Degrees vs Apprenticeships

I have now graduated from university, with a 2:1 BA Hons in Public Relations. It’s a fantastic achievement, but after reading more articles on graduate employment struggles and increasing youth unemployment it got me thinking, are apprenticeships the way forward?

University is something that in my secondary school was expected of you. You finished your GCSEs, did your A Levels and off you went to university. Apprenticeships were something you did if you wanted to be a mechanic or a plumber, not something you did if you wanted to go into PR, but why not?

My degree was a four year sandwich course, and in those four years the landscape of public relations has changed dramatically. For one, social media wasn’t the communications tool it is today, in fact when I started university I didn’t even have a Facebook account *shock horror*. I imagine that if I started a PR degree now, it would look a lot different to the one I have studied for the past four years, and that’s a good thing. My gripe is that although the base theory and knowledge I have learnt is still relevant, a lot of the rest of the degree is now pretty out dated. However if I had spent two years straight after my A Levels in a PR apprenticeship at an agency, not only would I be learning on the job but everything I would be learning would be current and up to date.
I’m not denying that there is a place for university and degrees, what I am saying is that there should be other avenues for entering into professions such as PR. Apprenticeships attached to colleges or even universities seem to be a utopia, but there is no reason why they can’t exist in the mainstream. Learning by doing is, in my humble opinion, the best way. Like other practical apprenticeships, students would spend three days in the agency and two days in the class room combining both theory and practical. I recently expressed this opinion in an interview and to my delight (and surprise) was met by agreement from the agency’s director. I know that there are colleges and agencies out there offering these apprenticeships, but I don’t think that’s enough. The CIPR also have a duty to invest in these types of schemes. They need to look past their accredited degrees and into accredited apprenticeships, what’s more they need to be more hands on with students enrolled on accredited courses, they are after all the future of the industry.

I don’t regret going down the university route, it was the only real option for me at the time. However I think the Government and the likes of the CIPR and CIM need to seriously look into the development of professional apprenticeship schemes. They present an opportunity to decrease unemployment (including youth), as well as offering a more rewarding learning process, which could also open up careers to students who may otherwise not have considered industries like PR and Marketing. Apprenticeships is an organisation that are coordinating apprenticeships in all sorts of sectors including marketing, this is something that needs much more focus and funding from the government so that its good work can be offered out to more people. I know if I had been offered this type of scheme I would have definitely chosen it over going to university.

 

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The Trials and Tribulations of Working in a Team

For my degree I have taken part in various team work experiences, but the biggest have been the GlobCom projects. GlobCom is basically a Global Communications Project, it’s where students from Universities across the world are put together in teams to pitch for a Global PR brief. I am currently in my second year of participating in the project and definitely have mixed feelings about it, however it does demonstrate the trials and tribulations of working in a team and more specifically a Global and virtual team very clearly.

Working within a team is standard for PR practitioners and there are very clear roles that people assume. There’s the natural born leaders, the people happy to do the donkey work and the coasters who basically do nothing. Belbin has his own rather more scientific descriptions  of the types of people in a team, from Implementers the people who turn ideas in to reality to the Plants who come up with the creative ideas. Of course there are several types in between and Belbin bases these roles on the personalities of certain people and the types roles they lend themselves to, there are the 3 types: Action, People and Thought orientated roles. These different types of people and roles provide a balanced working team, although sometimes an imbalance will occur and this is often the time that trouble will arise.

Working in a face to face team is considerably easier than a virtual one, but in this digital age virtual teams are becoming common practice especially within Global PR agencies and international organisations. This means that we need to get used to the workings of virtual and Global teams, the technology that is used and possibly most importantly the different cultures of our team mates. For English speaking countries such as the UK, America, Australia etc it is easier to overcome any hurdles as they have the benefit of a shared first language, but where English is a second language it can be harder. Patience is an essential for these situations, this is also a must when dealing with cultural differences that may arise and the minefield that is time zones.

Working in a virtual team will have all of the same traits of working in face to face team, however the problems that may occur will be heightened and often harder to rectify. In a survey created by RW3 Culture Wizard in 2010 some key points were uncovered including:

“The top five challenges faced during virtual team meetings were insufficient time to build relationships (90%), speed of decision making (80%), different leadership styles (77%), method of decision making (76%), and colleagues who do not participate (75%).”

