CIPR House of Commons debate places PR at the heart of organisations

Tonight I had the privilege of representing the CIPR at a House of Commons Debating Group event. Chaired by The Rt Hon Lord McNally, we debated whether ‘Business best serves society by focusing on the bottom line.’ For the motion was Dr Jamie Whyte, research director at the Institute of Current Affairs and Valentina Kristensen, director of growth and communications at Oaknorth Bank. I opposed the motion with the support of Professor Anne Gregory, chair of corporate communication, Huddersfield Business School. Here are my two arguments in full, which show exactly how intrinsically linked public relations is to organisational strategy and how placing people before profit is better for generating financial return over the long-term.

OPENING ARGUMENT

Business best serves society by focusing on its bottom line.

Tonight I’m going to wholeheartedly and fervently argue the opposite.

And I’m going to start with Guardian coverage of a report that was published by the United Nations just ten days ago.

“The UK government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity, the United Nations poverty envoy has found.

“Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ended a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK with a stinging declaration that despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, levels of child poverty are “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”.

Let’s take a couple of seconds to digest what we just heard.

“A social calamity and an economic disaster”. If that doesn’t speak to the need to place people above profit, nothing ever will. And when the government doesn’t make the general public its priority, this is exactly the situation we find ourselves in. A society more aligned to 1918 than 2018.

When society’s needs aren’t being fulfilled, we need businesses to step up and give back – remembering that they have a civic duty too.

 

Organisational purpose

If we want to talk about business best serving society by focusing on the bottom line, we need to understand the purpose of organisations first.

According to the Chartered Management Institute, organisational purpose is:

“An organisation’s meaningful and enduring reason to exist that aligns with long-term financial performance, provides a clear context for daily decision-making, and unifies and motivates relevant stakeholders.”

This means profit generation that is focused on and benefits all connected to the organisation. Not just in the management team’s interests so they can take more home in their pay packet.

Surely no one here can justify the obscene £265m Bet365 founder Denise Coates paid herself in 2017, more than a third of the betting firm’s annual profit. Does that sit ok with everyone here? Surely there is a point when enough money becomes too much money, especially with that type of discrepancy between your salary and what you pay your employees.

When you consider the CIPR’s own definition of what we do, in terms of being “the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its public,” it becomes very clear how relevant organisational purpose is to public relations.

The work we do is interconnected and as reputation guardians, it falls to us to help business do the right thing.

 

Social purpose matters

Organisational purpose outside of money making is important.

Not least at times of prolonged austerity and political, societal and technological change, like we are experiencing now.

If you need the commercial imperative outside of ‘doing good’, this type of change acts as a flashpoint when relationships between organisations and the public change and consumers scrutinise where to invest their hard-earned cash.

They seek brands aligned with their values and which, recognising their customers’ daily challenges, are committed to alleviating these.

Businesses not living their values risk being called out publicly, with the reputational damage and negative impact to the bottom line that results.

Critically, it’s not just me saying this. Social purpose is an issue rising up the corporate agenda.

Unilever’s Paul Polman has been quoted as saying “capitalism can no longer prosper at the expense of society.”

Blackrock’s Larry Fink is also the perfect case in point. At the start of the year he sent an anniversary letter to CEOs saying:

“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. Companies must benefit all their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers and the communities in which they operate.”

If the leader of one of the world’s leading asset management companies is saying this, it’s time to sit up and listen.

 

Profit and purpose aren’t mutually exclusive

Crucially, my biggest argument against tonight’s motion that business best serves society by focusing on its bottom line, is that profit generation and organisational purpose don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Just look at businesses which do well by doing good such as Patagonia, whose purpose statement is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

The clothing brand reached over 750 million dollars in 2017 revenue all without even running a single TV ad. When it did advertise on TV it was nothing about clothing. Every time Patagonia amplifies its social mission, it grows.

Nike’s recent decision to use Colin Kaepernick as the face of its national campaign may have ruffled feathers, but taking a stand and doing the right thing saw its stock soar – in the bank holiday weekend alone after the ad launched, online sales grew by 31%, despite some protestors burning Nike apparel and stating that they’d never buy ever again.

And in a very simple but lovely example, Dominos in the US has taken to filling in potholes (admittedly stamping the Dominos logo on top), recognising that people want to enjoy their pizza in a fit state when it’s delivered to their home. A fantastic campaign stunt which has garnered them column inches and a heap more sales, as well as increased customer loyalty. Social purpose equals win-win.

 

There is a demand for corporate purpose

In The Power of Purpose John O’Brien and Andrew Cave set out five drivers behind the increased demand for corporate purpose outside of wealth creation:

1.   A need for established companies to find new, authentic ways of creating sustainable value across all stakeholders

2.   Entrepreneurs wanting to demonstrate a deep sense of personal purpose as they carve out new areas of business and social enterprise

3.   Government agencies looking to create collective communities of purpose-driven people, engaged in civil society

4.   Individuals looking to make an impact on the people and issues they care about

5.   Charities and NGOs wanting to create clarity around their rationale and operations to deliver enhanced impact

This is echoed by the Chartered Management Institute.

Its ‘The What, The Why and The How of Purpose’ report, states purpose is a powerful business tool which can:

1.   Increase legitimacy

2.   Attract and retain talent

3.   Drive strong stakeholder and customer relationships

4.   Increase employee psychological welfare

5.   Increase business performance

 

Accountable leadership is critical to a healthy society

Seventy years ago, the rationale for founding what was then the IPR was to achieve mutual understanding and good relations.

