Tag Archives: Public Relations

Corporate Communication: Speaking Simple Truth to Power

Reading, the other day, that French President Emmanuel Macron has decided that his thought processes are too complex for the media to understand, and thus has cancelled a traditional Bastille Day press conference, made me consider (again) two things:

  • The core of communication is simplicity
  • Speaking communication truth to the very powerful is a vital, but thankless, task

Clearly, Msr Macron was ridiculed roundly for his perceived arrogance, and there were those who accused him of having a Louis XIV complex. (Which appears to have some substance, if you read the reportage following his speech at Versailles on July 3.) He is obviously an incredibly intelligent man and has crammed more into his 39 years than I could hope of achieving in as many lifetimes, however, from a communication standpoint, he has alienated a key stakeholder group, who will have gone on to influence a large proportion of his supporter base.

Some have said that he may have been misrepresented or misconstrued, but my own experience leads me to believe that he simply saw no issue. He’s the cleverest boy in the room, why would he waste his time on people who aren’t going to understand what he’s saying? And that will be his experience of the media. They keep asking questions, the answers to which are, to him, blindingly obvious.

I say my own experience, because it’s happened to me on at least three different occasions – and by different occasions, I mean different companies and different C-suite executives. ‘Why, oh why, oh why’ they said ‘do I have to do this early morning call to the media? They never really understand what I’m saying, it’s all too complex for them, and we often have to go back and mop it up later. Why?’

Sometimes they were a bit harsher than that.

The real question, of course, is not why don’t they understand the complexity, it’s why can’t you make it simpler and easier for everyone. Those in the public eye or in a position of power – our heads, our leaders – are expected to be on top of their material, their field of expertise. They are rewarded for so being.

The media, on the other hand, are – in the main – overstretched, underpaid and covering a wide variety of different topics. Their audience – the public, the consumer, the voter – has neither the time, nor the inclination.

Thus, and as always, the truth of communication is ‘the simpler the better’. Simple, however, is not to dumb it down, but to express it in a way (or ways) that all your audiences will understand and relate to – this will undoubtedly involve a layer of extra work, on top of the work you’ve done to get to where you are. Which is inconvenient.

Speaking this truth to the very powerful, thus, is an extremely dangerous occupation. Someone who believes that their thought processes are too complex to be understood doesn’t take kindly to being told that they can (and should) be simplified.

it is vital that the communication expert steps up to the plate however – the alternative is a leader viewed as aloof, arrogant and possessed of delusions of grandeur – or, in a more corporate context, a leader viewed as aloof, arrogant and out of touch. And with today’s focus on customer experience, inclusion and satisfaction, that’s simply not going to work.

(A final thought – if Emmanuel feels that the media are going to have a hard time understanding him, why has he issued an invitation to Donald Trump? Maybe it’s a President thing.)

 

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That Image PR-oblem – Again

It was some time ago, dearest blog trotters, that I posted this piece, which dealt with an article in ye olde Evening Staaaaaandard of foggy London Town (do the light clickdango and see for yourselves) in which – as a passing and, it has to be said, quite humorous, aside – the PR profession was lumped together with terrorism and the sex-trade as being – erm – a ‘flexible’ sector of the economy.

Anyway, as you’d expect, I go off on one about it. And yes, I’m self-aware enough to realise that – instead of wailing and roaring at the sky, rending my garments and gnashing my teeth – I should probably try and do something to rectify the situation, given that I’ve been aware of the PR image problem for almost as long as I’ve been on the game, and while I feel justified in saying that I’d like the £200 I give to the CIPR each year to be spent on mitigating against it (not too much to ask, I don’t think), I know that if you want something done properly, you’ve got to do it yourself.

Only. Just as you’re about to gird up your loins and draw your sword of PR truth and justice (are you sniggering at the PR sword, or my loins? It’s hard to tell), thinking that, maybe, just this once, this time it’ll be different, you find that not only is PR’s image problem alive and well, it seems to have taken on new depth (if I can term it thus) and, to cap it all, it’s being fluffed by the the sort of horrible PR luvvy that gave it a bad name in the first place.

