Tag Archives: PR

Review: MyPRStack 2.0

20 Oct

When I was asked if I’d like to write a review of the second edition of MyPRStack – an open source publication aimed at simplifying and explaining the tools and practices that form the basis of modern PR and Marcomms workflows, all lovingly curated by Stephen Waddington (@Wadds) Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum PR – I honestly did not know where to start. The reason for this is simple: its breadth and depth are as vast as its aspirations and ethos are admirable.


Split over 30 chapters and 120 pages, MyPRStack will introduce the reader to a huge range of digital tools – predominantly tools that practitioners can use totally free of charge (though some have more advanced enterprise versions that do carry costs) – with each tool explained by some of the best and brightest in the PR and Marcomms industry right now.

While on the subject of cost, you can download a digital copy of MyPRStack edition 2 right now and totally for free on the following link (It is also available in hard copy if, like me, you enjoy the owning of books). This is one of the things I most admire about MyPRStack, at its heart beats the aspiration to help make the industry better and more effective because in doing so we become more credible.

Learn from Rich Leigh (@RichLeighPR) on how you can Open Site Explorer to influence media and Blogger engagement; Agharad Welsh (@Welsh_PR) on using Talkwater to Steer through a crisis; Stella Bayles (@stellabayles) on using google trends to prove audience action; Tim Lloyd (Timolloyd) on getting real people to test your digital content…I could go on and this is one of MyPRStacks biggest strengths each and every chapter is a gold mine of practical information. MyPRStack is your guide to the free tools with practical advice that can make you better at how you do the day-to-day tasks involved in delivering brilliant campaigns, managing crises and measuring the effectiveness of what you do. There is not a single publication, that I am aware of, that comes even half-way close to delivering on that.

In the current climate of shrinking budgets for communication teams, especially for those working in-house, it’s unlikely that your manager is going to be able (or willing) to send you on 30 training courses to learn about these tools. MyPRStack exists so you, the practitioner, can take charge of your professional development and learn in a very accessible way from those who have trodden the path before you.

There are a number of tools explained that I was not aware of and/or tools I was aware of being used in ways I had simply not thought of. I’m still processing a lot of the learning from the second edition of MyPRStack, but I’m fairly confident in saying that I will improve as a practitioner from the things I am taking in.

As a practitioner, Wadds is fairly unique in straddling the, often huge, divide between the academic study of the communication disciplines and the practical delivery of PR and Marketing and his curatorship of MyPRStack reflects that. Whether you are a PR student, an academic or practitioner (and I agree with Wadds that the gulf should not be so vast as it is); whether you work in-house or in an agency; whether you work for a large organisation or are a solo-practitioner there will be something within MyPRStack that is for you. Personally I think it will be a long time before MyPRStack will stop feeling relevant and useful to our industry at large, but don’t just take my word for it, download your free copy today.

Also if you are interested in finding out more about how Wadds is trying to bridge the gap between PR academics and practitioners, check out his community of practice of Facebook.


Does your life suck? Why not kick a duck to death? or: Why Balloon Releases are Dumb.

20 Feb

I have written and rewritten this post more times than I could count. I have compromised and compromised to avoid offence, until I realised I had become as guilty of this as the people this post criticises. I’m tired of compromise, so this is the first version that I wrote, I am unapologetic for this fact…

Okay, let’s play a game.

Let’s imagine every member of your family are inextricably struck down tomorrow. Would any of those loved ones have appreciated you honouring their memory by tipping a barrel of crude oil into the ocean? If so then each time one dies you should do exactly that, may as well, right? Of course none of us would do that, because it’s HARMFUL and DAMAGING to the ENVIRONMENT. I recently had to explain to a grown adult why the environment is important for our lives (People are hopelessly miopic, all hope is lost, we’re going to die here).

You with me so far? We’re agreed that we shouldn’t tip barrels of oil into the sea because it’s harmful and damaging to our environment and we need our environment to live? If you accept this argument, then you already know why releasing balloons is a terrible idea.

To be clear


Punching badgers = Dumb

Tipping oil in sea = Dumb


Balloon releases = Dumb

This is a post about Balloon releases and a man with the greatest beard that has ever been grown by man.

I’d followed Andy Mabbett for some time and got to know his work quite well, in encounters with him he was always friendly and courteous, so I was somewhat surprised to log on to Twitter before christmas and find him getting huge amounts of aggressive tweets from people, I was intrigued. It was more intrigueing as some of the abuse was coming from an official charity Twitter account.


I will not name this charity as I promised I wouldn’t (and I don’t want to give them the coverage).

