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.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jan/12/wrong-kind-of-sunlight-delays-southeastern-trains-london?CMP=fb_gu

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…

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Why are we not listening to journalists about how to best engage with them???

I despair. I absolutely despair. How is it, that in 2014, there are still PRs and PR agencies out there that are spamming journalists with irrelevant and non-newsworthy press releases and stories?? And even worst, why are there still PRs and PR Agencies that are phoning journalists asking if they have received a press release! In what world is this going to be effective??

This is what the latest research from DWPub found, who published the results of a survey into “What do journalists think of PR people”. What bothers me so much is that so little has changed in the ten or so years I’ve been involved in PR. Ten years ago journalists were telling me NOT to call and ask if they had received a press release. Ten years ago journalists were telling me to RESEARCH the publication and stories that they penned and to make sure that I was pitching RELEVANT information and stories. And no doubt this same conversation has been going on for decades in one way or another.

No wonder the relationship between journalists and PR types is so strained.

According to the research, 80% of journalists said that “Lack of understanding of your publication and subject area” is their greatest frustration with PR people. As DWPub’s own analysis says:

“There’s a pattern emerging – all they (journalists) really want is for the PR to know what they cover and to make sure whatever they’re pitching is relevant and newsworthy”

Which, lets be honest, isn’t a lot to ask.

But it’s the agencies that are to blame. Junior PR types are not born with the idea to follow up an email (within a few minutes) with a call to ask if the journalists received the press release – they are being instructed by their experienced comrades. Mass emailing of a release to hundreds of journalists is being pushed from the top of these agencies (including some I’ve recently worked with – see my recent post on saying no) for reasons that escape me. Please stop.

So please – as an industry – lets all heed this advice from journalists. After all, we all want positive coverage, so lets all stop phoning journalists to ask if they received a press release (they did!) and start taking a moment to be sure that the story is newsworthy, and that it is relevant for both the journalist and the publication.

I’ll leave you with a favourite comment highlighted in the report, which kinda sums up my (and the journalists) point:

Pitch relevant news to the relevant publication. I can’t believe we still get PRs calling the news desk of the Daily Star and asking for our Fine Arts editor!”

Here’s a link to the full survey: http://blog.dwpub.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/DWPub-journalist-survey-What-do-journalists-think-of-PR-people.pdf


And DWPub’s own press release (lets hope they didn’t do a mass email sell-in with follow up phone call: http://blog.dwpub.com/2014/10/journalists-think-pr-professsionals/#.VDWzv2ddV3I

An detailed look into Apple’s PR and Media Operation by 9to5 Mac

Here’s a really interesting piece from 9to5 Mac on the PR and media operation at Apple (by@markgurman) . It’s well worth a read – and apologies to the Twitterer who I found this via. I’m afraid I clicked on the link a few days ago and only just got around to reading it – do let me know if it was you!

It paints a picture of control, manipulation and advantage of having an army of supporters ready to go into battle on Apple’s behalf. It talks of removing ‘privileges’ from journalists and publications that don’t stay on message and are supportive (Gizmodo has reportedly been barred from all Apple launch events since 2010, after they got their hands on a prototype Iphone 4) and only sending review items to those who will write positively.

Interestingly, I just don’t see how it would work for any other company or organisation. With so many high-profile ‘friends’ and the evangelical love that Apple finds in its followers (they are followers, not customers…) they can get away with this approach, and – obviously from their general reputation and profit margin – it has proved very successful! However, we would all love to only engage with our favourite and supportive journalists, but rarely have that luxury.

It will also be fascinating to see how this pans out over the years – as the latter parts of the story shows, changes are afoot within Apple (post Steve Jobs) and within the PR department.

Disclosure time. I’m not an Apple fanboy. I have an Ipad (1), and once had an IPhone 4s, but both have been superseded by my superior (in my humble opinion…) Blackberry Q10.

Link here: http://9to5mac.com/2014/08/29/seeing-through-the-illusion-understanding-apples-mastery-of-the-media/

CIPR research shows internships remain of little benefit to the PR industry or to the interns themselves, so lets get rid of them!

