A view from the pr lady's office
A view from our 'pr lady'
Apart from a spell on a magazine for the footwear trade where when covering an industry event I got asked “are you here with your father?” I’ve spent my career in female dominated environments.
It was very eye opening therefore for me to sit down with a group of young women who work in the built environment to mark International Women’s Day. All of them had stories of misogyny in their industry. Professionals in their own right, they spoke of friends they’d been at university with who had left the industry because they found they weren’t respected and not able to do the things they’d been led to believe they could when they were under graduates. One woman still in the industry had considered dyeing her hair from blonde so she might command more respect in meetings and others felt patronised by frequently being called “sweetheart”. Despite this all the women said they would recommend others to join them and felt the issue would improve as more women did join the industry. It occurred to me how important this is not just for them but for the people they are creating for after reading an interview with Caroline Criado Perez about her new book Invisible Women. She has discovered that it’s much more of a man’s world than many of us had ever considered, such as how women are more likely to be badly injured in car crashes because car seat belts are designed for men.
I think with the number of women moving into careers that are more traditionally male things can only improve. My daughter – an art student – is virtually the only one among her friends who isn’t pursuing a science career. One thing I find odd about art education though is that through GCSE, A Levels, and art foundation it always seems to be overwhelmingly girls. So when do men – who without a doubt dominate the creative industries – take over? One career that really does seem to have tackled the gender balance (from my outsider's view anyway) is the law. I’ve just started working with Top 50 practice Penningtons Manches' Cambridge office where all the staff bar one are women. They are celebrating International Women's Day by dressing in green, purple or white. It's a double celebration for them, as this year also marks a century since women were first allowed to practice law.
Mine has always appeared to be a female dominated industry, which is probably why I’m very often referred to as “our pr lady”! However, some research shows it’s not as female dominated as I’d always thought. The latest figures from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) show that there are 71,000 people working in in the industry, 40,375 of whom are women. The gender pay gap is at a staggering £11,156 (£6,725 when issues regarding job levels and part time work is taken into consideration). Under representation in the board room is seen to be the industry’s biggest issue, which could have a lot to do with it being a female dominated profession. Obviously the fact that women are the ones who have children is an ongoing issue in all workplaces (and one brought up by the women I spoke to) and it was after I had my daughter that I went freelance because I felt it offered the best opportunity for a work/life balance. I guess I was lucky that I'm in a career where this was an easy thing to do. However, it does seem that whether you are in a traditionally male environment or one where women have always dominated there’s still a long way to go.
So, happy International Women’s Day and that’s all for now from the pr lady.
Great headline, eh? The idea came to me when I saw an email drop into my inbox this week with the subject heading ‘ Fall in love with digital security’. If it’s possible to fall in love with that then surely I can get people to love my blog I thought.
Seriously, it actually got me thinking about how all of us in the world of getting messages across as well as those who report them love to find a hook to hang things on. Sometimes that hook is really relevant and can play a big part in getting those messages across. When it comes to Valentine’s Day if you’re in the business of cards, chocolates, flowers, candles, pink fizz, romantic meals etc it’s one of your biggest hooks of the year. But what about everyone else? Moving away from Valentine’s for a moment (after all it was just a hook to get you in!), I love a pr stunt. When I see a good one I file it away for future reference, But whereas back in the day the stunt was often done for its own sake, now it’s all about fitting in with brand strategy. There really is no point in achieving great impact if your activity has no relevance to what you do or no one can remember who did it in the first place. Many years ago when I was working for a client launching a range of tuna burgers and we brought in an England goalkeeper just for his name (remember who?•) and the fact he caught things for a living (we did get a lot of initial coverage that we wouldn’t have done without him!). Of course if your stunt goes wrong then it will never be forgotten. People still talk about the Hoover offer for free flights to New York , which must’ve been 25 or more years ago. I was also thinking recently about brands associating themselves with issues and how it can lead to a backlash if seen as too commercial when watching Comedian Joe Lycett’s concert dvd. He took issue with Barclays and diver Tom Daley about sponsorship of Pride and how it was very easy for a company to get on board with LGBT when it’s a very personable young man with a six pack! I’ve heard the same from others about the selective use of the rainbow flag.