What came first – the stereotype or the image problem?

Whatever – have a gander at this.

It’s the scary and salutary story of  PR people Kathryn Kirton and Jamie Kaye, who – long story short – fiddled the budget and defrauded their employer/client out of £19k and £5k respectively. How they thought they were going to get away with this, the Lord only knows. It is completely half-arsed. Had the scam had a whole arse, they – I put it to you – would have got away with a hell of a lot more. So not only stupid and dishonest, but with added stupid. Couldn’t even come up with a good scam.

Now, this would have been enough to – once again – drag the profession through the dog doo. PR people – liars and cheats and – damningly – not very good at it. But there’s more. Here’s what m’lud, Judge John Hillen, has – in his wisdom – to say about PR. Bear in mind that he had undoubtedly formed this opinion before being exposed to the twatmonsters Kirton and Kaye, as he obviously factored it in when reaching his conclusions.

“(Judge John Hillen) said the case reflected the temptations on offer in (the PR) profession.

‘In the world of PR you are surrounded by luxury items. That is reality for people working in that industry but this is not the place to explore the PR industry,’ the judge told them.”

Let’s just take a moment, shall we? I personally will use this time out to survey the luxury items that I am surrounded by and that make up the reality of working in this – what? Sorry? Oh. Yes. It’s nonsense. Absolute crap. There are no luxury items and it is not my reality.

So in this round of what came first, stereotype or image problem, I’d have to go image problem, but just by a short luxury item. I guess we could go further and ask whether the image problem attracts the wrong people, or whether the wrong people create the image problem – but frankly, life is to short.

We need to do something about it. And I guess that means me.

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That Old Content Myth

So. I’ve been reading a book with the rather pointed title of ‘Social Media is Bullshit’, by one BJ Mendelson. Available from Amazon, it is (sound a bit like Yoda, there – ‘when 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not’ – and I’m fairly certain this post will not change the opinon of that great morass of people who think I’m a dinosaur), at a fairly impressive price, even for the Kindle edition, of over eight of your finest sovereigns. As, as someone pointed out to me, you don’t actually get anything papery for that, neither.

That being as it may, as it usually is, I was delighted to find that someone had written a book agreeing with my entire premise on the subject of social, and that, therefore, if there are two of us, there must be more. Not alone. Like the caveman crawling out of the dark and gazing up at the stars – ‘I’m not alone’. (Obviously, that was his second thought, coming shortly after ‘Oh f*ck me, would you ever look at that.’)

Anyway, the premise of the book is that social media are just more media. Nothing special about them, nothing magical and certainly nothing life-changing. With social media, as with so much else, your success will be dictated by luck, how well-known you were beforehand, whether you’re famous already and how much money you’re prepared to spank away on other types of communication (this is important chaps) to bolster your social. But mostly it’s luck.

All this horsedoo about content and community and conversation is exactly that – just horsedoo. Ideas propagated by the only people who will ever ‘monetise’ social media – yep, the snake-oil-selling social media gurus, the ones who make their money out of telling you how to make social work for you. (And the answer still remains – ‘it doesn’t’.)

All of this put me in mind of something I wrote a while back – actually a comment on another blog. It was about just that idea that somehow social media ‘content’ is a mystical, magical substance that doesn’t have to obey the same rules as traditional ‘stuff’ – by which I mean be interesting, compelling, unique or new. All things that news used to be before it – oh, hold on, news still is, isn’t it? It’s the main currency of broadcast and print media – still very much alive, still terribly well, thanks, and communicating effectively with an enormous audience near you right now.

Here you are (nothing like promoting my own thoughts):

“It’s still about news. News is content, content is news. No-one is (in the main) interested in something that’s not new to them. The old adage about the things that make news – sex, celebrity, money, technology, controversy and ‘fluffy bunnies’ – still holds true.