Today (April 16th) the Chartered Institute of Public Relations published research into internships, which found that they are of limited benefit to either the PR industry or young people looking to get into Public Relations.

http://newsroom.cipr.co.uk/cipr-research-shows-internships-need-to-be-fairer-and-more-effective/

The link outlines the findings, and it has given me the opportunity to return to a favourite issue of mine. Diversity in PR. I’ve always been anti-unpaid internships in general as they can exclude those who can’t afford to live and work without a wage – particularly in London (where I live and work, so this comment focuses on London). Unless the intern is from or has family in London – or is from a wealthy family who can cover the astronomical costs of living within sensible commuting distance – they simply will not be able to afford it. Once you consider how important experience is when securing your first PR job, we are just excluding a huge proportion of talented young people.


The recent PRWeek census shows how little diversity we currently have as an industry. How can we truly expect to offer our clients and their various issues a great service when we are all white, wealthy graduates? (http://www.prweek.com/article/1225129/pr-census-2013)

As a sector we’ve been talking about this for years, but this latest research shows that nothing is changing. Only 26% of interns were paid, and that was the minimum wage. 76% class themselves as upper or middle class and only 24% are non-white. If we can consider these young interns the future of the PR industry (and I think we can) then it doesn’t bode well for the diversity issue we say we are so concerned about.

Add to this the finding that only 57% of respondents said that their internship has helped them to prepare for a PR career and I have to question the value of internships at all.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of helping to launch the PR Higher Apprenticeship (when Pearson we’re still involved – more info here: http://www.prapprenticeships.com/ ) with the PRCA (now working with Creative Process). The project was started due to the lack of diversity within the PR sector, with the aim of opening the sector up to non-graduates from different backgrounds. It paid a wage, and while some agencies chose to pay the apprentices the bare minimum, most where on a decent entry level wage – around and above the London Living Wage.


As well as an actual paid job in a PR agency or in-house team, it also included a structured training programme that was developed by the PR industry itself (I forget the exact figure but somewhere around 150 PR professionals directly inputted into what the training programme included and involved) that actually left them with the skills they needed to make a success in PR. I met the first 20 or so apprentices and was blown away by the energy and talent on show, and continue to watch them taking the industry by storm – I’m pretty sure that one day I will be asking one of them for a job!

We need more agencies and in-house teams taking on apprentices from varied backgrounds and paying them a living wage that means we attract young people from wealthy and non-wealthy backgrounds, not taking on non and low-paid (or properly trained) interns. We need to build a future talent base that brings more to the table than all the same minds and experiences and internships aren’t going to achieve this.

Until we do we are going to continue to just talk about diversity without making any dent into the problem.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 Crisis Communications – A text message was not a great idea, but what where the alternatives?

So the story is a sad one, but it is believed that Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, missing for more than two weeks, went down somewhere over the Indian ocean with all lives lost.

Now I appreciate that there are more important things to worry about than the PR response from Malaysia Airlines, but part of their response hit the headlines earlier on in the week.

Generally I think their crisis response has been good – in very difficult circumstances and with very little information to work with (the plane was lost, there wasn’t much else to go with) they continued with daily press conferences and shared everything they had to share, even when it was just theories – they fed the 24 hour news monster. Pretty much everything they could have done was done.

But then came the text message. Once all the evidence was gathered the conclusion was reached that it is beyond reasonable doubt that MH370 crashed into the sea. However, they choose to share this conclusion with the families of the passengers via a text message.

A text message?!? My (and most of Twitter’s) reaction wasn’t very positive. A callous and unsympathetic way to notify families that their loved ones were lost. But then I started to wonder about the alternatives. In a 24-hour digital news world, how do you reach hundreds of stakeholders (in this case the families), who are scattered all over the world with the same news at the same time. Clearly they need to hear the news before the main press conference announcing it to the world, so how do you avoid time differences, different locations, and the journalists that are camped alongside the families?

