Public Relations v Publics Relations

PR is currently reviewing its place in society and this is no mere navel gazing exercise.

With the concerns re AI, its place on the c-suite, issues re ethics and diversity, PR is looking to ensure that it remains relevant in a world that is becoming more connected and networked.

In addition, it’s a world where the role of a PR practitioner as the intermediary or conduit is more and more under threat, from the very people it seeks to engage with – its publics.

Last year with the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster  I wrote how the local population feeling that they were not properly served by the news media covering the incident and its aftermath, decided to create their own news content and share it via social media.

Now, local communities and small charities are learning PR skills in order to discuss their views, concerns and needs with a wider audience.

Media Trust is a charity, whose aim is to provide minority groups, communities and charities, often overlooked by the media, with the skills to ensure that their voice is heard and more importantly listened to. Among the supporters of the work of the Media Trust is the City of London Corporation as well as the Department for Communities and Local Government.

And the training provided is thorough

  • An introduction to strategic communications, including framing theory, audience insight, and values-led communication
  • Six training workshops, covering a range of media skills and techniques
  • Networking opportunities with journalists, including a chance for you to pitch stories to them
  • communications review and surgery session, undertaken with a dedicated team of media professionals
  • The development of a targetedcommunications action plan.

I wrote at the time:

“The media were confronted with angry, passionate yet eloquent and lucid views from working class residents. Reporters were not dealing with the stereotype chav underclass.”

Before we think that this is well intentioned yet metropolitan, according to the Media Trust website, and I quote:

“Between December 2016 to March 2017, Media Trust trained 154 community groups across nine regions in England. Participants were provided with the skills to raise their profile in the media, celebrate their achievements and share their impact.”

Over the last year, we have had a tide of news stories propelled by ‘ordinary’ people using social media and other networks to drive and dictate the news agenda and so ensure that that strong news stories are not described as of minority interest only.

  • MeToo movement
  • Knife crime in our cities
  • The ‘Windrush’ Scandal
  • Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

If Grenfell caught out the news media, the Government was caught out by the way supporters of the Windrush Generation were able to keep that story at the top of the news agenda for days and weeks forcing the government into U-turns and highlighting the poor management of their response.

PR is looking at how to make itself more relevant to the c-suite by learning the language of business in order to understand the objectives, needs and concerns of the business it is supporting.

We need to understand that our audiences and publics need the same consideration.

Following the Grenfell fire, I asked do PR practitioners:


  • enter into dialogue with all sections of the community as part of our work or just those we feel comfortable with?
  • truly engaged with our audiences and was it meaningful?


At the time I asked what happens if the audience bypasses the established news channels in order to put their point of view across. Now, communities and minority groups are learning how to use the mainstream media to talk directly to other groups and decisions makers. Yes, to their publics.

As PR practitioners, we need to think of these groups not just as stakeholders but also as fellow communicators.

That factor changes the dynamic of future Public Relations.

Law Or Justice: A Question Of Priorities?

“Some of the decisions we make are subject to ill-informed criticism – but how could it be otherwise when we do not provide information about why we made a decision? If all the media have to go on are lurid accounts of a crime many years ago, and do not hear how a man or woman had changed or how their risk can be managed, we cannot complain if they do not understand the decision we have made.”

Professor Nick Hardwick
November 2017

On January 4 2018, the planned release of rapist John Worboys made national news, leading to a roar of condemnation.

Worboys, one of Britain’s most prolific rapists, was convicted of 19 offences (including one rape and five sexual assaults) and ordered to serve a minimum of eight years in prison. It is claimed that he is responsible for scores of other rapes and sexual assaults.

At the initial trial the judge said, Worboys would be released only if a parole board decided he was no longer a threat to women. After a hearing in November 2017, and after ten years in custody, the Parole Board decided to approve his release with “stringent” licence conditions.

There has been an outcry that a) the victims were poorly served in the initial case with many allegations not investigated by the CPS/Police and b) only those victims who asked to be informed were contacted (and not even all of them received a notification).

