Blog post: The state of our once globally respected Press and the chase for clicks…

I just came across this article on the Telegraph’s website this evening:

“Will the 2017 solar eclipse cause a secret planet called ‘Nibiru’ to destroy Earth next month?”

It even has a countdown!?!

The once great Telegraph with 1.6m readers back in the 1990s, publisher of the MP Expenses Scandal back in 2009. The Telegraph that claims to be trusted the world over.

Today it published a story so far away from its ideals that I had to check I hadn’t been caught up in a spoof.

Quite obviously, the answer is no. So what evidence is the Telegraph using to support this story – editorial standards and all that?? Let’s take a look:

“Despite the lack evidence” the article states.

So why is it being printed? Straight off. There is no evidence, so how has the ramblings of a nut job, who is basing his theory that the world will end next month of a line from the bible, getting quoted in a ‘quality’ daily newspaper?

How has the UK press got into such a state that this is deemed as editorially acceptable??

Quite simply it is clicks. The more clicks, the more readers, the more advertising money. So a story about the end of the world is bound to draw in some non-traditional Telegraph readers (worked for me…), so the fact that it is inane nonsense from a nut job does not stop in appearing on the site.

And we wonder why the reputation of our press is taking such a hit these days…

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Blog Post: Why the Pepsi advert and United Airlines debacles prove Boards need a corporate affairs voice

Last week we were all talking about how the Execs at Pepsi managed to approve THAT advert. This week we’re talking about United Airlines. Again. Barely days after miss-handling the incident over leggings, now we are all talking about their response to a viral video of a passenger being forcibly removed from a recent fight, blood stained face and all – a great way to look after customers.

He was removed because the flight was overbooked. Ignoring the issue around how did they not know it was full BEFORE everyone got on, and why drag him by his hair off, it’s their response to the video going viral that is of interest to me. Especially considering the Independent is reporting that United Airlines forcibly removed over 3.5k passengers in 2016, you would have thought they had a pretty good crisis response plan for this.

First of all, here is the CEO of United Airlines Oscar Munoz:

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation”

 “Re-accommodate” – I think he means to drag, pull and injure someone while removing them from the flight. While it sounds like PR talk, I hope this wasn’t the work of the PR team, as all it has done is further flame the fire they are already engulfed in. It is also a non-apology apology. He is apologising for having to remove these customers, not for the way it was done (badly) or accepting responsibility for the fault. “reach out”/ ”resolve this situation” – no-one talks like this and it does not come across as particularly sincere. The investigation is a good start (as long as that doesn’t mean kick into the long grass and hope everyone loses interest), but I’m not sure why it needed quite so many words to say there will be a full investigation into what happened.

So as well as there being a viral video being shown across the globe of a United Airlines passenger being assaulted while being forced to leave the plane, we now have the “re-accommodate” response.

United also released the following statement:

 “Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.”

“after looking for volunteers” “one customer refused leave” – so not much of a volunteer then was he guys! Again, they are apologising for overbooking the flight. Not beating up one of their passengers (or at least allowing one to be beaten up).

As with the Pepsi debacle last week, this should remind us all of the importance of having an experienced PR/Media relations voice at the Top Table. Not reporting into HR, or Sales/Marketing Director, but a Corporate Affairs voice on the Board. There is no-way an experienced Corporate Affairs Director, with a background in media relations would have watched the Pepsi advert and not thought “Whoa, really? Are we actually doing this?”. And in the case of United Airlines, they would have quickly been able to get hold of this story, apologised (for the overbooking, and the process – that clearly doesn’t work – and the violent assault), investigated and promised to improve the process/future approach to overbooking. It wouldn’t have stopped the video going viral, but we wouldn’t all be here talking about another terrible response to a crisis and Googling the definition of “volunteer”

Although, I suppose one good outcome of this may be that United Airlines won’t have to worry about overbooking for a while.

#UPDATE# Since writing this piece the esteemed CEO of United Airlines has emailed all staff and called the customer in question “disruptive and belligerent” – there is good overview on the BBC here, as well as some examples of other airline PR ‘issues’

More detail on the United Airlines story here: http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/united-airlines-man-video-dragged-off-plane-overbooked-flight-3411-twitter-viral-a7676846.html

And if you’ve been on a desert island without people, news or the internet, here’s a bit on the Pepsi advert: https://inews.co.uk/opinion/comment/pepsi-advert-worst-ever/

 

CIPR State of Profession Report 2017 – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

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I finally got around to looking at the CIPR’s State of Profession 2017 report that they published a few weeks ago. Below are my thoughts on the findings.