The Institute’s fathers came from local government had accountable leadership and social purpose at the front and centre of their work. It’s a focus we are now returning to.

It’s an important role. According to the Word Economic Forum’s Survey on the Global Agenda, 86% of respondents believe there is a leadership crisis in the world today.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2018 reports that trust in business is down to 43%.

Only a quarter of the population now trust social media as a source of news and information.

Public relations practitioners are well placed to help organisations find their ‘why’ and agree their ‘how’ – and most of all build long-term, sustainable relationships between an organisation and its publics based on two-way engagement, transparency, authenticity and trust.

We can help organisations find their purpose outside of wealth creation and it’s what I’d urge you all here to do too.

I’m going to close by reminding you of the definition of organisational purpose according to the Chartered Management Institute. This is:

“An organisation’s meaningful and enduring reason to exist that aligns with long-term financial performance, provides a clear context for daily decision-making, and unifies and motivates relevant stakeholders.”

I’m absolutely certain that stakeholders aren’t motivated by the ever-increasing size of director pay packets. People want to know how companies are playing their part in making our world a better and happier place to live in.

Thank you.


ARGUMENT TWO 

I spoke earlier about organisational purpose and the various drivers for this outside of purely making money.

I’m keen now to share the perspective of the CBI to demonstrate that senior business leaders also think that a focus on more than the bottom line is critical to improving the reputation of business in society.

In Josh Hardie’s foreword to “Everyone’s Business Tracker”, published in September 2018, he says:

“During a time of huge political and economic uncertainty…the public are increasingly looking towards businesses for leadership. 92% say businesses should take a stance on key social issues.”

 

He goes on to state that: “To deliver consistent, sustainable improvements in business reputation, companies must not only prevent future scandals, but also focus on the issues the public care most about.”

As in, there are a myriad of ways in which businesses can best serve society outside of a relentless profit drive.

We can all think of examples where businesses, trying to drive up margin, have cut corners to the detriment of their employees and wider stakeholders.

It happens across every industry, from construction to residential care homes. In fact, The Guardian reported last Friday that companies running inadequate UK care homes make £113m of profit, despite the vulnerable people in their care being badly neglected according to the Care Quality Commission.

In July of this year, it was reported that Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland were due to report bumper profits of £14 billion pounds but despite this, customers would still be stuck with easy access savings accounts paying less than 0.5% interest on average.

How is that acceptable in this time of austerity where poverty and food bank usage is now firmly part of daily life? How can those working three jobs and living on the edge ever break the cycle?

The worst example in recent history that I can think of is Grenfell Tower, where a fire caused by flammable cladding – a cheap option chosen by the local authority - resulted in the deaths of 72 people.

72 people could still be alive today if the council had made people its priority, rather than the bottom line.

 

Media influences opinion

In “Everyone’s Business Tracker”, it becomes clear that the media is influential in forming people’s opinions, not that there was much doubt.

Headlines about scandals and public campaigns on business issues drive the public’s view of business priorities.

I quote directly:

“As a result, the public now place a higher premium on businesses that work with ethical suppliers and that are taking action to reduce unequal pay – each gaining two places in prominence. This change serves as a clear demonstration of the impact high-profile debates have on the public’s priorities for business.”

A few pages on, the report goes further: “The public want business leaders to take a more meaningful and proactive stance on issues such as the environment, immigration and equality. Despite the sustained improvements in the public’s views of CEOs, a considerable proportion still believe business leaders are out of touch with wider society (67%) This disconnect is founded in the perception that business leaders are founded by self interest….Business leaders who speak out authentically and take a stance on issues which matter to society are likely to be viewed more favourably.”

My take out is this – organisational purpose is no longer a nice to have. The public expects it.

The general view appears to be: you don’t serve society by focusing on the bottom line, you only serve yourself.

I’d like to go back to my argument that profit generation and purpose aren’t mutually exclusive. They have benefits for all.

It is more than possible to drive social good with an expectation of commercial gain.

 

Purpose-driven companies evolve faster

According to a Forbes article by leadership strategist Caterina Bulgarella, purpose-driven companies evolve faster than others.

How? Because while purpose can express what an organisation aspires to be and do, at a more advanced level it becomes a conscious expression of how it intends to evolve and transform.

It nudges the organisation to address inconsistencies in its own culture. What we might call the say-do gap.

Doing good in society can provide companies with the motivation to innovate and provide a different, better type of product or service. Take IKEA whose purpose is to ‘create a better everyday life for the many’.

If a large retailer can place purpose at the heart of its business and make life better for those it serves, anyone can.

As I draw to a close, I’m once again going to remind you of the very definition of organisational purpose according to the Chartered Management Institute. It is:

“An organisation’s meaningful and enduring reason to exist that aligns with long-term financial performance, provides a clear context for daily decision-making, and unifies and motivates relevant stakeholders.”

 

It is a way to make money, yes, but one that unifies and motivates relevant stakeholders.

