December’s Issue of MAG

I can’t believe it’s nearly Christmas already! Not that I am complaining, Christmas is my absolute favourite time of the year. It’s also another great theme for MAG.

This month’s issue has loads going on reviews both of the music and comedy kind. Special Christmas pages and articles throughout as well as 4 pages of local listings. We’ve also recorded another feature for BBC Gloucestershire Introducing this week. It’s been a while since our last one, but hopefully we’ll be making it a monthly thing again.




What does Social Media say about you?

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (yes people still use it!), LinkedIn, Bebo, Flickr, Foursquare, Google+ and list goes on! Worldwide there are literally hundreds of social networking sites and if you have one, you probably have at least 2 or 3. But is the information you have on these sites damaging you or your company’s reputation?

It’s becoming a well known fact that employers will Google candidates and check out their social media presence even before you get to interview stages. So now that these sites have moved on from just a place to connect with friends, to somewhere where employers and customers will get their first impressions of you it is vital that what these sites say about you is positive and not detrimental.

I have come up with 5 top tips to keep your Social Media presence a positive attribute rather than a negative one:

1. Picture Perfect

Everybody has embarrassing drunk photos on their Facebook profile and it is good to show that you can let your hair down at the weekends, but if these odd one or two photos are more like every other photo, then you may need to think about cutting them down a bit. It’s one thing to show that you can have a good time, but you need to remember that employers more importantly want to know that you’re not going to turn up with a hangover every morning!

2. Up to date

With new Social Networking sites popping up all the time it’s easy to forget that old MySpace account or YouTube channel you set up when you were 15. It’s good to do a Google search for yourself every once and a while to re-discover these lost profiles and either up date them or delete them. Make sure that all of your current accounts are also up to date, especially education and employment history.

3. Honesty is the best policy

Now you know that employers will be looking at your Social Media presence don’t fall in the trap of embellishing the truth. Honesty really is the best policy, employers will pick up on what you have written about yourself and may question you at an interview, much like your CV so it really is important to be truthful on all of you profiles.

4. Sticks and stones

Every man and his dog has a blog these days and sometimes the things we write about can be emotionally fueled and negative to say the least. If you know you have written something about a company in the past that you may regret now and you think reflects badly on yourself then address it in a new positive one. Explain why you wrote it and how your view point has changed, because one day you may find yourself wanting to work at that company. Similarly future employees don’t want to see that you have slated a former employee on your blog or Facebook page, why would they employ somebody that could turn around and do the same to them? Keep those sorts of opinions private, because they could affect your future professional prospects.

5. Common Sense

Before you publish that post or update your status, think what it says about you to all of your potential audience. In essence use your common sense, if it’s just a rant to make you feel better after you’ve been reprimanded at work it’s probably going to reflect badly on you when you come to want a new job so don’t publish it. If it’s a subjective piece on a company that you strongly believe has done wrong and you are sure you won’t regret it in the future then go for it.

Although these tips are for personal Social Media usage, organisations also need to take heed, instead of going to official websites consumers are increasingly using Facebook as their first port of call. This means that a company’s Facebook page could become their front of house, so the information and comments on it need to portray a positive image.

These tips aren’t meant to stifle how you represent yourself online, they’re meant to make you think twice about what information you have about yourself online. Public Relations is about creating and sustaining a positive reputation, this is no different for how you portray yourself using Social Media. Often people fall into the trap of using sites like Facebook and Twitter as a platform to air grievances and in the heat of the moment you may find it helpful, but down the line you may find that they turn around and bite you on the bum!

Make sure that your Social Media profiles are saying the right things about you.

An infographic paints a thousand words?

“A picture paints a thousand words” or so the proverb goes and the current Infographics trend is certainly relying on this still being true!

Now I’ll be honest when I first learnt of Infographics, I thought what a waste of time. Who has 4 hours to spare and while it away on Photoshop attempting to design a glossy image when you can just put the information into a table/graph and be done with it. However after the obligatory Google of Infographics I’m not ashamed to say that my viewpoint did change.

When an Infographic is done well, it can be a great tool to get your information across and have the reader actually take it in. There are hundreds of great examples of Infographics one that I found entertaining is the below:

I like it because it’s engaging, funny and it does what it sets out to do, which in my humble opinion is the point of an Infographic. Graphs, tables and endless streams of text can be boring, so why not have some fun with the information you need to get across. Obviously the average Joe will look at the Twitter Infographic and see it as a bit of a laugh, but social profiling like the above is great tool for PR. It is also a good way for organisations to produce important but dry information in a way that their employees or consumers can really understand.