The announcement of Worboys release has led many to look at the decision itself, the wider Parole process and argue that it is time for a change in the current system.

New Justice Secretary David Gauke is looking into how successful a judicial review could be – the only way the Parole Board’s decision to release Worboys can be overturned.

However, is it too easy to put this at the feet of the Parole Board alone? If the criminal justice system is a series of linked services could the blame be equally applied across others in the system? C) Finally, are the victims finally being heard in this process?

Some are unhappy with the lack of transparency of the parole process, which is something the Parole Board itself has concerns over. In a speech given last November to mark the Parole Board’s 50th anniversary, the chair, Professor Nick Hardwick said:

“I also recognise that public bodies of all types are rightly expected to be more open and transparent and in these circumstances the Parole Board is lagging behind in way that is difficult to defend.”

In fact, the Parole Board have been pushing for a change in the law to make the process more transparent and even allow the public to attend Board Hearings.

But this has been drowned out in the chorus of criticism that the Parole Board has received, as has the fact that it takes a change in the law by the Govt to allow the Parole Board to make its decisions public.

Instead the picture being painted through the media is that the Govt is pressuring Parole Board to come out of the shadows and be transparent, which is rather disingenuous.

At several stages, in this case the victims of Worboys have been poorly treated by the criminal justice system.

It has been reported that the police did not initially consider some of the victims to be reliable. Other allegations were partially investigated but did not end in charges. The fact that they were presenting as drunk, having been given spiked drinks by Worboys, weighed against the victims and as well saying their attacker was a black cab driver, something not thought believable.

All the more shocking was that during his trial it emerged that police in Plumstead, south east London, had arrested and bailed Worboys in July 2007 over an attack on a 19-year-old student.

Fourteen of the sentences he was convicted of took place after he was released.

A subsequent Independent Police Complaints Commission found serious errors of judgement had been made by a number of police officers https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2010/jan/20/police-ipcc-john-worboys-errors.

The real debate then might not be whether the Parole Board is transparent but to what degree the victim has a voice, the opportunity to be heard and what weight the opinion of the victim has in the criminal justice system.

If they opted into victim contact scheme, under Victims’ Code of Practice, they had right to be informed, to offer a victim impact statement and to offer their views on licence conditions. If that’s not happened, then Probation (they are responsible for the Victim Contact Scheme not the Parole Board) have breached code.

But as London Victims’ Cmsr stated in a tweet it does not have any teeth:

“Unfortunately the code currently holds no weight, so breach is meaningless but impact on the victim is not.”

Senior peer and Victims Commissioner Baroness Newlove argued the system for keeping victims informed needed to be “radically reformed”.

Unfortunately, it is well reported that the Probation Service after the Transforming Rehabilitation programme has seen a drop in the efficiency and effectiveness of the Service; it is understandable how an overworked and under-resourced Service did not contact all the victims. This still does not bode well for the future.

In fact, many of the bodies which supports the victims of crime are charities. This says a lot about the priorities of criminal justice.

Finally, is the law designed to protect their public at large or the victim of a specific crime? I would hope both but if the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, the law has to be detached and dispassionate whereas the victims are the opposite.

Worboys was dealt within the rule of law. At each step of the case, the various bodies can say that they acted within the tenets of the law.

However, the media onslaught has been about the perceived lack of justice for the victims of the cases.

The law has to protect all but the victims of a crime seek justice.

It is great that the Parole Board will finally become more transparent, but the question is does our legal system service justice or the law?

In a way, isn’t this what this issue is all about?

Post – Bell Pottinger, can PR seize the opportunity to become ‘a profession’?

Without doubt, the PR story of 2017 is the expulsion from the PRCA (and subsequent entering into administration) of Bell Pottinger for its now notorious PR activities in South Africa.