The Good

  • Strategic planning is up 10% (69% vs 59% in 2016):

So this is an encouraging piece of news and suggests that strategy is becoming more prevalent within the industry. As some who is obsessed with strategy (some say in an unhealthy way) and the importance of doing things as part of a strategic objective, and not just for the sake of doing something, this is music to my ears. Invariably, PR teams are small, there is only so much we can do and achieve, so hopefully this direction of travel will continue and we will see more work being done for ‘strategic’ reasons.

  • Diversity – fewer asking for a Degree:

While there is still bad news (see below) around diversity, there is a little a bit of good news, in that the number of recruiters demanding undergraduate degrees from junior candidates fell by four points. While it’s still at 52%, I’m pleased to see it moving in the right direction. I have written before about this but this obsession with a University Degree still confuses me. My experience from launching the PR Apprenticeship taught me that there is so much energy and talent and enthusiasm and quality out there from those who didn’t want to go to university, who didn’t fancy it, despite having the grades and knowledge, so why not tap into that!?! We really do need to be a bit more clever sometimes.

  • Increasing salaries:

Also good to see an increase in salaries from 2016 numbers – suggests the industry is still in a good shape and still growing. Words I like to hear during uncertain times.

  • The importance of diversity in campaigns.

Another encouraging result from the survey was the increase in practitioners who agreed that campaigns were more effective with diverse teams. This is up to 59% from 51%. I have to wonder why 39% would disagree with this? As an industry that is 90% white, 86% University educated, how we are supposed to run campaigns that target minorities or want to reach across the country? That intelligence, that insight, is vital. It needs to be harnessed as much as. Different people react differently to different messages and different media. A diverse team can create better campaigns that are more likely to cross these boundaries and ultimately be more successful and prove a higher return on the investment of our clients.

 

The Bad

  • Only 4% fear ‘automation’

This is a concern. I believe that a lot of our work is going to disappear over the next 10-15 years – like a lot of industries. We are already seeing an impact in areas like media monitoring – when I started out it was us that had to scour the papers and trade publications for our client’s mentions (and woe behold when anything was missed), now it’s all automated. I also remember spending nearly a whole day sending fax invites to 650 MPs to invite them to an event – speed dialling and mail/email merge wasn’t a thing back then. Proofreading/editing has been ‘supported’ by the computer for 20 years (and thankfully it has been, my spelling is still dodgy, and without spellchecker, I would not be as successful as I have been). But how long until content creation is automated. Computers can already write copy from scratch, maybe not as well as the well trained and emotional input of the human being, but how long until they can write crisp, quality copy in half the time of us?? Translation, social media, research, are all going the way of the computer.

Obviously, there is still strategy and the emotional understanding of the human and human interaction that I wonder if a computer will ever truly understand, but that won’t need as many practitioners as it needs now.

I expect there will be a lot less work for us all over the next 10-15 years, and hardly anyone in the industry seems to be worried about this.

  • Tightening budgets and the impact of Brexit

Unsurprisingly budgets are being tightened. We are in uncertain times, and no-one really knows the impact that Brexit is going to have, so we have to keep doing more for less, and actually I always like to see us challenged on offering value for money and do we need to spend as much as we do. 57% think that Brexit will have a negative impact, and there was 8% who thought it would be positive! But I am putting that 8% to the Comms team in Conservative Central Office and the handful in UKIP who have to keep up the pretence that Brexit is a good idea.

  • Internal comms importance reducing

Also worrying was the drop in the importance to internal communications – down by 3%. This may be statistically insignificant and just down to different recipients, but internal comms is so important I worry when it drops even a little bit. I have blogged about its importance before, and I still feel the same. There really is little point in spending £££ on a great PR campaign, to convince your publics that you are something, when the employees, the people who live and breathe the organisation, who engage with said publics every day are not on board or not happy or don’t feel engaged. They should be your first priority, not an afterthought, and the fact that they have dropped in importance, suggests that my message has not got through. I must do better!

  • Mental health low

A little red flag to me was that 90% of responders said they didn’t have any mental health issues. Considering PR is one of the most stressful jobs about, is there really so few of us with mental health issues, or is it so stigmatised, such a thing that is not conducive to successful career in PR that we don’t talk about. Or are we not educating our teams on mental health, and how important it is. Are people leaving the industry due to mental health issues as we’re not offering the support they deserve?

I don’t know the answer to a lot of these, but I think we should try to find out.