Andy’s crime was suggesting that Balloon Releases were harmful to the environment and that the charity involved should cancel theirs. Andy was Zen-Like in his calm responses to abuse, fighting blind rage with reasoned logic and science. He was always polite even when attempts were made to goad him. This is the evidence that Balloon releases are terrible: Balloons are harmful to wildlife  

Andy was totally right. The abuse he was subjected to was horrific and ludicrous throughout, if you joined the discussion at a late stage you would be forgiven for assuming that Andy was personally responsible not just for the suffering of the people abusing him, but for all the evils of the world. I found it strange that no one one was saying anything in way of support of Andy, infact general consensus seemed to be that the charity was in the right because they had the trump card of grief. Balloon Releases are okay if you’re grieving or raising awareness of some disease. To be fair, many thought Andy was right, but should keep his mouth shut, because people have a right to their grief and to express it in the way they feel best, including releasing balloons, whatever the consequences. People are idiots.

I started trying to talk to some of the people who had been abusing Andy. Following his fine lead of being polite and logical I suggested that perhaps they were looking at the issue in the wrong way. I tried to explain that Andy was not trying to take away their right to grieve, that wasn’t the issue, he was simply asking them not to do something to express their grief and remember their loved ones that was so damaging to the environment as a whole. It didn’t take long before I was being accused of all kinds of weird and wonderful things…at one point someone suggested that when I had children they hoped one died so I would feel their pain *Face Palm* I got quite a few DMs of support from people on Twitter but, again, no one was too keen to speak openly in support; my attackers were grieving after all. This made me realise some things…

Balloon Releases are Dumb

Just as pouring oil into the ocean is dumb; releasing balloons, whatever the reason, is harmful and destructive to the environment and therefore should be banned. If you are aware of the reasons why balloons are harmful to wildlife, but still proceed with organising one, you’re a selfish idiot and the same goes for venues that allow releases to take place, you can stop them. We can stop them.

Releasing a balloon will not help your grief! Once that balloon has floated off to get lodged in the throat of a cormorant, your grief will still be there, it will still hurt just as much as it did and you will still feel empty. Releasing a balloon will also not bring about a cure for any of the currently incurable diseases known to medical science, research into the disease may indeed yield a cure, but that cure is unlikely to resemble a Puffin choking to death on rubber.

Sometimes challenging wrongs makes you unpopular

The world needs people like Andy Mabbett, The rest of us will most likely not challenge things, even if we feel strongly about them, when there is a risk we may cause offence to others but, sometimes, causing offence is unavoidable and essential if you want to create positive change. He doesn’t go out of his way to upset people, but he doesn’t keep his mouth shut to avoid it either, especially when it is something he believes in. I respect this and I’d rather be counted along with Andy and be potentially seen as unpopular or argumentative, than keep my mouth shut just to keep the peace.

Volunteer Surgeons

It’s unlikely you would want a volunteer surgeon, without any background in biomedical science, to operate on you, but a lot of the Charity’s that I have seen Andy go up against have their Public Relations activity managed by volunteers without the relevant skill set for the role. The majority of the unpleasantness that I have witnessed comes from a fundamental lack of understanding on how best to deal with a vocal activist opposed to your organisations planned activity. It does not naturally follow that having an knowledge of the subject involved makes you the best person to handle the PR side of things. If Your spokesperson is basically leading a cyber-lynch mob of grieving people in attacking people politely suggesting alternatives to your planned activity, it might be time to find another spokesperson.

Further Reading

Follow Andy Mabbett on Twitter

Find out about Andy’s ‘Big Society’ Award

Virtual Ranger’s Blog: Bereaved Parents hope environmentalist chokes to death

Paul Clarke – A time and a place for everything

…Now if you’ll all excuse me, I am off punch a penguin in the spleen. That’s okay, right? I’m grieving after all.

CIPR Strike an important blow in the battle for UK PR industry credibility and trust.

20 Jan

The Brilliant Andy Barr (@10yetis) once told me about a great saying: I couldn’t tell my mum I worked in PR so I told her I played piano in a brothel!

My last post was about the Dark Origins of PR, how that still continues to shape public opinion of the industry and why I felt it was important that we, as practitioners, have a vested interest in changing these perceptions. With this in mind I was pleased to hear the news from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) this morning that they have taken the rare decision to expel a member of our professional body for misconduct.
The person in question is Northern Ireland practitioner, Jennifer Maguire, MD of Consultancy, Core Communications who:

‘is on public record as having fabricated evidence, lied and acted vindictively, aggressively and unreasonably at two employment tribunals in 2008 and 2009.’  – Read more in the CIPR Press Release.