Moving back to Valentine’s I’m not entirely sure where I stand on those who are attaching very serious issues to what is essentially a bit of fluff and the opportunity for those who sell cards, flowers and chocolates to have a chance to sell more things between Christmas and Mother’s Day. These serious hooks include National Impotence Day, the British Heart Foundation encouraging us to write love notes or wear hear pin badges to ‘show some love and beat heartbreak forever’ and National Marriage Week (although with further research that seems to be a US only one). I’ll think I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt because they do have memorable links and are not just about shoe horning themselves into the topic.
Anyway, the shoe’s horned on now, – so Happy Valentine’s Day!
• David Seaman
January: it needs some better pr
So, the month when we’re encouraged to have extreme jollity has been replaced by the one when we’re encouraged to be extremely miserable.
Articles on party outfits and cocktails have been replaced by how to get fit on a minute’s exercise and the diet that “really does work”. While they might vary in content, everything about January is based on feeling bad about ourselves, even from those of us here to promote things, as we know they will gain traction this month. There’s Dry January, Veganuary, ‘D Day’ – the first Monday back at work when people are most likely to contact lawyers to start divorce proceedings - and the Monday later in the month when people are said to be most depressed because they’ve failed on their new year resolutions and the credit card bills have started rolling in. There are also the annual stories about the damage we’ve done to ourselves over the festive season. Since 1 January there have been stories from ‘Children exceed sugar limit by age 10’. This year also has its own special negative January vibe: fears of Brexit, bad Brexit and no Brexit. People have tried to be more cheery about January. Back in the 70s there was even a song about it by the long forgotten band Pilot. But, despite it having a jolly tune it had lyrics including ”sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me”. And it’s true, the month does seem to last twice as long as, say, July.
So what can be done to give January some better pr? The travel industry (an industry I once worked in) cottoned on to this years ago, with travel ads starting on Boxing Day and the pr manicure working overtime. But with Christmas bills looming these can potentially make us feel even worse. This idea is not likely to take on, but I’ve always thought moving Christmas would be a great idea. Surely it would be better if it fell at the end of January. It’s easy to get through the early weeks of winter and the festive season usually arrives before we’re ready. Moving it to the end of January would mean more time to prepare and fewer gloomy short days before spring arrives. Separated from new year it would also mean all the celebrating doesn't at once (especially if, like me, your birthday falls between Christmas and new year!).
But if that can’t happen it must be about finding some positives. I like to leave one set of twinkly lights up until the battery runs out, rather than go from a light filled house to dark and gloomy. And how about resolutions that give us small things to look forward to? I've embraced that this year. with a spa visit with frieands. a theatre trip and a pile of Christmas books to get through. And if Christmas can't fall on January 25, how about a “You made it day ” on February 1. It’s a Friday so you can celebrate all weekend! And while we all moan that January goes on and on it will be no time before we all start saying "Where did 2019 go?"
Happy new year!
Do PRs and journalists need a Christmas truce?
Last week I was asked by two journalists if they could use a photo of a lorry caught on some scaffolding that I’d taken and put on Twitter. If only journalists got so excited about all the client related things I put on Twitter or send them I thought at the time.
PR people are often (and often rightly) criticised for a lack of a new sense, for not understanding a journalist’s particular publication or how the media operates. #PRfail has become a popular hashtag among journalists and an amusing one recently put on Twitter by a journalist was an email beginning "I am quickly reaching my e-palms out to you". The journalist’s reaction was to “almost became violently sick”. I’m pretty sure he never got round to finding out the reason for the ‘e-palming’.