Despite initial comments that the problem was solely Bell Pottinger’s (and not the PR industry’s), it quickly became an issue that led to equal parts congratulatory talk about the effectiveness of the code of conduct as well as concerns about how an organisation the size and standing of Bell Pottinger thought that it was beyond reproach


As an industry that has fought hard against accusations of spin and manipulation, the Bell Pottinger story has shown, the effectiveness of the PRCA’s Code of Conduct and equally reinforced negative views of PR.


It is understandable that the PRCA have made all efforts to promote the effectiveness of their Code of Conduct. For many PR is not a profession but an industry. Unable to regulate those who claim to be PR practitioners or penalise those who ignore its ethics.


This case has show that the industry has teeth and is not afraid to go after anyone. Even those thought to be untouchable.


In fact, I believe that we are a step closer to a single Code of Conduct.


There has been widespread coverage of the verdict laid down by the PRCA. However, we have a situation in which the CIPR cannot confirm or deny that a complaint is being investigated re Bell Pottinger.


The only way we know if there is a complaint is when the CIPR announces its findings. So we have no idea when this might be, if ever. Plus what would the implications be if the CIPR’s Code of Conduct absolves individuals working for Bell Pottinger of wrongdoing?


A single code of conduct means that both bodies would have the same procedures and penalties against individuals and agencies/depts as well as underlining shared values and all members would have the same obligation to be ethical, honest  and  transparent.

The distinction between the two bodies are blurring with both offering individual membership and both offering corporate affiliate/agency membership.


The CIPR’s Charter might make this difficult in the short-term but the fact that the PRCA can talk about a complaint made against a member and the CIPR are unable to confirm or deny whether there is a complaint is ridiculous.


This should have been a watershed moment for the entire UK PR industry.  Highlighting how it deals with unethical practice on an international scale.


But what we have seen played on the pages of PR Week and in social media is a difference of opinion in which various players have issues not with the expulsion but what happened in the aftermath.


Some PR practitioners believe the PRCA have used the expulsion as a launch pad for a recent membership drive. Conversely, the PRCA are unhappy with PR practitioners who are ‘unregistered’ and have not joined the push for a robust industry association for the entire (PR) industry. Or to use their words:


“There are two kinds of PR practitioner – one who is ethical, who abides by a code of conduct, and is proud to be regulated. The other who is not. Which side are you on?”


This is unfortunate language.


By drawing a line in the sand, a point has been missed.  And it is a major point.


There are approx. 71,000 – 82,000 people employed by the UK PR industry (depending on whether you accept the CIPR’s or PRCA’s figures).  Between them the CIPR and PRCA, have 32,000 members -less than half the PR industry.


So, by the PRCA’s definition, the majority of the PR industry is unregistered. And unregistered = unethical.


Describing over half the industry as potentially unethical (that the implication behind the language used) is not a way to bring the industry together and that is the missed opportunity at this moment.


The PR industry is partially regulated. Anyone can set up a stand by the side of the road and call himself/herself a PR practitioner. If we cannot achieve regulation, we have to convince over 40,000 people it’s better to be part of the CIPR/PRCA than without.


The “either you’re with me or against me” approach is not appropriate as it will naturally raise the hackles of some who may want to join but do not respond to such language.


The push by the PRCA highlights the need for robust ethical behaviour through membership and the CIPR campaign for more Chartered PR practitioners tackles the need for improving standards of senior PR practitioners.


If over half the industry is not joining, we need to understand why it is not resonating with them and then tackle the reluctance of half the PR industry to being a member of either body.


This is an excellent opportunity build a consensus around the need for a greater membership of the bodies and a joint code of conduct to improve the behaviour of PR Practitioners.


That is the real dividing line.


Keep the status quo or invest in a PR industry that will one day be a PR Profession.

Diversity 2.1: In The Year 2020 (An update)

A year ago, I wrote a blog on the continuing drive to increase the diversity of practitioners in PR.


As I wrote at the time, the push “was no longer about getting fresh talent into the industry but making greater efforts on the issues of Recruitment / Retention / Promotion.”