These 5 points are all things that I have encountered in my experience participating in GlobCom. The first time I took part I was the Global Team Leader which meant being right in the thick of all of the problems and work load, it was difficult but a good and valuable experience. This year I have taken a step back and I’m enjoying working within the team and watching how it evolves and works. The use of social media has made building relationships quicker and easier but the speed of decision making, different leadership styles and methods of decision making are all issues that are beginning to emerge. These are things that aren’t going to go away, but with the right leadership, and patience from the team, they are issues that can be worked through.

Working in teams is something that everybody within the communications field needs to be able to do, whether you’re a worker or a leader. As virtual teams become more and more important to organisations, practitioners need to learn some key skills to aid their ability to work in these virtual Global teams. Practices like strong leadership and structure, clear rules and conduct for team members and importantly to be actively considerate and sensitive to cultural work practices are all essential. One of my favourite demonstrations of the latter are the HSBC adverts, they show the importance of being culturally sensitive when working in a Global context. There are texts on both working in within a Global teams and a virtual ones, but personally I believe the best way to learn how to work in these types of teams is to role up your sleeves and do it yourself.

 

 

How compatible are PR and ethics?

Ethics. Yes I am going to tackle the topic that sends shivers down the spine of any PR professional that still has a conscience in 600 words.

Obviously 600 words won’t touch the sides of an in depth discussion on ethics, but working within the public relations industry you are surrounded by the subject. Your own ethics, your agencies ethics, the client’s ethics, their public’s ethic and the list goes on. With so many people’s ethics and so many types of ethics needing to be considered this really can turn into a mind field for the PR practitioner.

Ethics have been debated and theorised for centuries and it’s not always as simple as good and bad, but you can breakdown ethics in their simplest form to the following 3 theories:

  1. Ethical Relativism – this theory believes that ethics will depend on the person, their personal views, culture and traditions.
  2. Utilitarianism – this is Aristotle’s view of you must behave in a way that does the greatest good for the greatest amount of people.
  3. Deontological theory – is essentially the opposite to Utilitarianism and is from Immanuel Kant’s school of thought that you should always do the ‘right thing’ even if this could cause harm.

Public Relations has the duty of communicating with the global public on a daily basis. This duty comes with great responsibility for the messages that they are sending out to be moral and ethical. The PRSA has its own Code of Ethics for American PR practices while both the CIPR and the PRCA have Code of Conduct’s that include ethical practice guidelines. These codes mostly contain guidelines that are essentially common sense, Adrian Wheeler states in his article on the CIPR website ‘A question of ethics’ of PR professionals: ‘we must restrict ourselves to behaviours which are fair, honourable and above board.’ This statement simply but effectively sets a foundation for public relations that if kept would mean that the industry would no longer be tarred with the brush of it being a ‘black art’. But as soon as PR moves into the light of transparency, someone within the industry is exposed and casts the shadow back over.

In recent months this shadow has been cast by one of Britain’s biggest lobbying PR agencies. Bell Pottinger and their scandal where they were exposed for editing client’s Wikipedia pages has sent waves through the media and PR industry. Although what Bell Pottinger have done is not illegal, the ethics of their actions have been seriously called into question. Wikipedia is based on the website being an openly editable and free encyclopedia. Although people use Wikipedia knowing that some of the information may not be entirely accurate, it is in no way perceived as a promotional tool and as its guidelines suggest users shouldn’t edit articles that they have personal or business interests in. Some people believe that Bell Pottinger’s actions are not unethical and that editing incorrect information on a client on Wikipedia is fulfilling a duty to the client. But it is this thin line of what is ethical that PR finds itself treading, on a daily basis. With new forms of media like blogs and social networking sites becoming tools for PR practitioners, the ethical use of these media by the industry is continually being revised.

With so many different views on what ethics are, it makes it impossible for a PR campaign to be completely ethical to everyone all the time, but by using your common sense you can often judge whether a campaign is ethical in its widest possible way. With new media like Facebook and Twitter being used as tools for public relations, to ensure that this use is ethical the rule of transparency is key. Although you have a responsibility towards your client you also have a responsibility to the public and communicating ethically and transparently towards them is essential. Public Relations is more than capable of being ethical, it just depends what ethics they are using!