I often feel envious of journalists and their luxury of being able to find news and use it (although having switched from journalism to PR many years ago I can’t really complain) rather than find it in what your company or client has to say. My advice to clients is always to meet journalists half way; turn what you want to say into something they will want to print, broadcast or post. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been asked if I can get coverage for “our new website”. I’ve just today read a piece by Colin Kelly in the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) Influence magazine, called “Six Ways to Make Journalists Love You’. It’s full of lots of good advice, but I’d say the most important is his section ‘Have Better Stories’. As Colin says: “A great story will cut through anything, even in this very cluttered world we live in now... I like to train PR professionals to think more like journalists and consider news value in stories. If a story doesn’t impress you, it shouldn’t go out.” You might think this is obvious, but it’s sometimes lost under the pressure to get something out there.
But of course there are the very many times when you believe you really do have a good story but just can’t convince anyone of this fact. I often describe my job to people as being 80% banging my head against a brick wall. Social media has eased this because it can take you directly to the target audience (although you do still need to be newsworthy), but there’s no beating the third party endorsement of the media.
An,d in the season of goodwill, those on both sides should think about how they can help each other (like letting them use the news as in the lorry on the scaffolding). As Colin Kelly says: “Aim to have close and mutually beneficial professional relationships with them”. Fortunately for me, as someone who trained as a journalist, I’ve got some friendships with them that go beyond 30 years. And if they want a photo of a lorry stuck on scaffolding they only need to ask!
Is simple communication always the best option?
I love simple and concise communications. In fact when Twitter doubled the length of Tweets I missed the challenge of putting a message into 140 characters.
On a visit last week to the current exhibition at Kettle’s’ Yard in Cambridge I saw the ultimate in concise communication. A postcard that abstract impressionist Richard Pousette-Dart.(pictured here) sent to his friends and Kettle’s’ Yard owners Jim and Helen Ede includes just the address and a simple circle..For them, it was enough to get the message across. In fact circles and and spirals became an obsession for both Jim Ede and Pousette-Dart.
I love the way art is able to communicate complicated issues. I’m currently working with a fabulous artist Harold Offeh who has, along with three other artists he has commissioned, given an artist’s interpretation of the world-leading medical research set to be carried out by those working at the new Jeffrey Cheah Biomedical Centre at the Biomedical Campus in Cambridge. Their creativity includes a talking mug to represent the part tea rooms have played in scientific discoveries, recreating the immune system through dance and stem cells via painting with UV paint.
Much of what I do is putting complicated issues into words and as a generalist am able to explain things in words lay people will understand (because I am one). When it comes to the current greatest challenge for explaining the complicated I feel sorry for those having to communicate the ins and outs of Brexit to us. They, unlike the rest of us (well me), can’t turn over the page or glaze over when faced with the issue in a newspaper, tv or radio. I guess the problem with Brexit is it really can’t be simplified, which is why we probably shouldn’t have been asked to answer a very simple question on a very complicated issue two and a half years ago (but that’s another issue entirely), suggesting simplicity isn’t always the answer,
If you’d like to see the films they will be premiered on Friday (you can get tickets here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-cambridge-betterment-society-by-harold-offeh-film-screening-tickets-51683711372) and then available on a special website and the Pousette-Dart exhibition runs until 6 January. As far as Brexit is concerned though I can’t help you.
Well I think that brings me full circle!
Your chickpeas should be baked beans
The other day when opening a tin of chickpeas to add to my healthy working from home lunch I was pouring them out to face what you see below!!
After the shock it got me thinking about this job and the importance of an element of surprise. One of the first lessons I learnt as a trainee journalist (after the fact that every story must have a who, what, where, why, when and how) was that ‘Dog bites man’ is not a story, but ‘Man bites dog’ is. Things have changed slightly since then – I don’t think there were quite so many vicious dogs about at the time, but generally the same thing holds true. One of the first things I say to clients is that if they want to get noticed they have to have an element of surprise in what they do. Journalists will give them a paragaph before they say ‘so what’ and the story ends up on the metaphorical spike. On the odd occasion I've not taken my own advice (by probably not standing up for myself ) I’ve felt the wrath of journalists. “Shall I give you the number of the ad department” is one particularly cutting one! Slightly belatedly I’ve signed up to emails from PR Examples and here I really am in awe of some great ideas. Recent ones have been Greggs going undercover as Gregory & Gregory at a fancy London food festival , serving their usual produce to unsuspecting foodies who would probably never go near the place. I also loved the promotion done in the Metro newspaper for the Handmaid’s Tale, taking over the cover with the stark message ‘’Women are not allowed to read this newspaper’. Simple but effective.
