Friday, 24 December 2010

Happy New Year From The PRCA

Another New Year -another opportunity to review the past twelve months, and to look forward to the year ahead.

For our industry, 2010 has certainly been a better year than was 2009. There IS a recovery -ok, its strength varies by sector and by region: and ok, it sometimes appears fragile. But there are more reasons to be positive about the future than negative, and 2011 should be a good year for very many of us.

The PRCA enters 2011 in the best shape it has ever known. Late in December, I presented to our Board a review of our performance over the past three years, and a strategic plan for the next few.

There can be no doubt that we have transformed ourselves over those years -and that we are determined to continue that process of transformation.

So, a few highlights from the past year:

January - NLA Ltd blinked in copyright dispute

February -we grew by more in five weeks than in the whole of 2005 and 2006 combined

March -Copyright Tribunal ruled in our favour versus NLA Ltd

March -Peter Bingle's Bell Pottinger Public Affairs joined the PRCA

April -We announced the 46 PRCA Founding Fellows, including Lord Chadlington and Lord Bell

June Women In PR Group left CIPR, and then joined the PRCA

June -we announced our new officers, with Huntsworth's Clarke and Edelman's Phillips taking major roles heading up best practice and international work respectively

August - Caroline Kinsey was elected as Chairman of the PR Council

August -we announced an alliance with the IVCA allowing our members access to one-another's services

October -our awards attracted a sell-out crowd of 750. They're now second in size only to PR Week's

October -Hill and Knowlton's Sally Costerton became PRCA Chairman and set out her two-year Chairmanship vision

October -Remarkable Group's Amy Bryant-Jeffries became first person to be awarded the new PRCA Foundation Certificate

November -PRCA National Conference took place in Manchester -our first National Conference outside of London in living memory, and an affirmation of our growth outside the Capital over the past three years.

November -We launched designatory letters. Over half of our members have claimed them already

December -having lost to the NLA in the High Court, we stayed the course and move to the Court of Appeal

So what do we plan for 2011?

Well, that will all become clear. But one thing is certain -we have no intention of going slow. We've changed fundamentally over the past few years, and I believe we've become the industry's best and more effective voice.

We represent more than double the number of UK consultancies we did three years ago; we have international members across the world, from Australia to the Ukraine -Indonesia to France; and we represent over fifty in-house PR departments -M&S, John Lewis, the Met Police, Westminster Council, Vodafone, the Law Society, P&G, and many other fantastic names, who wouldn't have even considered joining the PRCA even a couple of years ago. Their faith in the PRCA speaks volumes about how we have changed, and seized our new role.

We intend to build on all of that progress, with detremniation and verve.

As the saying goes -you aint seen nothing yet!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Standing Up For The Industry

Last week, we lodged our appeal against the High Court's ruling in favour of the NLA.

This is what I said announcing it:

Fifteen minutes ago acting on behalf of our members and the wider PR industry, the PRCA appealed last month’s High Court decision in favour of the NLA,

In 2009 the NLA decided to extend its hardcopy licensing scheme to cover the sharing of links to newspaper website content. The NLA believes that anyone using a commercial media monitoring service, or systematically sending content to clients, needs a licence to do so.

Meltwater challenged the proposed licensing scheme in the Copyright Tribunal believing it to be unreasonable. The PRCA supported this view and intervened in support of Meltwater and on behalf of our members and end users generally.

Following two rulings from the Copyright Tribunal in favour of Meltwater and the PRCA, the NLA referred the PRCA and Meltwater to the High Court.

We were disappointed by the High Court’s decision and believe it fundamentally to be flawed. We believe it risks putting an end to the freedom with which information can be shared on the Internet. The implication is that the mere act of browsing freely accessible websites will require a copyright licence.

We are therefore appealing the decision. We anticipate that even if our appeal is unsuccessful, the Copyright Tribunal will find that the terms of the licences and the fees sought from customers are unreasonable and so will reduce the fees. In this event, end users will still be in a better position.

Irrespective of the outcome of the appeal, we are confident that our ultimate aim of ensuring reasonable terms for the licensing of NLA content will be achieved.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about what the licensing scheme means for you or your organisation or you would like to be kept informed of developments in this case, then please on the link below.

The PRCA is proud to be representing, with Meltwater, the interests of the PR industry. And while it is our duty as a professional body to take on such a role, your messages of support and help collecting evidence have been crucial to our case.

Thank you for all your help and we promise to keep you informed as the case continues.

You can see a clip of that statement here

Friday, 26 November 2010

PRCA response to today’s High Court ruling

London, 26 November 2010 – Following the High Court’s decision in favour of the NLA, Francis Ingham, PRCA chief executive said “We are disappointed by today’s decision and believe it fundamentally to be flawed – it risks putting an end to the freedom with which information can be shared on the Internet. We are discussing the detailed implications of the judgement with our lawyers and in the meantime have been granted permission to appeal.

If you have any questions or comments, then please call Richard Ellis on 020 7233 6026 or 07779 102 758 or email

Friday, 19 November 2010

Walking The Walk On Evaluation

As an industry, we have wrestled with evaluation for far too long. Decades in fact. And most of that wrestling has -until now- been pretty much pointless.

I hope that this week's PRCA-supported evaluation summit, hosted by AMEC and our opposite, cross-Atlantic number the PRSA, will prove a turning point.

Bringing together the leading professional bodies to agree a common evaluation framework is the absolute prerequisite for driving forward our common agenda. We have fully endorsed the AMEC-PRSA proposals and I'm glad that the CIPR has too.

Our Chairman, H&K's Sally Costerton, and the Chairman of our Best Practice Committee, Huntsworth's Alison Clarke spoke for us at the summit. They set out not only our support for the framework, but also our practical efforts to embed it within our processes, and by doing so, to drive evaluation excellence through our membership.

