Friday, 18 March 2011

Social media: the communication platform of the future?

Yesterday I traveled up to London for an internship interview at Ketchum Pleon. As part of the interview I had to do a short written task. The question I had to answer was

If you could only watch, read or listen to media outlet, what would it be and why?

What I ended up writing was actually pretty interesting so I thought I would share it with you all:

After thinking extensively about this question I came to the abrupt realisation that as a PR student there is only one way I could answer it; from a communications perspective. Put to anyone else, I am certain that a different answer would be ascertained. However, as a result of my years of studying communication tools and strategies I can only approach this query in a critical manner that others with little understanding of communication techniques and effectiveness could not. That having been said, if I could only access one media communication channel it would have to be social media.

Social media has given way to a new breed of communication and many companies who have employed such strategies are already beginning to reap the benefits. First and foremost the content possibilities of social media are endless. News, stories, updates, photos, videos. There is a platform for every conceivable method of effective communication. Moreover, the audience figures are astounding, offering a diverse marketing goldmine. Facebook boasts 500 million members, Twitter has in excess of 1 million users, while YouTube claims to capture 1 billion video views a day. Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of blogs are written and read each and every day.

Now one might argue that a hefty audience is not a sufficient reason to choose social media above other more tradition methods of communication. It is what these figures lead to that makes social media the stand out candidate. The large audiences generated by social media lead to diverse and complex online communities. It brings together people from across the globe with similar interests, opinions, likes and dislikes. Perhaps even more interesting it brings together people with contradictory interests, opinions, likes and dislikes. Hand in hand this generates what people crave most from the media; interaction. Discussions, opinions, arguments, any form of interactive dialogue. It is something which can be found in abundance online and is the backbone of social media.

Put into context, is this not what public relations is all about? Building relationships, creating two way communication and spreading awareness and opinion. Not only does it give the viewer the self affirming sense of participation and value but it gives brands and companies an authentic personality. Social media was not intended to present the finished, polished end product; it is a means for us express our true selves. It gives communicators the opportunity to talk with people rather than at them and suddenly seems less like a simple broadcasting tool. Social media is the communication platform of the future. A future that is rapidly becoming the present.
Monday, 14 March 2011

From PR student to PR professional: the journey begins

When I first set up this blog I decided its purpose would be for the discussion of topical PR issues as well as giving an insight into the life and workings of a PR student. Well, as you might see from my previous posts I haven’t given a whole lot of insight. So here it goes.

During my second year as a PR student at Southampton Solent University I have studied a wide range of marketing disciplines, some interesting, others not so. But most have been extremely enjoyable and have done nothing but reaffirm that PR is the career for me.

I am lucky enough to share my lectures with a group of extremely smart and talented people. The entire cohort is very friendly and I am delighted to know I will be working alongside them in the PR profession in the years to come. We all get along so well that I barely even notice that I am two years older than most of them! As a course we are graced by the teaching of a couple of enormously knowledgeable lecturers with very impressive backgrounds who have given up their time to train a new breed of PR professionals. In the few years I have been studying PR they have taught me valuable lessons that I will remember for the remainder of my working life.

Through my second year assessments I have learned many skills, as well as gaining a comprehensive understanding of the PR world and its practices. For one unit I was part of a group given the challenge of crafting a one year online campaign for the Isle of Wight tourism board. This was an exciting prospect as it was a campaign with a live client that we would then ‘pitch’ to a real PR agency called Headstream. All of our hard work paid off when the agency voted our pitch as the best in the class. Another task I enjoyed was coming up with a campaign for Premier Inn as a part of my advertising unit. This assessment really invigorated my creative side and I loved every minute of it.

This year has also seen a sharp rise in my interest in corporate PR. In an assessment I carried out in December I took on the role of Investor Relations in my group as we were given the task of planning and writing Tesco's 2011 annual report. It involved a lot more maths than I would have liked but I found every aspect of it interesting and stimulating. Furthermore, In January I had to write an essay on the effects of activism on corporate reputation. Using Coca Cola and Innocent Drinks as case studies, this was probably the most challenging piece of work I have ever completed. In fact it nearly killed me. However, my immense interest in the topic and thirst for knowledge got me through it and I ended up getting the best mark I have ever received in my 4 years of university.