I concluded that as various initiatives had chosen 2020 as a key date in this ongoing campaign that, I argued, there would be greater results if there was a more concerted and I unified effort.


Two events over the last couple of weeks have spurred me on to have another look at my blog.


The BBC released details of its salary grades and the Government Communication Service released its second Diversity and Inclusion strategy.


The fallout of the BBC disclosure has been well covered and has given them an opportunity to repeat its pledge that that women will make up half of its workforce on-screen, on-air and in leadership roles by 2020.


In addition, the broadcaster wants 15 per cent of its workforce to be drawn from BAME backgrounds for staff and leadership roles.


When the GCS released its 2016/17 strategy, I contacted them for details of the monitoring and enforcement of the strategy in order to write a follow-up on their work.


I did not receive a reply but their newly published strategy at nearly five times the length goes into greater detail re their approach:


This 2017/18 strategy commits the Government Communication Service to recruit, promote, train and support a diverse and inclusive profession and outlines what that means to us in practice.”

If the 2016/17 strategy talked about initial steps, the latest strategy provides more information on what the GCS is doing/planning to do in order to improve recruitment of BAME candidates and those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds.


One key development is a pledge by Chris Skidmore, Minister for the Constitution, cabinet office, to monitor each quarter the performance of the profession against the strategy as part of his role as Chair of the GCS Ministerial board.


Another is the capturing of diversity data and monitoring progress for the communications profession across government through the GCS Annual Skills Survey.


Many of the other initiatives presented in the report will by their very nature need to have time to be embedded and to yield positive results (as ecg hoed in the CIPR’s own State of the Profession survey). Especially as they cover the talent pipeline, leadership, culture change and outreach programmes.


Summary of Office for National Statistics (ONS)Civil Service Statistics

The table below indicates the diversity declarations for Civil Servants who declared their profession in communications.*


2015-16 2016-17
Communications ProfessionCommunications and marketing profession Civil Service Communications Profession  Civil Service
Gender Male 43% 45.9% 42% 46%
Female 57% 54.1% 58% 54%
Ethnicity White 88% 89.4% 88% 89%
BAME 12% 10.6% 12% 11%
Disability Declared DisabilityStatus 7% 8.9% 8% 9%
No Declared DisabilityStatus 93% 91.1% 92% 91%


*These figures are based on 3,405 survey responses.



Although Disability is recognised as an area where PR can do better there is no specific programme to improve representation of this group of practitioners. Similarly, there are no targets to tackle ageism among older practitioners.


It is clear that the GCS has invested time and effort into taking this initiative forward. Alongside with other initiatives and the adoption of the Taylor\Bennett foundation by the PRCA as its Charity of the Year, the drive towards greater diversity will not fade away over the coming months.


Separately, these initiatives will push back the obstacles to greater diversity but imagine what a concerted campaign by an association of initiatives could do by 2020?


I would like to think that in order to tackle this issue that all bodies and groups who have an interest in tackling the diversity and inclusion issue would believe that they have more clout and are stronger if they work together.

Community Relations?

Take a complicated issue and make it easy for the majority of people to understand.

As a former journalist, that was one of the basic tenets of my trade.

I never challenged this, as I was informed by my colleagues that literacy rates in the UK were high (in 2015, 16% of adults were said to have literacy problems); and if the population were to make informed decisions, issues needed to be broken down and simplified for general consumption.

The news coverage of the Grenfall Tower disaster has made me re-think whether my journalistic approach has moved with the times; that the public are able to understand complicated topics and have the sophistication to analyse issues for themselves.

The news media descending upon North Kensington had a very difficult task. Facts were light on the ground in the early hours/days. The experts could only talk in very general terms because of this lack of information and as a result, reporters had to speak to local residents in order to develop content.

Reporters asked the basic questions what did you see/what is life like in the area/what you think should be done to help/who is at fault? Basic queries which would get obvious responses.