We have set out two highly practical and I believe significant initiatives, that will ensure we don't just talk the talk on evaluation, but we also walk the walk.

The first is that we we will create a specialist evaluation module as part of our Consultancy Management Standard (CMS). This will allow consultancies and in house departments to demonstrate their commitment to robust and relevant evaluation techniques. Passing this specialist, independently-audited module will result in the award of an evaluation kitemark -public evidence of evaluation excellence. Bear in mind too that CMS has now been adopted by over a dozen countries. So our evaluation ambition and reach goes far beyond just the UK.

The second is that from 2011 onwards, we will include a mandatory evaluation element in our awards programme. This year, the PRCA awards became second in size only to PR Week, so this again is a major practical commitment. And I would urge other awards programmes to follow our lead. Credible PR awards require the credible evaluation of PR work.

A note of caution and realism though. It takes more than one afternoon's summit to crack such a deep, ingrained issue. Good intentions and fine rhetoric will take us only so far -that's why we need practical commitments. We delude ourselves if we think that the path ahead will be simple. but at least now we're walking the walk on it eh?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

UKPAC Register Open For Business

The public affairs industry takes a further step forward in delivering transparent accountability today, as the UKPAC Register is opened up for CIPR members to submit their details.

The PRCA and APPC have run our own Public Affairs Registers for years now, but their weakness has been a lack of comprehensive cover, and the simple annoyance of looking at two different registers. Very soon, both of those weaknesses will be gone.

Just by way of clarity for our member employees –you’re covered by your corporate PRCA or APPC memberships already. So if you’re also a CIPR member, you don’t need to register again –your details will be registered as the whole PRCA Register is uploaded in one go.

I’m a member of the CIPR, and I do the odd bit of lobbying. So I guess I’d better sign up. Off to the UKPAC site I go……

Friday, 29 October 2010

Celebrating Success

By any measure (except perhaps efficient air conditioning) this week's PRCA Awards were a a roaring success, in a sold-out Park Lane Hilton.

In the 2007 awards -two weeks into my new role at the PRCA- we had a fifth of this week's attendees, and a third of the entries. And, in truth, the evening wasn't very good. In fact, it was so soul-crushingly bad that I seriously contemplating asking Colin Farrington for my old job back at the CIPR. Fortunately, I held my nerve, and decided that instead we'd work hard to improve the awards. And we certainly have.

This week's awards saw a fantastically well-run event, fronted by an hilarious Rufus Hound, showcasing the very best our industry has to offer from across the consultancy, in house and freelance sectors of PR. And attended by 250 people more than even last year's event. I've been to dozens of PR awards, and -biased though i obviously am- it was the most enjoyable I've been to. AS you can see from the photos After PR Week's extravaganza, it was also the biggest. That's a pretty decent achievement.

The only problem of course is this: How can we improve for next year? Well, it's a nice problem to have eh?!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Congratulating Our First Qualification Recipient

Congratulations to Amy Bryant-Jeffries, the first person to be awarded a PRCA qualification.

Francis Ingham and Amy Bryant-Jeffries, with Stephen Pomeroy, CEO of Remarkable Group

I had the pleasure of presenting Amy with her Foundation Certificate earlier this week, at the Remarkable Group office in Winchester, where Amy has now been promoted to PR Account Executive.

We launched PRCA qualifications just a little while ago, and Amy's the first person to complete the course.

For those of you who haven't looked at our offering in any depth, this is what makes it stand out from the competition:

1. PRCA qualifications are about practical skills, not dull theory
2. They're priced at an incredibly competitive level -consciously below the prices offered by other professional bodies
3. They're modular, so you can start and finish at a pace that suits you
4. They're underpinned by a Qualifications Board of eminent practitioners -Jonathan Jordan, ex-Burson Marsteller, and now founder of Sermelo; Dick Fedorcio, Public Affairs Director at the Metropolitan Police and ex-President of the CIPR; Professor Trevor Morris; Westminster's A;ex Aiken; and Bray Leino's Penny Porter

So if you're looking to give your career or a boost, or to equip your staff with practical skills, why not follow Amy's lead?

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Eric Pickles' Strange View of the World

I have a confession. I like Eric Pickles.

I've worked for the Tory Party and been a Tory Councillor. I know that within Party circles, he's held in high regard, and has a populist, popular touch.

But his latest announcement that he is consulting on banning Councils from using "hired-gun lobbyists that operate in the shadows to bulldoze special interests through" central government is just playing politics.

Let me explain why Eric is wrong:

1. If 'hired gun lobbyists' (what a ridiculous phrase) can 'bulldoze special interests' through the Government, then maybe he ought instead to ask his Department to be a little more rigorous in examining Councils' proposals? If his officials just roll over in the face of any old argument, then I have a pretty simple way he can save the public purse some money....

2. He assumes that no public body has the right to take a different view to that of the Government. From a Secretary of State who believes in localism that's a pretty strange position. Because if he did believe they were able to take a different view, then why wouldn't he let them lobby for that view? As the former Leader of Bradford Council, he should know that Bradford and Whitehall don't always see eye to eye.

3. If he does accept the pretty Conservative view that Whitehall doesn't always know best, then why shouldn't Councils bring in temporary, specialist support to make their case? I thought that from Nick Ridley onwards there was a strong tradition of Conservatives believing that it made financial sense for Councils to use outside consultants to cover exceptional, unpredictable needs?

