PostMenopausal Postgrad

For everyone coping with Mature Student Syndrome

Thursday, 3 May 2007

A Little Flogging Between Friends?

Transparency. This is one of the many words which have been bandied around the MSc class since practically the first lecture. At the outset, I thought I knew what the word meant and I thought I understood the implications of the word. But six months and a lot of Net exposure later, I’m only just starting to get the true meaning of transparency – and its climate changing implications for public relations.

I suspect that, while it is in the lexicon of many corporations – and was certainly part of the mantra of this Labour government when it first came to power – ‘transparency’ is the kind of sparkly, nebulous word which these organisations keep for special occasions. It is dragged out, dusted down and presented when the natives are getting restless about some questionable aspect of that organisation’s function. They wallpaper over the latest transgression and promise us ‘transparency’ in future; the uncomfortable conclusion being that we aren’t getting it now.

Traditionally, ‘opaqueness’ has ruled. Whether they’ve been selling the idea of age-defying cosmetics, selective livestock breeding, community service cuts or war, those-who-would-convince the rest of us have been able to pick and choose what information to share, when to release it and how to manage anyone who questions its validity.

Faced with these messages, our options as individuals have been limited, mostly because we couldn’t access sufficient objective information – that is, information which wasn’t being pushed at us from the communications departments of these same organisations – on which to base our decisions. So inevitably, most of us have wound up accepting messages which we haven’t really believed but haven’t been able to dispute.

Now, almost overnight, it seems, information domination has changed. Hello, the World Wide Web. Goodbye, organisational control. Again, I will confess that at the outset of this course, I thought I understood the communication potential of the Net. Now I know I did not. I am beginning to believe that this communication tool could literally change the world…but only if the global community remains alert to the power of organisations to manipulate it.

For the moment, the community has the upper hand. Finally, individuals can contact like minded groups, track down sympathetic agencies, listen to opinion formers and enlist serious players in whatever is their area of concern. People can talk to one another, exchange information, compare notes and generally run circles round organisations and their gatekeepers. Whether you’re an irate consumer, a frustrated dissenter or a wannabe activist, you now know you’re not alone. And it’s a good feeling.

Just one of thousands of examples of community empowerment websites is According to their website, they are ‘an independent and opinionated consumer trends firm, relying on a global network of 8,000 spotters, working hard to deliver inspiration and pangs of anxiety to business professionals in 120+ countries worldwide’.

According to this website, the one billion plus Net users are changing the face of consumer and service feedback. Because their reviews are immediate, they have global reach and they have the potential to deify or destroy brands and organisations alike. All of which means they possess sufficient leverage to demand transparency from the organisations concerned.

Or as puts it: ‘The non-competitive and the downright incompetent have very few stones left to hide under: never before have consumers’ purchase decisions been so strongly influenced by all kinds of transparency. In fact, TRANSPARENCY TYRANNY now rules’.

Obviously, I’m not going to say you heard it here first. I admit to being a latecomer to the concept. But the fact that you’re hearing it at all – on my blog – means that the mainstream, the silent majority (of which I have been one), are finally waking up to the fact that they do have a voice and they can make it heard.

Of course, I’ve been typing away here with my member-of-the-community hat on. I am however, hoping to move into the world of PR any time now. So what lesson will I take from this realisation, regarding my future working practices? Do I really have to spell that out?

Thursday, 19 April 2007

A Bit of PR Punditry

The further I wander into the maze of intellectual thought that is the MSc in Public Relations course…the more dazed and confused I am, each time I come back out and open an issue of PR Week.

‘In there’ the work we’re doing is related to the ‘new’ face of PR, which, I guess, is all about professionalisation; so we’re immersed in Content Analysis, measurement and evaluation, surveys and statistics, the extensive use of new technology, concepts of ethics and truth and a barrage of other stuff, which I suspect does not trouble a large number of practitioners.