Keep that in mind as I share this quote from Eleanor Turner, head of corporate reputation and purpose at Porter Novelli London:

“It’s the companies that have a clear purpose, beyond profit, that have the greatest resonance with consumers. When identifying what their purpose is, in order to be authentic and relevant, it’s critical that a business identifies those issues most pertinent to it. Articulating this purpose is more important than ever, with there being an overwhelming call from consumers for business to play a role in the discussion on social issues.”

 

What she said.

Thanks for listening.

Organisational leadership skills – influencing teams and individuals to greater achievement

Today I’ve been attending the first day of an Impellus Organisational Leadership Skills course which is now on offer to Chartered Practitioners and Fellows of the CIPR. Practical and pragmatic in terms of the teaching, I’ve come away inspired and looking forward to day two.

“It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behaviour is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”

Warren Buffet

If you’re wondering whether it’s for you and what to expect, the aim is of the Impellus Organisational Leadership Skills course is to investigate and challenge how you influence teams and individuals to greater achievement.

You’re expected to:

-       Be open to new ideas

-       Debate and offer points of view

-       Identify how you can enhance your skills

-       Commit to performance improvements.

Exercises are designed to have you thinking like a director and modelling the behaviours and habits of good leaders.

As you’d expect, day one opens with a definition of leadership. In this case it’s defined as:

-       An influencing process

-       Involving two or more people; leader and follower(s)

-       Occurring in situations where trying to achieve given, implied or explicit goals.

There are a variety of key learnings imparted over the course of the day. Understanding the difference between leadership and management and how these fit together is crucial. Good leaders need a balance and blend of both and to continually work on developing good habits.

Being absent is as big a measure of being a leader as is being present, because if you’ve set a plan correctly, the team should be able to deliver this without you.

Learning to stand back from the day to day and keeping a big picture overview can often provide a challenge for senior leaders. Being there to ‘set a good example’ and show that you ‘wouldn’t delegate anything you wouldn’t do yourself’ isn’t necessarily the hallmark of an inspirational manager, although it’s a mistake that directors commonly make.

 

Accountable leadership helps business succeed

As you’d expect, a clear take out from today is that those in management roles have a duty to act responsibly to employees, the business and society as a whole, a message the CIPR has been pushing hard around accountable leadership and organisational purpose.

It’s something we’ll actually be discussing in greater depth at a House of Commons debate on Monday 26th November, where I’ll be arguing against the motion that ‘Business best serves society by focusing on the bottom line.’ Tickets are still available and you can get these here.

It’s also the theme of the CIPR’s National Conference on Thursday 29th November, at which a few places also remain.

 

Dealing with complexity and uncertainty

One of the benefits of attending the course has been learning to recognise and deal with VUCA problems, otherwise known as Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity and Ambiguity, of particular interest as the UK heads towards Brexit.


blog pic.jpg


As the Impellus course teaches us:

 

“We associate leadership with the ability to solve problems, act decisively and to know what to do. Today’s problems can present a challenge to this.”

Knowing that it’s ok not to always have the answer but where to go to find it, is pretty liberating and confidence building as a manager.

 

Dysfunctional teams

Finally, and without giving too much away, anyone who leads a team will benefit from the part of the day which considers the ways in which teams can become dysfunctional.

From absence of trust, fear of conflict and lack of commitment through to avoidance of accountability and inattention to results, finding ways to mitigate these issues is hugely valuable. I’d urge those with tricky team players to seek the course out solely for this section.

On completion of the Impellus Organisational Leadership Skills course, which costs £500 plus VAT, delegates receive a Level 5 certificate from the Institute of Leadership and Management. This can be converted into a full qualification by choosing another two-day course on either Managing Performance and Efficiency or Strategic Thinking and Decision Making.

For more information or to book, please visit https://www.cipr.co.uk/training/organisational-leadership-skills.

Thanks go to Impellus trainer David Ross for permission to reproduce some of the content here.

 

Celebrating #CIPR70 with the CIPR's greatest asset - its volunteers

The CIPR thrives thanks to a large and committed group of volunteers who support the dedicated team running the Institute. Thanks to all involved, this year the CIPR has delivered its most ambitious work plan to date. Underpinning everything has been team work of the best kind. Tonight we mark 70 years of the Institute by celebrating 70 special volunteers and all those who have contributed to our superb anniversary book Platinum. Here’s a transcript of my welcome speech for those who can’t make it.

What a very special evening this is; marking 70 years of the CIPR with the volunteers who keep it relevant, forward-looking and a wonderful community to be part of.

As well as celebrating our 70 at 70, tonight we also mark the launch of Platinum, authored by many of you here, under the capable eye of editor Stephen Waddington.

Your efforts take no small commitment; you all have busy jobs, lives and family commitments. Your generosity of spirit in giving time and expertise to help your professional organisation and industry thrive deserves to be acknowledged.

I’m thrilled to see you all tonight to do just that and thank you personally.

Thoughts for the CIPR’s future

It’s not long now until I hand over the CIPR Presidency to Emma Leech and I have a few wishes for the future.

The CIPR’s Royal Charter signposts the path we must take and we must continue to work for the public good, placing social purpose and accountable leadership at the heart of organisational strategies to drive company value over the long-term.

To achieve that, professionals need to be the best they can be, with strategic, ethical and leadership skills the norm. If you’re not yet a Chartered Practitioner, please make that your goal. If you need an incentive, of all the CIPR’s membership levels, those who are Chartered earn the most.

We must encourage members, wherever they are in their career, to make CPD a priority.