This semester the work load is astronomical and I am struggling to conceive how I will get everything done alongside my job and finding a new house. But I am sure I will get through it. I am looking forward to working on my corporate identity unit as it involves a lot of graphic design, and graphic design is more of a hobby than a task for me. One of the larger pieces of work is my dissertation proposal. I was one of those fooled by the misconception that we don’t need to think about our dissertation until third year. Never mind. With my ever present interest in entertainment PR I am hoping to write my dissertation on ‘the rising influence of social media on consumer engagement strategies in the film industry’. Social media is an interesting topic and it hasn’t been until the last few months that I have realised its true worth. I have finally got my head around Twitter and am using it tirelessly to promote this blog.

Lecturers have told us repeatedly this year the importantance of getting noticed and I hope this blog will eventually help me do this. But I cannot put all my eggs in the blog basket. So I must think of other ways that might make me stand out from the crowd. With that in mind I founded the Southampton Solent PR Society, with the primary aim of bringing the course together and bridging the gap between first, second and third years. This way we will all be able to increase the organisation of the course and help each other with assessments, work experience and just give general advice. As the current president of the PR Society I hope that it helps us all become closer so that we may stay in touch as our careers develop. You never know, your friends now may be key contacts for the future.

Solent PR Society

I think that brings us pretty much up to date. Although there is just one more thing I think I would like to mention. Two weeks ago my course held an event called ‘Meet the Alumni’ in which we were given the opportunity to meet previous students of our course and find out where it had taken them. After the event I followed all of them on Twitter and with the simple tweet of

“Looking for some work experience for the Easter holidays. Where should I apply?”

One of my new ‘contacts’ landed me an interview for an internship at global PR agency Ketchum. The chance of a lifetime for a PR student. This just goes to show the pure power of social media and your contacts. Whether you’re already a PR pro or just a student, they can make the difference.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Who owns social media? The BIG debate

Over the past few weeks just about everyone has been talking about this subject so I thought it about time to add my two cents!

Presently, there is no marketing department dominating social media budgets. It seems, in fact, to be relatively spread out across PR, advertising and the new breed digital agencies.

How do you classify social media? Because it can be used in so many different ways, social media fits into many traditional departments. As a result, all three marketing disciplines have a strong claim for ownership rights. This is a loaded question with no clear-cut answer as of yet.

As a PR student it is my duty to argue for the PR corner. However, I do understand that other departments posses vital social media skills that we might not. Just as we posses skills that they may not.

So what exactly is it that puts PR in such a strong position? I believe that social media is a natural extension of PR. Its wide and distributed nature makes it the perfect platform for PR professionals to communicate their message to the masses. Moreover, PR professionals are well versed in communication, engagement and conversation, the very attributes required for a successful social media strategy. Only your PR department truly understand what the appropriate messages are for your company’s followers.

A few weeks ago, PR week published a nice little analogy which demonstrates the strengths of PR in relation to communication over social media:

Imagine you are in a restaurant and a diner on the other side of the room stands up and begins shouting and waving at you. Your most likely reaction is to ignore them.

Now imagine a fellow diner stands up, walks across to your table, sits down and asks for a quick word. In all probability, you are more likely to listen.

Unfortunately, the advertising and digital disciplines also put forward some pretty sturdy arguments. Without the creative and inspiring content that the advertising industry can bring to the table, who is going to sit up and listen? Furthermore, digital agencies command crucial technical expertise and an in depth knowledge of the sector. They have the know-how to use social media to its full potential.

If PR is to boss the social media arena it must learn what it is that these other departments do well and continue to evolve its own offering. Or perhaps it’s about time we accepted that no one department owns social media and stop viewing it like a competition, but instead as a collaborative effort towards a common objective.

Which marketing discipline do you feel is best placed to take the reins of social media? Or do you feel that it must remain an equal and collaborative effort?
Sunday, 13 February 2011

Is the PR industry exploiting university graduates and students?

