PR and breakfast TV teams: Chasing the same Holy Grail and what we can learn from each other

Photo reproduced courtesy of ITV

Photo reproduced courtesy of ITV

A bright new breakfast telly show takes to the airways at 6am on Monday.

In case you hadn’t heard, ITV are re-launching their morning news offering. It’s the third time they’ve done it in five years. But will ‘Good Morning Britain’ be able to win the ratings war where their previous offerings have failed?

Each time, the network has tried to find the winning formula – that sprinkle of morning magic that wakes the nation and keeps them watching.

I couldn’t help thinking that the challenge the programme team will be facing – to get this latest attempt right – is something us PR folk deal with all the time.
We too are seeking the holy grail of effective engagement with our audiences. We need to ignite genuine interest, change behaviours and keep them coming back for more. We want to position our organisation as the leader in its field and gain people’s respect and trust.

And we need to do this brilliantly, or we’ll lose the loyalty of our audiences – just like the ‘Good Morning Britain’ team. How we do it is pretty much the same too – and it often boils down to five key elements.

Number 1: Killer content
We’re all into producing high quality content that’s varied, fresh and accessible – a perfect blend of hard news stories and lighter bites. That’s because we know that people are consuming information ‘on the run’ and it’s vital to capture attention quickly.
But, in the words of Frank Carson, “it’s the way you tell ‘em” too. It’s not enough just to have key messages. It’s also about the presentation. And this is where good corporate journalism comes in. Look for the human interest angle in your ‘story’, tell it plainly and simply, and focus everything around the users’ needs. Check out this great blog from the Government Digital Service on just that.

Number 2: Fresh presentation
Like telly, a picture tells a thousand words and we’re finding new and effective ways of getting our messages across. Whether that’s corporate video, Infographics, or social media – we know we need to ‘mix it up’ a bit these days and get our messages out in a multi-channel way that stimulates the senses.

Number 3: A frontline ‘presenting’ team people relate to
It’s no longer good enough to wheel out your CEO or senior directors. People want people they relate to. In my organisation, we’re creating an army of corporate journalists. We’re fronting up grassroots staff as our key spokespeople. They’re blogging and providing more content for us so that we can showcase the ‘human face’ of our organisation in the hope that it becomes more ‘relatable’ to the public.

Number 4: Effective engagement and innovation
Nothing compares with good personal interaction and simply broadcasting your messages is not enough. Ok, we don’t have a bright studio sofa, but healthy debate and conversation should be the main weapons in our PR toolbox. And we need to find new and interesting ways of doing it.

And finally, number 5: A winning brand image
Everything we do in PR is built around creating respect, trust and a strong reputation for our organisation.  But to do this – to create a successful brand – you need to have a clear idea of what your organisation is about, what the vision is. You then have to translate this into consistent messages using creative techniques. And you have to constantly evaluate. Based on your analysis, you need to be fine-tuning your approach to improve impact.

Are you trying to sprinkle that little bit of breakfast magic into your corporate PR efforts?

And will Good Morning Britain manage to get it right and create the kind of rise and shine the nation requires?

I’ll be watching on Monday. Will you?

 

The importance of being networked: Breaking the in-house PR comms bubble

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It’s a funny old world, in-house PR. You’re a trained, creative being – no doubt working in a dynamic and innovative comms team. But, all too often, you’re supporting and promoting a completely different type of industry and almost always NOT a creative one.

You work mainly with operational people. They are the deliverers of your organisation’s core business and often comms is not their top priority. You’re the ‘PR and marketing’ expert, your team is where they go to for the ‘funky stuff’, while they’re busy at the coal face.

And this, my friend, is why the comms bubble starts to form.

Over time it’s easy, if you’re not careful, to get a little bit isolated. You get the job done and you do it well. The business is happy with your outputs and successes and the day-to-day can be challenging and rewarding in equal measure. It might be fun, but beware of ‘going native.’

You need to keep your creative edge and not morph into the cultural norms of the business you serve – or you’ll stagnate and implode.

And that’s where the importance of being networked comes in. I am so grateful for the fact that, as an in-house public sector PR, I have a number of connections I rely on for my professional sanity, development and creative inspiration. I am plugged into Commscymru, for example – a network of communications professionals from across the Welsh public sector. In fact, we met together yesterday for a spring conference and it was a fantastic opportunity to learn from each other and share ideas.