I totally support the CIPR decision to take this action and think it’s important for our industry that they do. It is decisive action that demonstrates clearly that the Code of Conduct that all members of the CIPR sign up to when they join has teeth and is more than just lip-service to the concept of professional ethics for our industry. More than this, it demonstrates clearly to members and the general public that the leading body for UK PR practitioners IS committed to getting its house in order when it comes to ethics and professional standards. It’s important to note that CIPR did not respond to an external complaint on this case, they brought the action themselves against this member. This can only be good for the way people perceive our industry.

I do also think that there is more than a slight element of foresight here in relation to the bigger picture in the UK. 2011 was the year of phone-hacking and expose-after-expose into the so-called ‘Dark Arts’ of the Journalism, but it goes further than just Journalism. It would be naïve to suggest that Public Relations is totally free of practices that are perhaps ethically ambiguous (or just plain wrong) and short-sighted in the extreme to assume we won’t receive the same level of public scrutiny this year that Journalism received last year. I think CIPR are pre-empting this scrutiny by acting, not because a select committee tells them they must, but because action is the only and right course to take.

Today, I’m reminded of why my CIPR membership matters to me and why CIPR matter to the UK PR industry.

CIPR Members, today may be a good day to refresh ourselves on the expectations of us in our professional Code of Conduct.

Why the PR Industry is desperate to have some Klout…

7 Jan

Here are some questions to think about before we begin:

  • Can you measure the number of new customers a company gets over a given period following promotional activity?
  • Can you measure the number of complaints received by an organisation against the number of compliments received?
  • Can you give a number that represents the love that you feel for your wife/husband/partner?
  • Can you give a number that represents the enjoyment you get from taking part your favourite hobby?

How we doing? Let me guess, you could answer the first two because they are things that can be measured objectively in terms of numbers, but the second two would have caused you some head-scratching because, of course, emotions are highly subjective and certainly don’t lend themselves to measurement with number. If you’d have come back and said 37 is the number that best represents your love for your other half, even if you truly believed this to be the case, it would be ultimately meaningless as a measure. If you accept the accuracy of this assertion then you already know why online influence cannot be measured by a computer algorithm and, furthermore, that any score derived from such a process would be as meaningless as the number 37 is for expressing the love that you have for your partner.

Despite of all this being no secret, 2011 saw a lot of start-ups appearing and making bold claims that they can measuring online influence with Klout becoming the most popular service offering the measurement of the unmeasurable. I’m not going to spend too long discussing why it’s next to impossible for a computer program to measure and represent the intricacies of influence, but I recommend reading these posts by people who explain it for better than I:

@41MindsWhat is Influence  and The Truth about Influence

@ThinkingfoxWilly Waggling

@Robjones_TringThe One with the Influential Lists

Neville Hobson (@Jangles) – What is Klout worth to You? and Out of Klout

On to the the main subject of this post, the Public Relations industry and the measurement of influence. It really should go without saying why measuring influence (on and offline) would be of interest to PR Practitioners as the very basis of the profession, as set out by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), is:

Public relations is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics.

The key words above are ‘goodwill’ and ‘mutual understanding’, these concepts are key to the idea of Relationship Management, which is rapidly overtaking the practice of Reputation Management as the core function within Public Relations. Here’s the thing, Relationship Management is impossible without the concept of influence and a lot of Relationship Management takes place online in social spaces, so it’s no surprise that the industry would want a way to measure it, but it is a surprise that so many chose to invest their faith in services such as Klout, but measurement has always been a problem for PR.

Emerging from the Shadow of AVE

Since the very beginnings of the PR industry there has been a question that no one has found a satisfying and unifying answer for: How do we measure the effectiveness of of what we do? The fact there has yet to be found an answer to this question is seen by many as one of the major reasons our industry often scrabbles around to demonstrate it’s credibility and any type of return on investment (As a rule PR costs a lot of money).

For far too long we have relied on something called Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE), which assesses the value of any activity based on column inches in newspapers: you calculate the number of column inches following activity and then work out how much that would have cost if you placed it as advertising. You will be hard pressed to find a supporter within the industry for this approach to measuring value (you’ll find a lot of Finance Managers who like it though as it makes spreadsheets make sense to them) but many of us have used it for years and many of us, begrudgingly, still use it. The flaws of AVE are pretty evident, but summarised below:

  • PR is not (and never will be) Advertising, so a measure that suggests such a comparison does little for our credability;
  • AVE ignores tone of coverage, it simply measures the length of coverage. No press is bad press is the mantra; and
  • So much PR activity now exists in online and word-of-mouth spaces and may never reach the printed media. This does not make the coverage less valuable, simply because the newspapers do not cover it, but it is totally invisible to AVE measurement.