Time served is not the equivalent of the appropriate training and qualifications, especially in an industry that evolves constantly.

Barriers to entry are a hallmark of a profession and my belief is when CPD finally becomes mandatory, we’ll have come of age. This is my wish for the CIPR as it moves into its next seventy years.

 

Team work makes us stronger

All that is left is for me to offer thanks.

The CIPR has a fantastic but small team which punches above its weight and I’m grateful for all they have achieved, especially against the backdrop of an office move. Everyone works hard to make your membership meaningful.

Even tonight Koray has asked me to remind you to complete the State of the Profession Survey so please do that; the more data we get, the stronger we can make our member offer.

My thanks and congratulations go to each and every one of you for your ongoing contributions.

This year the CIPR has delivered its most ambitious plan ever. We have taken an assertive stance in demonstrating the strategic value of PR to organisations and developed closer relationships with the business community thanks to partnerships with the CBI and FSB.

Membership is growing organically and churn is down because our work is resonating.

It’s been a great eleven months. I’d therefore like to propose a toast. To all of you – and to team work.

Thank you and have a lovely evening.

 

How Malcolm Tucker and Max Clifford committed the greatest PR fraud of our time

How Malcolm Tucker and Max Clifford committed the greatest PR fraud of our time

 

What do Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster, David Mellor’s Chelsea strip, The Thick of It and Edina Monsoon have in common? Well, all these and more have contributed to PR miseducation. Today I’m at Leeds Trinity’s Journalism and Media Week 2018 to chat all things fact and fiction and demonstrate what we see about public relations has little in common with what the role entails today.

Platinum: Documenting the journey to professionalism in public relations

CIPR volunteers have a capacity to stop you in your tracks and push you to really think. Think about the work we do, about its relevance to society and about what being a public relations professional really means. Platinum, the CIPR’s new crowdsourced book, launches tomorrow to celebrate its seventieth anniversary and is a case in point.

As your 2018 President, I’ve had the privilege of working with Board, Council and members to set the current direction of travel during a very special 70th anniversary year. Every aspect of our work has been grounded in the Charter principles with the purpose of reasserting PR as a strategic management function and underlining the economic contribution we make.

And yet Platinum has made me reconsider what’s right, what’s next and what the future might hold.

Readers will find the rationale for founding what was then the IPR holds true today. Mutual understanding and good relations are what we strive for in daily practice.

But the Institute’s fathers, coming from local government, also had accountable leadership and social purpose at the front and centre of their work.

This higher purpose may have faded in ensuing years, leading to PR to become predominately an occupation rather than a profession, but have no doubt that we are returning to that original focus as we look to educate business and employers about the strategic value that PR offers and uphold the laws enshrined in the Royal Charter.

Business respects our contribution

The fact that Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI Director-General, has written the foreword to this book is testament to how far we have come in taking our place at the management table – and how important responsible business is in creating a world in which we all wish to live.

So what of the future? For me, the Royal Charter points the way. We must work for the public good. And as part of that professionals need to be the best they can be, with strategic, ethical and leadership skills the norm.

If you’re not yet a Chartered Practitioner, please make that your goal. If you need an incentive, of all the CIPR’s membership levels, those who are Chartered earn the most.

A hallmark of a profession is a commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) and we must encourage members, wherever they are in their career, to make this a priority.

Time served is not the equivalent of the appropriate training and qualifications, especially in an industry that evolves constantly.

 

The young have taken the lead

It is motivating and gives me real optimism for the future to see the determination of younger generations to occupy that sought-after strategic advisory role to management, because they understand that is how they can best add value and where the opportunity lies.

Less positive is the fact so many making a strong contribution to the CIPR and wider industry are ineligible for Fellowship because they believe CPD is no longer relevant to them when it has never been more important for us all.

Barriers to entry are another hallmark of a profession and my belief is when CPD finally becomes mandatory, we’ll have come of age. This is my wish for the CIPR as it moves into its next seventy years.

All that is left is for me to offer thanks. This thought-provoking and must-read book has been produced through the hard work, generosity and expertise of our members.

My gratitude goes to each and every contributor, Carolyn Fairbairn for her incisive foreword, Tim Traverse-Healy OBE for reminding us of what our forefathers wanted public relations to stand for and achieve and to editor and past-president Stephen Waddington whose dedication to reflection and the future of practice has resulted in this valuable contribution to the CIPR’s ongoing legacy.

Platinum launches at 8am on Wednesday 17th October. Follow #CIPR70 for updates.

How social purpose drives organisational success

I’m in Jersey today for the CIPR Channel Islands’ PR Forum on ‘The Value of PR’. It’s a fantastic event aimed at demonstrating the role that public relations plays in organisational success. Here’s the deck I’m presenting on PR and social purpose.

In today’s society, it’s no longer good enough for organisations to have a sole focus on making money. Consumers are increasingly looking to invest in brands which reflect their personal values and are actually doing good.

Social purpose is also rising up the corporate agenda. Earlier this year, Larry Fink of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, wrote in a letter to CEOs that businesses must have a social purpose and pursue a strategy for achieving long-term growth.

Purpose is important. It gives a business legitimacy; drives financial performance; aids engagement with stakeholders; and supports talent acquisition and loyalty.

