News & Updates

The broad remit of PR

Posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Public Relations has historically been attributed many different elements depending on who you speak to.

We define PR as a method of raising, developing and protecting client profiles – a definition that our clients happily give testimony to.

And within that process, we embrace a wide range of mechanisms to reinforce client profiles but we still rank media relations, including online, print and broadcast, as one of the most crucial means.

People may argue that this is because of our journalistic qualifications – particularly those who studied for a PR degree, and may have an understandably restricted insight into the workings of the media, but they'd be wrong.

We rate media relations highly because the media provides an ongoing dialogue about all that is important within the business and social spheres across the country and beyond. That dialogue is fundamental as a means to place client achievements so that they are recognised by an audience which has chosen to read about it.

And one of the reasons we are consultants, is knowing when to say no. Not everything is news - and there are many more ways to enhance those profiles through insightful PR initiatives. What benefit is there to a client if a fragment of a hashed up story is pushed to the media? None. To go public with insubstantial 'news' can actually be damaging to that client's profile, making them appear less than they are - but we see those scrappy stories appearing all too often.

There are many other valuable elements to our trade. Social media is a fascinating and important tool to engage with and it carries positive and negative connotations depending on how it's handled. Clients rely on us to steer them through the complexities of issues like; what impact will Google's indexing of Twitter have on a website's SEO?

They also rely on us to help them build a social media strategy that has some strategy behind it. Not to simply follow everything and anyone on Twitter in the misunderstanding that volume of following is of any use - if it is not a targeted and relevant following.

And this takes us to another PR skill – that of crisis management. This is something we have many years of experience in at national, breaking news level. Knowing how to manage the media, the client and the communication of any information in a time of crisis is, to quote a noted credit card company, priceless.

Priceless because you have one opportunity to get it right and to save that client from untold damage through unconstrained information flow. Priceless because knowing how to manage a situation can sometimes save the client and also the media from reportage which has no gain for either organisation.

I was also reminded recently about how important our understanding of website and online communications is - as we were advising company directors on how to restructure their website to help engage with site visitors, the valuable adoption of rich media and other initiatives.

Also how e-newsletters can be used to communicate effectively with internal and external audiences, how intranet systems can be optimised – the list goes on…

We haven't even started on events and how they can be used to maximise coverage around a specific topic or launch an initiative, how press-release tie-ins with other organisations only work on rare occasions or the client is at risk of forever being associated in the second sense to another company or organisation. And that is damaging – imagine if your PR wasn't deemed strong enough to stand on its own two feet? How degrading is that..?

And let's not forget content provision, copy-writing, web-video, media management at events, interview sourcing, comment placement, trade media coverage, media training, research publishing, awards submissions…

This blog could easily become a list. So there it is in a nutshell – PR, whether it is in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, America, China – we cover it all and we cover all of it...

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The value of creativity…

Posted on Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How important is creativity?

It's a question few people have stopped to consider, least of all the people who commission creatives for projects across the board, but it is an important one – which creatives themselves need to get to grips with.

Let's take a moment to identify the importance of creativity.

Where would we be if all architecture was scripted by mathematicians for example? The finest architectural triumphs in the world, from Emperor Justinian's jaw-dropping church of the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, to Philipe Starck's Nani Nani in Tokyo and the Great Pyramid in Giza. Each were driven by a design mandate rather than what the academics thought physically possible.

The ethos of creatives is to make it happen, to not compromise, to create something truly masterful - each and every time. If the idea is there – the reality will follow and the technologists will rise to the challenge of delivering this great work. That's what makes creatives true achievers, the refusal to compromise a vision.

Look at public relations for example. Look at the might of certain companies which has been entirely supported by the strength of profile that PR has given them - because the creatives behind that process have found innovative ways to bring those companies into the public eye and keep them there. They create a currency, news which is enthralling and which both stimulates and feeds a demand.

Websites and online design are transforming the way we learn, the way we view the world and the way we communicate. And as much as the coders deserve recognition for what magic they do in the background – there has to be a creative mind conceiving the original material, setting those goals and continually moving the goalposts in the process.

Yet what happens when someone wants to bring several creatives to the table with a view to working with them…?

Often, those creative individuals are expected to offer up their concepts, the lifeblood of their business, their ingenious ideas – for nothing…

That's right – for nothing.

They are expected to produce a strategy, designs, storyboards, showreels and solutions – which require a substantial time investment and high levels of that mercurial creativity – before budgets are even discussed, let alone time reimbursed.

Could you possibly imagine a world in which people from say the accountancy sector would be expected to rock up to a pitch and offer you free advice on how to sort your accounts out in the hope that once they've given their precious knowledge away – they might get some work??

Or the solicitors, or the quantity surveyors, or the business analysts, or the structural engineers…? In fact – any industry that isn't within the creative sector?

The value we all place on creativity is nowhere near enough. And I don't mean that we creatives should all be getting paid millions of pounds – just that we shouldn't be doing it for nothing.

