Tag Archives: Social Media

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.



Still more Blanche Hunt than Gene Hunt, but things are looking up

My last post bemoaned how little the three main political parties were making use of the possibilities afforded by social media.  Campaigns were tending towards the negative, sometimes even the bile-drenched, rather than harnessing the interactive and the viral opportunities on offer.

This week has campaigns from each of the three hitting the headlines in the ‘old media’, and while I would still describe them as being more evocative of ‘Blanche Hunt‘ (the dear departed, pensioner queen of the sour one-liner in ITV1’s ‘Coronation Street’) than the ‘Gene Hunt‘ from BBC1’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’ contained in the imagery in some of them, things are looking up in the sophistication of their ambitions.

Blanche Hunt, played by Maggie Jones, who died on 2 Dec 2009

The first to come under the spotlight is Labour.  Rather than deciding to use an agency for the creative in their next advertising poster, they decided to invite members and supporters to take part and share their creative ideas.  It provides a way of scouring the horizon for potential creative ideas that the party may have missed, and provides a route for conversation with supporters, enabling them to feel they are getting involved.  It was dubbed “The People’s Poster“, with updates on entries provided via Twitter, and behind the scenes video of the competition given on You Tube.  Some of the entries were negative, some were very funny, and some were iconic.

Brilliant!  All of this provided perfect material for media relations too when the eventual winner was announced.

Labour's winning "People's Poster"

Labour could have intervened on the quality control, as one of the problems with social media is there is no control over what will be said or submitted.

In this case, Labour were too caught up with the message submitted, and its essential negative content to be able to stand back and see its essential weakness, that other people on social media, and the Conservatives were able to turn to their advantage.  The main character depicted on the poster – Gene Hunt – is a national hero, who despite tending towards the racist and the sexist, is essentially viewed as a redeemable fictional character of a particular time.  He is also a ‘bit of a dish‘, from an award-winning programme that regularly tops the ratings – a bit like The Sweeney, and A Touch of Frost too, for example.  Oh dear – cue Conservative mash-up of poster.

Conservative 'mash-up' of Labour's poster

I think it would be even stronger if you view it while playing this jingle, as sourced from the car horn of the ‘General Lee’ car in “Dukes of Hazzard” – another immigrant from TV in the 1980s.

It’s humour, and use of rhetoric are stronger, and so it is able to deliver its attack back with a a more memorable, stronger punch.

The Conservatives tried their hand at viral humour on April Fools’ Day, with a mock story about the Department of Government Waste.  A quick look at the view counter will demonstrate that it has not been as effective as the Liberal Democrat campaign for a spoof political party called the Labservatives complete with Twitter and Facebook presence.  The lesson here appears to be better research, with the Lib Dem message appearing to have a stronger resonance with voters, and delivered in a not particularly tribal fashion that has worked well.

The Conservatives may have made more productive use of new media through their use of ‘crowdsourcing‘ in their analysing of the budget’s effects on pensioners, and it may be behind the scenes use of new media which help supply old media with stories which may prove the most effective during the coming campaign.

Before signing off, a better example of how social media (working in tandem with old media) works best, with The Guardian newspaper’s own spoof April Fools’ Day story about Labour’s fictional ‘Step outside posh boy’ campaign.

Guardian spoof

Not only did it go viral on social media, and get reported as a spoof on old media, the paper encouraged readers to submit their own versions of the artwork, tapping into this alleged ‘side’ of the PM’s character.  It became a top trending topic of discussion on Twitter, is still accepted as one of the better ideas, and now the Guardian is even retailing limited edition T-shirts.  If only it had been real!

The lessons from all of this, if there are any, are:-

>  to let go a little, and employ as many sets of eyes and ears as possible – audience understanding.  In my limited experience, the political party activists need to get out and live life a little bit.  The press conference where David and Ed Milliband announced the “People’s Poster” looked a little odd.  It looked like the brother’s didn’t get out enough, or knew enough about popular culture.  If they had, the initiative might have worked a lot better;

> to continue getting rid of the bile in their campaigning efforts in favour of humour juice.  They are still too much like Blanche Hunt than Gene Hunt in how they conduct themselves.