When the then IPR was first created seventy years ago, its founders, coming from local government, had accountable leadership and social purpose at the front and centre of their work. That higher purpose is exactly what PR professionals once again need to focus on and offers a strong opportunity for the public relations industry today.

PR practitioners are well placed to help their employers find their ‘why’ and agree their ‘how’ - and build long-term, sustainable relationships between an organisation and its publics based on two-way engagement, transparency, authenticity and trust.

Ultimately PR can place social purpose and accountable leadership at the heart of organisational strategies to drive company value over the long-term.

It’s good for employees, it’s good for society, it’s good for business.

How public relations can help bridge the divide in society

I recently spent a thought provoking evening with Will Self. During the discussion potently titled “Is The Left Dead”, the journalist and political commentator mourned the slow death of debate and society itself.

In a 90-minute talk and question and answer session, Self reflected on the widening divide within communities, at both ends of the political spectrum. He lamented the demise of healthy, constructive debate in which people are receptive to having their opinion changed.

The diminishing art of people to listen and to be persuaded of different stand points and perspectives is hard to argue.

A quick look on Twitter at anything Brexit related throws up a host of examples of people shouting at each other in threads which often descend into personal abuse. Ironically it comes at a point in history where we’ve never needed to understand each other more.

As Britain prepares to leave the EU, austerity continues to bite, and the behaviour of the US President continues to cause world-wide concern, there is a clear lack of mutual understanding and too few protagonists working to unify our country.

 

Role of public relations

Times of turbulence and challenge present opportunity and life today presents an unrivalled one for the modern communicator.

As one of the CIPR’s founders Sir Tim Traverse-Healy wrote reflecting on the inauguration of the Institute 70 years ago: “To be correctly termed, public relations had to contain three elements in almost equal measure: truth, concern for the public interest and dialogue.

“These men had witnessed the miseries of war and, in this brave new world, believed that improved communication was a means of improving cooperation and reducing conflict between groups in society.”

The CIPR’s own definition of public relations as ‘the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics’ pinpoints our role.

We’re uniquely placed to offer insight and leadership, and to build relationships and to seek two-way dialogue. Our services have never been more critical to a healthy democracy.

With politicians eschewing the traditional media interview, opting instead to use owned and shared media (via influencers) to get their messages out, we are also needed to help our employers understand context, fact check, provide scrutiny and play our own part in holding leaders to account.

 

Be the change that you want to see in PR and the world

It’s one of the reasons a commitment to lifelong learning is so important. Having the appropriate skillset to advise in this way does not just come with years of experience but also training and qualifications, which must evolve as the industry does.

As yet, there are still only 255 CIPR Chartered Practitioners who have been assessed as having the strategic, ethical and leadership capabilities to formally place them in that elevated advisory position, although no doubt hundreds more must be eligible to get Chartered.

Recognising the need to help the skills of PR professionals operating at that level remain current, the CIPR has partnered with Impellus to introduce a new senior management training offer focused on leadership and strategic thinking. It’s a welcome move.

Divides in society can be quickly made and slow to fix but as practitioners with the power to build relationships and truly listen to our publics, we have a duty to use these skills for the greater good, with professional ethics at the front and centre of all we do.

This post first appeared in Communicate magazine in August 2018.

CIPR Northern Conference - the art and science of engagement

It's my absolute privilege to open the CIPR Northern Conference today, which has the theme of PR: The Art and Science of Engagement. Here's my opening address for those who can't make it. 

Hi everyone

It gives me huge pleasure to be here welcoming you to my native North East.  I know you’ll experience a very warm Geordie welcome.

I want to start with a heartfelt thank you to Anne-Marie and all the organisers, the CIPR North East, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and North West, for reinvigorating the Northern Conference. It’s always an excellent day and as you’ve heard it hasn’t been straight forward so please do put your hands together as an expression of thanks for their hard work.

And I want to thank you all too for being here today.

I know your attendance marks your commitment to professionalism and to supporting the CIPR’s drive to have public relations widely recognised as a strategic management function.

It’s an important moment in time for us and clear opportunity as Dr Jon White has written extensively about in the past. Changes in politics, society, media and technology are affecting how business and the wider industry operates.

CEOs remain predominately concerned with reputation.

More than ever PR practitioners are needed to help navigate uncertainty and – to quote Professor Anne Gregory – be the eyes, ears and conscience of the organisations we work for.

It’s a great opportunity if we step forward and take it.

The call to action is to make sure you have the skills to operate in that elevated advisory capacity we all strive for.

If you’ve not yet got it, please make CIPR Chartered status your goal, to demonstrate you have the leadership, ethical and strategic capabilities to command the respect of the C-suite.

Business, finance and management competencies are all critical if we want to speak truth to power.

We still have some way to go as an industry. This year’s CIPR State of the Profession survey appeared to show a skills gap at senior level in relation to business management in public relations.

The top ranked answer to challenges facing the industry was under-representation of public relations practitioners at board level.

Ultimately it’s up to us to make the change and demonstrate the strategic value of PR to organisations. It’s up to us to upskill accordingly and even when we are qualified, to continue our CPD in an ever-changing industry and educate management about PR’s leadership role.

We really do have an unparalled opportunity as brands find their place within society and look to maintain their legitimacy.

But enough from me. I stand between you and some absolutely brilliant speakers who I’ll know you’ll enjoy and learn a lot from.

I do have one final plug though and this is to the non-members among us.