 

The Ugly

  • 90% white, 86% University educated

90% white. 86% university educated. Let’s just look at those stats for a moment. As an industry, we have been talking about the lack of diversity for decades. And yet, we are still making little to no progress. While it was encouraging to see earlier that diversity is seen as more important in campaign planning, all the meetings, working groups, forums etc. have still not had an impact. The PR Apprenticeship was meant to help with this, and it is a bit of a tragedy that the sector isn’t embracing it with the same vigour as when it was first launched. Especially when you consider the impact, and how well some of these young people are now getting on in the industry.

It appears we remain to be a lot of talk and hot air, and not a lot of action when it comes to diversity – and it’s not the first time that is something we have been accused of.

  • Gender pay gap

The PR industry is 61% female (although other recent surveys have put that figure higher), and yet we have a gender pay gap of more than 5k. On top of that, more men are earning the top/100k figures than women – 11% to 5%. How are we not still ashamed of ourselves for this. How are we not doing everything in our power to overcome this? We are not an Old Boys Club. Women make up a majority of our industry. The CIPR Women in PR Group is making great strides, but until all of us, every single one of us is just plain embarrassed by the fact that we are paying men more than women, then we’re not going deal with this. We are a majority female industry. And that is great. But why aren’t we leading the way on this!?!

 

On another note, I came across a few interesting facts while reading through as well….

The Interesting

  • 60% with more than 11 years’ experience

Now, this surprised me. I’ve always thought that this was a young person’s game. And that it’s the SAE/AMs that are the most prevalent. That people soon get worn down and broken by the industry and soon move on to more family friendly, less stressful, less all action careers… (at least that was my experience from my peer group). But this report showed that 60% have more than 11 years’ experience, which suggests my theory was a load of cobblers…

  • In-house public sector largest area

Another surprise. Of all the different sectors, the largest was ‘In House, public sector’. It goes against all we’ve been told about the savage cuts in the public sector. But more likely is that the importance of communications, and of quality, measurable PR is seen as more important than ever in the public sector. So it’s a credit to our public sector comrades that industry is in such good shape in that sector. Long may it continue.

 

How long will The Times keep its paywall….

My current morning routine as I sit on the tube into the office is to flick through Twitter and Facebook and click and open any interesting news articles that I find. That way, when I go underground and lose The Today programme I read through news from many sources – the Guardian, Telegraph, BBC, and even the New York Times. I doubt if I’m the only news fiend that does this.

This morning I noticed that it was never The Times.

Despite being a paid subscriber (which really I have to be to be in my job) articles rarely crop up from The Times. And that got me wondering about the paywall. I’ve been critical of The Times paywall before (see here) but it seemed to be bucking the trend and reports suggest that it is making money through the Hard Wall. But surely it can’t be sustainable. There cannot be enough loyal readers, who only want the Times to keep it up. With so much traffic now going to The Times’ competitors via social media, so much ad spend being lost, it can’t be long until – like its sister paper The Sun – we wake up one morning to find the paywall has fallen.

That said, it doesn’t have to come completely down. I would suggest that the model adopted by the Telegraph or the New York Times is a better option (a limited number of articles for free before the paywall hits). That way you get the loyal customer bases subscribing and the more fickle SM crowd ad spend. Seems pretty sensible to me.

I wonder how much of the Times position is now stubbornness on behalf of the owner.

Are controversial social media posts on your personal accounts a matter for your employer?

I came across this article on the Guardian website a few weeks ago and noticed it again yesterday on the Evening Standard site. It is about an employee at the British Council (the Head of Global Estates no less) who on her personal Facebook account, made comments ‘mocking’ Prince George. If you’re really interested in what she said… “I know he’s only two years old, but Prince George already looks like a F****** D***head (these are the Guardian’s asterisks, I am unsure if the original post included them).

If this was the British Council’s Facebook account or Twitter feed, and the employee had posted it, I would understand the uproar. But it wasn’t. It was her own personal account, and she was expressing her own, personal opinion. An opinion I should add that many others have.

Why is this a national news story? I appreciate that she is a senior employee, but why are the British Council investigating, and why has said employee had her name dragged through social and print media??

I really don’t know the answer. Maybe she didn’t have the “Comments are my own” line on her account (which I’ve always considered a waste of time). We can still clock off, head to the pub and say what we like about the Royal Family or our employer for that matter and know that our personal thoughts and opinions are just that. This would not have been an issue before social media so why now??

Ok so there is an argument that if these were racist comments, then the story would be different, but where does Freedom of Speech start and stop??

I also think the way the British Council have handled it is all wrong. By saying they are investigating an employee for personal posts, they have flamed the story and made it much stronger story “British Council to investigate employee” instead of “British Council employee says something rude about Prince George in her own personal time away from work”.

