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.


Social Media make the world global; but global is not equal to standard

Globalisation is not equal to standardization and different cultures need different communication strategies.
Anthropologist Edward T. Hall created the distinction between `high context´ and `low context´ in intercultural communications, two interesting concepts to keep in mind when designing communication strategies and relationships in international public relations.
In a HIGH CONTEXT culture, the primary purpose of communication is to form and develop relationships; whereas in a LOW CONTEXT, the primary purpose of communication is the exchange of information and facts.
There is an interesting classification of countries based on this issue (although it is not fair to generalize): in countries with low context the communication is verbal (over non verbal), the business outlook is competitive, the work style is individualistic and the work ethic is task-oriented. Whereas in high context countries the communication in non verbal over verbal, the business outlook is cooperative, the work style is team oriented and the work ethic is relationship-oriented.
Using an example to compare business relationships between an American and a Japanesse manager, this last one said to the American: `We are a homogeneous people and don’t have to speak as much as you do here. When we say one word, we understand ten, but here you have to say ten to understand one´.

These differences could make the most (or the worst) in business relationships and also in PR campaigns. PR is about creation of meanings as well, and culture has a powerfull effect on communication.

For example, in high context countries which emphasize interpersonal relationships, trust is a key elememt before setting up any business transaction. And trust is built not by a contract or preceding agreement, but by a whole made of conversations, gestures, relations and meetings, facial expressions and even the speaker´s tone of voice. They could even distrust a contract if there is a lack of those other elements.

On the other hand, a low context culture values logic, facts and directness (things that in a high context culture could turn out even a bit rude). They are governed by reason and facts, and use concise meaningful words. To agree a business transaction the only thing they need is an explicit contract.

Context relates to framework, background, and surrounding circumstances in which communication or an event takes place. To become a better international communicator, the first thing to do is to know the different cultures and cultural values. Try to know very well your audience.

Social Media and social networking make it more difficult to keep in mind these differencies since you might be addressing to someone who lives in the other side ot the world. To prevent some cultural potential problems, many companies practice a localized multi-country strategy. They establish different brands and different messages for each particular country, and so they avoid the risk of damaging the whole company reputation (if that were the case); but at the same time they do not benefit from cost savings with global strategies.
Dealing with globalisation and networking requires an accurate qualification in PR practitioners.

saludo oriental

For in-house PR: How to create a brief for a campaign

`Imagine for a moment that you are the Corporate Communications Director of one organisation and you have been asked by your Chief Executive to recruit a PR agency. Now you have to write a brief that should cover the reputation issues your campaign is seeking to address; the evidence that you have considered key stakeholders – including those with most influence; the evidence that you understand the primary audience and appropriate media for reaching them; you should also offer a clear statement of how the campaign will help to meet the company’s business objectives; give clear objectives – for the agency to respond to, and a budget and timescale for the agency to work within. The budget for hiring the agency will need to be signed off by the Board. You are therefore asked to present your recommendations to the Board on…(date)´.

These were the instructions for one of the last assignments in this term: write a brief for a campaign.

First of all you need to find out which company you are working with, and make a bit of research about its possible reputation problems or challenges.
I chose the British Legion, the oldest charity working for the UK Armed Forces. This was my pre-brief: British Legion wants to campaign to bring in a UK version of the “GI Bill” which offers all army/navy/air force veterans who have served for a prerequisite time to be eligible for a university education with all fees and living expenses provided by the state.

You need to keep in mind that you are preparing a document which should inspire an agency to design a creative and effective campaign. It means that you cannot `suffocate´ its creativity by framing too much their job.

Some people describe this task of writing a brief as the work of building a bridge between the point `where we are now´ and the point `where we want to be´. You are to provide the agency this information avoiding the temptation of building it yourself.

So it is necessary to make it as clear as possible. To think that it is from the brief that everything else flows. The better the brief, the better and more accurate the results.

But the real fact is that you have no idea about the organisation you have chosen, and research will get a big part of your time.
Once you have found some evidences about a possible reputation problem, based on real data, you need to build up a whole brief.

In my case, I researched about the situation of veterans (every people who have left the armed forces, no matter how long they were on it): the needs they have, the difficulties they face, the help they actually count on, and the public opinion state about them.

I found out the existence of a high level risk of criminal reputation because of potential or real criminal behaviour in veterans, and the worst thing was that this risk was being published on traditional media.
British legion results
I decided that my campaign should be aimed to get from the government an official support for young veterans among 18-35 years old to be able to join the University. It would be my first lobbying campaign; we would need to change the Law that we had just achieved from the government and get them (and also from the opposition and from public opinion) the support to make real the establishment of a British version of the GI Bill.

