Five out of ten journalists mislead you

uk_newspapers_montage-300x176Anyone who has heard me lecture about the media will know that I have problems with a lot of journalists. Part of it is just the work I did- crisis PR tends to put relationships under pressure, inevitably. But, I do have concerns about how much media bias, media framing, and moral panics are at work, influencing what the public thinks.

Want to test yourself? Take this little quiz:

1. How many lone parents do you think there are out of every 100 people in Britain?

2. For every £100 spent on the Welfare Budget, what percentage is fraudulantly claimed?

3.What percentage of the UK’s population

  • is Muslim?
  • is unemployed?
  • is Black or Asian?
  • is aged 65 or over?
  • are Christian?
  • are immigrants (ie not born in the UK)?

You may be shocked to read what people thought were the answers to the above questions compared with the actual facts. According to IPSOS-MORI’s end of year review,  the 1,000 people surveyed as “representative of the UK’s public” answered as follows:

1.  28 out of 100 parents are “lone parents” (the truth is 3).

2. Out of every £100 spent on the welfare budget, £24 is claimed fraudulently (the truth is 70 pence)

3. Out of the UK population, the respondents thought that the percentage that is

  • Muslim is 22% (the truth is 5%)
  • Unemployed is 22% (the truth is 8%)
  • Black or Asian is 30% (the truth is 11%)
  • Aged 65+ is 36% (the truth is 16%)
  • Christian is 34% (the truth is 59%)
  • Immigrants is 31% (the truth is 13%)

You may be more knowledgeable than the majority of people.  But, my guess is that at least some of your guesses will have been overstating the facts,  because if you read a newspaper, watch television news or get your news online, then you are going to be influenced by how much coverage there is of problems associated with all of the above.  

On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme (arguably, the most influential single media outlet for the “politically aware listener”) the key presenter John Humphreys recently commented on an introduction to a Melvyn Bragg slot about complexity, that the role of a journalist was “to simplify and exaggerate”. It was an off-the-cuff remark that made me sit up and shout back at the radio (yes, I do that on occasion) “At last, you admit it!”

the “News” you read isn’t about facts. It’s about what the media think you want to know, and they will simplify and exaggerate in their efforts to get you to listen to them. That’s media framing- and, be warned, it messes with your head. Do your own research!

The Power of Thank You

Despite me extolling the virtues of face-to-face, there are occasions when the power of a social network proves to be invaluable.  And on no fewer than five occasions over the past two weeks, social media has helped me re-connect with former students of mine in such a powerful way.  Sometimes, it really helps a teacher to know that the message has finally gotten through. A former student of mine contacted me a while ago to tell me that he was working at a brand agency where he was heading up “all the online research” for a really big client. He told me “during an internal meeting the other week, we were discussing ways of segmenting the information and then reporting back on it etc. So after a few ideas I suggested a bit of content analysis – which to my AMAZEMENT no one had ever heard of before. So the more I explained the more they liked, and by the time I’d finished they thought I was a genius! Thanks for the invaluable knowledge!”

Then a Masters Graduate of mine tweeted that “Quoted James Grunig in a meeting today. @CSweetPR will be proud.”- and I was- especially as he is social media community manager for Microsoft in the UK!

That sort of feedback is just…rocket fuel to a teacher.  And then one of my first students got in touch five years after she graduated to say “I received an industry award today and wanted to send you a personal note of thanks for the support, mentoring and teaching you gave to me on my course at Solent.”   Yeah…that kind of made my day, too.

I keep a watchful eye on my graduates through LinkedIn. Sometimes the students are fabulously clever and I know that they will do wonderful things even if I’d never met them. Other times, students who have doubts about their own abilities need a little TLC and patient support to realise they’re brilliant, too. So, this week I had two good pieces of news via LinkedIn and e mail.  One said, “I was just thinking about you the other day when asked which women have inspired me in the past. I just want to say thank you, because without you I would not have been able to graduate. When I was having a very difficult time, you were there to help me through it, and be able to finish my studies….Just wanted to say thank you.”  She’s a commuications specialist now with a major financial services firm.

