Public Relations

Commscamp 2015 round-up

A plate of cupcakes decorated with piped icing and fruit

Commscamp – the annual unconference for communications-types in and around the public sector. I went, I found it hard to choose between the sessions on offer, I listened to interesting people talk about a host of communications topics, I ate cake.

What did I learn?

  • the organising team make running an unconference look easy, which takes huge skill considering the amount of time and effort they must have put in to pull everything together – huge round of applause to them all, especially for the work that means tickets are free
  • the more you pitch sessions, the less nerve-wracking it gets – feel the fear and do it anyway
  • it is impossible to get to all of the sessions you’d like to at an unconference
  • I love that nobody is ‘just’ anything, you are you and know your stuff whatever your job title may be
  • there are plenty of people out there giving things a try and they’re happy to share their learning
  • you will never have time to speak to all of the people that you’d like to, and it’s hard to use real names if you know someone by their twitter handle
  • that I can’t condense what I heard in the sessions I attended into one post, so have captured bulletpoints from:
  • the unconference format is one I enjoy, and I’m going to find it increasingly difficult to go to traditional conferences and just sit and listen
  • I wish there was something similar in East Anglia, and I’m working up the courage to sound people out about viability – starting small 
  • Pimms cupcakes are pretty easy to make and very tasty indeed

Photo: Commscamp15-033 by W N Bishop via Flickr


Presentation only goes so far

Possibly the best presented pop tart I’ve ever seen, and one of a selection of junk food presented in haute cuisine style by the not-so-subtly named “Chef Jacques Le Merde” on his Instagram feed.

Chef Jaques’ creations may carry tongue-in-cheek fancy descriptions like “Doritos soil” and “coleslaw ash” but as they never pretend to be something they’re not, we appreciate them for what they are.

From a PR perspective, this is what we’re often asked to do as practitioners; present an idea, information or product in as positive a way as possible while still being truthful – the McCann advertising mantra of “Truth Well Told”.

As the Chartered Institute of Public Relations states: “Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.” If what you say doesn’t tally with what you do, what others say about you will not be favourable and your reputation will suffer accordingly.

The danger comes when we’re asked to “spin” and present a junk food idea, product or decision as haute cuisine. It might look the part, but one bite and people will immediately spot the pop tart. Presentation is nothing without substance.

The art of promotion

I’ve seen a few good examples of social media-related promotion lately. They’re all pretty meat and potatoes ideas, but they get the job done. It’s also interesting to see how social media has become mainstream in so many settings.

The play’s the thing

This was a great basic example of back-of-the-toilet-door advertising at The Vaudeville Theatre in London. Always a winner as you have a captive audience.

Poster for theatre production of Handbagged listing social media sites and hashtag

The Twitter account had someone monitoring it, replying to and retweeting messages. A good addition to the night. It’s an excellent play by the way.

Keep on running

On a very chilly February morning at the Silverstone half marathon – I was a spectator, not a runner – Adidas were doing a roaring trade giving away free shoelaces promoting their Boost trainers.

Adidas branded laces and marathon runner number

It was a practical giveaway that promoted their product, their hashtag  and could well see runners wearing Adidas laces in other brand trainers. Promotion staff cheerfully asked runners to tweet the hashtag, it was also emblazoned on every runners’ race number and along the course. There was no chance you were going to miss it.

Advertising hoardings showing the Adidas #Boost hashtag and other brand logos


Please take photos

At Spitalfields Market one Sunday afternoon, I was surprised at the number of “No photos please” signs at stalls, presumably to protect creative ideas. Then one stall fabulously bucked the trend.

Sign asking people to take photos and publish them on social media sites

Well played The Last Stop For The Curious for making people smile and involving people in actively promoting you. Great hats too.

Last Stop For the Curious hat stall with stall-owner


Stall sign for hat sellers Last Stop For the Curious









One that got away

As well as all the good examples, I came across a missed opportunity from Transport for London. Having grown up in London I have a huge affection for the Tube and often think their posters are excellent.

London Underground poster promoting their new travel alert Twitter account

The design is clever, I love the Twitter bird in the roundel, but it’s lacking a vital element – the handle for the Twitter account it’s promoting. According to the Huffington Post the posters have been the same since January this year. One of those good reminders of what not to do.

The reinvention of PR – ten thoughts

#eaconf“The reinvention of PR” was the intriguing title of the first regional conference from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) East Anglia group. Held in Cambridge (UK) on 27 March 2014, it brought together high calibre speakers with PR professionals from a wide range of agencies and organisations. Here are ten points from the afternoon:

1. Walking the walk The CIPR has made a pledge that it will be prioritising regions and becoming less London centric. This was driven home by Institute president Stephen Waddington giving the keynote speech plus chief executive Alastair McCapra attending and taking part in the panel session. Great to see.

2. PR, whatever the channel, is about relationships Stephen Waddington’s keynote speech outlined ten areas of reinvention for PR.  A point that particularly resonated was: “#5 Brands need a human voice: Social networks are based on relationships between people … copy should be conversational and not mangled by corporate approval process.”

3. Are you using and interpreting all of the data available to you? If not, why not? Anna Salter from Kantar Media Intelligence stated that there is an increasing blur between paid, earned and owned media and data. Customers are consuming and generating content about you all the time: data + insight = knowledge.