From the 16th July, the CIPR is rolling out a membership taster campaign. Sign up with your name and email address and you’ll receive time limited access to a selection of 10 of our most popular member exclusive resources and benefits. It’s well worth a try and we’d love you to join us.

That’s it - thanks again for coming and enjoy your day.

CIPR Excellence Awards: Shining examples of public relations excellence

The CIPR Excellence Awards are a key date in the public relations industry calendar. It's always an enjoyable and glamorous night, which adds to the more serious point of what we are there to do - celebrate best practice. As CIPR President I had the pleasure of opening tonight's event with a brief welcome speech. Here's a copy of the speech for those who couldn't make it. 

I’m not going to stand here tonight to talk about public relations as a management function because every single one of you proves its strategic value to organisations daily.

I’m preaching to the converted.

Instead I want to thank you for being shining examples of public relations excellence and for demonstrating what best practice looks like.

The work that you do goes a long way to attaining and maintaining credibility with employers and the business community, which is critical to the health of our industry.

The CBI talks about the value of business. Well we talk about the value of PR to business and the work we are celebrating here tonight more than underlines its worth.

My sole ask tonight is a simple one.

If public relations is to be respected, we must continue the drive to professionalism. If you haven’t already, please make continuing professional development your route to achieving Chartered status and encourage your teams to do the same.

When this, and ethical, strategic and leadership competencies are the norm, we will know we have finally come of age.

Have a fantastic night tonight, thank you for all you do as public relations ambassadors and good luck!

 

Placing purpose before profit

Placing purpose before profit

In times of austerity and change, members of the public look for the value exchange they get from the organisations they engage with and brands they buy from. It’s why social purpose linked to organisational objectives is so important - and can have a beneficial impact on the bottom line. It’s the theme of this year’s CIPR National Conference on 29th November.

#MaggieNally18 - Brexit as a catalyst for trade with Latin America

The CIPR International's annual Maggie Nally lecture took place this evening. It's always a thought provoking event with excellent speakers. As CIPR President I had the privilege of offering the vote of thanks to tonight's superb key note Ricardo Carioni. Here's a copy of the speech I gave.

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen.

42 years on from her year in office, I stand in the shoes of the CIPR’s first ever female President, Margaret Nally.

It’s an honour and a privilege, not to mention a responsibility I take very seriously.

Maggie, as she was known, was a true pioneer. Every year her work is rightly recognised and celebrated through the CIPR International’s Maggie Nally lecture, which attracts highly prominent and wide-ranging speakers willing to share their expertise with our members.

Today has been no different. As your CIPR President it gives me real pleasure to extend a vote of thanks to Ricardo Carioni, the deputy head of mission for the Embassy at Nicaragua, who has so generously shared his experience with us today.

Ricardo’s life in Latin America, coupled with his fascinating career, which ranges from TripAdvisor to William Hill, gives him unique insight into global communication trends and opportunities. The last hour has certainly been enlightening for me.

I know there will be people here who work, or wish to work, across international borders.

Entering new markets and formulating an international expansion strategy can be challenging, but Ricardo’s presentation is an apt reminder of the importance of research, local knowledge, an understanding of multiculturalism and the ability to adapt to local market needs.

Mobile strategies and audience segmentation are key as populations and communications channels continue to grow and new technologies gather pace.

I have to admit that I struggle with the concept of Brexit, but Ricardo’s reframing of this as a catalyst for trade was compelling.

Until now I hadn’t considered the positioning of Chilean wine or Argentinian meat alongside their European counterparts, which perhaps shows how much of a communications void there currently is.

There are clearly opportunities and Latin America is very clearly open for business. It’s a positive note on which to end the evening.

Thank you, Ricardo for an inspiring and uplifting talk.

Please, everyone, put your hands together to thank Ricardo in the traditional way.

Before I finish, I’d also like to extend my thanks to our dynamic CIPR International committee led by chair Shirley Collyer, who are committed to putting international communications on the map.

The team’s work is always thoughtful and valuable and they dedicate a lot of volunteer time to making excellent events like this happen. It’s much appreciated. Please can I have a round of applause for them too.

Thanks to you all for coming and please do enjoy the rest of your evening.

Communications offers the NHS its greatest lifeline

Earlier this month I published #FuturePRoof edition three: The NHS at 70 with wider lessons for the PR community. Today I had the pleasure of presenting the key themes and background to #FuturePRoof during a webinar for NHS Elect.

Here’s the deck I shared.

 

Just like the other two books, #FuturePRoof edition three is aimed at reasserting the value of public relations. This time round it features 25 new essays from a range of senior practitioners working across the complex web of organisations that make up the NHS.

Key themes include the role of comms in achieving organisational outcomes; how organisations can secure and maintain trust; planning and data; digital-first strategies; how to address barriers to technological innovation; and the role of practitioners in managing major change.

The chapters are jam packed with expertise from a forward-thinking cohort of comms leaders and advisers, striving to reinforce the strategic value of public relations within their organisations.

There are some very clear take outs and perhaps the biggest lesson for management teams, communicators and the wider public relations community is to embrace transparency, invest in skills and use real people to lead debate.

The book comes at a critical point in the NHS’s history. The organisation is a living breathing case study of comms innovation as it manages competing political agendas and stretched budgets, while communicating ever more frequently with an increasing number of people with complex needs.