As the UK perseveres in its recovery from the recession, unemployment remains at an all time high. Each year university graduates are finding it increasing difficult to find a job as they desperately seek to get their foot on the first rung of the career ladder. Shockingly, last week the BBC aired a documentary presenting evidence to suggest that many companies may be exploiting this desperation.

The documentary accused top fashion PR agency Modus Publicity of employing up to 20 UNPAID interns at a time for long periods. It is easy to see why firms choose to employ unpaid interns, with universities producing stacks of talented young people, all of whom are extremely eager to work and willing to do anything. Equally, recession hit employers are striving to protect margins at a time of sluggish revenue. Workers who cost little – often noting – become a very tempting proposition.

But what does this mean for PR graduates? As a PR student, soon to be a graduate, I believe it ethically wrong to employ anyone who is adding real value to one’s business without paying them properly. Furthermore, the only graduates who will be able to work for long periods of time without any pay will be those from wealthy backgrounds. As a result, the PR industry will become even more homogenous than it already is.

 There is certainly nothing wrong with offering work experience. It is a great way for people like myself to gain a comprehensive insight into the world they seek to work in, and also offers employers the chance to uncover bright new talent. However, the methods put into practice by Modus are nothing short of exploitation. Although Modus are the only agency to have been brandished thus far, a PR Week investigation conducted last autumn found that this practice is far from unique.

The CIPR charter states that only students placed with an employer as part of their course or those doing voluntary work for charity are exempt from the need to pay. However, industry sources acknowledge that many agencies ignore this ruling.

What do you think of Modus Publicity’s actions? Do you believe graduates desperation for employment is being exploited? Should interns be paid at least minimum wage if they are an asset to their company? Let me know your thoughts.
Sunday, 6 February 2011

How Sky survived sexism clash

Despite furore over axed presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys comments about female referee Sian Massey Sky Sports have escaped with their reputation largely unscathed.

A reputation survey conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with PR Week has reported that 64% of respondents said their opinion of the channel had not changed. A substantial 78% said that they did not believe Sky Sports as a channel was sexist. So what actions did Sky take to emerge with their reputation in tact?

By acting quickly they were able to employ a string of tactics which kept the sexism debated firmly targeted on Gray and Keys. Statements from Sky Sports ‘higher ups’ condemned the comments as “inexcusable” and “outdated”. Disciplinary action was swift, as was another statement saying

“Those views are inexcusable, entirely inconsistent with our ethos as a business and employer, and will rightly offend many of our customers, our people, and the wider public. They are inexcusable from anyone at Sky, regardless of their role or seniority. We have dealt with this matter by taking immediate disciplinary action.”

Over the following days Sky discovered video evidence of previous sexist behaviour from Andy Gray and promptly released it to the public. Subsequently, Gray was sacked and Keys resigned.

Sky reacted quickly to this particular crisis and successfully distanced themselves from the debate with a string of powerful statements. The later release of video evidence portrayed their willingness to co-operate and prove they were on the side of the public. It was almost as if they were helping to fight for ‘justice’.  The sacking of Gray and Keys was their final escape act. But was it best practice to go that far?

Gray and Keys had been the face of Sky Sports for over 20 years and had so far boasted a first-rate relationship with their viewers. Of the 3000 respondents in OnePoll’s survey only 26% believed they should have been sacked, with 71% agreeing that football is ‘institutionally sexist’ and should be accepted that way.

Do you believe Sky dealt effectively with the issue? Will the sacking of Gray and Keys come back to haunt them?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Coca Cola: The PR Nightmare That Won't Go Away

Over the past couple of weeks I have been writing an essay for my PR degree. In doing so I carried out extensive research into how beverage giants Coca Cola have dealt with activism over the past 50 years. Ultimately, what I discovered was phenomenally well crafted and well executed communications strategy which has ensured the continued growth and stability of Coca Cola.

In the last decade, Coca Cola has been put under increasing strain from activists (especially from campaign group ‘Killer Coke’). The motivation for this activism has arisen primarily from the issues concerning Coca Cola’s practices in their bottling factories in India, Columbia and Guatemala.