4. What are the issues your stakeholders have with your company/services. What are you doing to solve them? Guy Middleton, head of corporate communications from Three spoke about becoming a target for the press and consumer body  Which? after an industry-wide price increase. After navigating the issue, Three looked to bring consumer issues into the business, leading to a scrapping of 0800/0845 charges and a positive reaction from Which?  

5. Tell your organisation’s story clearly and powerfully Paul Mylrea, University of Cambridge director of communications did just that, rolling off impressive facts and figures from over 800 years of the University’s history – including 90 Nobel Prize winners. As for any organisation, training specialists to communicate in ‘human’ is always a challenge, especially in the social-media age. A 26-strong comms team works on a worldwide stage – yet the University only employed its first press officer in 1990.

6. In-house is the word A panel discussion suggested that PR is making a move back in-house, and it’s not just fuelled by budget constraints. In-house teams can supply an authenticity of voice and understand the nuances of the organisation and its publics that an external contractor may find difficult to emulate. External agencies are still a great choice for specific projects, but in-house is back in fashion.

7. PR needs to be involved in strategic decision making, not just communicating it Andy Smith, head of media from Santander talked about the ongoing erosion of trust in institutions and businesses, emphasising the need for PR practitioners to be executors rather than just order-takers, and to be an ethical voice. He also pointed out that social media does not have a natural home in the traditional organisational set-up, and while communications has influence over parts, there are more stakeholders to consider.

8. It’s a good time to be in PR Summing the event up, CIPR CEX Alastair McCapra painted a positive picture of the PR industry as a whole, urging delegates to welcome the blurring of boundaries across the marketing mix and the opportunities that new technologies and social media have opened up, treating it as an opportunity to get on top, not be left at the bottom.

9. Where was all the tweeting? There was good flagging of the #eaconf hashtag, great wifi – plus the chairman monitored the feed throughout for comments – but only a quarter of delegates were tweeting. The balance between listening, tweeting and notetaking can be hard to get right, but I expected socmed activity to be higher, especially as it’s a great way to connect. This is a handy ‘How to tweet at conferences’ guide from @commsgodigital 

10. To conference or unconference? This was the first traditional ‘sit and listen then ask questions’ conference I’d been to for a while. It was interesting, and the calibre of speakers was fantastic, but I wanted to come away with a few more learning points than I did. That’s not the fault of the conference, but more of my expectations as shaped by unconferences – see more about the concept here. I think a mix of both is a good way forward, organised keynotes/presentations plus unconference breakout sessions – a best of both for everyone.

Comms villains line-up

Every organisation has them, the people who make good communications tricky, whether by accident or design. They’re the dark side of the #commshero coin

A picture of Spiderman villain Venom, with text: "Venom: drips poison via gossip or by leaking info to undermine staff or org."

See more #commsvillain culprits on my storify page. Inspired by A Guide to Comms Villains by Mike Underwood –  @varkio – and the CommsHero event by Resource. Find out more at and @CommsHero



Super comms advice

What happens when you have a spare half-hour, lots of your childrens’ tiny super-hero and cartoon figures knocking about and keep seeing #CommsHero tweets in your Twitter timeline?

Image of Wonder Woman toy in her invisible jet with the Tweet: Morning @commshero Wonder Woman advises delivering transparent messages using the right vehicle

There’s more advice from Wonder Woman, Spiderman and their friends – including Indiana Jones –  on my Storify page.

Inspired by the CommsHero event by Resource. Find out more at and @CommsHero

So, what do you do then? Defining PR

A man standing on a plinth with a question mark on his head, the sun shining through a cloud behind himThere’s an interesting exercise going on at the moment to modernise the definition of Public Relations. Defining PR isn’t a recent quest – Rex Harlow famously found 472 definitions made between 1900 and 1976.

Headed up by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and utilising crowdsourcing and social media, #PRdefined is a global collaboration between the PRSA and 11 peer organisations – including the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

Launching the initiative, Rosanna M. Fiske , PRSA chair and CEO, said: “As recognition of the profession’s value has grown in recent years, it has become increasingly important that we find a universal definition befitting the scope and modern role of public relations.”

PR professionals were invited to submit ideas online for a new definition, by answering: Public relations [DOES WHAT] with/for [WHOM] to [DO WHAT] for [WHAT PURPOSE.] These ideas were fed into three draft definitions (taken from the PRSA website):

Definition No. 1: Public relations is the management function of researching, engaging, communicating, and collaborating with stakeholders in an ethical manner to build mutually beneficial relationships and achieve results.

Definition No. 2: Public relations is a strategic communication process that develops and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their key publics.

Definition No. 3: Public relations is the engagement between organizations and individuals to achieve mutual understanding and realize strategic goals.

The consultation on these draft ideas is open until 23 January, before three final definitions are put out to vote. You can comment here  and join in on Twitter using the #prdefined hashtag.

PR Week editor Danny Rogers has commented: “Finding a new definition of PR matters because the tens of thousands employed within this well-established industry need to more clearly and consistently explain what they do – and the value they add.”

Yet blanket acceptance is not assured. CIPR CEO, Jane Wilson, has said: “PR Professionals themselves have widely diverging opinions on the nature of public relations. It might be the case that a one-size-fits-all definition is very difficult to reach, but the process of trying will be very instructive.”

The debate looks set to continue.

Photo: Question Mark by Marco Belluci via Flickr