Audit: find out if your PR is working for you

In my last post I looked at some online programs that you can use to research prospective and current clients and I have also posted about social media auditing and the importance of keeping tabs of your social media presence. These are both important for the public relations of businesses but what about the wider opportunities of auditing?

Auditing is integral for any business and can look into every aspect of an organisation, a public relations audit will specifically look at how you are being put across to the public, your brand value and reputation and in these tough financial times can asses how effective your PR strategy really is. It is often easy to forget that there is a world outside of the online augmented reality we have created for ourselves, so I’m going to briefly look into audit measures for both on and offline PR.

In a general auditing sense there is a cycle that is often followed and in it’s simplest form follows 4 steps: Planning, Audit, Analysis & Reporting. These 4 steps are the basics when carrying out any audit and are easily applied to a PR audit whether it be on or offline.The following are brief guides to some of the points I would include in an audit, they are not every step that should be taking, but in my opinion are some of the most important.

Online

Consistency is Key: it cannot be stressed enough that all URLS, domain names, Facebook pages and groups, Twitter accounts, Google+ and LinkedIn profiles are owned and maintained by the company themselves. There are various stories of companies that have discovered their .com is being used by another person, not only is it confusing for consumers but it can be potentially damagimng to a company’s reputation. This also goes for branding across sites, make sure you have a style book that is available to all employees so any logos used are always consistent with the company branding.

Integration: with new social networking sites popping up every 5 minutes, integrating all of these with your website is a very good idea. There are programs out there including HootSuite that can do this for you, linking all of your social media profiles on one dashboard so you can update them all simultaneously. It really is becoming too easy not to do this.

SEO: search engine optimisation or SEO as the jargon junkies like to call it essentially ensures that when you type your company name or area of business in to Google (other search engines are available) that the top hit is your website, followed by your Facebook, Twitter etc etc.

Unfinished business: there is nothing worse than getting to a company’s website and discovering that there is a gaping hole on the landing page or the contact details are missing. This is the same for Facebook pages/groups, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, it is essential that your social media and websites have all the company’s information on and

Maintenance: where possible maintenance to any sites should be done at low traffic times so as not to inconvenience consumers. House of Fraser for example carry out maintenance at 4:00am to avoid loosing customers.

Measurement: In my previous post I profiled some programs that you can use to track aclients, as well as being good for research purposes they are also good ways to measure your social media, collating information including how many followers or likes you have, mentions you are receiving as well in some cases the sentiment behind these mentions.

Offline

On and off: another point of consistency is to ensure that your offline profile is the same as your online. This includes messages and branding, the last thing you want to do is confuse your customers when they are looking for you in the real world after researching you online.

Inside and out: sometimes it is easy to forget that your employees are just as important as your customers. Your employees need to be singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak as the PR campaign for the company is to ensure that the same messages are being put across.

The media and your messages: as with social media measurement and monitoring it is integral to do the same with traditional media. Look into your recent media coverage including print, television and radio and see if the messages and reputation you are trying to maintain are what are being included in the coverage.

Auditing is not a one off and it certainly isn’t a quick task, but it is something that will benefit a company in the long run. It is important to carry out PR audits to ensure that you are portraying the right image to the public as well as knowing that the money you are spending on your PR program is well spent. A lot of these auditing measures can be ongoing tasks which will ensure that you are always on top of your PR activity.

For more extensive guides to PR auditing both on and offline I found the following useful:

Cindy Kim – The Marketing Journalist 

Kwame Boame – How to Audit Your Social Media Efforts: 20+ Questions to Ask Yourself

Festivals and Alcohol Brands: the new Sonny & Cher?

As you may have read in my previous post/plea I am currently researching and writing my dissertation “What is the affect on brand value and reputation after sponsoring a major music event” I choose the topic because I wanted to write about something I am interested in and unsurprisingly I have been sucked in by the whole thing!

Music Festivals have become BIG business, with a decline in record sales the industry has seen live music attendances rise. This has not gone unnoticed by big brands most notably the alcohol companies. In researching my dissertation I came to notice that most text available, were on how alcohol companies are taking advantage of sponsorship opportunities to target younger audiences.