These types of attack-ad inspired campaigns only scratch the surface in terms of what is possible with regard to integration with other comms channels, and nimbleness of foot.  For that, I sense we will be looking towards the pressure groups, and less formalised groupings of campaigners.

‘Anti-social’ media the main weapon in UK politics?

Following the successful use of new media in the election campaign of President Obama, there is great excitement about the role of ‘social media’ in the UK General Election campaign of 2010.

Non-aligned InVinceCable We Trust campaign

Observers are told that whoever can best harness the power of new media – whether to reach new audiences, to build movements through more engaged conversations, or to tap into new pools of creativity – is most likely to have the key to this election campaign.  It is why Obama, with a grassroots campaign, engaging people from outside of politics, giving them ways of getting involved, behind a positive message of hope was able to successfully use new media.

Just a few weeks of pre-campaign electioneering, sat for the bulk of my day in front of the computer, and making full use of Twitter and Facebook have left me thoroughly depressed as to the prospects for the role that ‘social media’ is set to play in this election.  While there have been some positive campaigns, such as Power2010 and #InVinceCable , these are for the most part NOT run by the political parties.

So far, both Labour and Conservatives deserve on-line ASBOs, such as the degree of  ‘anti-social behaviour’ when it comes to social media.  Rather than talking to the electorate in meaningful, two-way conversations, they are instead shouting at each other, which may have the perverse result of providing them with less time to talk to the electorate.

This has most clearly been exemplified by the ‘#cashgordon‘ versus ‘#cashcroft‘ battle on Twitter recently.  The activist bases of the two parties have been too wound-up, too pre-occupied to notice that, in the case of the Conservative campaign, the open tag nature if its Twitter-feed meant that the front-page of its website could easily be hijacked by negative messages.  By the end of its first day, just a few hundred people had signed up, likely to all be activists already.  By the end of the week, it has only reached a thousand.


Similarly, the Labour campaign (the party of government) fail to understand that be throwing cheap, playground names at the opposition, and by not even attempting to answer policy questions, they make it more likely that the same will come back.

#cashcroft parody from mydavidcameron.com

What is so depressing is that this is nothing new.  The two parties have not undergone a full cultural shift in embracing the full possibilities of what social media can deliver in campaigning.  Instead, they have chosen to repeat the mistakes highlighted by the deliciously viral video, ‘The Last Advertising Agency on Earth‘.

For that is the strategy they continue to adopt, albeit online – negative advertising, or ‘attack ads’.  And there wasn’t even agreement that it worked for old media.  They had a role because of the research that showed negativity (within an overall positive message) attract more interest, provide higher recall of a message/campaign, and thus have a greater impact – especially important in a short-term, four week campaign.  Research suggests that this effect is not universal though, and that it depends on the audience’s level of involvement with what it is going on – the lower the level of involvement, the more likely negativity will work (Dermody & Scullion, 2000; Dermody &Hanmer-Lloyd, 2005).

But of course, it’s also argued that overall, such adverts switch people off politics, and maybe they feed off the declining the levels of trust they encourage.  In terms of source credibility and message factors research, there might be an argument to be made for negative attacks on your opponents helping to mobilise your core support.  In fact, there is more research to justify ignoring your opponent (and their arguments) completely if that’s all you are trying to do (Perloff, 2003).  I’m also a little old fashioned in feeling that some attempt should be made to engage, to persuade, and for a candidate to be held to account for their views.  Dominant political marketing paradigms too easily ignore democratic, and even public relations traditions.

Save Our Sure Starts

Of course, it’s not all that dark, and there’s a mix of party-led and non-aligned initiatives. Labour’s “Save Our Sure Start” which has a strong presence on Facebook has a good potential to reach out beyond the party’s supporters.  Something like Mark Thomas’ “The People’s Manifesto” shows the potential for bringing new and old media together, using stand-up events, and books to engage an audience to create a unique, but credible manifesto.

I have to admit to a soft-spot too for the Parliamentary Education Service’s ‘MP for a Week‘ virtual adventure-style game, which although a little pedestrian, does go beyond the barking headlines to give some insight into what it means to be an MP, and provides for some form of participation.