Certainly, much of it will not easily fit into the standard how-to PR files marked ‘seat of the pants’ or ‘common sense’. These, as I recall, being the only two files regularly in use in public relations for the last thirty-odd years…and I was in publishing and dealing with PRs back in the days when Lynn Franks was a strip of a gal.

Now, struggling with concepts which definitely challenge some established PR practice, I’m aware there’s a much bigger tussle going on in the industry. One lot is basically saying about PR: ‘It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it’ while the other lot says: ‘Get a grip. Tomorrow has arrived. Change or die.’ Nowhere is this stand-off more apparent than in the pages of PR Week: the 13th April issue proving no exception.

The CIPR Diploma can now be obtained through an online course (p4), which means all of the above knowledge stuff can be yours at the click of a mouse and the handing over of two thousand quid. And according to this article by Kate Magee, it’s ‘borne out of demand by those unable to attend the traditionally taught course’. So it seems some of you out there share the view that there may be more to PR than meets the eye, or the seat of the pants.

Miranda Lane (p16) draws attention to a ‘skills vacuum’ in financial and investor PR – a world in which being a smart party arranger just won’t cut it. Here, PRs are required to be regulations-savvy and clued in mathematically. Heather McGregor, MD of specialist communications headhunter, Taylor Bennett, says she’d like to see more accountants moving into communications. So much for professional jurisdiction…but you get her point: the average PR offering won’t wash around the money men.

For a short lesson in anything but average PR, turn to Hannah Marriott’s piece on ‘Rocket Man’ (p17) a profile of Gary Farrow, Chairman of PR outfit, The Corporation.

Described as ‘an old school publicist who relies on instinct’ (instinct being a mate of seat-of-the-pants and common sense), Gary has some interesting things to say.

Regarding ‘Off the record, in perpetuity’:

‘Perpetuity is when you die and even in heaven. And if there is a stage beyond that, you still shut the f***k up.’

Regarding education:

‘Listen – I come from Orpington. I’ve got two GCSEs or whatever the bollocks they’re called.’

Regarding measurement and evaluation:

‘F***k it no. Leave that to those f*****g ponytail twats. Evaluation and pie charts and bollocks.’

Gary, as you have probably figured, is the kind of PR the CIPR realise will never have an Epiphany – even though he likens himself to John the Baptist of PR. He lives and breathes ‘common sense’ and ‘seat of the pants’. Speaking of which, check out his moment of checking out with a client…which has to do with pants and getting jiggy with a penguin, in Trafalgar Square at four in the morning. It’s a testament to the black art of common sense.

I'd have given you a website address for The Corporation but it says everything that keying in his name, his company's name, its stated business - and permutations of all three - bring up no website url. Not for this lot, search engine optimisation. What does come up are thousands of references to Gary, which tells me this is one busy and successful dude, even if he does think evaluation is bollocks.

We appear to have the definitive guide to creating a unique campaign (p20). And it is, I guess, the nearest we’ll ever get to putting Colonel Sanders deep into orbit. Weber Shandwick really did strut their stuff with this global relaunch, no less, of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The notion of being able to view the face of the Colonel – from space – is a breathtaking PR idea.

But I couldn’t help noticing in the Measurement, Evaluation and Results section of this article that the ensuing coverage was measured in numbers of stories and the advertising equivalent value. At £23 million, this is not to be sniffed at. But the real question is…will seeing Colonel Sanders from space actually result in more terrestrials buying the product?

Finally, we have wise words from Claire Murphy, (p19) the deputy editor of PR Week. She supports the whole notion of training – a concept which she feels the PR industry hasn’t exactly embraced. Obviously I’m in agreement. It’s because I believe you’re dead in the water if you don’t stay current that I’m on this course. But I also think we should guard against losing our old skills in our efforts to become adept at the new. Old skills such as clean copy and thorough subbing, Claire: this issue boasts far too many literals.