There are plenty of businesses out there who daren't say no – who will take anything on at any price and it's probably because they don't value their own worth.

What is needed is a sea-change across all of the creative industries. We made a decision at start-up that at Agent Public Relations, we wouldn't chase those pitches where budget cannot be discussed. It's an affront in our opinion and it's often large public sector organisations that expect it.

We're more than happy to sit down and discuss our track record, our abilities, our ethos - to provide references etc, but we can't be expected to produce a strategy for nothing – we speak from experience. The only guarantee in a loss-leader scenario is that you'll make a loss and you'll demoralise your team along the way!

And so it's down to the creatives to stand tall and defend their knowledge, their values and their skills. Come on you creative industries guys – man up, let's be proud of those years of hard work and ingenuity. It's what makes the world go round.

Because if we don't value our abilities and our knowledge – we can't expect anyone else to.

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Been to the polls yet?

Posted on Thursday, May 07, 2015

After weeks and weeks of electioneering, the day has finally come to put your views on your ballot paper.

We've seen the meets and greets, the pressing of the flesh up and down the country, the visits specially picked out to shop floors and workers across the regions in the attempt to court favour and secure votes, the hustings and the TV debates.

Having been to the polls this morning I was encouraged by the number of people I saw clutching their white polling card in their hand as they headed towards the chosen destination to mark their cross in their selected box.

I saw a mixture of old and young, men and women, backgrounds and ethnicity, looking to make their mark on the destiny of the country today.

It made me think what a privilege it is to have the right to vote and how it is something that shouldn't be taken for granted. For past generations that right was not as easy.

Men and women were sacrificed for the right to vote. Looking back in history, numerous groups have been persecuted for trying to secure that right. Members of the London Corresponding Society in the 1700s were hung for seeking the right to vote; Luddites were tortured, reformers were massacred, Chartists were murdered and Suffragettes were force-fed.

You can complain about politicians and politics, and sometimes it's right to do so, and say you are not interested in politics, but we are still free to exercise the right to vote. It's a right that our ancestors back then fought for, and millions of people across the world, continue to fight for.

So don't take that right to vote for granted. Get your coat on and nip down to the polling station before 10pm tonight.

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Defending PR

Posted on Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I feel compelled to write a blog in defence of PR after a recent attack on the profession by a practising national journalist.

This was was no 'off the record' assault – this fellow used up valuable column inches to assault public relations as a service, as a career, as a perceived hurdle to journalism and to negatively gauge PR practitioners' social worth because of it.

I'd like to be astonished, but I'm not.

So let's set a few home truths about public relations and PR as an industry and a valuable service in the modern age.

Firstly, a brief history lesson... The media has undergone radical change over the past ten years, change which has been exacerbated by the findings of the Leveson Enquiry and the foul deeds of certain media groups and their employees.

Leveson's findings and the subsequent judicial ruling left many journalists feeling disempowered, even emasculated – and justifiably so, as the penalty for the wrongdoings of a few have affected all.

The breadth of the media has also diminished dramatically over this ten-year timeframe through the advent of online news platforms which did much to eat into the traditional stronghold of print and broadcast journalism.

This diminishing trait has been further fueled by the recession as it wiped out many publications which relied massively on advertising or subscription costs to survive.

Secondly, in the midst of this, you have journalists at a national level who exist to access sensitive information and report on it. And they are extremely well trained and skilled at getting that information and crafting a hard-hitting story with it.

However, the pace at which the news agenda shifts in today's world, with social media as the primary distribution mechanism, is creating insatiable minute by minute demand for original news and a more challenging workload for journalists. And there are fewer journalists handling that workload.

Let me say, both as a PR professional and as qualified journalist, I will fight tooth and claw to protect our media freedom because it is one of the last bastions of a waning democratic system and one of the only remaining ways to challenge the seat of power.

And I understand the frustration of journalists who find that the way to the information they require may well be via a public relations agency or communications officer. Even we in the PR business are faced with the same bureaucracy as we seek out information and approval for copy.

What is missed in this journalist's debate is the other side of the story - the untold damage that can be done to businesses and professionals who are 'door stepped' by a fast-questioning journalist with little or no time to prepare responses, and no understanding of what they can/can't say.

Equally – if every UK company allowed its public perception to be controlled by the media then half of them would be out of business. Here's a hypothetical scenario – a company posts a loss in its accounts, which the media reports without quoting the management. The following year, they do not report on the fact that the company is back in profit. Difficult to see the negative effect for that company…?

With decent PR and media relations advice and help, a business can answer all of the questions it needs to for any news gathering service, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The scenario above would be balanced out as we would ensure a considered response in year one and a proactive news story in year two.

And another thing – many decent stories only get into the media because the PR industry puts them out there. And that makes for a broader news agenda which can only be good for the consumer.

As news organisation employment levels continue to drop – public relations practitioners step up and play a crucial role in the supply of editorial copy and news topics to the media, often at the request of the editors.

