The Pursuit of PR Accolades: Vanity or Value?

This blog first appeared on the CommsCymru website – after I was asked to write a piece about getting CIPR Chartered Status.

Award trophies on a shelf

Photo credit: Trophies, by Brad K. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence

 

I love working in comms – always have and always will.

But the last 6 months have been extra special for me, thanks to one shiny little trophy and a framed certificate, taking pride of place in my home.

That little trophy was a CIPR PRide Cymru Award – for ‘Best Public Sector Team of the Year’. And, the certificate confirmed that I’d made it as a Chartered PR professional.

Of course I’m biased, but I happen to think my Wales Audit Office comms colleagues are pretty hot at what they do – making public sector accountancy and audit less boring and more meaningful to the people of Wales.

We exist to tell taxpayers’ whether their money is being spent wisely – or not. And, we’re charged with letting the public sector community know what’s working well, what isn’t and how they can improve.

Comms is key to all this. But, making audit accessible can be a challenge. We don’t always get it right. But we try to be innovative and to engage as much as we can.

So, getting recognition like a PRide Award makes it all worthwhile. It’s a nod from the professional institute that we’re doing a good job, adopting the right tools and techniques, putting PR excellence theory into practice (where we can) and demonstrating continuous improvement.

But awards and accolades don’t always sit comfortably with the public sector communicator. After all, we’re here to promote noble causes, statutory responsibility, public service – all against a backdrop of austerity and economic squeeze.

Not surprising then that waving a flag of PR righteousness, a cloak of self-aggrandisement can all seem a bit uncomfortable. Why do so many of us get embarrassed by a bit of self-glory?

But it’s SO important.

Because going for the odd award here or there; working towards that qualification or certificate shapes us – and strengthens the profession. We don’t always win. We don’t always pass. But, it’s the pursuit of success, of demonstrating impact that makes us strive for improvement and to be the best we can be.

Championing professionalism, discipline, and strategic thinking should be encouraged. It’s about establishing our credentials and proving our value to our organisations and, to some extent, the outside world.

So, a few months after the PRide Awards, I decided to go for Chartered PR Practitioner status. The CIPR are actively encouraging eligible members to apply, in a bid to drive up standards and shift PR from a craft to a profession.

In September 2015, only 50 PR professionals had made it to Chartered status since it was introduced in 2008. Shocking when you think there are around 10,000 CIPR members. But the scheme only allowed a small minority to go for it. So they changed the criteria.

Now, if you’re a full Member, Fellow or Honorary Fellow you can attend a Chartership Assessment Day if:

  • you have three consecutive years of CIPR CPD (or five non-consecutive), or
  • if you have two years of CIPR CPD (or four non-consecutive) and hold a Masters degree or the CIPR Diploma.

 

So, in January 2016, I travelled down to CIPR HQ in London for the assessment day, which was a rigorous exercise. Beforehand, I’d been sent reading materials, questions to think about and an overview of what to expect on the day. When I arrived, I was placed in a small discussion group and assessed on my contribution to debates on leadership, strategy and ethics.

Some didn’t make it through the day, so it’s certainly no whitewash. It was a tough but enjoyable experience – and I passed. My reward was a certificate, glass of wine and new letters after my name. But it’s so much more than that.

For me, it was about wanting to get better, to keep moving along the journey of professionalism and to encourage others to do the same – for the cause, for the industry.

At the time of writing this, there are now 89 Chartered PR’s and the CIPR want to increase it to a total of 250 over the next two years.

That’s why I’d really urge other public sector communicators to go for it.

Go for Chartered status.

Go for new qualifications.

Be a bit proud.

There may be a teeny bit of vanity in it – but the value is much greater still.

 

Drink more water, less wine – and other (more useful) PR & Marketing resolutions for 2015

Strawberry SplashAllow me a little bit of self-indulgence, if I may.

I’m feeling sorry for myself because the festive season has been ruined in my house by me coming down with mumps.

The wider family couldn’t come near me so Christmas Day hosting was cancelled – leaving me, the husband and 3 kids faced with consuming more sausage rolls and M&S belly pork ‘bites’ than we knew what to do with.

To make matters worse, the XBoxOne hackers spoilt the kids’ day as it took over 24 hours to download new games. I then went and caught another lurgy.

Quite frankly, it’s left me yearning for a new year and a fresh – healthy – start.
I’ve been reading quite a few blog posts about PR and marketing predictions for 2015, including inspirational posts by industry heavyweights Sarah Hall and Stephen Waddington.

They’ve got me thinking about my own personal resolutions for work and career this coming year.

2015 by Artis Rams
Naturally, I need to chant “drink more water, less wine” and “sit less, move more” every day.