And then when I opened my home e mail, what did I find but an email headlined “Good News!” from a graduate that I had seen a few months before. He’d been frustrated with not finding the right PR job, several years after graduating. He wanted to do social media work, but was finding it hard to break into it. After some practical career advice over a coffee when he was briefly in the UK, two months later I got the message that he had just landed a six month internship “as a Community Manager/Social Media Manager with Publicis K1” in Paris. RESULT!

Students who take the time to say thank you- well, you know who you are. And this is a big THANK YOU back at you.i_thank_you1

Face-to-face in a digital world

synchronous-vs-asynchronous-Today I attended the CIPR’s first PR Show in London. And what an experience! I’ve organised events (in my previous incarnation as a PR practitioner) all around the world, for audiences in the tens of thousands, with keynote speakers including Ministers (even “Prime” Ministers!). But I rarely get the opportunity to attend one as a delegate, so this was a welcome opportunity to see things from the other side.

I have no doubt that there will be lots of discussions about how the event can be improved. But one thing stuck out in my mind. I met face-to-face a number of people that I had only ever “known” before on social media. And it was fascinatingly BETTER.

I had a brief twenty minute conversation with Stephen Waddington- the CIPR president elect for 2014, and Ketchum’s Digital guru about an event we are collaborating on next March. I came away enthused by his enthusiasm. And no amount of exclamation marks or emoticons can do the same thing- make a real, genuine commitment on a person to person basis.

When I first arrived at the event I was surprised at how quiet it was. The stands were manned, and there were plenty of visitors- but a surprising number of people were standing around looking intently at their phones- hooked into twitter, and e mails and phone calls with clients. It took a while…but by 3pm the place was positively humming with people talking, exchanging ideas, making connections.

And how stimulating that is! I came away from the event buzzing with ideas about new things to explore and try, new contacts to see where we can work together.  And I was also there to help my twenty or so PR students, both MA and BA undergraduates experience an event not only as a participant but also take the opportunity to do some critical analysis and reflect on the power of personal contact in a world that is increasingly intermediated by social media.

Why Joining up the dots is not the best way to do PR

ConnectTheDotsRichard Bailey’s latest blog post did what it was supposed to do- make me think. Unusually, it also made me disagree with him. He suggested that PR is similar to learning a new language. You go through a process of babbling, learning words, figuring out how they work together and then, eventually, you become fluent.  A bit of me went along with this, because that’s how we are taught PR, and how as a PR practitioner-turned-academic, it’s how I have seen people teach PR.

But, then I started to think about it some more. And the idea of joining up dots, or putting pieces together in sequential order? Well, the rebel in me started disagreeing.

I think that the thing which is missing from most young PR people is confidence in their own ability to see the big picture. And as long as we are using cliche analogies, for me what makes the difference between an apprentice learning the language or putting the dots together, and someone who is REALLY good at PR, is whether they have the confidence to challenge the traditional approach. It’s about thinking outside the box.

Too much PR is taught- either in university or on-the-job – as a case of step-by-step mechanics. Do this, then this and you will get this. I am constantly chastising my students for rushing to use the latest PR “toys”- social media, media metrics that measure outputs rather than outcomes, you know whatever is flavour of the month, so fill it in here………..

In fact, BEFORE PR, you need to think about the nature of the problem. What is missing from PR education and PR practice is enough time and thought paid to the actual problem, issue or opportunity. Sometimes, PR is not the solution, and using it is only going to make the problem worse. So, for my students, I tell them to stop- listen-think, before running to the toy box.

Return of the Blog, or why Content Matters


Yeah- I know….it’s been a while. I have spent more than a year communicating with my chosen audience- PR students, academics and practitioners- via Twitter. But, it must be the writer in me. I find 140 characters a great way to signpost, to advertise, to promote something, but when it comes to offering insight? Well, it just isn’t enough.

Twitter now lets you add video and photos and all sorts of bolt-ons, but content? Well, it just doesn’t seem to be there. So, I shall return to the blog, refreshed and renewed in terms of enthusiasm.   Maybe that’s because I have spent the past year trying to convince students that PR is more than just “raising awareness”. That’s only step one. Beyond that, there are other mountains to climb- knowledge, interest, support and, oh yes, that elusive “reason why we are actually doing this” – changing behaviour.

