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)


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.

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…)




Blog post: A self-inflicted PR Crisis for David Cameron

David Cameron, having better weeks…

I thought David Cameron used to work in PR?? I have to wonder how effective he was as he has handled this week’s crisis like an amateur.

This week it has been all about the Panama papers, and revelations about his late father’s tax affairs.

As with so many badly handled PR crisis, this one is about what wasn’t said, not what actually happened. Four days, five statements from the Prime Minister and his office, and all left more questions unanswered and the issue not dealt with.

The key to handling a crisis is to get as much appropriate information out as quickly as possible. Withholding information, trying to hide it or, even worse, lying is never a wise course of action. The truth will come out, and that becomes the story.

For Cameron, on Monday when it all kicked off, he should have come out and fully disclosed his involvement in his father’s scheme. If he had openly disclosed that he had cashed in shares, benefiting from a reduced tax burden, back in 2010, it is more than likely that the story would have moved on by now. He would have received some criticism for benefiting, but it would have been a six-year-old story, which would have quickly run out of column inches.

But instead, he tried to avoid his involvement, and released a series of statements that deliberately tried to hide it. Each one was written to try and close the issue, stop the questions, but once journalists sense blood, they are going to keep digging until they get to the truth.

So now Cameron has to face not only benefiting from off shore tax havens, and also questions about trying to hide it. And more often than not, it is the trying to hide that causes the reputational damage, and that is certainly the case here.

I don’t know if this will finish off the Prime Minister, but it will probably hasten his exit.

And this one is entirely self-inflicted.

I’m following this story from a short city break in New York, so will write a more detailed response to this crisis in a few days.


The dangers of a tweet and the wrong type of sun

Southeastern Trains had a bit of an issue with Twitter today and with the wrong kind of sun causing delays.


The actual issue causing the delays is a legitimate one – the glare from the low and bright winter sun was preventing the train drivers from seeing key safety monitors, meaning they had to get out and check the train manually. Obviously this was the right thing to do from a safety perspective, but the way they reported this on Twitter wasn’t quite so clever.

We had severe congestion through Lewisham due to dispatching issues as a result of strong sunlight.

Unsurprisingly, Twitter reacted to ‘strong sunlight’ with the sort of mirth you will only get from Twitter. Southeastern soon clarified what they meant by ‘strong sunlight’ but then it was too late.

It just highlights the danger of social media and Twitter – you only have 140 characters so can’t always give all the details but have to be so careful with what is Tweeted. Clearly ‘strong sunlight’ wasn’t the finest idea of the day.

It also highlights the issue of who do you have running your Twitter account? If it is an account that is used to talk directly to customers (such as Southeastern and other rail companies) then it needs constant attention. The trend is for the more inexperienced team members to run the accounts, but that is where the danger lies.

Of course, if Twitter bring in the 10,000 character limit more can be explained within a single tweet and perhaps some of the fun will come out of Twitter…

Blog post – a few things I learnt in 2015

Here we are in 2016, and further progress into the second decade of my PR career. Every year, just after the festive break I start to look forward to the new challenges, I’m always struck by how I really have no idea how the year is going to pan out. It’s one of the things I continue to love about Public Relations – every day, and most definitely every year, is very very different. It’s a bit of a cliché, but I don’t think there is an industry out there with the variety we have, and especially one that has been through quite as much as change in the recent years! as we have (and still is).

That said, before I start to look forward and think about how I hope 2016 is going to shape up, I thought I should take a quick (if a bit late…) look back at 2015, and what I learnt during a busy and exciting year.

  • Don’t run two events on the same day – it’s stressful

I did it. It was hard. Event Management isn’t really my area of expertise, but a client requested it: A conference for 200 in the morning, and staff update event in the afternoon for 800.

I’ve previously blogged about the need to say no to clients, so next time it gets suggested I’m going to suggest a different course of action and spare myself a few sleepless nights!

  • We still have a problem with terrible practice

Back in 2014 I had a bit of a rant about some of the practices still within our industry. I despaired at how journalists are still complaining about getting spammed by PR people, particular junior PR pros calling up a few minutes after sending a press release to check if it has been received, without any research or understanding about relevance to that journalist or publication (I don’t blame the juniors for this, I blame those instructing and teaching them).