When an organisation is responding to activism, the communication strategies they put in place are of critical importance. These strategies must address and satisfy all stakeholder groups. Coca Cola have adopted a three pronged approach to deal with activism. These three elements are containment, distancing and distraction. In order to formulate and execute such an effective strategy, Coca Cola relies heavily on good PR practice from all areas of the company. A united effort is required from their investor relations, customer relations, community relations, supplier relations and probably most importantly their media relations and public affairs divisions.

Focusing first of all on the activism motivated by the events in Columbia and Guatemala, it is important to note that Coca Cola have categorically denied all allegations and used a series of court rulings and investigations to back this up. The first tactic Coca Cola look to employ is containment. They attempt to deal with issues quickly and keep them as localised as possible. For example, in 1981 after a Guatemalan bottling plant was shut down, Coca Cola spent 4 years working on it to improve conditions and keep workers happy. It can be argued that the beverage company achieved this with great success for many years until the court case with SINALTRAINAL became public in the USA in 2001.

Following this revelation Coca Cola began distancing themselves from the occurrences. They released many statements describing how Coca Cola does not own the majority share of its bottling companies and is therefore not responsible for any misconduct. Moreover, they cleverly point out that the union leader deaths in Columbia are simply due to the county’s civil war, which has been raging on for over four years. With a little research, vast amounts of quotes and statements can be uncovered, all with the purpose of distancing Coca Cola from the issues at hand. Although vague, and slightly contradicting a times, these statements remain strong and concise, often fulfilling their objective.

In India, Coca Cola have done a much better job of containing the problem. Court rulings have helped shoulder the blame of the water shortages. In this case you can see evidence of their third stage of attack; distraction. Coca Cola boast several awards they have won in India, including the ‘Golden Peacock Environment Management Award’ and the fact that they have been deemed a ‘water efficient unit’. Many people believe these facts to have been fabricated. Coca Cola have very recently announced the endorsement of Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. This is no doubt a distraction technique with the aim of restoring the faith of the Indian consumer.

Further distraction techniques are evident on the Coca Cola website. There are huge sections devoted to CSR, focusing on both communities and the environment. These sections go into great depth and detail initiatives run by the company. This is a fantastic strategy to take focus off areas of activism and provide material to prove that Coca Cola can be ethical, and that it does work to help to the world where it can. As it is online, it is available to almost everyone.

How effective do you think Coca Cola’s tactics have been? Had you previously heard about the allegations facing Coca Cola? If not, does that mean that their containment strategy is achieving its objective?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Broken Promises:Lib Dems in need of some good PR

With all the political events of the past month, the Liberal Democrats have alienated a large majority of their supporters and are in need of some crisis management and some all around good PR.

This was the Lib Dems official campaign video released prior to the 2010 General Elections and was titled 'Say goodbye to broken promises'. At the time Nick Clegg seemed exactly what was needed; a charismatic and confident leader to rally supporters and convince the undecided.

After the formation of the Coalition Government, Clegg and the Lib Dems stood by their promise to fight any rise in tuition fees. But now all hope for the party has vanished, and the encouraging messages portrayed in the campaign video have been extinguished in a sea of irony and broken promises.

As a student and a supporter of the Liberal Democrats I was appalled to see the sudden U-turn in their point of view and change of values, as were thousands of other students all over the country. Clegg claimed that he had not previously understood the plight of the UKs economy to its full extent. If that’s the truth then why on earth had he been running for PM?

I’m not saying I will never vote Lib Dem again, but I will need a lot of convincing. If the Liberal Democrats want a future then Clegg must resign as leader and someone must step up to the plate to re-establish the party’s traditional values which attracted their supporters in the first place. They must once again distance themselves from the Conservatives, and now also from Clegg.

Are the Lib Dems finished as a political party, or is there still hope for them? All I know right now is that there is a dog flap on the back door of number 10 Downing Street, and it has Nick Clegg’s name hanging above it.

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Tom Westgate
I am 21 and currently in my second year of a Public Relations and Communications degree at Southampton Solent University and it is awesome. I love hanging out with my friends and I enjoy playing football and rugby and I go surfing with my friends every year! I know when I'm older I definitely want to work in a big city, preferably somewhere hot and on the coast! But before I think about getting a job I want to go travelling. I just want to make the most of my life and see the world! In's allll goood!
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