Of course, I don't believe that Mr Pickles really believes in all of this. But he certainly does believe in the power of publicity. Now his tough man act might deliver him some good headlines in the Daily Mail, but it won't help him deliver better local governance -or better value for the taxpayer either. As we all know, measuring effectiveness by how thick the press cuttings are is a pretty artificial, short-term method.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Here's to you @wadds

Ok, so I would have enjoyed winning last night's reputation online award for Greatest Contribution from an Individual. But losing to @wadds isn't the end of the world.

He's passionate about social media -and he understands it too, which isn't always the case in our industry. He's also a PRCA member -which means I can find a reason to celebrate my own vanquishing.

So -here's to you @wadds -you deserve it!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Chris Whitehouse Is Just Wrong

Chris Whitehouse, MD of The Whitehouse Consultancy is on the soapbox in this week's PR Week, with a precis of a longer article first published earlier this month. He's returning to his favourite topic -bashing his own industry. I know he is passionate about standards in public affairs, but it does nonetheless strike me as a strange way to address your profession.

Allow me to make a riposte. I make no apology for it being direct.

He states that "The first time there is a lobbying scandal that involves a company or individual included on the statutory register, the media will generate pressure for the culprit to be punished". Correct. "With no statutory authority to insist on a minimum standard of behaviour and with no scale of sanctions available, the authorities will be powerless to act". Absolutely incorrect. There are standards -set by the PRCA, CIPR and APPC Codes. There is a scale of sanctions -again, set out in our Codes. The 'authorities' (slightly strange word but I'll let it pass) do have the ability and the appetite to act.

I'm never quite certain if the people who wheel out this 'self-regulation is no regulation' line are deliberately being inaccurate, or just haven't bothered to look at what the self-regulatory bodies actually do. Our Code covers all PRCA member employees. It includes a clear, fair and robust disciplinary process. We enforce it rigorously. We have a range of sanctions available all the way up to public expulsion. We are more than willing to use them.

It's a pretty straightforward situation.

The ridiculousness of the industry beating itself up is that there are plenty of other people happy to do so -we really don't need to add to their numbers.

There certainly is a debate to be had about regulation, but it will be a rather more productive one if it includes some facts.

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Internship Challenge

The issue of how we reward interns for their efforts is being discussed again, and seems all the more stark given the currently weak state of the jobs market, and the reduction in university places available. PR Week for instance, carries an analysis piece this week, including some comments from me. In the same issue, it also runs a piece entitled 'public believes degrees are ten-a-penny'. The juxtaposition is interesting

My old CIPR boss Colin Farrington had a pithy little line 'the best can be the enemy of the good'. I guess he might have deployed it here -would the challenge that some have made for all internships to be well paid run the risk of simply reducing the total number of internships available? That certainly wouldn't help either us as an industry, or the people trying to get their first break.

But equally an industry of slave labourers isn't what we want either -in fact, it shames us. It certainly serves as an unwelcome filter, blocking the path of those unable to afford the luxury of working without pay. As a student, I turned down an unpaid internship with the think tank Politeia -I'd have loved to have worked there, but I couldn't afford to. So I do recognise the problem.

This conundrum is all the more acute given the economic uncertainty we still face. At the PRCA, we think it is just one aspect of the wider challenge of ensuring that the very best available talent sees PR as an attractive, rewarding, open industry industry. It encompasses deep issues such as ethnicity, gender, disability, class. It isn't an issue that is amenable to simple, quick solutions, and we certainly don't believe that the answers are ready made.

But it is an issue we are committed to addressing. We will shortly be announcing the make-up of a commission to examine this challenge, and to come forward with practical recommendations. We cannot promise easy solutions, but we can promise effort and commitment.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

PRCA and the Newspaper Licensing Agency -an update

The following statment was issued to all members earlier this morning:

We understand that the NLA has asked a number of PRCA members to provide witness statements for use by the NLA in its High Court proceedings against the PRCA.

As you know from previous alerts, Meltwater News referred the NLA's Web Database Licence (WDL) and the Web End User Licence (WEUL) -i.e. the one PRCA members are asked to sign by the NLA- to the UK's Copyright Tribunal in December 2009. Amongst other things, Meltwater is arguing that end users should not need to pay the NLA for receiving and clicking on links sent as part of an online news monitoring service. The PRCA intervened in January 2010 in support of Meltwater's case on this point.

In May 2010, the NLA decided to sue both Meltwater and the PRCA (as a representative of its members) for copyright infringement. Amongst other things, the NLA is seeking a declaration that the PRCA's members require (as a matter of law) a licence from the NLA to receive the Meltwater News service. This issue is going to trial before the High Court in November. It is in respect of this issue that the NLA is seeking evidence from PRCA members. That evidence will be used by the NLA to support its case that it is perfectly reasonable for the NLA to charge PRCA members for receiving and clicking on links.

As the PRCA is a defendant in these proceedings, we cannot and do not comment on whether or not you should provide any such evidence to the NLA. However, we do advise that you seek independent legal advice on the implications for you of providing evidence for the NLA before providing any evidence. In relation to any evidence given to support the NLA, the PRCA may ask witnesses to attend Court to answer questions about their evidence.

Friday, 6 August 2010

The Guardian needs a fact check

Yesterday, the Guardian ran an 'investigative' piece about PR companies supposedly 'reputation laundering' for oppresive regimes.

They should buy a dictionary. Their view of 'investigative' is essentially to start with a prejudice; add a bit of speculation; throw in a cropped quotation. And -bingo! A front page story!

So let us be clear:

PR is a 'growing market'. Not in terms of working for overseas governments, but because it's a growing discipline across professional services.

It's *previously* autocratic governments that are now democracies which realise they need to talk with their populations, rather than just dictate to them.

And I make no apology for London being a global PR hub. A hub for ethical, professional communications advice.