And now in 2015, we have the story that a campaign by a PR agency used a ‘real life’ case study who was less ‘real life’ and more ‘a member of the PR agency running the campaign’. As I cover in the post, we’ve all called in favours with friends and families to add credibility to a story, and I don’t doubt that this case study was a user of the product, but she was a member of agency running the campaign. She was, in all intents and purposes, an employee of the firm, and you wouldn’t use an employee of an organisation as a real life case study without disclosing it, so why use the agency staff??

It’s just another example of a practice that taints the whole industry and why we get confused with the dark arts and shadowy figures.

We will not be taken seriously as an industry unless we stamp this sort of thing out and show that we are a professional and trusted profession.

  • Blackberry is going nowhere (I hope)

I’ve covered my love of all things Blackberry in previous posts, and 2015 is the year of the turnaround I hope!

As a quick recap, I remain one of the few Blackberry fans that I actually know in person. And for good reason. Give me a physical keyboard and battery that lasts longer than a few hours any day of the week. And this year has seen two new BB’s hit the market – The Passport, my phone of choice and slightly odd looking, but has completely replaced my IPad, and I now do most of my work on it. It is brilliant. Before you ask, I had a year with an IPhone 4s (when that was the newest IPhone), and while the apps and games are great, it is no comparison in terms of productivity and getting work done than my (then) G10 and hugely inferior to my Passport.

More recently we had the Blackberry Priv launched, better spec than the IPhone 6, a slide out physical keyboard, plus it runs the Android OS, so no need to side load all those apps (one of the criticism of BB10 was the lack of apps, expect you could actually run most Android Apps on it as long as you knew what you were doing)

3rd Quarter growth results are promising, so I’m hoping for more from my little friend and – fingers crossed – a Passport 2 in 2016!!

  • We are still needed…

Our industry continues to change at pace but the skills and experiences we bring to the table is as vital as ever. Especially if you send a text to a journalist calling her a ‘mad witch’

Anyway, PRWeek did a good review of 2015’s six big corporate crisis’ here:

What is of particular interest is how some of them (Thomas Cook and Talk Talk for instance) took a hit for how they responded to crisis as much as the actual crisis – showing once again the importance of being prepared for a crisis and responding quickly and honestly. Although Ashleigh Madison was screwed either way.

  • I was right about paywalls!

I’m a still bit disappointed that I wasn’t blogging back in 2013 when I predicted that The Sun’s paywall wouldn’t last. November saw The Sun bring its paywall down and I wasn’t surprised, why would readers pay for The Sun’s celebrity gossip (a key draw) when it can get it for free from sites such as the Daily Mail?

The Times (News UK’s other paywall) remains behind a wall and News UK claim they have no plans to drop it, but I wonder how long it will last. Will enough readers keep paying for the Times content to keep it viable? Maybe, but could 2016 see the paywall experiment come to its natural conclusion?? (I promise no ‘I told you so…’ posts…)

  • Vinyl does sound better

Not really a PR realisation, but this year my parents sold the family home in Wiltshire and retired to Cornwall. While sorting through 30 years of junk in the loft I came across their old vinyl record collection. Originally I had planned to bring it back to London to flog to some hipsters, but once I was home I thought I would listen to a few, and maybe copy to digital (there were a couple of classics).


However, once a reasonably priced record player was purchased, a realised that vinyl does actually sound better. I know I now sound like a hipster, but there is a richer, more real sound, than you get on CD or digital. So I’m sold, and have even been known to poke my nose into a few charity shops to see what I can pick up on the cheap…



A blog post by me: “The paywall comes down…”

So last week The Sun confirmed that it will be pulling down its paywall at the end of the month. Shame I wasn’t blogging back in 2013, as back then I didn’t think it would work for The Sun so this could have been a ‘I told you so’ follow up post.

Anyway, I just couldn’t see where they would get subscribers from and why would people pay to subscribe when the content is available online for free. The only newspaper paywall I do agree with is that of the Financial Times. It offers unique content that isn’t available elsewhere. It is the key publication for the financial sector, with news and content that isn’t available anywhere else (to an extent anyway…), I doubt there are many financial professionals that don’t have access.