My advice would have a simple “The comment was made on a private social media account and has no connection to the British Council and does not represent the views of the British Council”. And that’s it. I would have been tempted to add “what employees do and say in their own time is their own business”, but I wouldn’t, as it’s not our place (I’m thinking as if I’m working for the BC) to be the moral compass for the Fourth estate.

I would expect it from the Mail, or Express, but I would hazard a guess that a lot of Guardian journalist share this person’s republicanism.

It’s interesting that the Guardian didn’t open comments on this piece, I wonder if it’s because they knew their reader’s response would have been “yeah, so what” and “I agree”.

A few thoughts on the state of the PR sector from the PRCA’s 2016 PR Census.

Last night was the lauIMG_20160610_094935 - Copynch party for the PRCA’s 2016 PR Census. The first from the PRCA since 2013, and what I think remains the best ‘state of the industry’ survey out there. Gathering data from nearly 2000 PR practitioners from across the UK, it shows some positive news about PR, as well as identifying (some of the same) issues that we’re facing.

Here are my thoughts on a couple of key points that I picked out:

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Firstly, the PR sector is in great shape. It is estimated to be worth £12.9bn, a 34% increase
since 2013. It’s also seen an impressive increase of 21,000 more employees working in PR since 2013, now we’re up to 83,000 – which might help to explain the less good news of an £8.5k drop in average salaries.

Some of the more obvious results were that this is still a young person’s game, with the average age of 28, and 64% being women. No real surprises there. But seeing an average 10k pay gap between women and men, in an industry that is dominated by women is pretty outrageous. While this is sort of explained by the increase in men in senior positions (and thus being paid more) what are we doing about the mass exodus of women in senior positions? Could it be that the sector is not flexible and supportive enough to women who choose to start a family?

IMG_20160610_095031Another big concern for me is still around diversity. When I first entered the PR industry 13 years ago, we were worried about diversity and talking about how to tackle it. So I really despair that the sector is still 91% white, with little to no change since 2013. The industry is still also 91% degree educated, again, little change from 2013. So we’re still talking about the issue with diversity without doing anything about it.

Some positive news is that the younger generations of PR practitioners are both more diverse and more likely to be working in the industry without a degree, it still remains a massive issue that we supposed to be communicating and influencing millions of different people while being the majority middle class and white.

The PRCA does some great work with their school outreach team, encouraging more young people to enter the PR industry, but we also need the employers to stop having a degree as a prerequisite for getting a job – nearly every job description I see asks for degree education.

Back in 2013 I helped to develop and launch the Higher Apprenticeship in PR. Its purpose was to open up the industry to young people from different backgrounds who didn’t want to go to university. We brought in some fantastically talented, enthusiastic young people, the big employers were on board, but once the Government funding for PR, marketing and other support dried up, so did the industry enthusiasm. One of the first 10 to start the scheme, was recently in the PRWeek 30 under 30, and is only 22! While it’s still running, the number of new apprentices now is nowhere near the 120 a year target that was first set.

Low and unpaid internships are still too prevalent in the industry. And all they do is exasperate the current problem as only white middle class families can afford to pay for a young person to live and work in London (or any major city) without any income. We keep talking about the problem with diversity while continuing to do exactly the same things that cause the problem.

Some of the conversations around this last night were around rebranding “graduate schemes” to intern schemes, so to encourage non-graduates to apply, which is fine. As long as the intern schemes pay at least a London Living Wage, and aren’t just drawing in the same people who can afford to take them.

There was also some frustrating results in evaluation, with 16% of practitioners still claiming to use AVE – I’m hoping that all this means is that AVE is just one part of evaluation, and not the main source. Even then it is still worrying that so many people use such a useless and antiquated evaluation method. That said, considering 30% don’t use any evaluation at all, it remains an area of concern.

Ollie’s Top Five things to do in New York (that aren’t in the guidebook)

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Ok, so this isn’t exactly a PR blog, but I’m always being asked about what I recommend people do when in New York, so I thought I would write a post about it.

I’m a big fan and regular visitor to New York (and hope to spend time working out there one day), and as such, friends, colleagues and comrades often ask me for advice on the best places to go and visit. I often repeat, and type the same thing over and over again. So here are my thoughts on what you should definitely make time to do.