How its many teams join forces to implement one approach at scale is a pressing challenge as the face of healthcare as we know it changes radically.

#FuturePRoof is available in hard copy and on Kindle via www.futureproofingcomms.co.uk.

To join the #FuturePRoof community, follow @weareproofed and find the #FuturePRoof community on Facebook.

 

WPP beats Q1 forecasts but what next after Sorrell?

According to Reuters, the world's biggest advertising group WPP has beaten its forecasts in its first results without founder Martin Sorrell, who left the company two weeks ago.

In my capacity as CIPR President, I'm heading over to the BBC later to be interviewed on what this means for WPP and what the future may bring for holding companies.

I'm not a market analyst but can speak to the general results and trends. Here's my summary. 

 

WPP after Sorrell

Martin Sorrell has been a hugely positive force for the ad industry - perhaps its greatest pioneer - but is known to be a strong, autocratic leader. We are likely to see a very different style of leadership at WPP from now on under Andrew Scott and Mark Read, its co-chief operating officers. The role of chief executive is currently being recruited. 

Sorrell was seen as the glue holding WPP together which could increase the risk of parts of the business being sold off. That said:

  • It's no easy feat to restructure a business this big and complex
  • WPP may choose during this transition period just to hold tight and continue with its integration strategy dubbed ‘horizontality’, aimed at simplifying its operating structure (basically where its agencies offering different disciplines work together to offer a one-stop-shop type offer to clients)
  • Another possible option is for it to start to merge agencies to achieve integration and claw back margins through back office savings
  • Many market commentators believe the way WPP accounts is outdated. In the first instance would make sense to see a move from Sorrell’s micro-management, to agencies within the WPP holding group being given greater autonomy over their P&L and future direction.

 

The future of holding companies

Holding companies were created to achieve economies of scale, negotiating power and avoid conflicts so agency groups could have multiple clients in similar sectors.

While they’ve enjoyed extraordinary success and their introduction and growth were particularly shaped by Sorrell, this has to be seen as an alarm bell.

For a client, if the promise of using an agency within a holding group to achieve integration of services and cost efficiencies doesn’t follow through, the offer becomes a lot less appealing, which will ultimately lead them to invest less or go elsewhere.

WPP has clearly made all the efficiencies it can and the only way to now make money is to put prices up, which is unlikely to be seen as a viable option. 

A serious issue is a militant focus on margin. Ultimately while you can try to productise everything, the advertising and comms business is about people and relationships, especially at a strategic level.

Weak to flat growth across the board suggests that holding company agencies perhaps need more leeway and flexibility in how they work with clients, not least with the rising trend for zero-based budgeting where all activity and spend has to be rationalised for each new budgetary period.  

 

What’s happening to other holding companies?

WPP results are not unique to the industry – other holding companies (take Publicis and Omnicom) are also reporting relatively weak growth although they performed better in quarter one than WPP.

While Sorrell has always downplayed the impact of Google, Facebook, Amazon and management consultancies on the agency model, this was perhaps disingenuous.

Conventional advertising is in decline and clients are investing their money into other services.

There are two particular areas of change:

  • Retail and consumer clients have been cutting advertising spend
  • Investment has moved into digital advertising over traditional print and TV ads

Management consultancies in particular are snapping up digital marketing work from brands wanting to cut out the advertising agency middle men.

In the PR industry, sector growth has increased 22% in four years, with growth from clients buying digital and paid media services.

 

What’s the answer?

It's not quite the end of the line for holding companies but it looks like a new business model may be needed.

Scale and aggregation are no longer driving growth and companies of this size are struggling to deliver agile, cost efficient solutions. Some decentralisation could be beneficial.

Ultimately, speaking to WPP’s situation, better management and much stronger (and faster) integration between its businesses could be the key to its turn around. It has to break down siloes.

Looking at its gender pay reporting and fixing anomalies there could also potentially deliver growth.

 

Credible, factual, authentic government messaging to cut through the noise: GCS #govcommsplan launches

The Government Communication Service (GCS) last night published its Government Communication Plan 2018/19.

In an assertive speech, Executive Director of Government Communication Alex Aiken spoke about the challenges faced by his team as they strive to deliver groundbreaking campaigns which positively impact upon people’s lives.

Over the last five years Aiken has worked hard to modernise the government communication profession, focusing particularly on digital comms, measurement and evaluation and the use of frameworks to create a high quality standard across the board. 

As CIPR President, my view is that he has done more than anyone to reassert public relations as a strategic management function. 

His approach has paid off.  

Referencing the poisoning in Salisbury of Sergei Skripal, he said: “It is interesting the battle we face. The tactics of the Russian government are just to throw out a firehose of lies. It is sometimes difficult for a democratic government to respond with the quantity so we have to focus on quality.

“The state sponsored media of Russia was throwing out all sorts of extraordinary stories but the number of interactions they got was much lower. That was reinforcement of the fact that credible, factual, authentic government messaging can cut through the noise."

Speaking about the plan itself, Alex said: “This communications plan is the product of argument and discussion. The book contains 143 campaigns, an increase of 30 on the 113 that were part of the year that has just finished.

“That is because ministers and senior officials recognise the value of the work of my colleagues and see communications as a powerful force for good to improve, enhance and in some cases save lives. They have chosen to invest in it, while ensuring we remain publicly accountable and demonstrate value for money.”