The big surprise is that mixed in with the expected reactions were informed and articulate views from locals providing unexpected perspectives. The media were confronted with angry, passionate yet eloquent and lucid views from working class residents.

Reporters were not dealing with the stereotype chav underclass. These were people who had been given a 24/7 platform where they could talk about their experiences and they did so powerfully.

Of just existing on council estates, being ignored by the local authority, feeling marginalised or to have no voice, power or sway in a society, which treated you as invisible if you did not have any influence.

My friends and family were sharing content via Facebook of amazing speakers talking about the ‘reality’, ‘plain’ truth and ‘challenging’ the media. The media, and how it portrayed them, was seen by some of the locals as part of the problem.

Not all the locals interviewed were natural orators but the overall feeling was that the media had not just disregarded a section of the population but had effectively silenced them by failing to engage with them.

As a profession expected to communicate with various stakeholders, have we honestly entered into dialogue with all sections of the community as part of our work or just those we feel comfortable with? Have we truly engaged with our audiences? Was it meaningful?

At this time the residents of North Kensington have their voice back; and they are using it to put everyone on notice that they are not willing to be overlooked any more.

As a communicator, it feels as if the rules of engagement with the public are changing. They are seeking their own sources of news, sharing information via their own channels and if they feel they are being ignored they will no longer be quiet.

They have now joined the conversation. How do we advise our management to respond?

Where have all the “Grey Hairs” gone?

It was interesting to hear Katie Perrior’ views of her time as No10 Comms Director.

But the thing which caught my ear was here critique of the make-up of the Prime Minister’s inner circle.

Perrior told the BBC: “Being in the Home Office for such a long time with that being her top team she became accustomed to that being it. Of course, running the Home Office is very different from running the country.

“Trying to make that change to Number 10 was more difficult than she possibly anticipated. I used to wonder why because actually she needed to broaden her circle of advisers, she needed to have a few grey hairs in there who have been around the block a bit, who could say: ‘don’t do that, don’t make enemies when you don’t need to’.”

This was interesting as it mirrored what David Davis, the Brexit secretary said of his Department for Exiting the European Union, made up of the “brightest and best” from across the civil service.

Davis, who said he wanted it smaller than other Government departments but just as effective, told members of the House of Lords EU committee “Once we get to that sort of size we’re going to be looking to outsiders. I’ve got a lot of very bright young civil servants – I haven’t got that much grey hair yet, which I may have to find outside.”

Be it running the country or managing Brexit, having experienced older staff is important for your team make-up.

In the PR industry, we seem to think the precise opposite.

We often shed experienced staff members because of the twin priorities of youth and cost. Many see PR (wrongly) as a young persons’ industry and that they can get good staff on the cheap by not paying for hard-earned expertise.

I away see this as a false economy – in medicine, the building trade or the legal profession you pay for experience.  If you don’t want to pay the going rate for experience well, as the adage goes, you get what you pay for.

In 2015, the then Diversity Working Group produced a report looking at some of the issues that affect those in PR;  how our senior practitioners were treated was one of the concerns. Part of the definition of a profession is having a knowledge base that can be passed on to future practitioners. In that case getting rid of experienced staff makes no sense for the profession; not just for your workplace.

The following is taken from the report, From Diversity to Inclusion: The Progression Of Equality in Public Relations and Challenges for the Future.

“By ignoring older professionals, many of whom may have gained invaluable experience from other industries, we risk depriving ourselves of fresh insight at a time when industry convergence is at an all-time high. Participants unanimously agreed that addressing this cultural imbalance ought to be regarded as a priority for the PR industry.”







Diversity and the year 2020

This month sees the annual PRSA Diversity Month.

A concerted nationwide campaign to inform the PR profession in the US of the issues and the progress on the subject of Diversity in PR. A pursuit that I thought everyone would supportive.

But last year while working for the Diversity Working Group, I heard a phrase which struck me as odd.