'Professional'. It's an important word. It's one the Guardian should look up in a dictionary. Because it certainly isn't a word that they understand right now.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Signing Up For The Voyage

As you might have read in PR Week, it's now public that I've committed to stay at the PRCA until January 2013 at the very least. It wasn't a particularly hard decision -I like to see things through, and despite the PRCA team achieving much over the past three years or so, I still think there's a great deal more to do. What have we done so far? Well....

Stage one was to steady the ship. I think we did that pretty well.

Stage two was to improve the offering. We did that too. Our business referral service FAPRA is enormously bigger than it was; our training beats the competition hands down in terms of quality and price; our range and quality of member services has never been better.

Stage three was to grow. Well, we've certainly done that -we now have twice the number agency members we had in 2007. We have in-house teams too. We have a freelancer network. We have international members.

And all the while to start offering the industry the leadership and support it has lacked so often and so noticeably.

So what's the next stage?

More of the above of course, but something else too. We need to set the direction of the industry rather than just comment on it. And with the team and the members we have, we can certainly do that.

We also intend to link up with like-minded, complimentary bodies. We have a number of those partnerships on the cards, and will be announcing them soon enough. The aim is to add value to our existing members, and to increase still further our relevance to our industry.

So the plan for the next two and a half years? Full steam ahead of course!

Photo credit: legenda-.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Actually Doing Something On Diversity.....

I spent most of yesterday at the Ignite conference on diversity, supported and hosted by Edelman.

I'm not a great conference-goer it must be said. All too often, they're little more than talking shops to puff up the vanity of organisers and speakers alike. But I think yesterday was different. PRCA Board member and Edelman CEO Robert Phillips set the tone when he said that his aim was action not words. I couldn't agree more.

Robert spelt out precisely what Edelman will do to drive diversity, and in the same manner, I set out what the PRCA will do. We will do this:

*Establish a framework for paid internships, targeted at hard-to-reach groups
*Formalise our work with universities, again targeted to reach students who ordinarily wouldn't consider a career in PR
*Provide the first credible, robust statistics on the size and composition of the PR industry, to be refreshed every two years

All of this should help to ease access into the industry, and to allow us to track its composition as it moves forward. Much of this we will do with partners -undertaking the PR Census with PR Week for example.

But the most important thing that we will do is to work with other willing bodies to create robust evidence of the business case for diversity. That case is the missing link.

I am thoroughly tired of hearing speeches that claim there is a clear business case for diversity, but then signally fail to provide any evidence of that case. A sense of 'we should do this thing' will take the industry only so far -and it will do so very slowly. The most powerful driver for action is the one that includes Pound signs. That is why clear, financial measures of the business benefit derived from workforce diversity are absolutely essential if we are to widen access to the profession, so that it can benefit from all of the talent that exists.

A final comment. Diversity isn't just about ethnicity. It's about so much more than that. It's about age, about disability, about -dare we say the word- class. We pigeon hole and marginalise the debate when we limit it to being a question of colour alone. That's a mistake the PRCA will not make.

Friday, 25 June 2010


Guestpost by Richard Houghton FPRCA, President of ICCO, and Ex-Chairman of the PRCA

It’s more than 11 years since I was the PRCA representative on the first PR Planning and Evaluation Toolkit, a joint publication with the CIPR. An online version PREFix followed and there are now more books, guides and websites on how to evaluate campaigns than you can count.

Despite the level and quality of information available I think it fair to say that evaluation of PR campaigns is by no means ubiquitous and that in many case advertising value equivalents (AVEs) are the sole measure used, despite their obvious failings.

Last week in Barcelona at the 2nd European Summit on Measurement 150 measurement and PR professionals may have taken the first steps to making PR evaluation a core part of all campaigns.

The main participants in the Summit Principles debate - the Global Alliance for Public Relations, the IPR's Commission on Measurement and Evaluation, the PRSA, the ICCO and the US Research Agency Leaders Chapter of AMEC – helped to create the seven key principles of evaluation that were endorsed at the conference These were that:.

1. Goal setting and measurement are important

2. Media measurement requires quantity and quality

3. AVEs are not the Value of Public Relations
- Do not measure the value of PR or future activity
- Where comparisons are made validated metrics should be used
- Multipliers should never be applied unless proven to exist

4. Social media can and should be measured

5. Measuring outcomes is preferred to measuring media results (outputs)

6. Organisational results and outcomes should be measured whenever possible

7. Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement

What does this mean to PRCA members?

We’ve gone on record endorsing the principles as an important starting point for achieving two things. Firstly, we want to drive acceptance that evaluation of PR campaigns is crucial for the planning of future campaigns and demonstrating value.

Secondly, we are looking for wide understanding and acceptance that not all measurement methods are equal and that there are some basic requirements that need to be met for the evaluation process to be successful.

The PRCA’s Best Practice Committee, chaired by Alison Clark of Huntsworth has evaluation as one of its top priorities and we will continue to develop the PRCA’s services in this area including training, tools and best practice.

On the vexed question of AVEs, my view is that if clients want them, then most consultancies will provide them. But at the same time the failings of the method should be highlighted and every effort should be made to provide alternative and comparable evaluation methods that are relevant to other ROI measures used by the client.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Launching the PR Council

Today is a big day for the PRCA. It's the day we announce the composition of the PR Council.

The Council includes some of the most respected and well-known names in PR, and it will genuinely be a pleasure to hear their views on the issues facing the industry, and on the work of the PRCA.

In a sign of how engaged our membership now is, over two-thirds of members cast their votes in the week they had available to do so. I know that rate is pretty impressive by the standards of any membership body -in fact, it exceeds turnout at last month's general election!

It's important also to note the structural change. For the first time in our 41 years of existence, the PRCA's governance procedures involve in-house practitioners. That is a major change, and is good news for the PRCA, our members and the broader industry we represent.