The PR industry appears to be living in interesting times. Personally, I think there’s a lot to be said for the old ways: I bet Gary Farrow gets things done. But I also think PR has got to clean up its act. And if PR practitioners want to defend their professional turf against encroachment by journalists, marketers and accountants! they’ll have to prove to clients that they possess a unique skills set.

So forgive me for hedging my bets, but today I’m off to get down and dirty with the postmodern approach to PR research and practice, with the celebrated Derina Holthausen. There’s not a sniff of common sense in this tome, I betcha…and probably no mention of pants….

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

A Fair Cop?

Next time you’re busily blabbing into the Blogosphere - keying your most intimate secrets into what you fancy is deepest, darkest cyberspace…consider this. One in five employers find information about job candidates on the web and nearly 60% say it influences their job decisions. And 25% of HR decision makers reject candidates based on personal information found online.

You’re hoping I made that statistic up? Sorry to disappoint…but these – ahem! – end-of-party pictures… or the grim details of that stag-night slide into debauchery…or even the low-down on what you really think of your boss, his wife and their new baby…if you’ve posted any of it anywhere on the Web, it will likely come back to haunt you.

Online Recruitment wants you to take better care of your NetRep – that is, if you fancy the idea of future employment. They quote a research report released by the business social network Viadeo. Apparently, more than 2,000 consumers and over 600 employers were surveyed by Viadeo and the findings were as outlined above.

This isn’t to say that your online self is necessarily going to screw your employment chances. The same survey concluded that information found online can work in an applicant’s favour – as long as the content is appropriate and presented correctly. In fact, 13% of HR decision makers chose candidates they might otherwise have rejected, because of additional positive information they found about them online.

The solution? Consider using a social networking site to promote a professional image of yourself on the Net. A tough job, maybe…but not impossible! And check out Viadeo – it’s as good a place as any to start.

You will be Googled…you have been warned!

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Carry On Copying??

I’ve spent the last few weeks getting my head around the whole notion of cyberspace; particularly with regard to the who/where/what of copyright protection. As a one-time journo who experienced having consumer media heavyweights ride roughshod over my own rights to copy (sign the whole lot away on the back of your cheque, lady. Otherwise there ain’t no payment and yer dog gets it…) I’ve been amazed by the free-for-all on the copyright front. Which is why the whole Viacom/Google opera has been so instructive.

Backstory: Google pays $1.65billion for YouTube, which effectively means that YouTube is now the kid on the block with the big-walleted daddy. So if you were ever going to sue YouTube for copyright infringement, the time is surely now.

Up sails Viacom Media’s legal boarding party with an invitation to attend court for ‘massive intentional infringement of copyright’ plus $1billion for damages.

Google-dad is pushing back, in the hope that the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998 will save its bacon. Specifically section 512 which protects service providers from liability for acts of copyright infringement committed by 3rd parties. (Although this patently didn’t save Napster’s hide.)

All goes quiet for a couple of weeks. Then ‘whacko!’ out come the cyberspace army I’ve been hearing about since I started this whole technology module. They’re the Internet Community…the Invisible Ones…the Out There’s. Only now they’re very visible, very here and very *****d off with Viacom

The electronic activists have got themselves very much together and have launched a legal suit against Viacom Media. This after Viacom supposedly issued a video takedown request to Google – with which the service provider immediately complied – only for all parties to ‘discover’ later that the video in question was on YouTube perfectly legitimately.

The argument now is that the video use was ‘protected under the fair use provisions’ of the same copyright law…which means Viacom’s complaint amounted to a ‘misrepresentation’, which leaves it open to damages. Viacom is insisting that it never issued the request for this particular takedown. Although it did ask for 100,000 other videos to be filtered by Google, who declined to co-operate. Makes you wonder how this one got through…Sod’s Law, I guess.

But since courtrooms still seem to operate in a peculiarly old-fashioned way – requiring tangible proof, evidence and stuff like that - I imagine the hunt is now on at Google for the revelatory – and condemnatory – email. A paper trail, in other words…now this, I do understand!