Over 100 PR’s from health, local government, central government, regulators, the third sector and other independent public bodies in Wales got together. It was great to brainstorm and devise a series of low cost creative campaigns – just for fun – during the afternoon workshop, for example. It really did teach us the power of collective ideas and fresh thinking.

Incidentally, in two weeks’ time, Commscymru will be re-launching its website and it will be open access – no nasty passwords – so all PR professionals, not just those in the Welsh public sector, will be able to benefit from its content.

Another excellent resource for me is the Government Communications Service. Again, it has a new membership programme which anyone can sign up to – although they do have different categories of member depending on where you’re from.

I also get loads of training opportunities, advice, aswell as a continuous professional development programme, from the Chartered Institute of PR (CIPR).

Most valuable of all, though, are the face to face opportunities these networks provide me with. Richard Branson has written an excellent blog on the importance of not going it alone. No matter how advanced our methods of communication have become, nothing seems to have come close to replicating the value of face to face contact – check out this infographic from Virgin.com which sums it up beautifully.

So, do you engage with other likeminded PR’s in order to learn, grow and flourish?

Or, are you in a comms bubble right now?

 

Photo credit:

Bubble by Rio Wirawan under creative commons licence (Flickr).

Regional news is dead: Long live hyperlocal. But is it sustainable – and who is guiding it?

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When I left the world of TV news 9 years ago, regional broadcasting had already started its slow and drawn out decline.

I’d witnessed, first-hand, Granada closing its Albert Dock studios in Liverpool, Meridian axing its Newbury newsroom and decimating its Maidstone centre.

I’d also experienced (at ITN and Channel 5) the regional TV news cull having an effect on national output. With fewer local reporters to call on, national correspondents were bearing the brunt, having to cover a wider area under increasing pressure.

Redundancies, closures, cutbacks: not just a TV phenomenon – but a newspaper one too. And, the real victims were the communities these local news outlets were supposed to serve.

From a selfish perspective, I couldn’t help but think I’d got out at the right time.

But for viewers who were increasingly finding themselves forced to watch ‘local’ people and news far removed from where they lived – there was no escape. The damage was done. For them, local journalism was dead, along with the connection and sense of belonging that their old news service provided.

Fast forward a few years and, behold, there is a saviour in the midst. Hello hyper-local and a warm welcome to community journalism!

Online news sites, covering extremely small geographical areas are popping up faster than you can say “micro-blogging” – and they seem to be plugging the gaps.

Thanks to the digital/social media revolution, and cloud-based computing, it’s now ‘power to the people’. Individuals are creating their own bespoke offerings. They’re focusing on news that’s relevant to their real-life neighbours – areas the TV and newspaper groups long abandoned.

But can these micro news services really satisfy in the long term?

Can they truly compensate for the death of their professional forefathers?

And, can they provide a sustainable business model for start-ups and the self-employed – generating cash, as well as kudos?

Step forward Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies and the legend that is Professor Richard Sambrook (former BBC Head of Global News). He and his team have set up the Centre for Community Journalism which is devoted to professionalising ‘hyperlocal’ – through research, training and enabling strong networks of community news hubs. The service looks excellent.

But what’s particularly impressive is that they are offering a FREE online course in community journalism for anyone who wants to sign up. Called a MOOC (aka Massive Open Online Course), it starts on Monday 14 April, runs for five weeks and requires around 4 hours of study time per week.

No doubt the key driver is to professionalise this new industry in the hope that it will become a sustainable one, rich in killer content with a genuinely newsworthy agenda to serve local communities across the UK.

I’m one of the many who has signed up to the course and I have high hopes.

I might not work in journalism anymore, but as a public sector PR manager, I am keen to keep up with the latest media developments, engage with hyperlocal news channels in my area and tap into their growing audiences – all of whom are public service users.

Can this course deliver?

Care to join me?

The PR power of ‘I’m sorry’ – Maria Miller and how not to do an apology

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Surely Maria Miller must have realised her first attempt at an apology had spectacularly backfired?

It’s probably why the Culture Secretary issued a new one – this time much more contrite and directly to her constituents via the Basingstoke Gazette.

Her second attempt was littered with phrases like “I’m devastated”, “I’ve let people down” and “I have always sought to do the best job that I can”. I can’t help but wonder why she didn’t do this the first time round.