The press release was always treated like spam, even in the days when they were delivered in cleft sticks by men in loincloths. Why? Because news releases were, are and always will be – in the main – badly targeted and of little relevance to the person receiving them.

The CEO of Joe Bloggs, the clothing company, was known as Chef Underpant Officer – probably apocryphal, although I’d love it to be true. No matter, the point is that it’s not importnt what you’re called, if you’re in communications, your job is to create presence for your clients and their messages.

Which is why all this conversation, community, content nonsense is exactly that – nonsense. We’re not in the game of creating communities, or conversation, on the offchance that someone might wish to participate, not more are we in the game of creating lovely free content that someone might wish to view.

We – as communicators – are in the business of selling. Which is why social media don’t really work as commercial marketing or comms tools.”

Boom!

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Some More Thoughtful Social Media Commentary

You know me, not much of a socio-mediavelist on the whole – but, still, I bet you thought I’d gone a bit Southern (for my friends from the United States and America, ‘southern’ in this context means ‘effeminate’, not ‘toothless, hairy, armed and smelling of bourbon’) (and for my UK fans, yes, I am a southerner, so it is perfectly alright for me to use the word ‘southern’, as it is not offensive. In the same way I could use the word ‘gay’, if I wanted to) (which would be offensive) when I stopped ranting about t’social and how it represents a direct road to hell for civilsation as we know it.

Anyway, rumours of my descent into southernness have been greatly exaggerated, as demonstrated by this article from that stalwart bulwark of editorial honesty (on matters communication), Communicate Magazine. I cannot tell you how much I echo the sentiments in this article – not all of them, obviously, there is some very Southern thinking contained within – and how I am in complete agreement with the school of thought that says social media are completely irrelevant. (OK, that’s not EXACTLY what it says, but near enough as makes no difference. To my mind.)

I also admire the (again, to my mind) extremely clever way that one of the authors – the one in the right, obviously, the one on the side of truth and justice – has designated social media ‘SM’, which, of course, is simply shorthand for a very Southern practice indeed.

Yes, I am wholly in favour of one half of this article.

The one that I wrote, clearly.

 

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PR – Image Problem? What Image Problem? (Part 2)

Came across this blog post. Authored by one Steve Riches, food and drink editor of The People. Which is a bit like being culture editor of New Philistine magazine. Actually, it IS culture editor of New Philistine magazine. Mind, you, this train of thought is probably lost on Steve. Seems a bit of a lacklustre twat, that’s the problem.

Anyway, he’s got some misperceptions about PR and – in fairness to the revolting oaf – these misperceptions are not his fault. They are the fault of many of those who work in this vale of tears that we call ‘spin’.  In many ways, it has to be admitted through clenched buttocks, he’s bang on. He got my name wrong though – it’s ‘Jeremy’, not ‘James’. And I’ve never met a Lola-Lu.

Anyway – same old point, dearest blog snorkellers. What are we doing? How did we let it come to this? Why are we – and our organs (CIPR, PRCA) – not frantically trying to put a reputation management programme in place? Why didn’t we start trying to put such a programme in place years – decades – ago?

But back to Steve – I am minded of Winston Churchill’s response to an outraged female, when I see Steve accusing me of vacuity:

“But you’re in PR!”

“And you, sir, are an ugly, boorish lout – but tomorrow, I shall re-train.”

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Public Relations – Image Problem? What Image Problem?

(Heaves sigh of despair.)

Right, dearest blog trotters, and especially those of you who labour, as I do, in this vale of tears we affectionately call ‘spin’, here – I am afraid – we go again.

Just before I get to the point – and those of my most faithful snorkellers will know how partial I am to a nice bit of a ramble – the PRCA (that’s the Public Relations Consultants’ Association, for those who aren’t familiar) is muscling in on territory hitherto trodden solely by the CIPR (that’s the Chartered Insititute of Public Relations for those etc etc etc). Which means that two bodies, supposedly with the same interest in promoting and assisting the growth and welfare of the communications profession, are at each other’s throats in a fight over memberships. A fight which, may I say, is undoubtedly consuming some of their time. Time which I pay upwards of £200 a year for.