It really doesn’t have to be costly. Just a simple idea of getting some hard hat wearing builders to bake cakes for charity got a client a front page story (complete with branded hard hats).
So next time you send something to the media ask yourself: “Am I sending them beans when they are wanting chickpeas?” If the answers' "yes" you're on the right lines.
You can teach an old dog new tricks
When I began my pr career we had a woman prime minister just about holding onto her job, and in many way that’s where the similarity to today’s world ends. We had one word processor and one mobile phone in the office, with most of our work done on typewriters. Our version of Google was the Daily Telegraph Information Service. We’d phone them up and they’d pretty much find out anything for you. I remember when I was working for a travel exhibition just after Thatcher had left office rang them to find out if there were any places in the world called Thatcher, Major, Heseltine or Hurd that I could shoehorn into a story!
Moving on 25 plus years it’s a different world. We’ve gone from a job where you worked to get clients into print or broadcast (four tv channels, national BBC Radio and local radio) media to a bewildering number of channels.
When social media first arrived on the scene and for quite a while after I deferred to those (usually much younger) people who had an expertise in the area and pr and social were very much separate. But I’ve come to realise that you can no longer offer your services simply as a media relations expert, especially with so much traditional media disappearing. And while we have many more channels in which to say it, what makes news (or storytelling as it’s often now called) hasn’t changed. So the old dog with a good news sense is still worth having . Just as 25 years ago your contacts book was everything, now much of it is about being aware of the many channels available, how to make use of them and how to monitor what you’re doing. I cut my teeth in a very different environment when you’d measure the column inches you got, worked out how much that would cost in advertising and multiplied it by 2.5. I now make it my business to ensure I stay up to speed with changes. Recently I delved into cpd training with the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) and have come out with a renewed confidence when it comes to social media, SEO and social media monitoirng.
If we’ve come this far in 25 years, where will we be in the next 25? Of course we’re constantly being told many jobs will be done by robots and that children born today will be doing jobs that don’t yet exist. The good news is that according to researchers at Oxford University there’s only a 1.5% chance that public relations jobs will be done by robots. Quite good when actors are at 37% and athletes at 13%! There’s life in the old dog yet!
Slowly does it!
As I closed the door last week on the latest ‘chugger’ to call at the usual inconvenient time I wondered why so many charities using this as a sales technique. Can it
really work? I suppose it must or they wouldn’t do it. But opening the door to an enthusiastic 17 year old asking me if I’ve ever heard of WWF while I’ve left three pans on the stove, a client on the
phone and a daughter wanting help with homework was both insulting and inconvenient.
This also took me back to something I’d read recently about the growing trend for ‘slow pr’ in the US. This is a name for what is obvious and makes total sense when it comes to pr (particularly in a climate where budgets are carefully watched ). What it’s about is choosing which media you think it will be most beneficial to appear in/on and working hard to create messages that will both appeal to these media and get a client’s message across. Journalists have long complained of the pr consultants (often a junior) who contact them with no knowledge of them or their media (the more haste less speed form of pr). I think back to my first job in pr when down in the basement was a team who spent all day photocopying, stapling and stuffing press releases into envelopes to ensure they went as far afield as possible (very often to a journalist’s spike). Those were pre email days and today’s equivalent is the clogging up of inboxes rather than letter boxes. In fact a letter in the post (particularly with a hand written envelope) would probably not be overlooked because of its novelty value. But what I learnt in my early days still holds true today; the best way to put across a client’s message is either on the phone or, even better and if you can manage it, face to face. But only when you're clear what you want to say and how it might appeal to the recipient. Which brings me back to the chugger. While face to face might be best I hope it might have occured to them when they saw me that I might well have heard of WWF.