Called ‘Building a country that works for everyone: a Britain fit for the future’, the plan summarises the Government’s priorities for the year ahead and the GCS’s commitment to delivering campaigns in support of these. You can get your copy here.

 

This National Media-led Shaming Of People Has To Stop

Earlier this month Weber Shandwick associate director Dean Gallagher was roundly humiliated in the Daily Mail for a Week in my Life piece written for Prolific North. It’s time for this national-led media shaming to stop.

Public relations has a reputation problem at the best of times.

Amusing as they are, Ab Fab, Absolute Power, The Thick of It, Twenty Twelve and many more of their ilk, have permeated the public’s consciousness, leaving a perception of public relations that is far from correct.

The late publicist Max Clifford exacerbated the issue, pitching fake news and manipulating the media for his clients’ benefit.

It’s something we’re working hard to address at the CIPR by reasserting the role of public relations as a strategic management discipline and tackling it head on with national media.

 

A collective responsibility

But it’s not just for us to do.

Every practitioner has a duty to consider the reputation of our industry when educating people about what we do and publicising our line of work.

While I personally didn’t enjoy the tone and nature of Dean’s approach to the A Week in my Life, arguably he was still doing more than most to show the diversity of the role and demanding nature of the work we do.

It also didn’t merit the national shaming.

There’s an argument that celebrities deserve whatever treatment they get in the national media because they proactively seek the limelight. I’ve never bought into that.

It certainly doesn’t hold true when an obviously talented member of the public relations industry is monstered in a daily tabloid for effectively getting on and doing his job, even if it wasn’t as representative as it could have been.

 

It’s time for a change

We have to be the change we want to see.

I’ll be honest - I shared Dean’s post on Facebook for people’s views until I spotted the Daily Mail’s piece, when I immediately took it down.

Aside from being lazy journalism, this was click bait material designed to bring the keyboard warriors out, without any thought about the consequences.

I speak from experience.

In Autumn last year I hit the front page of national and international media for daring to express a view about the relevance and use of fairy tales in today’s society.

Despite being asked for an interview by pretty much every UK media outlet, and many across the world, I didn’t defend or explain my view, which holds firm today.

Why? Because I felt ashamed, vulnerable and with the door stepping, rape and death threats, afraid for my children.

 

Our forefathers fought for free speech

We supposedly live in a democracy where we can all express our views.

But it becomes a real threat to free speech when people are frightened to share their experiences or voice an opinion for fear of being shouted down and abused.

It’s a serious issue.

How many times have you wanted to stand up for someone on social media, then decided not to comment because of the potential fallout.

That alone tells you everything you need to know. Next time, please do what people did for me – hold the line and show solidarity.

And why not write to the media and tell them what they’re doing isn’t good enough. We are in a position of influence so let’s use it.

It's not Lack Of investment that will kill off regional media but public relations

The threat to regional media has been well documented.

A lack of investment has seen a reduction in journalist headcount, while digital-first strategies have failed to draw in the revenues that were meant to reinvigorate falling profits.

The fight for web visitors has seen an increase in click bait and an eye off the prize – the quality journalism that gave readers a reason to buy the physical paper.

Trust in regional media to stand up for their communities is at an all-time low.

Just last year the Press Gazette ran an article about claims by a former Kensington News and Chelsea News reporter that Grenfell Tower fire-safety concerns would have been picked up by local media in the pre-internet era.

 Grant Feller asserted that journalists would have been out in the local community listening to residents’ issues and challenging local councillors in terms of their decision-making, resulting in a much smaller chance of cost-savings trumping safety and therefore such a tragedy happening.

Constant change with no end in sight

For journalists themselves, the newsroom for years now has been a challenging workplace with fewer people to do more reporting; ongoing restructures; the need to reskill to produce multi-media content and constant reiterations of the news sites and papers.

In February, the government announced a review into the future of the newspaper industry including its funding models citing concerns over “falling circulations, a hollowing-out of local newsrooms, and fears for the future sustainability of high quality journalism.”

An encroaching threat

As newspaper quality continues to plummet, there comes a greater threat, this time from the world of public relations.

The widespread adoption of the Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned (PESO) model by practitioners has further blurred the lines between disciplines as PR moves with increasing speed into the Paid media space.

Crucially it provides a laser focus on where campaign investment should be made.

Owned media budgets have risen exponentially as public relations professionals maximise organisational assets, while budget allocations for Shared media have also grown as brands experience the benefits of influencer relations.

Conversely, building an argument for Earned regional media relations has become increasingly hard to do.

A tense but necessary relationship

Flat Earth News by Nick Davies in 2008 documented the tense but necessary relationship between journalists and public relations professionals but for media, there seems widespread ignorance about the threat posed by PESO.

PR practitioners, planning with ever greater precision and insight, have recognised the declining influence and quality of regional news and are choosing instead to invest in building direct relationships with target audiences for their employers and brands, circumnavigating the need for the third-party credibility once provided by this media.

It is only a matter of time until this reaches a critical mass.

Forced to rely on business and news stories from public relations practitioners due to resource-constraints, a sudden and ongoing drought of information would place additional pressures on news rooms at a time when they need it least.

The question is whether investment into regional media will come soon enough to reverse the trend or whether public relations and the media are prepared to recognise the issue and work together to find a solution before it’s too late.