Diversity Fatigue.

Not a phrase I was familiar with and, to be honest when I first heard it, I didn’t quite understand it until someone expanded on it saying the PR Industry was perhaps becoming bored with hearing about the need for diversity in PR.

Bored as in, “Yes. We know it is good for business and just plain common sense. No need to mention it again.”

When the DWG produced its ‘From Diversity To Inclusion’ report, it was as much to mark five years of the DWG as to ask the question how far have we travelled during that time?

For some, we have travelled a great deal, for others not far enough. But support for change was not drying up.

Over the last few months, I noted a number of events and articles, which chimed with my interest in opening up the PR industry to all.

The UK’s Govt Communications Service release its Diversity Strategy
The World PR Forum Conference in Toronto on building bridges with communities
An article appeared on how The Millennial Generation Has Redefined Diversity
A series of infomercials by the PRSA on making the PR industry attractive to diverse communities
Formation of a UK BME PR and Comms Group
The launch of a PR/Advertising Diversity campaign titled BAME 20/20.
BBC Diversity Objectives
I thought that it was great that contrary to a concern that the PR industry is facing Diversity burnout, it is clear that many are seeing that it is an important issue up there with the other issues that are taking up the PR Professions time – relevance, ethics, respect, professionalism, competency framework among a few .

But what got me really interested was that there was a marked change in tone and attitude.

It was no longer about getting fresh talent into the industry but making greater efforts on the issues of Recruitment / Retention / Promotion.

Not just getting people through the front door but also keeping them within the industry, helping them climb the leadership ladder. Perhaps that is where the Burnout was. The messaging had not moved on and developed quickly enough. But now it had.

So. Why are Retention and Promotion important?

There is growing data on the recruitment rate of individuals from diverse communities but none re attrition rates or why they are leaving the industry. It is not known if all the efforts being made to attract people from a wider background into the industry is actually working and that those individuals are still in post three, five or ten years later.

BAME20/20 describes its mission this way.

“People often talk of the ‘squeezed middle’ – the fact that we lose BAME talent before they ever reach a leadership role. BAME20/20 aims to help keep our talent as they progress through their careers; to see more reaching leadership level and more become Marketing and Communications Directors of leading organisations or the CEO’s of top Agencies.”

The President and CEO of Canadian telecoms group, Telus, Darren Entwistle, wrote an opinion piece in support of the Pride Parade in Vancouver this weekend, attended by Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

“As leaders, we have the opportunity to build teams that are genuine reflections of our customers and the communities where we live, work and serve. Fostering a diverse and inclusive work environment facilitates a broader and more creative exchange of ideas, promotes better talent acquisition and retention, inspires innovation, and brings new skills, knowledge and perspectives that help us better understand and serve our diverse client base.”

Being a trusted member of the team is important. Equally key is providing those staff members with the opportunity to pursue their ambitions and be promoted into more senior posts.

Many of the above initiatives are date stamping when the want these changes to come about.

The Government Communications Service (GCS) has pulled together a Diversity and inclusion strategy. Which is looking to improve the representation within the GCS by the end of parliament – May 2020.

Improve senior civil service level diversity and in particular representation of women at Director of Communications level.
Improve representation of BAME and disability for employees at all grades in line with the UK census (14% BAME, 9.4% disability), focussing on our talent pipelines to senior civil service grades; and
Attract and retain GCS early talent from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. Our plan is aligned
Tackling the Inclusion issue there are a number of initiatives including:

We will use reverse mentoring and co-mentoring to help leaders better understand views, perspectives and experiences of those from different backgrounds.

I have asked for further details regarding the monitoring and enforcement of the strategy and will write a further piece when I receive a response from the GCS.

The BBC has promised that women will make up half of its workforce on-screen, on-air and in leadership roles by 2020.

And the broadcaster also wants 15 per cent of its workforce to be drawn from BAME backgrounds for staff and leadership roles. C4 also said that it would increase the diverse balance of its teams by 15% by 2020. Other broadcasters have adopted similar initiatives.