So I thought I’d have a go, there must be an Infographic generator out there that can save me spending a day getting frustrated on Photoshop. Well there isn’t, or more accurately there are lots of generators out there that say they’ll give me a personalised Infographic and after signing up for most of them, 99% of the time they’re just long winded graph producers. There are a couple companies out there on the cusp of creating an a genuine Inforgaphic generator, say they will be launching there’s soon and Google have nearly got the idea! But essentially you need to be proficient in Photoshop or run the risk of ending up with something like this:

It’s meant to demonstrate the the top 3 reasons why American Facebook users ‘Like’ brands pages. Yes I know it’s crap, after all the searching and signing up I resigned myself to Excel and found the SmartArt tab. Which is my point, to create useful and effective Infographics you need to be able to use Photoshop. I have no doubt that there will soon be an online generator, but I think that would take the creativity out of the image. Infographics to me are so impressive because you know that someone has spent the time designing and creating the image around the information. By taking this away I think the novelty of the Infographic would be quickly lost, which would be a shame as they have potential to develop further. Maybe in the future we’ll see interactive Infographics, animated Infographics or even instant Infographics that chart your daily web use, the possibilities as they say are endless.

So yes I have once again changed my mind (it is a women’s prerogative after all) Infographics may be a novelty but in actual fact they’re a pretty useful novelty, but in hindsight it’s probably best to leave it to a Photoshop Pro!

All for one and one for all?

Platforms and channels can be a great tools for promotion, but can all of these tools reach your public? The simple answer is no.

Although generational gaps are closer than ever before, with the dawn of social media and emphasis on online presence dominating media channels, it would be naive to say that Grandma Mavis and little Tommy are reached by the same channels. Clay Shirky would argue that there is no such things as Generation X (the Post WW2 generation not the Billy Idol band!) and it is only new opportunities that have created these gaps, and I would tend to agree. With any new technology there are different stages of adoption, Rogers Bell Curve demonstrates the different stages of adoption from Early Adopters to Laggards and it still accurately identifies how people respond to new technology. In time though people catch up with new technology and they become valuable tools, take television for example. Before TV’s became common place in people’s living rooms, radio’s were the main source of information and entertainment. Slowly but surely televisions caught on and now, 97% of households in the UK have a television (TV Licensing).

You may be thinking, what does this have to do with PR? Well in order to reach your audience effectively you need to know what channels and platforms they are using. Creating a Facebook group to promote your local women’s Institute isn’t going to be as effective as creating a Facebook group to launch a new Night Club in town. Now I’m not saying that nobody over the age of 40 uses Facebook in fact the largest users of Facebook are 40-45 year olds, I’m saying that organisations need to look a platforms and channels and judge whether it is an effective tool for their public.

I mentioned in an earlier post that organisations need to understand the channels (e.g. Facebook) before they start using them. Facebook can be a powerful tool, but only if it is used in the right way. This is true of all types of media old and new, before an organisation goes bull at a gate trying to adopt every new channel invented, they need to take the time to analyse the tool and evaluate whether it is the right channel to use to reach their public. Getting it wrong can be hugely detrimental to a company, in 2009 HabitatUK used it’s Twitter account to promote a promotion they were running. Nothing wrong with this, but in order to promote it they #hashtagged trending topics that bore no relevance to the company and effectively spammed the site. This went down very badly with Twitter users and the company was forced to apologise but this faux par black listed the company’s social media standing.

There are hundreds of different forms of media platforms and channels today and there really is a tool that can be used to reach every type of public. Traditional forms of media including newspapers, radio and television are still valuable, especially when reaching an older audience. Equally online media like Wiki’s, blogs and websites are great to reach middle aged publics and social media like Facebook is great for younger audiences (17-35 year olds). Of course these are sweeping generalisations and more in depth research is easily found especially for online tools (Ignite Media has some particular thorough research).

What PR agencies and CEO’s need to take from this is that just because there’s a new media channel it doesn’t mean that you should adopt it. You need to ensure that it is the right tool to target your audience and if it isn’t going to be beneficial then don’t use it. If you were launching a new night club you wouldn’t place an advert in Saga Magazine (unless it’s a night club for the over 60’s!) and it’s no different with any other media channel if it’s not going to reach your public it’s not worth investing in. It is easy in this digital age to forget traditional media like newspaper and radio but this could be a huge mistake. Essentially an organisation needs to understand it’s customers and what types of media they use, once they have this basic understanding then they can look into the most effective media channels to adopt in order to reach them.

Spot the difference…Churnalism & Advertorial

Some of you might be thinking “what is the difference?” and for many members of the public they might not realise when they have been subjected to some shameful Churnalism, but for PR professionals the differences are glaringly obvious.

With hundreds of press releases being sent out to journalists every day is it any wonder that the odd article looks uncannily like one of those press releases? Churnalism is just that. When the professionals we call journalists copy press releases word for word and pass them off as their own written word, we the public are subject to Churnalism! The Media Standrads Trust launched their website Churnalism so that anybody can take an ‘article’ put it into their search engine and find out if they have been the victim of some shameful Churnalism!

