After a pivotal role at the BBC, Andy Parfitt now advises Saatchi & Saatchi on talent issues

Wednesday 12th February:  Andy Parfitt; Executive Director (Talent), Saatchi & Saatchi; Chair of UK charity, Youth Music; Former Controller, BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra. Held in conjunction with the university’s Big Picture lecture series.

Campaigning legend Des Wilson shares stories from his years delivering change

Campaigning legend Des Wilson shares stories from his years delivering change

Wednesday 12th March:  Des Wilson; campaigning legend: Launch Director, homelessness charity, Shelter; Director of Public Affairs, Royal Shakespeare Company; led campaign against lead in petrol at Clear; Chaired Friends of the Earth; pioneering campaigner for freedom of information; President of the Liberal Party; leading role in campaign for Sunday trading; ran Paddy Ashdown’s General Election campaign in 1992; consultant with Burson Marstellar; Director of Corporate & Public Affairs at British Airports Authority until 2000.  Held in conjunction with the university’s Big Picture lecture series.

PRFraternity

If you think John’s media profile is all Radio 1, This Morning and Heat, he was even on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ discussing Fraces’ victory the night it was broadcast (26mins 14 seconds in).

If you are not a member of the University of Greenwich PR Fraternity, and are interested in finding out about becoming a member or supporter, and joining us at our events, do drop me a line at p.a.simpson@greenwich.ac.uk

The ark as a channel in PR?

In my last post, I celebrated one of my favourite PR campaign’s, the Elephant Parade.  While I warned against the dangers of over exposing a new idea, I was particularly drawn recently to what had been done in a similar way with painted donkeys.

What I had not quite been prepared was was quite how much of an industry there now was in ‘painted animals’ as a channel of communication in PR.  Towns and cities using art in the template form of the painting of a sculpted animal by celebrities, artists, designers and local opinion leaders, to do something for their profile and reputation.  In the process, they also do something for the profile (and fundraising) of a charity, usually related to the animal involved.

For Southampton, try rhinos, supporting three charities.

A painted rhino in Southampton

A painted rhino in Southampton

For Norwich, try gorillas, raising money for the Born Free Foundation, and Break.

One of Norwich's gorilla's with local celebrity Jake Humphrey.

One of Norwich’s gorilla’s with local celebrity Jake Humphrey.

For Bristol, try local canine celebrity, Gromit.  Here, the idea brought 1.8 million people out to see the sculptures, is estimate to have brought  £75 million to the city, and raised £2.3 million for the Bristol Children’s Hospital – as reported by the BBC.

One of Bristol's many popular Gromits.

One of Bristol’s many popular Gromits.

Berlin has its bears, promoting peace and tolerance on its behalf around the world, and children’s charities at home.

Berlin's painted bears celebrate the city around the world.

Berlin’s painted bears celebrate the city around the world.

And cities around the world compete for the right to host the annual ‘Cow Parade’ – this year stopping off in both Valenciennes in France, and in Hong Kong.

One of the cows in the Cow Parade

One of the cows in the Cow Parade

The technique has become such a phenomenon that there are now even dedicated specialist animal casting companies, offering animals including goats, buffalo and horses too, ready to be painted.

A great example of PR increasing our involvement with an issue by promoting the public’s following of a city’s animal trail, initiatives such as painting workshops for children, and ultimately, the auction.

A great example of engaging opinion leaders and celebrities in designing their own versions of the particular animal.

A great example of linking the cause to the tactic involved – and embedding the technique in, and benefiting from sense of ‘place’, or local pride.

I’m looking forward to the animals continuing to stream on board the PR ark!

Elephants and Donkeys form the frontline in PR tactical offensive – what is next?

One of my favourite campaigns of recent years was the Elephant Parade in London in 2010.  It sought to raise the profile of the plight of the Asian elephant, and the destruction of their environment.