Her first apology couldn’t have been any more different. Widely ridiculed for its lack of sincerity, it lasted just 32 seconds and left many commentators cold – you’ve got to read political sketch writer Quentin Letts’ hilarious account of proceedings.

The golden rule of crisis communications is to deploy the 3 R’s – Regret, Reason and Recovery. But it has to be done properly and, all too often, people get the regret bit wrong. The key to a successful apology is authenticity.

I’ve been reading a great blog by Heather Campbell about this, with fab case studies of organisations who got it right – think Apple and FedEx- and those who got it wrong – remember the big BP oil spill?

So, if a good apology is a PR no brainer – why do so many people get it wrong?

There is an excellent article in Psychology Today on the art of apology – which tracks human nature and how pride and the fear of weakness, and also admission of guilt, gets in the way of a good grovel.

It’s understandable. If you crash your car, you’re encouraged not to apologise in case you affect your insurance. Saying sorry is also tantamount to admission of guilt in a court of law.

But in terms of restoring relationships and fixing mistakes, people respond kindly to an apology if they sense a genuine heart and it can make a negative situation have a more positive outcome.

So why did Maria Miller’s apology leave people cold?

Perhaps it was because she was only ordered to repay £5,800 of her expenses over-claim – not the £45,000 she had been originally been called to pay back by the independent parliamentary commissioner for standards. Maybe, on a personal level, she felt exonerated. Certainly, her allies are furious at the lack of support she has received, claiming a media witch hunt.

But, let’s not forget that the Tory MP was ordered to apologise for her “attitude” and handling of the inquiry. She had made a mistake with her expenses claims – whether intentional or not.

And there’s no doubt about it, the Culture Secretary is in crisis mode right now – hoping against hope that her latest apology can restore the damage done by her first.

Will she survive past Easter?

Who knows – but she must realise now that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it – and that seemingly simple fact is often the difference between a PR success and PR fail.

 

Update:

And lo, it came to pass! Maria Miller resigned this morning. She had become the story and in her own words “a distraction from the vital work this government was doing”. Her bungled apology was, no doubt, a major factor in fanning the flames. The three R’s of crisis communications (regret, reason and recovery) sadly lacking in her case.

Monarchy’s Got Talent – how the Kate, Wills and George effect might win it for the Royals Down Under

So Kate, Wills and gorgeous baby George are embarking on their 18 day PR exercise to woo Australasia.

For the next 3 weeks, much of the world will be bamboozled with media coverage of the glamorous young couple and their little prince as they traverse the lands of Oz and New Zealand.

Of course, the trip isn’t just a cynical PR exercise. The second in line to the throne is representing the Queen as the Head of State for both countries – Her Maj has a duty to her subjects down under as much as this side of the pond.

But royal officials know all too well that they’re onto something PR-wise here and surely must regard the trio as their Willy Wonka golden ticket – potential saviours of the monarchy overseas.

They must hope this trip will help to capitalise on the small shift in public opinion over the last six months in favour of the royals. ABC news in Australia reports that only 38 per cent of people are now in favour of cutting Australia’s ties to the monarchy, compared with 45 per cent of voters in the 1999 referendum on the subject.

Will the Kate, Wills and George effect be able to turn the tide even further for team Windsor? Well, this current royal tour is not without its hitches already. Kate has come under fire for ordering a front facing car seat for George during the foreign tour of New Zealand. And, there has been a diplomatic falling out with the King of the Maoris who angrily rejected a meeting with the couple when he discovered they could only spare him 90 minutes out of their busy schedule.

But the Cambridge’s will be determined to turn things around. As the godfather of PR, Robert Leaf argues in his latest memoirs, modern day PR is now primarily about perception management, or persuasion, and doing it effectively is the real key to success for corporations, countries, organisations and even individuals.

I’d imagine that’s exactly what the HM PR machine is trying to achieve over the next 3 weeks. Good looks, friendly charm, accessibility and a very cute baby are their strategic tools to persuade the Antipodean nations that the British monarchy should be for keeps.

So, we’ll have to see how the next 18 days pan out and whether this royal PR strategy pays off. Will they manage to get 3 yes’s from the British, Australian and New Zealand public? My money is on little George nailing it.