Although I am not concentrating on alcohol sponsorship in my dissertation I felt the subject did need some addressing. It is no secret that alcohol companies have latched on to the music scene as a vehicle for the promotion of their brands. Carling is one of the heavyweights in this category, sponsoring or being present at 24 UK festivals and four international festivals. For festival attendees their problem is usually being restricted to Carling being the only beer available, but ‘outsiders’ concerns are that by allowing alcohol brands to sponsor popular cultural events like music festivals is the breeding ground for the UK’s binge drinking problem.

The synergy between music festivals and alcohol brands is obvious, often when you think about a festival you are immediately transported to a muddy field stood in front of a huge stage with a warm pint in your hand. For many people this epitomises their festival experience and brands such as Carling and Gaymers recognised this and developed relationships and subsequently the sponsorship of music festivals. It really is a perfect match, the Sonny and Cher of sponsorships! Although festivals are big business they are also very costly, so large sponsorship deals ensure that the festivals can keep running year on year. In turn the brands sponsoring these festivals are getting a huge amount of intense exposure to their target audience over 2-4 days. From my own research I have already found that people are able to instantly recall the major sponsor of the last festival they attended. According to IPC research 16-34yr men are so passionate about music that they view brands more favourably who sponsor live music events (64%) while women are the biggest spenders on music, “with live music and music merchandise bumping up their annual bill to £803 versus men’s £793.” So it really is no wonder that alcohol brands are looking to music events as a sponsorship opportunity as well as the more traditional sporting events.

There are concerns over alcohol companies sponsoring events like music festivals where a considerable amount of attendees are under the legal drinking limit. There are regulations in place into how alcohol companies are allowed to advertise, one of the regulations is that their advertising campaigns shouldn’t target under 18’s. However there is substantial evidence that the companies are actively seeking ways to target underage audiences to forge a preference to brands before they are of legal drinking age so they can create brand loyalty. One of these ways is sponsorship. Research into the affects of alcohol brands sponsoring music events by Alcohol Concern have shown that young people’s awareness of these brands is heightened after such sponsorship. This on one hand shows the alcohol companies that their sponsorship methods are working, but on the other hand has become a great concern for charities including Alcohol Concern.

Sponsorship is a great promotional tool, attaching your brand to a high profile or popular event can be hugely beneficial. Of course their are pros and cons like any other form of promotion, and these need to be weighed up before entering into it. For the alcohol brands sponsoring music festivals, they are rather cleverly getting around advertising restrictions with this sponsorship activity, however it is naive to place the blame of Britain’s binge drinking culture solely on this. It is proven that these sponsorships do work and in some cases younger audiences are recalling these brands, but studies aren’t going far enough into seeing if the brand recall is the reason behind their drinking behaviour. The blame cannot lie solely with the alcohol brands, the festivals are aware that some of their attendees are below the legal drinking limit and they are agreeing to entering into the sponsorship deals. Alcohol brands are going to continue to sponsor music festivals and I think that’s great, the more money the brands are giving the festivals the better the acts they can book and hopefully the lower the ticket prices will be, win win in my book!

What has 2011 taught PR?

I have come across lots of predictions for what 2011 would hold for Public Relations, but nothing on what the events of the year have taught the industry. The events of last year really have shaped the way a lot of businesses now conduct themselves and the PR industry can also learn from the happenings of the last 12 months.

Social Media has shown itself to be an incredibly valuable tool. In 2011 social media sites were responsible for the fall of celebrities (Charlie Sheen, Ryan Giggs etc etc), breaking the news on the death of Osama Bin laden and fueling riots across London and the rest of the UK. Of course everybody within the Public Relations industry knew how important Social Media was before all of this happened…right? Jokes as side, 2011 really has proved just how important a tool Social Media is, and if every PR agency and in house team aren’t putting together a Social Media strategy for 2012 then I would seriously question their PR ability.

Trust in the British Newspapers after the phone hacking scandal broke in early 2011 has undoubtedly dropped. When it was reported that the News of the World had hacked into the mobile phone of Milly Dowler, the public was outraged, and rightly so. An already struggling industry really shot itself in the foot and on the 10th July The News of the World published it’s last issue and in September the Leveson Inquiry was launched, looking into the practices of the British press. Newspapers are still an excellent tool for PR, but the industry now needs to readdress how they use this tool in light of the events of 2011 and the findings of the Leveson Inquiry. Theses events have also shown that the biggest empires in the world are not safe, in 2011 the Murdoch family became testament to that.

