You can prove anything with evaluation – but professional practice requires honesty


A GOOD public relations programme starts with the question: who are our stakeholders? Answering this properly can have a dramatic effect on how focused a PR campaign becomes. It should also affect how a PR programme is evaluated.

One PR agency boss told me that he was really proud of the work he’d done for several clients, adding tens of thousands of followers to their Twitter accounts. He’d charged them a hefty whack but then spent a few hundred dollars on a site where you can buy social followers. The result was apparently delighted clients – they hadn’t noticed that their new followers had either lacked profile pics or had ones that looked like manga characters. Of course, none of these new followers were stakeholders, so the effort was entirely pointless.

In media relations, it is easy to get large amounts of coverage, if you’re shameless. But professionals focus on getting coverage that’s on-topic, is favourable and reaches relevant stakeholders. If a media team evaluates itself by numbers of press hits, the danger is that it will seek lots of easy-to-get mentions that aren’t actually being read by the right people.

I am told that, in one large organisation, a newly appointed head of the press office changed press cuttings service and – deliberately or not – at the same time changed the criteria so that 100% of cuttings came through the service. In fact, many organisations getting high volumes of coverage will set complex criteria for whether they get the cutting, because having a hundreds of PDFs of the same basic story from hundreds of local newspapers is costly. Anyway, because this press officer leader apparently took credit for the hike in cuttings (and increase in advertising value equivalency), she got a wonderful reputation with the CEO and the director of comms as a miracle worker who had increased their coverage – even though other colleagues knew she had simply changed how the figures were calculated.

Good PR practitioners, conversely, know that the volume of coverage alone doesn’t indicate success. Professionals, for example, pre-rank media outlets by their ability to reach genuine stakeholders. Not all coverage an organisation receives should count as meaningfully contributing towards its strategic goals.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: May 25th, 2015, In Categories: Ethics, Media relations, PR strategy, Social media

Photos from the CIPR social shorts event on social storytelling

On Thursday night I went along to a CIPR event on storytelling on social media. Speakers included:

  • Jessica Gioglio (@savvybostonian), Head of Creative Lab at Sprinklr and co-author of ‘The Power of Visual Storytelling’
  • Dan Tyte (@dantyte), Co-Chair of the CIPR Social Media Panel, Executive Director at Working Word PR
  • Kirsty Marrins (@LondonKirsty), Content & Community Manager at JustGiving
  • Will Barker (@willdotbarker), Project Support Officer, Social Media & Digital at 1000 Lives Improvement
  • Gemma Griffiths (@gemgriff), Managing Director, The Crowd & I
Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: May 23rd, 2015, In Categories: Social media

Creativity is the most dangerous word in public relations


Creativity is, of course, an essential part of effective public relations. Given how much information is out there, creativity helps messages cut through. But I’ve found that when people conclude that what they want is “creativity”, they have sometimes misdiagnosed the problem, or just misunderstood how creativity works in practice.

It occurs to me that there are six major ways the desire for creativity is used wrongly.

The first way often rears its head when staff are blamed for the lack of media coverage (or social media engagement) because they are supposedly not creative enough. Actually, the reason journalists didn’t want to touch the story is that the key messages of the campaign, however you dress them up, were not relevant to most of their readers. The problem is strategic: media relations may not be the best way of talking with a niche audience, or the decision to target, say, ITV’s Good Morning Britain instead of a specialist title could be what’s really at fault.

So encouraging PR teams to spend more time on bean bags, or clap their hands, or play musical chairs, isn’t going to solve the fundamental problem that the strategy is wrong. And where rabbits are pulled out of hats in terms of a media hit, they are often off-topic. Or they are a one-off which cannot be replicated enough times to make the campaign successful (or justify paying a retainer in perpetuity).

The second way is when junior staff who are spread too thinly over a wide range of clients are expected to generate “creativity”. This doesn’t work well because effective creativity requires deep knowledge. I remember witnessing a case where a PR practitioner simply did not understand the (highly technical) subject he was trying to get coverage about – and the materials he produced were, unsurprisingly, extremely dry and barely comprehensible. No amount of bean bag time or meditation is going to solve that – only time learning the subject.

The third way is when junior PR staff are expected to deploy “creativity” when what is actually needed is quality. This normally occurs when an agency works for way too little money for small clients, and so doesn’t have the resources to produce the necessarily quality materials that are needed to support approaches to the desired media.

The fourth way is when people engage in ‘brainstorming’. Now it depends what you mean by brainstorming – getting a team together and talking through ideas with a flipchart can bring out excellent ideas, but the strict definition (in which no criticism of ideas is allowed and in which even “ridiculous nonsense” is allowed) actually reduces the likelihood of good ideas being found.

The fifth way is when no one stands up and questions where the news value is in the campaign being proposed. When paid media is being used in addition to earned media, it’s easy for those doing the former to produce beautiful video content that can be pumped out as adverts. But earned media only works when it has news value – and just because people who work for a brand think it’s pretty doesn’t mean that the BBC or The Times will care.

Finally, creativity is used wrongly when all the creativity is left up to the youngest, most junior members of staff. In fact, as FastCompany has pointed out experience is a key part of creativity. That’s one reason, for example, why the best agencies and in-house teams take the hiring of talent so seriously.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: May 22nd, 2015, In Categories: Media relations, PR strategy

New: My #PRstack, a free, practical guide to digital PR tools


A MUST-READ for all PR pracititioners: Stephen Waddington has crowdsourced a really well put-together guide to digital PR tools and workflow. Called My #PRStack, it covers:

  1. Social listening and planning
  2. Creating engaging content
  3. Curating content
  4. Building relationships online
  5. Example #PRstack workflows
  6. Project management & measurement

You can download the guide from here.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: May 21st, 2015, In Categories: PR books

Marking 50 years of iprovision

LAST WEEK, iprovision, the benevolent fund for the PR profession, marked 50 years with an event in at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Speakers included Tim Traverse-Healy (founding member of the CIPR), Harvey Thomas (PR man for Margaret Thatcher and Billy Graham), Rob Brown (President-Elect, CIPR) and John Brown (the chair of iprovision’s trustees).

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: May 16th, 2015, In Categories: CIPR