But there are 5 other resolutions on my 2015 to-do list:

  1. Go for CIPR Chartered status and finish it (this time)
    Chartered Practitioner status is a benchmark of professional excellence. It involves a rigorous application and interview process and is not an automatic right for members.
    I started the application process in 2014, but was always ‘too busy’ to finish it. I won’t make the same mistake this year.
  2. Make the most of my mentoring experience
    Selected to be a part of the CIPR’s new mentoring scheme last September, I’ve been matched with a great mentor – a Director of Communications at a leading UK Housing Association.
    I’m determined to get as much as possible out of this professional relationship in 2015. It’s an excellent way of breaking out of the in-house PR comms bubble, of which I’ve blogged about before.
  3. Focus on what works and dispense with what doesn’t
    I was approached by the lovely @danslee from @comms2point0 fame the other week for a blog he’s crowdsourcing on what changed for public sector comms teams in 2014.
    Last year we made our comms more relevant and accessible by introducing new digital channels – Pinterest, Facebook, a blog platform and Yammer (for staff).
    This also helped us sharpen our approach to evaluation. We can now gather even more intelligence about what works and what doesn’t.
    I’m looking forward to continuing to learn the lessons that better evaluation brings and to applying them in 2015.
  4. Meet with other comms teams, offer ideas – and steal theirs!
    There’s nothing like a bit of legitimate ideas theft – ahem, I mean sharing good practice – to make the quality of your work even better.
    We met with some great people last year, including comms teams at the DVLA, Public Health Wales, Audit Scotland, Community Housing Cymru, Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust, Estyn, Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and Older People’s Commissioner.
    We’ve been inspired to take on new approaches and I know that many of those we’ve met have adopted ideas from us.
  5. Finally, crank up the mojo
    Much of 2014 for me was about managing the work/home juggle after returning from my final maternity leave towards the end of 2013– I blogged about this last year and was overwhelmed by the positive response it received.
    I’ve pretty much mastered it now. I’m really pleased with what I achieved professionally and personally over the last 12 months and am determined to crank up the pace even more next year.

Mojo by Noel Pennington
Sometimes a bit of self-indulgence is what’s needed to refocus and progress your career.

And, I think my festive sick bed has given me the space to do just that.

So, what are your personal PR/comms resolutions?

I’d love to hear them!

 


Pictures reproduced under Creative Commons license:

Strawberry Splash by Christian Gibson

2015 by Artis Rams

Mojo by Neil Pennington

Fancy a comms cocktail? I’m a trained mixologist don’t you know!

Reproduced under creative commons license

Fluorescent cocktail by Gabriel Millos (creative commons)

When I started out in the brave new world of communications I didn’t realise that cocktail making would be one of the necessary skills I’d need to acquire. But it is – really, it is.

These days, you need to shake, mix, and muddle a whole load of new comms elements if you want your message to compete in a crowded market and get through to people.

A simple Gin and Tonic just won’t cut it anymore – what you really need to be able to do these days is to produce the PR equivalent of the Woo Woo or, dare I say it, Sex on the Beach?!

But while it might sound daunting, actually the secret to any good cocktail rests with some basic key ingredients. And, if you can master these, it’s really easy to mix up something special for your organisation.

Creating Useable content event workbook

Creating Useable Content event workbook by @cooperaj

That’s why the great people behind the 1000 lives campaign hosted the ‘Creating Useable Content’ event this week.

Run by Public Health Wales, it was designed to help public sector communicators learn some of the new skills needed to become great ‘content producers’.

This excellent conference focused on the 5 key elements that all PR professionals need to get to grips with in order to succeed.

 

I’ll share them with you now, in suitable cocktail style:

1) The Blog Bomb:
The influential Dan Slee from comms2point0 encouraged everyone to start blogging – for themselves and their organisations. He talked us through the benefits, explained how to bust the barriers and introduced us to the technology out there to make blogging easy.

2) Video Fizz:
Steve Davies, creative Director of filmcafe, demonstrated how to create videos using the technology we already have – smartphones and tablets. He ran through the essentials for making video content ‘useable’– framing, exposure and sound.

3) Totally Tropical Infographics:
Data expert, Caroline Beavon, showed us how to create infographics. They’re an effective way of sharing complex reports and ideas and she highlighted some excellent design tools (Piktochart, Infogr.am and Raw) where you can produce them yourselves without needing to know about techy stuff like coding. Caroline showed us the various stages you need to go through, including how to order your data.

4) The Photo Royale:
Photographer and artist, Pete Ashton, taught us how to take great photos that get widely shared – explaining composition tricks, such as the rule of two thirds and sight lines.

5) The Social Media Smoothie:
And, social media consultant, Miranda Bishop, gave some excellent advice on planning your social media activity, what content you should post, how often, the scheduling tools out there such as Hootsuite and Buffer and how to make them work for you.

 

Photo of the visual minutes from the day

photo from @fran_ohara

The conference team said they’d consider the event a success if each delegate came away with 5 ideas they can implement.

So, here are my top takeaways and, in the interests of mixology, I’m going to stick with the cocktail theme – and notice below, my very first ever DIY Infographic to illustrate:

 

The Commsbird Cocktail

The CommsBird Cocktail recipe infographic

My DIY Infographic

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz/ 56 ml of Smartphone filming: A smartphone is all you need. Forget the expensive equipment, just use your mobile, a cheap ‘Smartlav’ plug-in microphone and you’re good to go. It’s more spontaneous than large camera kits and easy to use once you get going. Just shoot it, cut it and share it. Simples!