I see this development as just the latest stage in the PRCA's renaissance. Over the past two and a bit years, we have more than doubled our agency membership; we have successfully opened our ranks to in-house practitioners; we have become the most vocal advocate and defender of the PR industry; and we have -I hope- transformed the services we offer to members.

It's all part of our drive for continuous improvement. And we have much, much more planned.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Women in PR group opens talks with PRCA

Guest post by Gillian Waddell, MD of Fuel PR and President of Women in PR (WPR) group.

WPR is a well-established industry organisation with just under 50 years of providing uniquely informal networking opportunities for a diverse group of experienced PR professionals at varying stages of their careers. Linking with CIPR some 5 years ago provided an opportunity to widen the membership. However, the twinning of a background of well-known CIPR issues together with individual members' varying concerns has encouraged us to re-consider our compatibility as a CIPR sectoral group. We are aware that a number of our members value much of CIPR's overall offer, and will want to continue to benefit from this, but our success as a group lies in maintaining characteristics such as informality, fun and flexibility within the context of independent responsibility and integrity.

The decision to leave CIPR has not been taken quickly or lightly. We have spent a good deal of time over the past year discussing the various issues, both with our members and CIPR. We have encouraged debate about the future of WPR, and our AGM in February resulted in a decision to hold an EGM to specifically discuss the overall question of our future direction as a group. The result of this was our decision to resign from CIPR, to continue as a group, and to continue with talks with PRCA with regards to how we might link together.

PRCA is held in high regard by many of our members, some of whom are members, some of whom are not. PRCA is widely recognised to potentially offer a "great new home" for WPR - it has a terrific reputation amongst the industry for providing standards of best practice professionalism and integrity within a framework of responsible entrepreneurial, energetic and enthusiastic "PR spirit". We think there could be many benefits to both parties in terms of linking.

There's obviously been lively debate about the recent decision/activity. We understand the decision may not be welcome news to CIPR, but we want to thank them for their support over the past 5 years, and to support those who want to continue with their individual membership of CIPR. We are however committed to a new future which resonates closely with our intents and members.

We are grateful to PRCA for the opportunity to talk, consider ways we can link, and to encourage the means by which our organisation can continue to flourish as a platform for wide-ranging industry individuals at all stages of their professional careers to come together within a unique spirit of co-operation, friendly interaction and support.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

LGcommunications Conference - Leeds 2010

Guest post by David Holdstock, Chair of LGcommunications and Head of Corporate Communications at London Borough of Hillingdon.

As the changing political and economic landscape brings tough new challenges, local government communicators need to communicate more effectively and learn from leaders in the industry.

This new era of austerity is going to impact on all of us and it made this year's LGcommunications conference, held in Leeds last week, the most important conference for public sector communicators in the last five years - maybe the last decade.

With nearly 400 delegates, more than 50 speakers and a range of best practice seminars, the clear message was that communicators have a key role to play in helping to shape the way organisations respond to the tough decisions ahead. Some have grasped the initiative and communications is already driving a huge amount of transformation in local government. In other areas, there is still some way to go. It is clear that as professional communicators, we need to work with leadership teams as improving reputation is a collective challenge. If we work with our senior teams to provide strong leadership, if we have a clear sense of purpose and deliver strategic, cost-effective communications, then we can rise to the challenge.

The centerpiece of the conference was the launch of the new LGcommunications/Local Government Association reputation campaign, which focuses on three key themes - Leadership, branding and communications. These need to be at the heart of every local authority communications outfit if we are going to be able to deliver value for money services and an enhanced reputation for local government in the current climate. It provides the framework for local government communicators to deliver improved reputation and ultimately increase resident satisfaction.

We also announced at the conference a new strategic partnership between LGcommunications and the PRCA. This offers an exclusive and unique arrangement for LGcommunications members who sign up as in-house members. This will add new training and development opportunities for LGcommunications’ members, namely exclusive discounted rates on PRCA face to face training and unlimited free online training, but also links to professional networks that members may otherwise not be able to access. Real benefits for in-house PR professionals in the public sector.

As professional communicators we are in a powerful and in many ways, unique position. We should no longer be going to our chief executives asking for additional money and resources. Instead, we should be going with solutions of how we can help our organisations meet the financial and political challenges that lie ahead for all of us.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

In Defence of Self-Regulation

Paul Bradshaw asks on twitter why we disagree with the Government's proposal to become heavily involved in the regulation of public affairs professionals. In particular, he asks how we can 'reasonably' do so. Well, the question having been posed, let me attempt an answer.

The PRCA -along with the two other relevant professional bodies- agrees that transparency and accountability are central to the practice of public affairs. That is why PRCA members have, for many years, adhered to a rigorous Code of Conduct, and declared regularly the names of their clients and the names of their employees. The same goes for APPC members too. There is nothing secretive here, and the people who pretend otherwise are very often just engaged in wishful thinking to support their own theories.

This accountability and transparency is further being enhanced by the creation of one unified register under the Public Affairs Council, constituted by the three main bodies. This Council will be chaired by an independent person of stature, who will be supported by other Independent Board Members. The identities of those people will very soon be made public, the exhaustive recruitment process having been completed two days ago.

Having set that context, let me address the main issue. Government regulation should be proportionate, effective, and better than the thing it replaces. Where self-regulation exists and works, it should be allowed to continue. That holds true for any normal activity, not just public affairs. It applies to blogging, tweeting, even journalism for that matter. And existing public affairs regulation does indeed work.

