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

Six Months’ Silence

ImageTo those few of you who might have noticed, this is the first blog posting I have done in almost six months. I decided to take a “sabbatical” from the blog in order to spend more time with another social medium- Twitter. As a teacher of PR students, I needed to understand how it was used, and that meant using it. So, like a guilty adulterer, I have been cheating on my blog to satisfy another love.

I didn’t start out that way. Like someone you initially dislike but grow to love, Twitter had to work at capturing my affections. I have had a twitter account for ages, but was like millions of other people who sign up but then aren’t active, I had just been using it to promote my blog postings to my students and other followers. I wasn’t entirely sure it was going to be a positive experience- my few forays into the twittersphere had been unproductive. At first glance, a lot of the content on twitter seemed banal beyond belief or, even worse, full of hashtag jargon and totally unintelligible.  

Six months on, and I am in love. I have discovered loads of useful content for PR students and practitioners, and made new friends, extended my network of contacts and had some fun along the way. Above all else, I found it meant that I could connect in a direct way with students who had been rather shy about commenting on a blog.  Fewer characters mean fewer inhibitions, it would appear. I’ve also realised that people expect a persona to be more evident in your Tweets than they do in a blog, so I have decided it is OK to share some personal stuff, if it makes the point that I am listening to what they are tweeting (reassurance to the occasional dissertation students in serious melt-down, for example). The immediacy and reach of Twitter is an added bonus.

The challenge now is to avoid serial monogamy. If I go back to the blog, am I just whistling in the dark? Is anyone out there listening? What are your experiences? If I have to choose between them, which do you think I should go for?

Corporate Communications vs PR

Ok, I am a snob….after thirty years of being a practitioner, I still cringe when people say “Oh, you are in PR”. Actually, I’m not. I’ve been a corporate communicator for all of my professional career. To me “PR” is all too often shorthand for “press relations” and that is (in my view) the bottom end of the food chain in my profession. Ask any poor intern about the “joys” of “selling in” a story to a reluctant journalist.  PR is all about “product push”, endless phone calls to publications in pursuit of those elusive column inches that your clients think are so important.  Ugh! I LOATHE PR, if that is what it means.  In fact, I’d rather hire journalists who can’t get jobs to write the press releases that will get the clients the coverage they want. Real communications professionals should be doing more meaningful work.

And I am not alone-  the sort of mental image that people outside the profession have of PR is not pretty. You know, “publicists”, “spin doctors”, “propagandists”. All the negatives wrapped up into one concept, dismissively called “PR”.  And that word is usually accompanied with an adjective “it’s just PR”- in other words, not real, smoke and mirrors, the “dark art” and other assorted negative phrases.

So, for years I have said that I do “corporate communications”-  the strategic stuff, the “big ticket” work, “crisis communications”, “mnagement communications”, “issues maangement”, “public affairs”, “reputation management”- in short, everything but PR.  There is a reason why the defnitions matter- because the language used has meanings for those who matter.

Corporate Communications is more professional than PR. If you are going to be working with top teams, the C Suite (Chief Executives, Chief Operating Officers, Chief Finance Offices, the CEOs, COOs, CFOs, etc) then the word “PR” is certain to relegate you to the backroom. “Corporate Communications” is something that tends to command more respect; it’s the way into the boardroom.  For me, that’s where I want to be.

Murdoch and the law of unintended consequences

With all the furore going on about phone hacking,editorial  cover-ups, police corruption and the dangers of politicians being too close to the media, we are witnessing a firestorm of criticism about British newspapers.  As my students will attest, I rarely speak up for newspaper journalists, having had a somewhat fraught relationship with them for most of my professional career. But, is there a danger of going overboard? Every politician now claims to loathe the Murdochs and the bandwagon is really rolling on the subject of “media plurality”, as if new owners of newspapers or TV could be conjured out of thin air. Many politicians are arguing against foreign ownership of “our papers”, whilst others declare piously that media owners shouldn’t be able to control both newspaper and television channels. Virtually every media competitor of Murdoch (including the BBC) has rubbed their hands in glee at the withdrawal of the News Corporation bid for the rest of BSkyB.  Big brand advertisers are falling over themselves to disassociate themselves from News International papers, and investors in New York and elsewhere have taken fright and wiped some 15% of the market price off News Corp shares.

I am wondering if all the fuss is going to lead to some pretty dire consequences. The result may actually be the closure of not just the News of the World, but a whole lot of other newspapers which are no longer viable in print form unless they are subsidised by international media groups with significant revenues or foreign owners with deep pockets. Cross platform ownership is about the only thing that has kept Channel 5 on air. Murdoch papers are kept alive by the income he is willing to invest in them, to cover their losses, and that income derives from other media channels. The Independent owes its continued existence to a Russian, a former KGB operative. Just how he could be deemed “fit and proper” to own a newspaper should also be called into question if the Competition Commission starts to challenge the likes of James Murdoch or his father. 

While attention in the media is fixated on how the mighty are falling, one of the consequences may be an attitude that actually makes newspapers even less viable as a business than they were before.  Lest we forget, the phone hacking scandal was caused by the pressing need to sell papers; whatever was needed to get the circulation up and the revenues in was justified.  While individuals will be found guilty of crimes, the editorial pressure of a failing business model is the ultimate guilty party.

In a self-righteous attempt to “clean up the media”, politicians would be well advised to realise that if they take measures to extremes, they may just be writing the death warrant for an industry already struggling to keep afloat.  Wouldn’t we miss newspapers if they were no longer there?