If you want to read the case for and against there is a good article in PR Week from 2009 on the AVE Debate, that is equally relevant today (largely because not much has changed). There is a very interesting quote, that I totally agree with from Robert Phillips, CEO of Edelman PR, on what the future should look like:

The model of the future must be able to analyse the depth, resonance, importance and influence of the conversation. But of course no such model currently exists. Options currently available include reach, opportunities to see (OTS) and frequency, alongside the somewhat mysterious catch-all phrase ‘PR value’

No Such model existing in 2009 and, despite lots of very bright people thinking about the problem, there still doesn’t exist a measure for PR that everyone is content to agree on and use. There is also a worrying trend of practitioners looking for third-party, out-of-the-box solutions that they hope will address the problem, but that always fall short.

So what now?

I don’t have any quick answers to the problem, but here’s two things that I’d like to see for Public Relations in 2012:

  • Better explanation of why AVE should no longer be used as a measure for the effectiveness of PR activity and a wider commitment to its total abandonment. We have suffered under its shadow for too long; and
  • Less focus on third party measures for activity effectiveness and ROI. If we want an effective measure that lasts it needs to be created by Public Relations people, for Public Relations People (catchy, huh!).

Two short bullet points but a huge achievement if we manage them both! It certainly won’t be easy, but it is important and if we care about the industry we work in then it’s what we need to do!

It’s not just Klout

I’ve found myself feeling a bit sorry for Klout of late, they’ve been getting a lot of criticism and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they are the only service out there claiming to be able to measure online influence, there are others. Some of the other services occasionally come in for criticism (PeerIndex, Kred etc) but there is one service that everyone seems to neglect to mention: enter stage right Edelman PR with their TweetLevel.

Yes, that’s right, one of the biggest and arguably most-respected PR agencies in the world, seen as experts in the field of Relationship Management seem to have a vested interest in us all believing that online influence can be effectively measured and attributed a score by an algorithm…they even make money from it if you want more in-depth functionality. Reading back through the Robert Phillips quote above on the subject of measurement, I feel decidedly uncomfortable by this fact.

What do you think?

Change Communication: Rumour Watch

21 Nov

Following on from my post about Change (My favourite word beginning with C) I’ve been giving some though to the common issues that arise during a Change process and some potential tools that could be used to overcome them. Today I’m thinking about Rumours.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘Rumour’ as thus:

Rumour (Noun): Information, often a mixture of truth and untruth, passed around verbally.

My experience is The Organisation is afraid of rumours, they see them as an issue that should be eradicated and come up with a number of solutions to this end that, invariably, will fail. It strikes me you’re as likely to succeed stamping out rumours with reactionary activity as you are to prevent the flow of glacial ice by giving it a stern talking-t0. I think, all-too-often The Organisation looks at rumours in the wrong way.

For me rumours are a good indication of two things about any organisation. Firstly, on the positive side, I always see rumours as a good indication of organisational health, the desire to pass on a piece of information points to an informal information sharing network, which only tend to spring up when you have a workforce who care about the work they do. Rather than worrying that you have rumours in your organisation, start to worry you don’t and no one cares enough to informally pass on information.

The more negative side of rumour is that they often become most prevalent at a time when staff do not feel like they are getting enough information about things that are taking place. During a change process, information is often the most valuable currency; if you’re going through change and suddenly see an increase in the number of rumours circulating throughout the organisation, I would be be inclined to see this as a very clear message from staff: We do not have the information we need around this process. There is no doubt, in this interpretation, that rumours can be damaging to the Change process and, in extreme cases, increase the time it takes staff to engage, but how can you combat the rumours?

One thought I had for helping The Organisation to address rumours during the change process is to run a organisation wide Rumour Watch scheme. Just to say I’ve searched to see if there are any accounts of company’s using anything similar and have not managed to find any, but that doesn’t mean there are not. Likewise, if you like the sound of this idea by all means take it and make it your own; I’m not precious, if it’s used somewhere and  proven to be effective then I will be happy!

The Idea

  • Using existing channels, encourage staff to send in the rumours that they have hard circulating around change in the organisation. It would need to be made clear that no areas should be seen as taboo and that no questions will go unanswered, while reassuring that those who wish it will allowed to remain anonymous.
  • It might be difficult to encourage people to be honest about the rumours they have heard to begin with, so perhaps start by addressing rumours that have already come to the attention of managers.
  • Once you have rumours coming in, it’s time to start answering them. Pick somewhere well used, such as intranet or electronic notice board, and publish the rumours and explanations of the reality on a weekly basis, drawing staff attention to this through normal internal communication channels.