We are not nihilists -we will continue to work calmly and reasonably with all parties to make our points. And if the Government does decide to amend the current regulatory system, and legislatively to prioritise such a change, then we will work with them to make it as effective and proportionate as possible. But the key point is this -it is those who scream 'something must be done', and urge the dismantling of a system that works already, who are not acting 'reasonably'.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Election 2010 - Where is the real power?

Guest post by Howard Kosky, markettiers4dc

So, after a weekend of yet more conjecture having woken up on Friday to the news that no single party had won the election and that the exit poles appeared to have got it right, communication experts have begun to dissect the campaigns to look at where it went right or, more worryingly for some, where it went wrong and what lessons there are to be learned.

But what can we in the communications industry learn or, more to the point, be reminded of from this campaign?

As with many brands and organisations, the UK's political parties have tried to engage with an audience, build a community and deliver a call to action to ‘buy’ their brand i.e. to vote for them. One could argue that, collectively, they have done a very good job. Turnout was up and there were queues outside the ‘shops’ / polling stations of people keen to 'buy' one of them.

We’ve seen traditional marketing tactics deployed including above-the-line advertising. There has been print media editorial with some newspapers switching allegiances, point-of-sale with local sampling teams and broadcast, but what happened to Social Media?

It was only a few months ago that we were being told that this was the election where Social Media would take its place in influencing the political shape of the country in the same way perhaps Barack Obama’s campaign did in the US. However for me, with a vested and subjective interest, I will have to stand in the corner and raise my hand for the power of broadcast and how this media has, once again, shown its strength to influence.

For the first time we have had the Leader Debates, if we can describe them as such. I would argue they were more influential in mobilising an audience than the traditional TV ad of the party political broadcast. We can also analyse the debates themselves and the personal performances of the ‘brand spokespersons’ and draw conclusions and analogies to what we deal with day to day. There is no doubt they were effective in engaging an audience with a call to action to register and vote, but how much influence did each spokesperson have on us the electorate to 'buy' their brand? Nick Clegg most certainly used the opportunity to raise awareness for the Lib Dems and looks set to have a big say in the final outcome if the activity of the last few days is anything to go by.

As we all know, when you are dealing with a powerful media, its great when it goes in your favour but tread careful and be respectful to it, otherwise it can also work against you. One only has to observe Gordon Brown’s ‘gaffgate’ episode to see this in practice.

Rule one as anyone will tell you in broadcast is to assume the mic is live at all times until you are certain its been switched off. I watched with intrigue not only that moment unfold 'live' on television, but also as the TV cameras followed Brown into the radio studio to be interviewed by Jeremy Vine. This is a media which can mobilise itself very quickly and whilst being made aware of the recording and realising the severity of his comments, Brown importantly also realised the influence of broadcast media.

So whilst no one party can claim an outright victory, I hereby declare Broadcast the winner and a timely reminder of its power to influence.

Friday, 23 April 2010

League Table 2010

Everyone says that they don't care about the Top 150 league table. Just like they say they really don't care if they're in the Power Book or not. Do I believe them? Absolutely not!! Their studied indifference has the same ring of truth as David Cameron saying he genuinely isn't that fussed about his hair; or Gordon Brown telling us that's really quite a laid back sort of guy....

Relative positions matter, especially when there's a move into a different 'class'.

But putting the competition element aside, and looking at the industry as a whole, these are very encouraging figures. This time last year, the PR world was full of doom mongers, predicting the end of the world as we knew it -dozens of agencies turning turtle; hordes of PR execs queuing round the block to get into the dole office..... You get the picture. And what happened? The industry grew by 0.75% over the year.

Now ok, 0.75% is hardly fantastic. Compared with the boom years, it's a pretty sickly number. And very few will look back some time from now and say 'gosh 2009 was a really relaxed, confident year -if anything, perhaps things were too easy'. 2009 was a tough year. But many agencies prospered during it nonetheless, and far fewer agencies went into a nosedive than we might have expected. We ended 2009 in much better shape than we might.

Where does it leave us for 2010 and beyond? Well set in my view. If that was the worst the recession had to throw at us, well.......

Friday, 16 April 2010

It Took Only 50 Years But.....

I haven't seen the viewing figures, but last night was surely remarkable for being the moment when political debate reached out to the non-anoraks (and yes, I'm in the anorak category here), and became prime-time viewing. About time too -it's taken a mere 50 years to agree the rules after all....

Everyone's pretty clear that Clegg won the night. To an extent, the Lib Dems were inevitably going to be the big winners, just due to finally getting the same amount of airtime as the two bigger parties. But Clegg certainly seemed the most assured, and managed to pull off the classic trick of being Mr Reasonable in a three-way argument.

I've commented to PR Week on what I thought about Cameron's performance -good beginning, strong ending, but no theme or passion in the middle. The election's his to lose, so there'll be relief in CCHQ that he didn't lose it last night. But I think there'll also be disappointment.

As for Brown, well he was solid, he was just the right side of aggressive, and he got the only laugh of the evening. It wasn't, though, the game changer he needs.

The one great disappointment though was surely the set. It was, well, awful. I can't remember who it was that made the comparison last night, but it was more reminiscent of Going For Gold than of the US Presidential model it was supposed to emulate.

Two final comments. It was interesting -and it was insightful- but televised debates very rarely change the dynamic of elections. They more often serve to entrench the views we have already.

There's (rightly) much talk of how the US ones work, but the last time a debate changed the course of an election must be Carter-Reagan. And the second point is the one made by Stephan Shakespeare at You Gov. Polls immediately after such events often don't always reflect what ends up being the settled view. And if you doubt that, google the Carter Ford 1976 debate, how it was initially reported, and how it ended up being rated.

Roll on round two....

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Speed Joins PRCA

Two year and six months into me being DG, Speed has joined the PRCA.

It's a genuinely seminal moment.