I have to warn you though, it does include quite a few bars and some pub crawls. I’m a big fan of bars and pubs and I love to visit as many as possible whenever I go somewhere. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a crazy alcoholic, I just find something wonderful about bars and pubs – their unique, the people you meet, the atmosphere, every bar is different, and every bar has something new to offer (obviously, I’m not talking about British chain pubs here, no Weatherspoons or All Bars Ones allowed…). New York has a huge variety and some of the best bars and pubs in the world – even more so than London, and London has plenty of smashing examples.

So if you care for a beer, and enjoy the variety of drinking establishments on offer, this list is for you. That said, it’s not all bars, so hopefully there is some useful information that will get you away from Times Square and all the other tourists.

1: McSorleys (East 7th street, just off 3rd Ave) My favourite pub in the whole world. It’s amazing. Go. Do it. It has been there since the 1850’s, and may well not have changed since, but hopefully the sawdust on the floor is reasonably fresh. If you find yourself a table (the waiters will usually assist with this) you’ll probably have to share it, and you’ll soon be hearing stories about the history of the place (Harry Houdini’s hand cuffs are still there) over a home brewed beer – there are only two choices here, Light Beer or Dark Beer… It is wonderful and I always make time for a visit.

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McSorley’s Old Ale House, 15 East 7th Street, Manhattan, New York. Photograph taken July 22, 2010.

2: Take in a view: All the guide books suggest one of the tall buildings, so here is a word of advice from someone who has been up all of them. If you’ve only got time for one tall building experience, my personal preference would be to take in the view at the Top of the Rock! (The Rockefeller building). It has shorter queues than the Empire State building, you get to see the Empire State building and you get both uptown and downtown Manhattan. The One World Trade Centre (the new one) is taller, but the views (in my opinion) aren’t as good – from the Rock you get a great view of Central Park and Uptown Manhattan, which isn’t as good up the One World Trade Centre. The viewing platform at the Top of the Rock is outside too.

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3: Pub Crawl around the East Village. My favourite place to pub crawl. There must be 700 pubs, all within a few metres of each other. Dive bars, music bars, cocktail bars, sports bar… Lively, fun and a tad ridiculous… Try and take in “Old Ottos Shrunken Head” – which is a particular favourite: great cocktails, plus Puffer Fish lamp shades, that are worth the visit alone. Please Don’t Tell, is a great little speakeasy too – you enter through a telephone box in a hotdog shop (just make sure that you stop for a hotdog, as they are smashing!!). Crocodile Lounge is also great, mainly for the concept of a free slice of pizza with every drink (free pizza, what’s not to like…). I could go on for days about bars in the East Village. But I won’t.

4: All you can eat Ribs and all you can drink Beer!!! If you’re in New York on a Sunday, Brother Jimmy’s BBQ (my favourite one is on 77th and 2nd) does All you can eat Ribs (really good ribs) and all you can drink beer (Bud/Bud lite/Coors etc). For two hours’ chomp on some properly tasty ribs and plenty of sports, and friendly and fun staff…

5: On my latest visit a few weeks ago, I checked out the Tenement Museum: It was recommended years ago, so I thought I’d take a look, and it is well worth a visit. It is a fascinating look at what life was like in a turn of the century in a tenement building, untouched since the 1930’s. It tells some stories of what it was like to live in New York and uses the history of actual families that lived in the building. Meticulously researched and fascinating. Get yourself there.

Other good stuff that is also in the guide book and definitely worth checking out.

The Highline is always worth a romantic walk along. Formally a railway above the Meatpacking and Chelsea districts, it is now a pleasant park/green area, in a city that lacks green areas. Stroll along and marvel in how reclaiming a bit of old industry that would have been pulled down is now a lovely little park (there is also a bar half way along…)

If it’s your first time in New York, you should visit Times Square, just for a look. If you do, and get thirsty then don’t stop at one of the hundreds of terrible mock Irish pubs that charge 10 bucks a beer. Instead head into Jimmy’s Corner (44th Street, just off 7th Ave), right in the heart of Times Square and run by a former boxing trainer Jimmy Glen. Cue plenty of boxing memorabilia and photos, a great atmosphere with locals and only a smattering of tourists, and to top it all, you can still get a beer for 3 bucks!! Jimmy’s is Awesome.

If you want to get good views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis island, but don’t want to pay for a boat trip or get off on either island, just take the FREE Staten Island ferry that goes past both. You can then stop for a pint on Staten Island (there is a bar a few minutes away from the ferry port), or just get another ferry back to Manhattan…

New York is fabulous city, and great to just wonder around aimlessly. Any other ideas of the must see things in New York? Especially the less obvious ideas, that aren’t always found in the guidebooks (and any suggestions for decent bars and pubs are always welcome…)

 

Ollie