London's Elephant Parade in 2010 (Telegraph)

London’s Elephant Parade in 2010 (Telegraph)

It was innovative, not just in the way it harnessed art as tactic in the PR practitioner’s reportoire, but it was thoughtful in how it correctly recognised that if it had any chance of success, it must increase the audience’s level of involvement with the campaign, rather than just ‘turning up the volume’.

It did this in two particular ways.  The first was by exploiting the interest of children, laying on painting workshops for them and their parents.  By getting their hands dirty with paint, and creating their own ‘collateral’, this guaranteed that when the issue was next raised, these ‘fans’ would be more likely to be supporters (and have a greater level of understanding of the issues).

The second was to engage artists and celebrities to design their own elephants, which, after appearing in random locations around the capital, would be auctioned off at a VIP auction to raise funds for the cause.  In this way, an army of active opinion-formers were recruited to the cause, loyal because of their level of engagement too, in which they could take some level of pride.

Elephant Parade (2010) outside City Hall

Elephant Parade (2010) outside City Hall

Without such an approach, ‘involvement’ would have been less, and levels of support for a far-off cause less enduring.

The campaign was also endearing in how it sought to capture the attention of the public, and the media at large.  Rather than going for the more traditional ‘stunt’, or a lavish press conference featuring a ‘star’ from ‘Made in Chelsea’ or equivalent, organisers let the public find the painted elephants for themselves.

More of the elephants in the Parade (2010)

More of the elephants in the Parade (2010)

One morning, listeners to phone-in shows started to call in, reporting their appearance, as if by magic.  Through ‘word-of-mouth’ speculation was under starter’s orders.  By the following day, the media was full of photos and reports, and hordes of families and tourists in particular were ticking off lists of elephants that they wanted to find for themselves on the trail.

If I’m honest with myself, although strategy has to come first in public relations, I will always be a tactics girl.  I get a personal thrill and apply academic conceptual relish in discovering new, and ever more effective PR tactics.  I do not mean inauthentic, ‘shouty’ stunts of old, but anything that really works – whatever that can be shown to mean.  Usually, when it comes to that search, there is nothing more soul destroying that upturning a pale-imitation that betrays a lack of imagination.

Painted Donkeys at St Paul's

Painted Donkeys at St Paul’s

At first sight, that is what I thought I had discovered last week when I heard the story of the painted donkeys – “what have they done to my elephants?”, I thought.  But on closer examination, I realised that this was another example of a similar use of the techniques deployed, arguably with greater authenticity and depth, if not exposure.

The CARAVAN Exhibition seeks to communicate the message of tolerance between Christianity and Islam, and similarly commissioned a range of artists to paint an animal.  It is sponsored by the Embassy of Switzerland and supported by the British Council, and arrived at St Paul’s after transferring from the streets of Cairo!  A fabulous campaign.  The organisers may not describe it as PR, but it is, and I salute them.

The search continues for the next innovation in PR tactics.  Anything might have its uses.  We’ve seen media, photography, events, sponsorship – I could go on for some time.  More recently, we’ve had a wide range of arts, even baking.

Citizen Science - camera in hand

Citizen Science – camera in hand

My top tip came as a eureka moment listening to a BBC radio documentary in the last week on Citizen Science.

Citizen Science - another meaningful method to garner involvement

Citizen Science – another meaningful method to garner involvement

The feature was highlighting the story of a project engaging locals on Montserrat to fly kites with cameras tied on to them over the crater of a volcano to make important readings.  A great example of story-telling, and captivating for media relations, but it was also a gateway to other recent examples, such as the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, and a project looking to save trees from disease in Norfolk.

While such projects might not yet have the glamour of art, they have that vital ingredient of offering a genuine way for someone to get involved, and feel they can make a real difference.  If a PR campaign could offer that, it is well on the way to success.  With social media offering more ways of the public to report data finds, and their smart-phones offering a ready made data recorder of so many varieties, my money is on a lab coat, rather than another painted animal as the next big thing in PR.