Time which could be spent doing something more useful.

Like working on changing the general perception of the Public Relations industry, as defined by what our friends in the media have to say about it. To whit, and to be admitted as evidence, m’lud, this little piece from last night’s Evening Standard. (Is it too much to ask of you? Just one small click? Just this once?)

OK, so it’s a fairly jocular piece about immigration and the current hoo-hah about supposedly lax UK border controls. It says that most immigrants making their way to this country are determined and hard-working – which, when compared to the workshy, thieving, poorly-educated and boorish UK natives that I see down my street every day, they quite clearly are – and it says that they are keen to work and that they find jobs in flexible sectors of the economy such as labouring, fruit-picking, public relations, terrorism and the sex-trade.

Whoops! Did you spot that? Public Relations compared to terrorism and the sex-trade?

OK, OK – keep your hair on. I know it’s a joke and – in all honesty – it was the only thing I read yesterday that made me laugh.

But is does highlight, underline, reinforce and generally illuminate the same old problem that our profession has faced at least since I started to work in it. We have an image problem people – which is like saying that the Pope has a balcony and Pippa Middleton, a derriere. We have always had an image problem, and we all know it, and we’ve all – at one time or another – been involved in a debate about it.

Personally – to my mind – it’s what the PRCA and the CIPR are there for. And they’re not being terribly effective. Mind – we none of us are, truth be told.

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Made-Up Jobs In Communications – Chief Content Officer

Once upon a time, there was a chap called Nicholas Graham, who (in 1985) started a company called Joe Boxer, which sold (and still sells) underwear. Nicholas Graham syled himself  ‘Chief Underpants Officer’. I have often wondered whether I should give myself a spurious title (rather than simply ‘Managing Director’ (of The Wordmonger Limited)) but, honestly, I’ve not been clever enough, to date, to come up with something that works.

And, let me tell you, Chief Content Officer is something that doesn’t work. I have difficulty with the concept of content anyway – it smacks of a term coined in desperation to describe a disparate and amorphous group of extraordinarily different concepts and products with the idea of somehow ‘bucketizing’ it (thank you, America), thereby rendering it somehow harmless, easy-to-understand and pigeonhole and – above all – non-threatening. The content conceit has developed in parallel with the proposition that we have never faced such corporate communication complexity and an entire industry has grown up around it, propagating fear and awe in equal measure and taking a large cut of the content investment it recommends.

So I’m not really a believer then.

Anyway, here you are, snorkellers, here’s a piece from Forbes, asking the question ‘Do organizations need a Chief Content Officer?’ and, as far as I can see, failing, abysmally, to answer it.

Apart from the fact that I started to get a headache when I read this – which is a sure sign that it’s more complex than it needs to be – it’s also got a diagram, reproduced below.

Which, frankly, gives me the heebeejeebies.  This is trying to put a forced order onto a naturally chaotic process. Trying to define what things are, identify where they come from and map out where they go. This is trying to create a science around what is essentially an art. This is all about complicating something intuitive with badly-drawn rules. I could go on.

Content? It’s the same old stuff that we communicators have been producing since time began, with a few new bits. Audiences? The same old audiences, with some new points of access. And the audiences vary from topic to topic, product to product, concept to concept – there is no hard and fast set of messages or basket of content that will suit every audience, every time (what you tell your investors will be different to what you tell the community in which you operate and different again to what you might tell your employees). This is not to say that there shouldn’t be a single central theme on which you hang the audience-driven elements – but still, trying to diagrammatize it (thank you again, America) is a pointless exercise in navel-gazing – thought and talk, for thought and talk’s sake.

Chief Content Officer? Librarian, right?

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