Despite being a news junky I personally don’t subscribe to any of the paywalls – it is only through corporate subscriptions of clients or employers that I’ve gained access. I wonder how many of the subscribers are relevant business/PR departments compared to dedicated consumers. Similar to the large number of (I expect) viewers of the 24- hour news channels being media types.

Interestingly enough, I was on the Daily Mail mobile website the other day and upon landing was asked if you wanted to view news or showbiz – this showing how they have successfully diversified their audience and that the site is the first port of call for many who would baulk at actually buying and reading the Daily Mail. The Sun behind a paywall was never going to be able to compete, when all the showbiz gossip – one of the key reasons to visit The Sun website and to subscribe – can be found for free on the Daily Mail.

The Telegraph have installed a half paywall, where it’s free up to a number of views – the best of both worlds if you like as they can still get the advertising revenue not available to full paywall publications (much smaller numbers of visitors means much smaller advertising revenue), but still get the subscription income from their heavy users (who subscribe) plus all the additional customer data it gathers. 2014 readership figures show about 16m monthly visitors, similar to Guardian that doesn’t have a paywall… Whether it will be sustained we’ll have to wait and see.

That said, David Dinsmore, COO of News UK (who own The Sun) said on the BBC’s Media Show last week that they had 225,000 subscribers, which is pretty good, and more than I would have expected. The difficulty according to Dinsmore was the cost of acquiring them.

He also claims that there are no plans to bring down the paywall on the Times and Sunday Times, although I’m not convinced that it will last that much longer. Like The Sun, and unlike the Financial Times, it is general news. Yes, there will be some exclusives and certain, quality commentators, but it is news you can get elsewhere on the internet or in other newspapers.

The only way I see paywalls actually working is if all the major newspapers put up paywalls and there wasn’t any advertising only options. And even that is not guaranteed as it would just open up opportunities to new entrants.

So I still don’t have the answer as to how we’re going to continue to fund the UK’s quality journalism, but I’m pretty sure paywalls are not the answer (but don’t think that I’ve stopped trying to figure it out…)

Here’s the BBC Media Show Podcast: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06mg9fk

And more from the Guardian on the issue (No paywall here): http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/nov/04/news-uk-chief-refuses-to-rule-out-scrapping-times-paywall-in-future

2014 Readership figures: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/nrs-daily-mail-most-popular-uk-newspaper-print-and-online-23m-readers-month-0

Blog post: The ethics of ‘real life’ case studies…

We’ve all done it (haven’t we?!), called in a favour with a friend or another PR type to be a client’s ‘real life’ case study. I know I have – including being asked by a comrade to appear in a chlamydia awareness article for Cosmo.

This week Fuel PR has been getting criticism for putting forward one of their own employees for a client’s case study (here). Duly picked up by PA and subsequently picked up by the Daily Mail and the Mirror to name just two. Two publications (as well as PA) who were not best pleased when they found out the real-life case study Esme de Silva was in fact a Senior Account Executive at Fuel PR (but published under a different name) – the Agency appointed last year to work for Odaban (the subject of the story).

As I said, we’ve all called in favours and I would imagine that a lot of real life case-studies are probably PR people by trade, and that doesn’t mean they aren’t real life people and customers of our client’s products.

(It’s also a tad ironic when you think about the amount of bias and misleading content coming from our dailies – see previous blog posts on this… )

That said, does this not go a bit too far. Yes, she may well be a customer of the client, but using one of your own employees is a bit too close to home for me. Especially as it was not disclosed and the name had been changed – suggesting that the Agency also wasn’t too of the ethics either. They’ve claimed that the name change was to protect privacy, and that is understandable as this is a potentially embarrassing health problem, except there was no issue with her photo being plastered across all the coverage.
Not disclosing that Esme de Silva’s name was changed just suggests that Fuel were trying to hide something (and I guess there were). As ever with PR it comes down to being open and honest, and the perception here is that they are hiding that this person is (essentially) an employee of the brand they are promoting.

Would it have been so hard to find an actual ‘real life’ case study for this?

Here’s the story in PRWEEK: http://www.prweek.com/article/1360288/press-association-advises-newspapers-remove-real-life-story-victim-revealed-employee-pr-firm-fuel