Could local representatives share the bad news? Possibly, but is a faceless executive from the local office really any better? And logistically how do you reach everyone at the same time (once some of families have been given the news, it’s likely to reach the press, and then the risk is some families hearing through the news/TV – not what you want to happen). A telephone call is better than a text, but unless it’s a massive conference call (which would have to be across time zones – would you want to be told your parents were most likely dead at 3am in the morning?) you’d need an army of competent staff to make the calls and deal with questions and grieving families.

The more I think about it the more I’m unsure what is the best answer. A better response would have been to ask families how they would want to be communicated with and be prepared to use a number of different channels dependent on response. This means that some families may get the news via a text message, some maybe an email, some a call and some face to face. While hardly ideal, it must be better than a blanket text message. This sort of crisis would (should) have been at the top of any scenario planning, so communicating with hundreds of families from all across the globe should have been expected, and the relevant systems should already have been in place. It would be a logistical nightmare, but simply sending them all a text message is not the answer.

Oh, and where there are journalists and cameras present with relatives (as with the group of Chinese families in the hotel), you need to control the press and don’t let them in the same room as the families receiving the news of lost families. It does not make for positive TV.

If you want to read more about Malaysia Airline’s overall crisis response there is a good review over at Agnes Day: http://agnesday.com/malaysia-airlines-crisis-communications-flight-mh370/

And here’s a great example of decent crisis communications and the importance of scenario planning: http://www.fastcompany.com/3027798/the-secret-to-airbnbs-freakishly-rapid-orgy-response-scenario-planning?partnerg

Going the wrong way in your PR career – from in-house to agency, and why is it so hard?

We all know how a PR career usually works. You spend your formative years in a PR agency. You find a specialism or sector. You work long hours, win clients, lose clients, fall out with journalists, work hard and play hard. But then, when the time is right, you jump ship and cross to the ‘other side’ – you find yourself a comfortable in-house role to see out the rest of your career.

I’m generalising here of course. Many PR professionals stay on the agency side, and some start and finish in-house. But today I want to talk about the other guys. Those that start in-house and then after making their mark quite fancy hopping the other way into a PR agency. While it’s not unheard of, it remains frowned upon. In-house managers will happily take on someone who only has agency experience, but how many hiring managers from an agency will take on someone from an exclusively in-house background??

Obviously this is pretty much determined by level and experience. I doubt if someone with one or two years in-house experience would have any trouble finding an Account Exec level role in an agency. but how about a seven/eight year veteran (can you be a veteran after eight years? a discussion for another blog post perhaps), looking to return to agency at around AD or similar level? (e.g. me!)

Please forgive a sporting analogy here (particularly if you’re not that into sports), but I’ve always thought of the difference to that of 5 aside and 11 aside football (or Rugby 7’s and full International if you prefer). It’s the same sport, but the skills and talents are slightly different. And being good at one, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be good at the other.

But how are the PR skills between agency and in-house different? Are they that different? What is it that scares agency types about hiring an in-house guy like me?

OK, so maybe we don’t have to worry about time sheets, but juggling multiple issues, with multiple stakeholders goes hand in hand with an in-house role, just as it does with agency work. In fact, doesn’t being immersed within a business offer a different perspective to those who have only ever experienced life within an agency?

New business? Yep, so this may well be a major factor in why it’s hard to go from in-house to a senior agency role. However, by sitting client side for so long, and having been pitched to so often we can spot a bad pitch from twenty paces. And don’t get me started on the number of times I’ve been at a networking event and an agency type has tried to ‘new business’ me – again, experience and being on the end of it surely offers an interesting perspective, and a view point not necessary available from within an agency?

I appreciate that there is a chance that I’m very wrong about this and that they are not just different sports, but one that uses your hands and one that uses a bat (a future blog post will (hopefully) cover my experience of working in an agency after being in-house for so long).

Does anyone have experience of going about your PR career the wrong way? Or maybe there are some hiring managers that are adverse to taking an in-house type into an agency – do please share your thoughts.

Ollie Lawson