Mobile technology as with Social Media have been a huge trend for 2011. When RIM went down in October every BlackBerry users in Europe, Middle East and Africa (another lesson for RIM don’t use jargon when speaking to your public!) were left stranded when their emails and BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) stopped working. BBM was also blamed as one of the ways the London Rioters organised themselves during the riots. This shows the dependency that we now have on mobile devices. Public Relations need to make use of this dependency, mobile technology allows you to communicate instantly, constantly and directly to your audience.

These are only three points from 2011 that I think the Public Relations Industry can learn from, I’m sure that there are lots of other lessons learnt from the last 12 months. 2012 is a mixed bag in my opinion, the biggest high is sure to be the Olympics however with the growing discontent of the country (2011 saw various protest, strikes and riots) and the worsening economy the Great British public are going to hard nuts to crack. Public Relations really need to cut the crap and communicate honestly to their audiences, people can see through the smokescreens. I think Social Media is going to continue to grow in importance for the industry, hopefully it will learn to use the tool and monitor it effectively this year. Clients are going to want to know what they are paying for, so PRs need to be able to prove they are value for money.

Evaluation, evaluation, evaluation

It’s all very well creating a stunning PR campaign but what’s the point if you don’t understand why it was successful or in some cases unsuccessful.

It has always been hard for public relations to show the true value of it’s work. The old system of AVE’s (Advertising Value Equivalent) is flawed in many ways, AVE rates on the basis that advertising and public relations hold the same value, this is not the case. An online advert doesn’t hold the same worth for example as an influential blogger writing a positive piece on a product or service. In traditional media such as newspapers there is no value that can put on a positive mention in an article on the front page the same can be said for a piece on the BBC. This is because you cannot buy advertising on the front page of a national newspaper or on a BBC TV station. In my (humble) opinion when people use AVE’s they are just being too lazy to produce a proper evaluation.

With the hard financial times we are currently in people want to get the most out of their money, so now more than ever clients want an accurate evaluation of their PR activity. Presenting them with a couple of press clippings and AVE’s is not going to cut it anymore. It’s important to provide your client with an accurate evaluation not just so they know you’ve done your job, but also to see for yourself what has worked well and what may not have worked so well. It’s also a great way to show how valuable PR really is, historically when times get tough communications departments are the first ones to be cut this is a huge mistake (obviously!) but if you provide the CEO with an evaluation of the work you have done he can see just how valuable PR is to the business.

So now you know how important an evaluation is, how do you produce a good one? Firstly you need to remind yourself of exactly what you wanted to achieve from the campaign, once you have done this you can evaluate whether the campaign was successful or not. Depending on what your campaign planned to achieve will largely determine what evaluation techniques you will use, however below are a few examples of techniques you can use that are more valuable than just AVE’s:

Audience coverage and response the basic of all tools is to monitor whether your message has reached your intended audience and if it has, what their response is to their message. This can encompass some of the methods below, and essentially is the foundation of your evaluation.

Digital Media Monitoring as I have spoken about in previous posts is integral. Monitoring what is being said about you online is incredibly important as consumers value online opinions more and more, it is also a valuable evaluation tool. Keeping track of online conversations during the time of the campaign can be a useful tool for audience awareness. There are various programs that can do this for you including Google Analytics and Lithium.

Media Mention tracking, including the likes of press clippings are still a good tool to use in conjunction with other methods. For audiences that read newspapers the value of pieces in newspapers will be hugely beneficial. In order to understand how beneficial you need to obviously know how highly your readers hold the opinions of journalists and newspapers.

Evaluation is such a huge task there are entire books, research papers, agencies and associations that focus solely on the subject. Public Relations still doesn’t have a universal evaluation process and I’m not sure this is entirely a bad thing. Public Relations campaigns can vary so hugely and like I said depending on what you want your campaign to achieve will determine what evaluation techniques you need to use. I agree there should be some official guidelines on how to produce an in depth evaluation, however I don’t believe standardising the process is particularly helpful. However there is one thing that I think all evaluations need to show, they need to demonstrate how effectively you have reached your audience and how the audience has responded, because if your message isn’t reaching you’re public you have definitely failed! How you monitor this though, is dependent on your campaign