The year 2020 also pops up in the CIPR’s PR 2020 report in which it seeks, among other objectives, to address issues in diversity in employment and build a structure that brings experience together with fresh new talent.

The 30% Club wants a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-350 boards by 2020. In addition – and in order to ensure that this 30% minimum at board level remains sustainable – the 30% Club is also introducing a new pipeline target of a minimum of 30% women on executive committees of FTSE-100 companies by 2020.

The bottom line in all this is that in keeping with the best PR plans various initiatives have not only laid out measurable targets but have also given a deadline for these to be accomplished by.

If a third of the initiatives announced over the course of 2016 have a strong/positive impact in 2020, what a great way to mark the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Diversity Working Group now the Diversity + Inclusion Forum, by saying that it was no longer needed …


Global Body Of Knowledge – An important but Herculean task

Ten months ago I published a blog about a project to develop an internationally recognised competency framework for the PR profession.

The ‘Global Body Of Knowledge’, is an attempt to have one set of standards and a pool of learning to help steer the world’s PR practitioners throughout their career and to establish PR on a professional footing. To put it another way, the PR industry is taking a big step to being recognised as a true profession. One that operates globally.

So PRs from Varanasi to Vancouver, Bristol to Buenos Aires can develop their careers in the knowledge that their skillsets, expertise and experience will be accepted wherever their career takes them across the world.

The project team having moved on from the 2015 consultation stage and revealed at the recent World Public Relations Forum in Toronto, Canada, the latest version of the framework. This version, building on the feedback from the consultation, details the skillsets for two stages of practitioners – entry level and senior level/mid-career.

An unexpected complication was that the exchange of ideas pulled together past/current practice (20th Century) at the expense of thinking about tomorrow’s needs and expectations (21st Century). I did not say it was going to be easy and neither did those who decided to take on this Herculean task!

So next step, undertaken by Anne Gregory and Johanna Fawkes at the University of Huddersfield, will be to deliver a framework which will help define the competent PR Practitioner of tomorrow.

When I wrote about the project last year, I described it this way:

Often our industry is wracked with low confidence, lower aspirations, and an inability to express the importance of the role and self-doubts when it should be promoting itself. A new global standard of professionalism might help change this.

Stephen Waddington in his characteristic direct way goes to the heart of the issue in his recent blog.

Less than 3% of public relations practitioners participate in a credentialing scheme. It’s an issue that needs urgent attention.

If we don’t have recognised professional standards, proving that Public Relations is a profession becomes more difficult.  The team’s next deadline is to present the framework at the next WPRF in Oslo in 2018.

They have accomplished a lot over last two years. I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings.


Should we add Customer Relations to the PR family?

Dealing with Customer Relations is not as easy or as satisfying as it should be.

You can either be met with great service and have your issue resolved to your satisfaction or it can be akin to Hercules cleaning out the Augean stables; the more you are drawn in, the more horrible the experience.  Unfortunately, I have my share of the latter but how can you ensure that Customer Relations is not the working against you when it comes to engaging with your audience?

On a 2015 trip to India, both my wife and I had our own Herculean experience when dealing with companies.

For me,  it was dealing with Swissair. It started small as many issues do with an issue with their website’s seat reservation function and should have been resolved quickly but unfortunately it snowballed.  lt led to a tortuous call to Customer Relations and being told after 20 mins that a) the website was actually down and b) that I had to call several numbers including one in Germany to resolve it!

At least it was not potentially dangerous as was my wife’s treatment at the hands of her bank, Barclays.

Despite popping into two branches and telling them, she was off on holiday in India, buying travel insurance from them re same and actually phoning from India with an account query, they put a block on her card because of unusual  spending activity i.e. she was using her cash card in India!

They have since apologised for the ‘embarrassment’ but as she rightly told them it was nothing to do with embarrassment. She was 11000km from home and her main method of payment was stopped; because her bank did not listen to her.