Advertorial on the other hand is when a publication or journalist are paid by a company or PR agency to publish a positive promotional ‘article’ about a company or product (that was a lot of P’s in one sentence!). Although nowadays the public can spot an advertorial a mile off, at least in these instances the journalist hasn’t just passed off a press release as their own work. Most advertorials have obvious clues that suggest that the piece is essentially just an advertisement, phrases such as “special promotional feature” or simply “promotion” are usually a good give a way. Although advertorials are not journalism, they also don’t (in all cases) profess to be, unlike Churnalism.

In certain cases Churnalism can be of benefit. For example when handling important information from the Government or the NHS it is often beneficial for a press release to be published word for word to ensure the correct information is put across. But surely even in these cases their should be a disclaimer that the piece is basically just a press release? After all people buy newspapers and magazines to read journalistic writing not copy and pasted press releases, otherwise why are we paying for a newspaper and funding journalists?

Advertorials can be a good form of promotion for a company especially when accompanied by other tools like competitions, Churnalism on the the other hand is not. As already mentioned, cases where information that needs to be put across to the public word for word like Government or NHS statements, can make Churanlism acceptable, but in any other case it is just pure laziness on a profession that is struggling without using such slothful methods. It’s not beneficial for a journalist or publication to be seen copy and pasting press releases and it can also reflect badly on the company who’s press release it is. Universities and colleges have whole departments dedicated to screening students work to check for plagiarism, maybe the Government should employ The Media Standards Trust to take on this role to check publications for Churnalism? Just a thought.

Publicity…the be all and end all of Public Relations?

For the general public, publicity is public relations and is epitomised by Mr Max Clifford every celebrity in crisis right hand man!

In many ways publicity is where public relations began it is often considered to have it’s origins in late 1800 America when a certain Phineas Taylor Barnum went into the circus business. He had already carved a successful career for himself but it was his partnership with James Bailey and James Hutchinson, that earned him the¬† title ‘The Father of Publicity’. Barnum saw people for the first time as customers and knew that he had to intrigue and excite them to keep them coming back to the circus. One of his most memorable ‘stunts’ was when he used Jumbo the elephant to plough his field, the field ran alongside the main train line into New York city so all of the passengers saw Jumbo pulling the plough. Newspapers and reporters were down at the field reporting and marveling at the spectacle and Barnum’s circus got tons of free advertisement or publicity.

Although the world has moved on and evolved since the 1800’s, many of Barnum’s values are still as prevalent now as they were then. Organisations still view the public as customers and a lot of the time rely on stunts and spectacles to entice them to purchase their products and services. It is however the public that have changed the most since Barnum’s times. Today people can recognise a PR stunt a mile off and although it may cause a stir and make some ripples across YouTube there is no doubt in my mind that they aren’t always as effective today as they were in the 1800s.

Publicity today as already mentioned, is usually associated with celebrity crisis management guru Max Clifford. Now I don’t know about you but whenever I see Mr Clifford stood outside his house next to his flash car, commenting on the latest celebrity scandal it sends a shiver down my spine! Publicity has become synonymous with celebrities trying to rejuvenate their failing careers, which is a shame because it can be a very effective tool for companies when they get it right. Richard Branson has become an expert in publicity stunts, one of my favourites is when he sailed down the Thames with the Sex Pistols when they officially/unofficially got to number one With God Save The Queen on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee! Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t say it was the be all and end all of public relations, but it has it’s place. Grunig and Hunt famously developed the 4 models of Public Relations: Press Agentry, Public Information, 2 way asymmetrical and 2 way symmetrical.

I think it’s right for publicity (press agentry) to still be included within these models I do however think it is important not to stray too far away from the standards. Publicity today is still on a base level the same as it was in Barnum’s time, but the ethics behind some publicity today is on or over the line. If Public Relations and especially publicity wants to continue¬† be effective then it has to be careful how it puts it’s messages out to the public. People have become savvy to a lot of traditional PR practices, so it’s important for the industry to stay on it’s toes and be creative while ensuring it doesn’t step over the ethical line. A balancing act that any clown performing in Barnum’s circus would have surely struggled with!

November’s issue of MAG

We have know entered into the depths of winter (although it strangely doesn’t feel much like it) and with another month comes another issue of MAG.

This month with have a review and interview with Wakey!Wakey! front man Mike Grubbs as well as a new columnist, Lars and his album of the month. Full listings of gigs in Gloucestershire are int he listings and as always we have our regular columnists Danny from Brown Torpedo, Gemma Dunstan of BBC Gloucestershire Introducing and Keziah fro ByLocal.

November's issue of MAG