Got me thinking about the whole copyright thing tho…and the realisation that anything published after 1923 is effectively copyright protected. (So much for the odd screen-grab!) Can’t take the credit for knowing this…found it on a very interesting website. The Tartan is the online version of the student magazine for the Carnegie Mellon University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I like it! Very clean, stylish looking site, easy to navigate, loads of interesting info and good writers. We need something like this at Stirling!!

Class Act

Obviously I have a never-before-accessed-but-nonetheless-very-strong masochistic tendency. Nothing else can explain why I roll up to the technology class each week to undergo the ritual tecchie-mauling by my fellow students.

We’ve done the digital camera thing and now it’s the memory-stick thing. My hubby presented me with mine a few weeks ago (and yes, Derek – he had just upgraded his. But I think the term ‘cast-off is a little cruel.)

Anyway…it’s about 2.5 “(dead giveaway!) long, it’s a rather refined gold colour and it’s called VFUEL. Is there anything in this description that would make you fall about laughing? Whatever…this got passed around from person to person causing huge mirth. And then of course, everyone had to get theirs out (some things never change) and there was lots and lots of showing off. All of which was quite wasted on me.

If only my presentation the previous week had created so much focus, interest and active response…although to be fair, it was on social media press releases. And I’d bored myself silly with that, long before presentation day….

Right now, it’s Easter week. Or so I’m told. Up here in my little roof loft, I’m in a death struggle with an essay on ‘Technology’s Impact on PR’. Terminal, if my own experience is anything to go by….

Thursday, 29 March 2007

More Social Media Stuff...

Social media, social media, social media…everybody’s talking about it. And what they have to say is very revealing. A meander through recent issues of PR Week leaves one in no doubt that the battle lines are being drawn.

“It’s not often that industries take collective leave of their senses. And there are few things more unnerving for a commentator than all concerned doing very odd things. ..The media are going through such a phase at the moment. As an industry, whether it be print broadcast, telecom or web-based, they have become obsessed with delivery.

All around the world, media companies have decided that the tried and tested ways of reaching their customers are no longer sufficient. That which they understand is automatically diminished in their eyes; that which is different, preferably new and not understood, becomes irresistible…”

So comments Anthony Hilton, City Editor on London’s Evening Standard. He goes on to say “People watch programmes, read articles and listen to music. How that is delivered may appear a bit special, a bit new or a bit difficult, but it will quickly become a commodity. There will be no such thing as a captive market in future. On the other hand, content providers with a reputation for quality, trust and accuracy – a brand in other words – will always find an outlet. If the content is good, distributors will come to you…” (PR Week 17 November, 2006).

Pretty much NOT a bells and whistles supporter, then. One of the problems of SMPR is that, news-wise, everything is available to everyone at the same time. Which makes it hard for a journalist to justify himself via his ability to get to the story first . If he can’t scoop exclusive material, where’s his added value?

“…LOOK has rolling deadlines and can turn stories around very quickly but we want things exclusively…” Ali Hall Editor LOOK magazine (PR Week 9 February 2007).

And then there is the issue of journalists and magazine teams feeling they would like a bit of personal, even bespoke, service – quaint as that might sound to some.

“…I prefer a good old fashioned press release in the post, sent to the right section editor. Emails get lost in the system – post always gets opened…” Sara Cremer, Editor, Eve magazine (PR Week 27 March 2007)

For others, the future probably is SMPR – as with online magazine Monkey, which launched at the end of 2006. The pages are embedded with moving images and tracks, so readers can ‘experience’ the things the editorials mention – like games, music and movie clips.

“…We would appreciate a heads-up on any clips or sound files to which PROs might have access…” Ben Raworth, Editor-in-chief (PR Week 10 November 2006)

For some it sucks. For others it’s sexy. Either way, the SMPR debate has got the business thinking…which can’t be bad.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

SMPR - All Bells And Whistles?