This approach will only work if you are prepared to be completely honest with your workforce. Sometimes rumours will be raised that are entirely accurate but that you were not expecting your staff be aware of yet, deal with it! If they do know about something you thought was secret, then there is little use continuing to pretend that they don’t or that no one else will find out, all the effort you make trying to prevent it will be futile, the evil of the world cannot be forced back into Pandora’s Box!

Love to hear if people have any thoughts on this: Does it seem like an good solution to the ‘problem’ of rumours within organisations? Do you know of similar schemes being operated by organisations during Change? Do you have any organisation rumour horror stories? I’d be interested to hear from you, why not post me a comment below.

Please note: I make frequent references to ‘The Organisation’, this is used as a generic term, it does not immediately (or logically) follow that I am necessarily referring to the organisation that I work for or any other particular organisation.

My favourite word beginning with C

16 Nov

As a writer I love words and language. The English Language, alas the only one I speak, is a beautiful construct, it evolves as we do, increasing it’s lexicon as we find new and interesting ways to describe the world around us. ‘Retweet, Manflu and infograph were all added to official usage this year whilst aerodrome and charabanc all had time called on their existence having fallen out of popular usage. Despite this loss and gain of words, some have remained constant and it’s one such word I dedicate this post to.

The word that I want to talk about is one of my favourite words and concepts. This word was the heart and soul of Charles Darwin’s most celebrated works; in 2008, this word was exactly what the American people wanted to hear and became the catalyst for them doing something that they had not done before; and earlier this year, this word rang out throughout the Arab World and announced their spring of popular discontent and uprisings. The word is, of course, CHANGE.

I was raised to embrace change and over the years I have grown to love it. In my humble opinion there are few greater thrills in life than affecting positive change on whatever scale, micro or macro, it’s a truly amazing thing to be involved in. This said, I have come to realise these sentiments are not shared by everyone.

For many people, change of any type is something to be feared and to be resisted. For these people, things are better when they stay exactly the same and I have noticed this is especially true of Organisational Change, which is the focus of this post. Seth Godin likens change within some organisations to a unicorn in a balloon factory. The people working in the balloon factory know how to make balloons well, just so long as nothing changes, but a unicorn is unknown and many don’t know how to react and they find themselves paralysed with fear. Many of us work in balloon factories, but all of us are living in a world with an ever increasing number of unicorns.

If you’re reading this, whether you work for a Local Authority, like me, or somewhere in the private sector, the chances are that you will have experienced organisational change recently. The global economic slump and faltering recovery has lead (and is leading) to change on an unprecedented scale, the models that we relied on and that worked yesterday no longer work today; the unicorns are running amok.

I find it interesting how organisations deal with change and the way that change is communicated. Time-and-again I hear the same story: a few months into a big change process, where no particular attention has been paid to communication, issues begin popping up all over the place. You begin to hear managers complain that staff are not getting behind the change, malicious rumours are flying around and damaging things begin to leak out to the press, which has the knock-on effects of increasing pressure on everyone and lowers moral dramatically. I was inspired to write about this as there seems to be a worrying trend when these issues start arising.

Picture the scene: 2 months into a change process, no extra thought has been given to internal communication above the norm and a group of managers are meeting to discuss the problems. Manager one reveals that there has been another leak, highly damaging and untraceable; manager two admits savings targets are unlikely to be met as staff are not engaging with change and it goes on…round the table, everyone has issues. Eventually someone will chip in, normally with the smug satisfaction of someone who has created lasting world peace and solved the energy crisis whilst being fellated by a mermaid, they will say: ‘ah but change is a process they are just coming to terms with it…’

They normally go on to talk about the natural cycle of emotions to change, maybe draw a nice curve with the following 5 elements:  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and, finally, Acceptance. Normally this is used to justify no special attention being paid to internal communication, ‘hey, change is a curve right? They’ll get there in the end, let’s just leave them to it!’ Five stages, sounds cool right?

Some of you reading this may recognise the 5 stages from somewhere else, if you’ve been through the process of grieving for a loved-one you’ll know them as the ‘5 Stages of Grief’ or the Kübler-Ross Model of grief. This for me is the first problem, if you’re comparing your change process to the death of a loved-one then there is something massively awry with your approach to change.  Grief is something that happens to people against their will; no one chooses for a loved one to die, no one plans to get divorced or to get raped and here’s the big difference with change. In my opinion, change is something you should do WITH staff, not something that you do TO them.

In my opinion, change communication is simple and best summed up by this: communicate often, keep on message, reinforce the need for and the positive outcomes of change and provide an outlet for staff to ask questions. Simple and no one has to die.

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