Can 140 characters actually change the way you think? What you think about? Whether you like what you are thinking? Or, even change how you behave? I don’t think so.  Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to use twitter as a one way promotional tool. But, if you want to change the world, then 140 characters is just not enough.  So, watch this space….Cobweb

Measurement- taking PRide!

Every year, I try to learn a new skill that is relevant to my profession. In 2012 I was ambitious and tackled two- learning how to use Twitter better, and making sure my students really, really understand the importance of what is going on in measurement and evaluation.  The latter is one of those “slow burn” issues that should be taken more seriously, but all too often isn’t.  And yet….we are at a defining moment in the development of public relations and corporate communications.

I’m talkiing about the emergence of the new Valid Metrics Matrix, a way of confronting squarely the PR profession’s previous inability to demonstrate its value in terms that work for the C Suite (that is, the Chief Executives, Chief Finance Officers, Chief Operating Officers, etc). Having worked most of my professional life in those rarefied circles, speaking business objectives in language that a board understands has always been key to getting buy-in to the campaigns I was running. 

So, I greeted the VMM with open arms and a “hallelujah, about bloody time, too”.  Finally, a way to demonstrate just what impact a good PR campaign can have!

The emergence of a new paradigm in any academic and practitioner community should be a time for debate and discussion. I have been surprised, however, by the lack of enthusiasm about the VMM from the world of agency PR. Maybe that’s because clients don’t understand anything other than the old AVE metric. Or maybe the stranglehold of media relations means that clients still count the value of their PR retainer fees by the number of cuttings, web click throughs, likes, etc. Whatever the case, it is surprising to me just how long it is taking for the VMM to penetrate into use.

So, when the CIPR PRide Awards rolled around last week, I was delighted that one of my Masters student agency teams submitted an application on behalf of their client, Southampton Solent University, for a campaign called “Love Your Bins”- an unsexy topic that actually needed addressiing if community relations between the university and the student population were to be improved.

That their campaign would win a gold award for community relations was never (in my mind anyway) a doubt.  But what made me dance a little jig and strike a Usain Bolt pose was when the CIPR Wessex judges decided to award their campaign a gold prize for best use of measurement. And this award is based on a pool of every entry made to the prize committee, across 25 categories. So, my MA students were pitted against big agencies, and large inhouse departments, and yet managed to beat them all. Why? Because they used the VMM. 

Want to see the campaign and what the judges said? Take a look. Let’s hope that those agencies and clients that actually want to get results from their PR will start taking the VMM seriously. I am delighted that the CIPR is doing just that.

You are never alone with a phone…

I have begun to realise just how addictive a smart phone is…

I used to have a “dumb phone”. You know, the kind you actually use to make telephone calls. It took a lot to get me to join the real world, and even longer to learn the full functionality of my blackberry. What is interesting is that over the past few months, I have realised that whenever there is some “down time” I turn my phone on, take a look at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, my emails.  Waiting for a coffee, standing in a queue, riding a bus, the time I used to spend just staring into space being annoyed at having to wait for something or someone to arrive. Now I fill up those times by networking.

And it WORKS! I find I am so much more on top of what my students are moaning about, what they are raving about, or just what’s happening in the world. When someone gets desperate about their dissertation, irritated by a sick lecturer or just amused by the latest talking cat on YouTube, I am now part of that conversation and can respond. It does more than just pass the time.

This is something remarkable for me- because as my students all know, I HATE talking on the telephone! That has come from years of fighting fires, arguing with journalists and being hassled by people calling with their latest disaster, crisis, horror story or whatever.  Social media means you can observe and decide when to answer, and when to leave it alone. It isn’t intrusive; it’s inclusive. It empowers the conversation.

OK, I KNOW you know this! It is just a bit of a revelation to someone who wasn’t born a digital native, but rather someone who has had to learn this all the hard way. So, for those of you who have followed me and let me follow them- this is a big THANK YOU!