It is of course unfortunate that PR has its fair share of poor practitioners. It's an industry where a strong, high-level track record and knowing the background of the people you'll be dealing with day-to-day are the most crucial benchmarks.

So this is where my sympathies sit with any journalist who bemoans this industry. Not because public relations is here to deny your story or demean your career, because that's not the case.

No, you have sympathy because 'Media Studies' qualifications and the vast majority of PR degrees are not pre-requisites to join this trade and to participate in quality news provision. Strong news sense, journalistic qualifications and working to give journalists what they need for a good, honest story while working to uphold client reputations, are...

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Filter Down technology blog

Posted on Monday, February 02, 2015
Technology is an ephemeral beast. It’s the best thing ever – and then it’s gone, outdated and no longer amazing or mind-blowing. Or is it simply that we have become so used to the incredible availability of filter-down technology, we no longer celebrate or even recognise it?

I’m fascinated by filter-down technology because it tells us so much about our future and what we can expect. The things which we all own and use as commonplace vehicles for that technology have origins somewhere else – and much of it is military.

Virtually every smartphone has a GPS facility, for example - allowing you to navigate your way using satellites which had their origins guiding military vehicles, personnel and ships in combat manoeuvres. Once, we marvelled at how a plane could fire a missile with pin-point accuracy to hit an insurgent target, yet we adopt exactly the same technological process to smash the nearest pizza palace after a binge-drinking bout and barely give it a thought.

And aren’t apps brilliant…? Apps bring the world to your fingertips. We have apps for everything from measuring curtains to firing birds from catapults. Encyclopaedic volumes are a 3G connection away. How vastly different has this made our education system? Hours of research and time required to gather data is now compressed into nano-seconds as those packets of information whizz into your pocket.
And sadly, you are more likely to hear someone whining about the terrible three second delay in downloading the two-for-one coffee offer on Priority Moments than praising the god of all things technology based.

The fabulous nature of Moore’s Law governs much of this amazing change (see my previous Moore's Law pondering on this…) as levels of power within technological devices ramp up perpetually, while prices cascade ever downwards.

This led me to take a look at the latest Raspberry Pi computer. What a work of genius that is. Originally invented from scrap computer bits to enable third world countries to start out down an affordable technology path – it is now a full computer system the size of a credit card, costing less than thirty of your English quid - which children can learn to write code on. And this is undoubtedly the kind of development from filter-down technology which pushed the government into writing coding into the national curriculum for primary and secondary school pupils.
Of course – there’s a terrible dark side to this filter-down technological tsunami. No-one will forget the 9/11 attacks on New York, but many will forget that the terrorists did much of their flight training in simulators that were also once only used to train military pilots.

Nor will we escape from the cowardly videos posted on social media by terrorists operating in Syria and Iraq to create fear and publicise their propaganda. Reporting on such atrocities was once the domain of journalists working behind enemy lines, compiling interviews and filtering the truth - and it took time to make its way back into the global media. Communications has been radically altered through filter-down technology and those videos require nothing more than a smart phone and some connectivity to reach the masses instantly.

Which brings me to the nub of this blog – filter-down technology is there for everyone and we should not fear that. It offers far more benefit to the world than harm.

For all of the horrific reportage winging its way around the Internet, there are many journalists and PR professionals making sure that core, balanced reporting takes place at the same pace of change. Public Relations is now super-fast thanks to social media platforms and massive bandwidth, enabling agencies to react instantaneously to the news agenda for much more targeted media relations engagement.

And let’s look at medicine. We are now witnessing the future of medical advance and it’s likely to be based around 3d printing. Yes – your own body parts will soon be available from any local hospital, built to your specification via the miracle of 3d printing.

This is no idle boast – we have already seen a little girl’s life transformed because surgeons could 3d print an exact replica of her heart and use that to establish a treatment.
The development of organic printable materials used in conjunction with 3d printers and genome science will eventually enable surgeons to print biologically matched replacement body parts, a development which is already in progress. All this from a technology that has its roots in rapid prototyping for manufacturers.

And the filter-down of technology means that soldiers in combat zones can use apps to translate and overcome language barriers, enabling better communications and helping to avoid confusion, fear and mistakes in highly charged situations.

This is only one of many instances where we are seeing the filtering of technology heading the other way. Readily available games console controllers are modified and used by the military to pilot drone aircraft remotely, because the technology which has filtered-down is so much more refined and cheaper to use than creating bespoke controllers.

So let’s all have a moment to marvel at your nearest bit of technology.

For instance, when your car next breaks down, try to consider that it’s a very rare occurrence because technology has made engines better and cars more reliable. In the 1980s for example, you could have reasonably expected multiple breakdowns per year.

When your phone next alerts you to the taxi waiting outside the kebab-house, thank technology for keeping you in the spicy warmth instead of hunting around in the rain for a working phone box and some change.

And when you turn your TV on to watch whatever you want from whenever it was broadcast – thank technology that the test-card no longer plagues your day…
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