I'm aware I'm just a PR student, so pardon my nerve. But what is happening to everyone out there?
I key in the words 'social media press release' and the Net is throbbing with excitement. Forums and posts abound with people virtually (I mean that in the literal sense) falling over each other, in their attempts to become part of the conversation about this revolutionary, breakthrough, awesome departure from PR as we have known it.
The environment is bouncing with mutual congratulations, as those PRs who are on message engage in much back-slapping and virtual high fives. You're all just so thrilled with yourselves and each other that I feel bad about raining on your parade.
In fact, so loathe was I to do the 'Hey - the king's nude' thing, that I spent the last couple of days trawling and logging onto endless websites - just to make sure that I hadn't misunderstood the whole thrust of the SMPR concept.
So thank-you Todd Defren and Brian Solis and Chris Heuer and your many acolytes for the acres and acres of verbiage which you and fellow trailblazers have felt it necessary to put out on the subject.
The thing we Brits especially like about you Americans is your boundless enthusiasm - the way you pick up and run hard with anything even marginally new. In fact, so overwhelmed was I by the truly frantic (almost hysterical) level of excitement I kept running into on every virtual corner, I was momentarily swept up in the SMPR-will-change-the -communications-sphere-as -we-know-it tsunami myself.
But then I logged off, lay down in a dark room and thought about it. A phrase came to mind. Three words. One of those was 'wheel'. Hate to say it but I suspect SMPR is everso over-hyped. I mean, I'm up for the embrace-technology thing. Why else would I be doing this bloody module? But I suspect that, faced with 65 million potentially troublesome bloggers, some PRs are hitting the appeasement button. Blogging? You betcha! Just don't hit me!
Okay, your dream press release is multi-layered - electronic and using online tools, like a Podcast link, RSS feed, Technorati tags and optional links to other coverage.
So very like an innovative, well designed and regularly updated website. I was particularly struck by the novel idea of pre-approved quotes from your client talking heads. Tell me, what sane PR would publish any other sort??
I understand you want to maximize the communications options offered by technology; I see why the brave, supremely confident or downright foolish among the PR fraternity might want to risk engaging on a daily (or even hourly) basis with anyone and everyone who is no one in the blogosphere - fielding all brick-bats and bouquets on behalf of their clients.
I get the global audience thing. I realise PRs can be judged and found wanting - not only by their clients but by the world community... and probably a few shifty characters beyond that. I've certainly worked for a few spacemen in my time.
Yes - the Web has opened up all kinds of communications channels which we ignore at our peril and for sure there are lots of influencers out there with fingers permanently poised over keyboards, just waiting to bag 'em an unsuspecting PR, organisation, corporation, product or service.
High Noon comes to Neverland and there are varmints in them thar hills. But your SMPR concept won't change any of that. Not if the bullet's got your name on it. And I'm not the only one who's nowhere near converted....

Class Act

Another week - another wander around Tecchieworld. The last few days have seen me labouring mightily over yet another first: The PowerPoint presentation.
It's a doddle. A child could do it. Have you really never done one before?
This and many other helpful remarks have come my way since I foolishly went public with this latest assignment.
Yes, it probably was. Yes, one probably could. And no, I really never had....
But that's all behind me now. One PP presentation primed and ready for delivery. What's more, I enjoyed doing it.
The subject? Social Media Press Releases.
I'm probably the only person who's never heard of them. But if you too are a SMPR virgin, just key it in and stand well back. Oh, I suggest you make up some sandwiches and a flask of something fortifying before you start: there's so much stuff sloshing around about this concept and how it will change the face of PR, radically and permanently, excluding many practitioners along the way...that you really will require some sustenance on the journey.
We did more statistics today. Well, my fellow students did. I went home early and ordered Bryman. That's the author, not his book. We're presently in negotiation about how much he'd charge to personally sit with me and talk me, or walk me, or drag me kicking and screaming, through the statistics chapters of his lovely, unputdownable book, Social Research Methods.
PR at the University of's so not for sissies.