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Cleaning Up Communications

July 3, 2010

On the thupr event, Cleaning up Communications



Despite the fact that the World Cup and various PR conferences were on, despite the fact that it was a hot and sunny Friday afternoon, and despite the fact that I hadn’t been able to put in the normal amount of effort around the thupr event on June 25, there was a committed core of people who cared enough to come and talk around the subject of ‘Cleaning Up Communications’.


It was anything but a normal thupr event – although each event has been so very different that what ‘normal’ is remains a moot issue. Each has taken on its own personality and this one was all discussion.


So how do we ‘Clean Up Communications?’

Several themes emerged: diversity, training, behaviour, transparency and measurement:




If the PR industry  doesn’t want  a white middle class image, the issue of diversity needs addressing. Even if it was small, the thupr  attendees were pretty representative of the industry as a whole – lacking in all but a spattering of racial diversity.


At the time I didn’t give it much thought. I would love my life to be a whole lot more ‘ab fab’ and a little less tied to my desk and phone.


But you can already  see the social media ‘scene’ beginning to reflect the same pattern as PR . Most  conferences reflect white, middle class male speakers. The subject was raised, so they started wheeling out some girls. And Jon Akwue. Who’s very lovely, but seems to be  turning into the Meera Syal of social media scene diversity. In the UK at any rate.

(But don’t stop booking him – he’s a great speaker!)


If we want people to stop believing the stereotypes, we’ve got to stop living up to them. Which, I guess, as a white girl who had a privileged education (even if my background wasn’t) is very easy for me to say.




Entry – and exit – barriers to the PR and communication industry are very, very low. Anyone can set up to operate. Richard Ellis of the PRCA argued that the bigger consultancies give some assurances because they offer training. But then, that’s the people that the PRCA represents.  Most small consultancies and freelancers would quickly be out of business if they didn’t have the expertise to operate, whilst big agencies often have interns and fresh graduates to balance the experienced practitioners, so I don’t subscribe to that particular train of thought.


PRCA membership does guarantee a certain level of process and accountability. Which is good. But it’s there to represent rather than regulate the industry.


So we are left with people taking responsibility for their own training through organisations like the CIPR and private training courses. And no minimum standard that guarantees that we are fit to trade.


As a result of the thupr event, the PRCA will be talking with WOMMA (Molly Flatt) about taking a look at extending their good practise guide to cover word of mouth activity. Which is a great step in the right direction.


Behaviour with each other


PR people aren’t particularly nice to other PR people. If someone’s done something wrong, we’re quick to point the finger and share advice on how we should have done it.


So much so that BPs been blaming it’s falling share prices on bad PR.


Guilty as charged – I take on a fair amount of (selective) crisis management work, which  pays well and which I enjoy, and sharing thoughts seems the right thing to do. I’m not sure that this was what was meant by references to ‘dissing ‘each other, but I will now think twice.


The important thing is to be sharing examples of good practise. Which I’ll try to do from here on in.


Behaviour with the media


Tim Phillips runs a blog, Talk Normal, in which he campaigns for PR folk to get off their jargon-filled behinds and ‘talk normal’. He also works with highly irreverent IT blog, the Reg.


(Do I include bloggers in ‘the media’? In that they are a medium, yes.)


And the central tenet to our conversations were the old common sense things around making sure that information is delivered in an appropriate way to whoever you’re delivering it to.


I’m not going to dwell any further on that.


I will say one thing, though. After the event, I went on to the memorial barbeque of technology journalist Guy Kewney. Guy had a long career, and many PRs will, like me, have benefitted from working with him. Yet PRs were a little thin on the ground.

And we’re supposed to have good relationships with the media?




It was interesting to note that of those attending the clean up event, several came from the industries that serve us. Given that it’s technology and press release services that allow us to send out ‘splat at the wall’ ‘write once, release many’ press releases, and that’s where many gripes begin, it’s easy to see why they would want to hear what we need.


But one of the suggestions mooted by Adam Parker of Realwire was that if we want to change perceptions, we need to demonstrate the value we bring.  Which leads us, of course to measurement. I personally don’t believe that there’s some Holy Grail of measurement.


There’s a lot of work going on around the semantic web and sentiment analysis, and according to Molly Flatt, 1000 Heads has a relatively sophisticated tool for measuring sentiment. But it’s only available to 1000 heads customers, and there’s no likelihood of an industry standard any time soon. Which I find vaguely reassuring as the minute there’s any kind of measurement, people start behaving in a way that massages the figures rather than achieves the objectives. (Just look at doctor’s surgery queue figure fiddling.) And the communications industry encompasses so much, from campaigning to stock markets, that it’s much easier to agree metrics before you begin any campaign.


There have never been more tools available, at a reasonable price and even free, to give indicators of the progress of campaigns. No excuses.




Transparency is a good thing. My experience is that *most* PR people are more transparent than some of the people they supply information to.  But that may be the company I keep. Another debate for another day, I suspect.


And the last word…


We did discuss the diet of celebrity and surveys that PR people are putting out. And I’ll confess to having been down that route myself on occasion. And why do we do it? Because the surveys and celebrities get clients coverage.


Which brings me full circle, and to a realisation that’s been bugging me ever since the event.  PR people are intermediaries. They will use the tactics that work. The spam emails selling dodgy stuff that land in our inboxes keep coming presumably because someone’s responding and buying from them. For as long as the products of ‘bad practise’ get used, they’ll continue to be served up.


AS PR folk we can, I suspect, only ever reflect the clients and ‘media’/consumers we serve.  If they l don’t demand high standards of us, and kick back when we misbehave, best practise may continue to be evasive in some quarters.


With thanks to everyone who participated, and to Tempero (now ICUC) for loaning us the space.

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