But that’s besides the point.  The MyDavidCameron.Com website in particular shows the blurring of the lines between political advertising, and online parody.  Beyond their own supporters (and throwing pies at the opposition’s activists), the political parties so far have demonstrated that they have not fully embraced social media.  And worse than that, there is a danger that the investment of energy it requires of activists on keyboards and Blackberries will take them away from talking to talking to real voters – and converting a few swing or non-aligned voters.

I would argue that the kind of people who engage in spaces such as Twitter, or in political debates in social media spaces are typified by high levels of involvement in terms of consumer behaviour.  For party activists, it creates a fantastic space to engage their creative energies.  But for non-aligned individuals such as those in specialist pressure groups, charities and social enterprises (and the parties seem to have forgotten that in most people’s networks, that will be a great deal of such people), their kind of turbo-charged, finger pointing negative campaigning could very well backfire.  Let’s hope they’ve maybe got a little more creative viral content, and some engaging conversation-led ideas up their sleeves that may also provide excuses to mobilise.

And we’ve only just begun. Oh no, we haven’t yet!


Dermody, J. and Hanmer-Lloyd, S. (2005) “Promoting Distrust?  A Chronicle of the 2005 British General Election Advertising Campaigns”, in Journal of Marketing Management, 21, pp.1021-1047

Dermody, J. and Scullion, R. (2000) ” Perceptions of Negative Political Advertising: Meaningful or Menacing?  An Empirical Study of the 1997 British General Election Campaign”, in International Journal of Advertising, 19 (2), pp. 201-223

Perloff, R.M. (2003) “The Dynamics of Persuasion”, New Jersey:  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates  [An excellent general resource on persuasion issues]

PR does the hustle using new and old media

I most definitely bend both ways when it comes to using ‘old’ and ‘new’ media – ensuring the integration of both in a campaign.

Each have a role to play, but ‘old’ is too easily given the ‘heave-ho’ in the rush to embrace new technology.  The best example I can signpost here are new music releases – giving me an excuse to plug the ‘Music’ tab on the top right hand side of this blog.

Take this track ‘Hustle’, by the band Tunng.  The band have a social media presence – Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, You Tube and the like – but I have never had cause to stumble across them, despite them having been around for a bit.

It was due to them coming to the attention (no doubt through some nimble PR) of Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie on BBC Radio 2, who then proceeded to play the track to the millions listening to their radio show, and to champion it from then on.  Magazines could have played a similar role, but radio is in a stronger position when it comes to music.

I fell in love with it immediately – the power of third party endorser no doubt helping, a trusted guide helping the track (and the artist) stand out above the noise.  That, together with the mass audience, which could then be used to take traffic to various online sites to find out more about the track brought others, like me to the track I’m sure.

The story does not end there. ‘New’ media picks up the baton from ‘old’ as someone who has discovered the track, like me, is able to share their new found love, by blogging about the track, ‘tweeting’ links to the video, and – well, you get the picture.  As word spreads, ‘old’ media jumps back on the bandwagon to report the successful phenomenon – interviews with the artist and reviews of the track in more mainstream newspapers, magazines, tv, radio and online – justified by the social media activity the PR can point to when pitching in, sometimes even providing a story to back it up.

All aspects of the campaign need to integrated and planned with precision.  In effect, there is no ‘old’ and their is no ‘new’ – just many more different forms of media than there used to be.

The ‘Music’ tab is where I post, for the most part ‘new’ music that I have usually had the pleasure of being signposted by the likes of Mark Radcliffe, Stuart Maconie, Janice Long, Steve Lamacq, Trevor Nelson, Gilles Peterson, Kissy Sell Out, Huw Stephens – and even the odd older rare find showcased by Jarvis Cocker on his BBC 6 Music show.  I’m sure most of you will not share my taste, but I hope that it at least explains what it is for, and its relevance to PR.  I remain a luddite when it comes to my passion for the medium for radio, as it comes closest to sharing many of the social, interactive, instant and communal aspects of new media. But that’s a post for another time.