The criticism laid at the door of membership bodies is that they are slow moving; that they fail properly to represent what happens in the industry they purport to represent; that they are dinosaurs in a land full of sprinters.

Those are fair criticisms. And we need to learn from them. As an industry, we must embrace digital or die. Too many people still hold out against that simple truth. And on too many occasions, the refuskins are membership bodies.

So I am absolutely delighted to welcome Stephen Waddington and Steve Earl's firm into the PRCA.

They're dynamic. They're modern. They live in the future. And now they're in the PRCA.

One final thought.

I think what Stephen has said deserves to be quoted without commentary:

“We're really impressed with how the PRCA has modernised. We welcomed the decision to broaden the membership to include client organisations, the way that the Association has embraced digital communications and its proactive campaigning on issues such as web licensing. The change has been dramatic.”

Stephen's posted about joining on his blog too. I'll leave it at that I think.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Five Years On

So, the election's finally been called.

I'm an unashamed politico, so naturally I'm interested in politics. But I'm sure that I'm not the only one who'll be following the campaign with interest until May 6th. Indeed, possibly until May 18th, when Parliament returns.

Today's announcement does make me think back five years.

On the day the 2005 election was called, I was CIPR Head of Public Affairs, and stuck in a management away day, chaired by Colin Farrington in the CIPR flat. I was also Lionel Zetter's Parliamentary agent, and eager to get back to the constituency to start our campaign. Colin very kindly allowed me to leave right away, and for the next month to squeeze my job around my agent's responsibilities. Most of the launch day was spent delivering thousands of leaflets, and touring the mean streets of Edmonton in a car covered in Tory propaganda, wielding a loud-hailer at unsuspecting voters.... Those of you who know Edmonton will know what sort of a day that makes for.

Seems a long time ago.

It prompts one related thought. I was genuinely sorry to see Colin fall ill. We had the odd disagreement after I left the CIPR, but during the time I worked for him, I found Colin a good boss and a decent guy. Now that he's left the CIPR, I hope he finds something that gives him a fresh challenge. I'm sure he will.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

PRCA-Bell Pottinger Public Affairs. Setting the Record Straight

Let's set the record straight re the PRCA and Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, shall we?

There are a couple of suggestions floating around today that somehow BPPA won't actually be listing their clients, despite joining the PRCA. These suggestions have already been rebutted by Peter Bingle and by me, but let's give it another go eh?

Let me be as blunt about this as I can be -and as is allowed by the constraints of polite language.

These suggestions are absolute rubbish.

There is no special deal; no unique exemption. There is no hidden meaning; no covert agenda.

BPPA will declare all of their clients in the same transparent, voluntary and open way that every other PRCA member does. Like every other PRCA member, there will be an incredibly limited, exceptional ability for them to request that they should not declare a particular client where to do so would be illegal; would place employees in physical danger; would breach national security restrictions. If they make any such request, they will have to provide evidence to support it.

This exemptions clause exists now, and matches the one offered by the APPC, and the one that the CIPR's new model of transparency will offer too. It is sensible, limited and ethical. It will be backed up and validated by the UK Public Affairs Council.

The thing that is certainly not sensible is to treat BPPA's decision to join the PRCA -and to embrace our rigorous disclosure demands- as something other than a very significant and positive moment. This was a big decision for BPPA, taken personally by Peter Bingle and Tim Bell; it is a significant boost to the self-regulatory model that the great majority of us support.

So my simple message is this. BPPA is a first-rate, ethical, transparent company, and I am delighted to welcome them to the PRCA.

Maybe just for once, perhaps, just perhaps, we could try and embrace good news for what it is, rather than always trying to find some hidden deceit within it?

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

PRCA Welcomes Bell Pottinger Public Affairs

Today's a good day for the public affairs industry, and a good day for the PRCA. Because today it's now public knowledge that Bell Pottinger Public Affairs is the latest PRCA member.

Their entry is something I've been keen on for a long time, and I'm delighted that Tim Bell and Peter Bingle have made the decision to bring BPPA into the PRCA club. It's a totemic PA brand, and its addition to our ranks is another great PRCA 'win' -comparable to Weber's return in 2008 and Edelman's in 2009.

So it adds again to the momentum of the PRCA, and that's something I'm certainly proud of. Over the past two years, we've doubled in size and, I'd like to think, in relevance to the industry too.

It's more than that though -it's a real boost to self-regulation.

The critics of self-regulation have always bemoaned the fact that while BPPA's staff were CIPR members, the company wasn't in the APPC or PRCA. Well, no longer. I'm sure that Tamsin Cave et al will change their line of attack, but the main one's now gone. This affirmation of transparency by Peter and Tim is -hopefully- a turning point in our efforts to avoid the unnecessary burden, expense and bureaucracy of Government regulation.

So -a really good day.

I think I shall celebrate BPPA's entry in a manner that Peter would approve of -I shall open a nice bottle of wine and listen to some opera....

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Copyright Tribunal Rules in Favour of PRCA

No need to make any further comment on this PR Week story.

Other than to say that we are obviously delighted. And that it vindicates our decision to stand up for the best interests of our members and the industry.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Max ‘Marmite’ Clifford, by Trevor Morris Visiting Professor of Public Relations, University of Westminster

Fireworks on Monday night at a panel debate entitled ‘Celebrity Brands – Desire, Dollars and Danger?’ held at the Regent Street Campus of the University of Westminster and with a bustling drinks reception hosted by the PRCA.

A sell out audience of 350 people saw Max Clifford prove he is Mr Marmite.
Clifford polarised the audience by taking several phone calls whilst on stage –he claimed one was from Simon Cowell, though some think it was a classic Clifford set up. When criticised from the floor for his ‘rudeness’ Clifford replied along the lines of ‘I’m not being paid for this, but my clients pay me a lot of money.’