It has been an amazing assignment, and the most amazing thing was that I deleted my whole document some hours before handing it in.

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.

Monitoring Social Media activity in a company: Cadbury´s case study (2 and conclusions)

Cadbury´s social media activity is frequently updated: they post every day or every two days. They maintain the same content line on the three platforms, with little variations. The community manager of Cadbury partakes very often with audience´s comments –he shows his identity without any objection- and interacts with the consumers.

Cadbury´s content strategy helps to build communities around little events, dates or issues. Its most successful content is just showing the product directly to the public (chocolate itself provokes engagement). By showing the product to the audience it gets totally engaged (chocolate creates addiction?). The quick reactions are: “Want it!” ; “Now!”; “ I’ll try!”.

A high level of resonation by an audience with a positive tone and sentiment come from Cadbury´s social media strategy. The audience engagement is increasing week after week.

Increasing audience, increased number of posts, increasing participation (comments).



My recommendations to Cadbury´s social media strategy:
The company should study how to use social media channels to reach new audiences, more than maintaining the faithful ones. The company should try to find key influencers.
It could be helpful to develop different strategies by diversifying the content on the three platforms –each of one has different audiences-, instead of repeating it.
YouTube is a strong platform and it could provide a new and more global audience with a proper strategy. The company should improve this section.
Cadbury is proactive and persuasive, because of its high quality product. But it is necessary to be prudent when encouraging chocolate consume in a society with serious problems about obesity and not healthy eating habits. The company should study how to promote a kind of advice in this sense.

Monitoring Social Media activity in a company: Cadbury´s case study (1)

Monitoring the activity of a company in social media requires a high dose of persistence and an accurate sense of what is social media strategy about. I monitored Cadbury´s activity in UK between January and February 2013, and found out interesting data about it.
The company works in three platforms: FaceBook, Google+ and Twitter. It is completely focused on consumers and its mail social media goals is just to raise and maintain AWARENESS about its products, which the company does in suggestive ways with posts like “They are back: have a fling with a CremeEgg!”.
It also goes after increasing ENGAGEMENT by creating and promoting consumer micro-communities (the Cadbury Kitchen, among others): building faithful communities which are growing and expanding their messages to the people around them by sharing contents (this is Cadbury´s audience segmentation).
They are PERSUASIVE and try to convert people to their new products.

Cadbury works with a strong and powerful product: chocolate, an easy-to-create and promote consumption habit. They do not need to convince people to have chocolate, but just to keep reminding them of doing it as often as they want.

Their consumers love the brand and are faithful to it; Cadbury knows it and makes the most of this fact.

Who are they (the consumers)? They are mostly women, but also men, with different ages depending on the social platform (younger in Google+, middle age people in FaceBook), between 18 and 54. They go from traditional housewives to casual and dynamic young people.

Is Social Media winning the battle against Traditional Media?

It is a fact that the PR industry is dazzled by the social media factor due to the possibility of reaching the public directly, with consequently more autonomy and independency to manage the communication process. David Meerman in The New Rules of Marketing and PR affirms: “We have been liberated from relying exclusively on buying access through advertising or convincing mainstream media to talk us up”.

 In that sense Social Media has opened different ways for PR practitioners to access to broader and more targeted audiences, but it does not mean that it is the end for traditional media.

 Meerman´s statement is understandable from the point of view of an organisation interested on delivering content. However, how does the public behave when they need specific information? The report “Influencing the influencers” (*) describes: `Media consumption has changed with the proliferation of digital media, but influencers continue overwhelmingly to trust traditional media. Influencers get news from faster, digital sources, but often from the online version of a newspaper or broadcaster (…). The public is far less likely to get their news from social media outlets´.

 And: `The people and outlets that are trusted on Twitter are by and large the same individuals and organisations that are trusted offline (…).  Embracing social media is a good thing but in the rush to have a greater digital presence, organisations shouldn’t forget that it is traditional media outlets to which the public still turns´.

 In a recent congress about journalism in Spain, the director of a local newspaper affirmed that what is published on Twitter does not become a piece of news until it is also published on a newspaper.

 So the public need to corroborate the information which comes from social media with traditional media to make is trustable and credible. Two-ways communications are not replacing one-way traditional media, since still traditional media coverage is needed. That is the way the public behaves. Traditional media are still trusted as a resource of guarantied information, even with social media making it easier and quicker to access or share information.

[*] Report: Open Road, Rebecca Reilly and Nick Nye (2011), Influencing the influencers, London