How many have had the experience that Customer Relations is not listening to their issue?

I contacted adidas Customer Relations for maintenance advice on a pair of Gore-Tex boots. They asked me for details of when I bought them (and if I had the receipt) telling me they could not help me until I find it.

I went back through my bank account and found the details and they said that they could not give me a refund or exchange. What???   I did not ask for a refund or exchange but maintenance advice.

So five days after my initial request and back and forth between adidas and myself, they responded by answering a question I hadn’t even asked, even though I had said to them during the process why a receipt would improve the chance of getting advice on the upkeep of my boots!

Outcome.  No apology for the waste of time but a curt response saying that they were unable to help as they could not find details of the boots.

This might sound like a catalogue of whinges but there is a serious point to all this. My views of the above companies are now not just based on my experiences using their products/services but also how I rated their response when I contacted them to say those products/services did not meet my expectations.

If I feel that I am not being listened to how can my experience be anything but negative?

As a communicator, my role is to build constructive two-way engagement between an organisation and its audience using all the channels at my disposal.

However, how often do PRs consider Customer Services as part of that range of channels?

If a product fails, the public won’t contact the sales dept., marketing dept., the press office or the R&D department. They will contact the Customer Relations team;  and they will rate their experience of your company on the response they get from Customer Relations.

If the Customer Relations team is not part of the communications function, then the interaction between the public and the company might not be a strong and positive one. I see a two disciplines running along parallel lines, with the same goals but how often do they interacting with each other at the corporate level.

If the answer is rarely, that is a major issue for your organisation.

Imagine a product being launched across Europe supported by an integrated communications plan but customer relations, your accessible public face, is not part of the planning. What if there is an issue with the new product? By the time, a plan is pulled together to handle the situation, customer relations have already been talking to your customers … and those customers have been speaking to their own network.

Elena Verlee, founder of Cross Border Communications wrote an article in her PR in your pyjamas blog, which looked deeper into this. Of particularly interest were her observations on:

  1. PR and Customer Relations Departments should be actively involved with each other.
  2. Customer Relations and social media manager roles are merging.
  3. Reiterate that PR and Customer Relations are part of everyone’s job description.

Much of PR is reaching out to your audience; the Customer Relations team has the public banging on their door every day.

I feel that a trick is being missed by not having Customer Relations formally considered a part of Public Relations.

Corn 1

Eyes on the prize

I have decided to become an independent practitioner.

That is a sentence that is loaded with much expectation and meaning especially as it was not an easy decision for me to take.

I started in PR back in 1990, because pay in local journalism was poor. I thought a (temporary) move to the Met Police’s Press Bureau would help and that I would soon return to newspapers.

Twenty four years later after a number of job changes and a stint aboard, I had a rude awakening when I was advised by a PR recruitment agency to consider changing careers as my CV would not get me a job in Public Relations.

Perhaps a career with the police, Mayor of London, healthcare in Vancouver and the Probation service was very public sector but having dealt with major issues which needed liaison with central government and communication with multiple-audiences, I thought that I could tackle what would be thrown at me.

Or was I being told that I was dangerously close to 50 and that I couldn’t keep up to speed with today’s digital world? Well having argued for and led the project to have a mayor’s online press office in place in 2002 and having run a number of website I couldn’t understand why this would be considered a problem.

And guess what? It is not a problem for me.

This is an opportunity for me to try something new and to challenge myself by taking on a new venture.

Fortunately, there is a guide available from the CIPR and the PRCA are pulling together a network to support solo practitioners. Equally important I have friends within the industry to give practical advice and support.

I am expecting wins and fails, busy periods and lean ones and times when I will question/doubt myself.

But I will be more in charge of my career and my success and failures will be my own.

I love a challenge. If in a year’s time it has failed then be it but I’ll give it 100%.

I am prepared, as the phrase goes to, “Go Hard or go home”.