Also on the panel, and not being paid but not on the phone, were ad guru Trevor Beattie, Julian Linley, former editor of Heat, me as chair, and PR guru Mark Borkowski. Max Marmite seemed determined to try and wind up Mark. He claimed that celebrities ‘get me - or if they can’t afford me, then they’ll get someone like Mark.’ Mark’s response was to say that he would refuse Clifford’s clients, preferring to represent people with real talent.

When the audience weren’t being told by Max Marmite what big egos celebrities have, they were treated to a discussion of whether celebrities have actually made us more socially tolerant or simply given the false impression that anyone can become rich - this at a time when the gap between the rich and poor is getting wider.

The rather exotic Shelley von Strunckel asked if our obsession with celebrity was filling in the gap left by the decline in religion. The panel thought not, saying celebrity had always been with us and always would be.

Perhaps the most worrying point raised was about the increasing celebrification of politics, with the most recent fashion being for public emoting.

And perhaps the most astute observation was that Max Marmite is now a bigger celebrity than some of his clients.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Well, we put our money where our mouth was. We intervened against the NLA.

For a good eighteen months now, their plans to start taxing the receipt and forwarding of URLs have caused a row, with words being traded, meetings held, 'consultations' undertaken. The end result? They ploughed ahead pretty much regardless.

Last week in PR Week, NLA MD David Pugh had a little go at us. He said we'd not taken part in his 'consultation'. And he said we'd 'gestured from the touchlines'.

Let's put aside the fact that on the nine occasions when he and I met formally, we were clear and consistent in our opposition to his plans. And the fact that we facilitated him meeting direct with our members to learn their views. Both of which in my view make it pretty clear that we took part in his consultation. If 'consultation' is the right word.

Well, if were were ever on it, we are certainly now OFF the touchline. We're on the field, intervening in defence of the right to link to content freely made available already by the publishers. On the field, and ready -to continue David's theme- to scrum down.

And the reason why is simple. The NLA's plans have no basis in law in our view; are unreasonable; are restrictive. Actually, are self-defeating for a newspaper model built on the work of PR professionals, and centred on advertising.

All of these points were made clear to the NLA when they asked their questions. They just happened not to like the answers they received. So now we end up in the Tribunal.... Engage!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The NLA Blinks....

Just before Christmas, I blogged that the NLA ‘s decision to try and tax weblinks was going to backfire. In their face-off with the PR industry, the media monitors and ourselves, they were throwing into question their very existence.

Well, today the NLA blinked in that face-off.

In response to our pressure, and Meltwater’s decision to refer the NLA to the Copyright Tribunal, the NLA today announced they are suspending their billing process while the Tribunal considers the case.

Do bear in mind the NLA say they’ll retrospectively bill users if the Tribunal happens to rule in their favour. I think they’ll lose the case, but even if they were to win, I am extremely doubtful they would find it easy to back-date bills –I know they’d like to be a wing of the Revenue, but they’re not.

The fundamental point is this though. If they were confident of their position, they wouldn’t have blinked. But they have. And in our view, it’s because their bluff’s been called.

Now their plans are in limbo. And they’ll remain there for between nine and twelve months while the Tribunal completes its work. We’re considering what our next step is, and we’ll keep the industry up-to-date about how we’re fighting for their interests.

But be in no doubt –this is a terrible day for the NLA; a good day for the PR industry. And we intend making the NLA’s life harder still.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Why PR People Get A Bad Press

Guest post by: Adrian Wheeler

My first boss escaped from the Rank Organisation in 1968. He had spent ten years mediating between the press, Sir John Davis and Rank’s stable of celebrities. The experience left him with psychological scars and … well, experience. When he set up his own consulting firm he wanted nothing to do with ‘public relations’, so he coined the term ‘Corporate Relations Consultants’. It didn’t catch on.

Brian was an eccentric individual, but his aversion to ‘public relations’ typified the attitude of many first-class practitioners then and now. Whenever PR people get together they will, sooner or later, discuss how inappropriate ‘public relations’ is as a moniker and what we should call it instead. Anyone who can get away with describing themselves as something else – for instance, in lobbying or The City – does.

What’s wrong with ‘public relations’? I’ve always enjoyed the response when I tell people what I do for a living. In the early days it meant a furrowed brow: ‘What exactly is that?’ Later on the questions were more acute: ‘Ah – and what kind of clients do you work for?’ Nowadays the reaction can be more equivocal, and I think I see what Brian meant.

There are 2,400 public relations companies in the UK. Only 200 belong to the Public Relations Consultants Association. The CIPR says there are 40,000 public relations practitioners in the UK, of which only 10,000 belong to the Institute. This suggests that most people practising ‘public relations’ do not see it as a profession and do not want to get involved with standards, training and regulation. It probably also means they are not much good.

Statistically, most clients and journalists will meet three of those for every serious practitioner. No wonder clients are slow to trust their public relations advisors. No wonder journalists have a go at ‘PRs’ whenever they get the chance. It’s like an iceberg floating upside-down: general perceptions of public relations are created by the people who care about it least.

I don’t think there is any point in trying to invent a new word for ‘public relations’. Let’s tackle the quality problem from the other end: clients and journalists should begin any conversation with a ‘PR’ by asking: ‘Do you belong to the CIPR or the PRCA?’ If the answer’s ‘no’ they can continue the discussion at their own risk or put the phone down.

It would be naïve to think that every CIPR or PRCA member is free of fault. But at least they are trying to do their work well. They should be encouraged, supported and preferred; then we might see public relations recognised as a professional business service and we might all feel a lot happier calling ourselves public relations people.