 

  • 1 oz / 28 ml of DIY infographics: You can create them yourself with some fab free tools. Don’t use too many colours though and keep the design clutter free. And remember, creating Infographics is not the job of the design team. It’s a content editor’s responsibility to do the thinking, then brief the designers. Don’t throw them a 200 page report and ask them to create one from scratch.

 

  • 2 ox / 56 ml of YouTube: YouTube is the second biggest search engine. I didn’t realise that. It’s really important to have a presence on this platform if you are to increase your audience reach.

 

  • 1 tbsp of tweeting: Make sure you tweet about your blog or campaign at least 5 times. The average life of a tweet is just 18 minutes, so you need to repeat your messages. Don’t worry about annoying your followers with too many tweets – they made an investment in you when they decided to click the follow button.

 

  • A dash of creative juice: Confidence is key and experimentation is the pathway to success. Keep trying new things to stay ahead of the game and practice, practice, practice.

And, finally, to decorate your cocktail add some fab visual minutes from Fran O’Hara, with a sprinkle of some #content14.

Photo of visual minutes from the event

Visual minutes

I have to say, as a delegate, I really enjoyed the day. It was great to meet new people, learn new tips and tricks and build on the knowledge I’ve already gained.

Do you have some cool ingredients in your cocktail shaker?

(If you’re interested in finding out more about the event – there’s a great Storify of the day).

 

This blog post first appeared on the brilliant comms2point0 website. A big thankyou to @danslee for including it and I hope it puts me in touch with even more fab comms people as a result.

The Mamma returns: A survivor’s guide to PR management after baby break

Our Shinkansen to Hakone by Su-May

I sometimes think that working in PR is a bit like driving a bullet train – speeding at 200 mph, needing your wits about you, a bit risky – and one heck of a ride.

But with new routes being added to the train map recently (think social media and other digital tools), and more destinations appearing all the time, what happens when you need to jump off this high speed train for a bit – or a lot in my case?

I’m back in full time work now after having three gorgeous boys in quick succession. In the space of five years, I spent a whopping 2 and-a-half years out of the workplace (not all in one go, but almost) – while that bullet train continued to hurtle along on its journey.

Each time I jumped back onto the PR train I found the pace of change shockingly noticeable.

For the most part, it’s exciting – dare I say exhilarating – to witness the explosion of different ways to communicate with people and getting to grips with the opportunities and benefits they bring to an organisation.

But when you’re the one managing a PR/marketing team and you’ve been out of the game a long time, it can also feel unsettling sometimes – having to learn your Vine from your Vimeo, your Buffer from your bit-ly.

So, how do you play catch up and get your mojo back, when the world seems to have moved on without you?

Here are a few things I’ve found helpful along the way:

  • Be ruthlessly focused in your up-skilling

Get up to speed in the areas you’re unfamiliar with – and fast – particularly if you’re planning on going off on maternity leave again in the future. I’ve made a point of focusing my CPD activities on new tactical areas – such as social media, online video, and how to evaluate these new networks.

The CIPR CPD scheme is excellent, with loads of resources to access for members. The Government Communications Service has also been an invaluable resource to me and they have recently made a lot of their material publically available to all.

  • Use Twitter as a resource tool

Make sure you’re following some key twitter influencers – particularly in fields you need to know more about. Some great people are @helreynolds and @muddywall for social media expertise; @allthingsIC and @theICrowd for internal communications and @comms2point0 and @danslee for general communications enlightenment.

  • Get a mentor

I was gutted to have missed the deadline to apply for the PRweekmentoring scheme for women, which looks excellent (they may well do one next year, if this year is a success). But, there are other avenues you can pursue.

AcademiWales has an excellent bank of mentors available if you live in Wales and work in the public sector. If not, the Government Communications Service also has a mentoring scheme.

But it doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. You could just find someone more experienced than you, from your own network, to offer a listening ear and advice along the way.

  • Delegate and learn from your team

You can’t do it all and are not expected to – you’re leading a team remember – and your team has stayed on that train while you disembarked, so you can learn loads from them.

  •  Find inspiration and draw strength from others

Loads of brilliant career mammas in PR/marketing/media are successfully managing the merge – a great phrase coined by magazine editor Lorraine Candy – @lorraineELLE.

Weber Shandwick MD – @marywhenman – gives good advice to working mums like herself.  Visa Europe’s Amanda Kamin – @Kaminamanda – is another working PR mamma with top tips on ways to thrive and juggle.

I also love to read inspirational quotes to gear me up each day and follow @valaAfshar and @richardbranson for my daily doses.

  • Relax and enjoy the changes

Finally, never forget that while some of the tactics may have changed, the fundamental principles of PR and marketing still apply – and that is something you are very familiar with. Success is all about having clear objectives and strategy, some great activities in place to implement those plans and then evaluating your outcomes. You’re great at that – you just have more weapons in your armoury now.

Image

Photos (creative commons)

1) Our Shinkansen to Hakone by Su-May

2) Tea towel for ma by My SuperTuesday

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

Image

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?

Image

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?