The experience with speakers through this MA in Public Relations

The MA in Public Relations provided by the University of Westminster consists of both an academic and practical experience.
Besides the group works and constant practical assignments, I would like to share with my readers our experience with the speakers.
We met some of them in their workplaces (the Ministry of Defence, the agency, The British Library) and others came to the campus to give their lectures.

In this second term, we have received the visit of four speakers in the module about Corporate Communications at Marylebone Campus.

Images provided by LinkedIn

Images provided by LinkedIn: J. Frost, K. Ruck, M. Hoevel and C. Lowe

The first speaker was Jessica Frost, from Regester Larkin. She talked about reputation and risk management, and one of the things I liked most was her CV and her professional attitude and skills, coming as she did from another professional area. Apart from that, she described reputation management through those six verbs: predict, prepare, prevent, resolve, respond and recover. She talked about crisis management and the role of social media when an organisation is being challenged by a crisis: to what extent the organisation needs to understand its audiences, influencers, the social media platforms and channels, and the rules of engagement on social media. And the big piece of advice for preventing crisis: rehearse, rehearse and rehearse.
Next speaker was Kevin Ruck, from PR Academy. His lecture was about Internal Communications, and he described a broad landscape about internal communications theories and practices. He proposed public relations as a strategic management, according to J. E. Grunig´s model, and through an interactive lecture guided us within the employee voice concept, the importance of employee engagement (built from leadership, engaging managers, voice and integrity). He was a wise expert with a recently published book, ‘Exploring Internal Communication’. Usually after the speakers’ lectures we the students had to present a case study about the same topic; none of the speakers used to remain during our presentations, but that day the guest decided to stay. Guess who was presenting that day… It was me!!
After Mr. Ruck’s visit, we received an expert in Corporate Social Responsibility: Michael Hoevel from Glasshouse Partnership. It was a clever lecture about the reasons why business do CSR, the concepts of power, influence and efficiency, the accountability structure and the need of an integrated CSR aimed to benefit the whole organisation.
The last speaker in the term was Chris Lowe from College Public Policy. It was the first time I heard about lobbying from a professional practitioner. It turn out amazing and I particularly enjoyed when he described his activity as a perfectly legitimate task not as terrible as it is perceived in my country, where lobbying is still pervaded with secrecy and suspicion.
Bringing professional PR to this MA has been absolutely rewarding and effective for our knowledge and experience. It encourages us to face the future with good prospects.


A visit to the British Library

It is 10.30 in a cold London morning (12.03.2013). The hall of the British Library becomes a warm meeting point for the whole class group from Corporate Communications module. This impressive building hosts since 1998 the British Library.
We meet Micke, the Director of Communications and Ben, the Internal Communications manager. They both insist on the fact that the British Library is not a museum or a lending book organisation, but a research institution.
They offer us a very welcome cup of tea in a meeting room which is mainly dedicated to their deals with their stakeholders. They are 13 people within the communications team, which reports to the Marketing and Communications Department -this is an interesting point: Marketing and Communications in the same department.
During an hour and a half our hosts describe for us what their job consists of: the projects they are setting up, their media activity, their advocacy plans.
The responsible for Internal Communications describes they are two people working in that area, and the tools they count on to develop their important function in an organisation with more than 700 employees and a website with 20 blogs run by the employees themselves. When asked about how they control those 20 blogs’ content, the answer comes straightforwardly: there is no control; the employees know the British Library policy and guidelines and that is it.
Intranet, internal emails, staff surveys, video interviews, especial channels, newsletters, and a special social media platform for the staff made by Microsoft: Yammer…, are the means they work with to spread their messages to their public. They also have a staff engagement plan and an updated social media strategy. They encourage their employees to use social media but providing a frame to assure they do it properly.
Marketing and Communications work together in the organisation and they feel they are colleagues, not competitors. Marketing defines the audiences and Communications works with those audiences through different means. Another case of blurred boundaries between what some years ago would have been a real battle.
They evaluate their job through external agencies: monitoring, financial or GRP areas are evaluated by different companies.
If you have a look at the British Library website you can see that it is quite complete and updated.
Definitively, The British Library communications team works.


Going on with the ideas from the webinar in the CIPR, today we are going to talk about when the crisis actually happens. A PR practitioner who wants to manage a crisis successfully should follow these advices:
THE GOLDEN HOURS. Once you are facing a crisis, the way you manage the first two hours will become crucial for the course of the events. You need speed on your response and convince the media that you are the best source of information (because of course you are: you have an updated website, a 24/7 telephone to solve doubts and answer questions from the public, a press release or a statement, a FaceBook page). In those places you must show at least that you know, that you are researching, that you are going to provide further data… And this is your priority order: first, the people; secondly, the environment; third, the company itself.
YOUR MESSENGER: You need a qualified and trained spokesperson. He/she should speak in concise sentences, easy narrative -no jargon, no technological expressions-; the spokesperson must be and appear believable, sympathetic, empathetic. You might have not responsibility on the crisis causes but you have them in setting it out. You need a photo, a headline, the story. And try to get the right image: avoid comical appeals, autocratic, ridiculous… Take it seriously.
ACT LOCAL, REGIONAL, NATIONAL, GLOBAL. Keep all the staff on your message, and respond to every media (local radio station or website, or global). Think carefully about how wide-reaching this crisis is going to be, who are going to be affected by it -perhaps your suppliers…-, and make sure you use the proper media.

NEVER STOP COMMUNICATING. Consider that the media need updating and if you do not provide them they will research in other ways (not always precisely good for you). You must continue to communicate things. And date and time all your press releases.
DIGITAL MEDIA: the digital revolution has changed the way to react. There has emerged a `public journalism´ where everybody can become an information source, and a little man in a little village can literally go global. You should react immediately and in a transparent way. Think that things you say will be there forever, be careful with the photos you publish.
INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS ARE VITAL. Your staffs are the most important asset for endorsement and communication. If you are a public-facing company keep them updated and well informed (and if you are not, do it as well). Think that the media could target your staff to get more information.
TEAM-WORK. Your press office has to provide reassurance to your stakeholders, you must ensure that all team members know the deadlines, take short review breaks if necessary.
BE CAUTIOUS AND SENSIBLE. Keep a log of everyone you talk to, jot down notes in your conversation with reporters, think of a possible long term public enquiry and keep your evidences; they will be your best defence.
THE AFTERMATH. Keep communicating once the initial crisis has passed; evaluate: what your stakeholders are saying about you, how your reputation has been affected. Learn from your mistakes, and do not think that a crisis is the end of your company, do not panic: you can turn out positively reinforced.

And remember: crisis management is a matter of managing; do not let it become a management crisis because you were not aware.


TESCO has come to the fore with a new crisis about horse meat. The company has managed properly the first one, and we as future PR practitioners are quite interested on analysing this second case.
The South-African Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorious hired a PR practitioner after having shot his girlfriend in the bathroom (accidentally?) some days ago.
A crisis can become a disaster if it is not properly managed: Some people know it and others do not.
A recent webinar about Crisis Management by the CIPR offered an interesting description about it.
Silent brings concern. When a company faces a crisis the consequences might affect the stakeholders, the share prices, the organisation´s reputation…, and it is necessary to react. The benefits of this are protected and enhanced reputation; incidents well managed (provide information, give solutions to affected people).

Crisis must be taken seriously. The best advices are 1) to anticipate it; 2) to prepare it; 3) to train people in the organisation.

PREPARE. A PR person should be something like the conscience in an organisation: to provide warning systems or to make risk audits to detect potential risks.
Do not forget that risks can easily evolve into crisis. How will you communicate with your stakeholders? Who are they in your specific company? And first of all: be transparent, be clear and offer the public a voice and the means to answer all their concerns.
How can you PREPARE potential crisis states? You should have an updated contact list with internal and external publics. Keep the information about the company updated; and count -if possible- on film coverage. Think that your website will be the face of the company, and make it clear both for internal and external stakeholders. Change your front page to let people you know and control what is happening. And do not forget to keep the board involved.
TRAIN for crisis times. Do is at least once a year. List what could damage your organisation and think if you have the right people (and it also means available people: in crisis time, there is not work timetable). Think also about lawyers (they perceive the crisis in a different way, and you should talk to them in a different language). After the exercise, you should evaluate it and get the feedback.
We have talked about the anticipation and preparation of a crisis. When things are properly anticipated, their management is easier and the managers do not suffer a crisis themselves.
We will talk about when the crisis actually happens in next post.