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.

Celebrating seventy years of the CIPR with a view to the future

Today the great and the good of the world of public relations gathered at St Bride's Church, Fleet Street, London for a service to celebrate seventy years of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). Here is a transcript of the speeches I gave during the service and at the reception afterwards.

Church service: Celebrating the history and future of the CIPR

Today – on this very day – we mark the 70th anniversary of the Institute of Public Relations.

A record from that first meeting reads:

The formation of an association was desirable to assist in the establishment of satisfactory status, recruitment and training of future public relations officers, safeguarding service conditions, formulating scales of salaries, pooling of knowledge, disseminating information and generally developing techniques of public relations work.

The Institute had a strong public service connection from its outset, not least because in 1948 life was very different.

There was rationing, a need for around 700,000 new homes after the bombings, conscription still existed, and the NHS and the modern welfare state were born.

There was a distinct appetite for stronger communication between society, government and business.

Sir Stephen Tallents, the Institute’s founding member and first president, said:

Government department, Town Hall, factory and laboratory have all had to develop old and devise new ways of explaining their operations and their policy to those whose understanding and cooperation they need. The public, for their part, are anxious to understand better what is being done in their name and for their benefit.

Change was in the air. The growth of public relations was part of this shift.

Achieving Chartered Status; the hallmark of a profession

Since that time, the purpose and vision of the Institute of Public Relations has remained constant. The importance of its place in society was reinforced in 2005, when the Institute was awarded Chartered status by the Privy Council.

Today the Charter principles guide our work and it is critical to revisit and reflect on these as we move into a new era.

The stability we have known is coming to an end. At this time of political turbulence and as we move towards Brexit, one Charter principle in particular has resonance:

To promote public understanding of the contribution of effective public relations in encouraging ethical communication and in enhancing the efficiency and performance of all sectors of the economy.

It’s an issue that the CIPR is focusing hard on this coming year.

Societal challenges: call to action for public relations

Whatever the mood of the moment, this new age will bring more challenges. We are in unusual and uncertain times with political change, media upheaval, technological developments and societal unrest.

It is up to us to educate employers, the business community and the public of the valuable role we play in society and to address misperceptions about practice.

We must play a leadership role and show how organisational objectives can link to social purpose for the benefit of all.

As we’ve heard, one of the CIPR’s earliest members, Tim Traverse-Healy, said in his Credo.

In the overall scheme of things the objective of our contribution to society at large is the achievement of a balance between the intentions of the institutions we represent and the legitimate concerns of their community and constituency.

This, as a goal, is something we must never forget and constantly strive for.

Thank you.

 

Reception address. The CIPR’s purpose: supporting practice and public interest

Hi everyone, as the 2018 President of the CIPR, I have the privilege of saying a few words to mark this very special occasion of the Institute’s 70th anniversary.

Thank you all for being here to celebrate it with us. It is both humbling and inspiring to be in a room with so many of the people who have made both the CIPR and the public relations industry great.

The next 70 years in public relations

Having marked the passage of time and celebrated the present during the service at St Bride’s, I am now keen to look to the future.

We are in unusual and uncertain times with political turbulence, media upheaval, technological change and societal unrest.

It’s in these times that the role of the professional communicator as a strategic adviser comes to the fore.

Organisations need public relations practitioners to bring clarity and insight; members of the public need us to provide information that they can trust.

Brands need us to help them develop social purpose - especially now, after years of austerity, when investment into public services is down and the unprecedented use of food banks continues to rise.

To quote Professor Anne Gregory, the CIPR President who led us through the Charter process in 2004:

Organisations are being forced to re-think their purpose and how they gain and maintain their legitimacy not only with their immediate stakeholders, but to society more widely.

I couldn’t agree more.

The purpose of public relations

Organisations need to focus on their purpose and legacy and those playing a positive and active role within our communities create multiple benefits to all. It falls to us to use our influence to help make this happen.

My drive as President of the CIPR this year is to reassert public relations as a strategic management function and to demonstrate the value we bring to organisations.

It’s an exciting time – I truly believe is that there has never been a better time to work in this profession and we are on the cusp of recognising huge value and growth.

Dr Jon White characterised a very similar opportunity almost 20 years ago, in 1999, in a paper to the Swiss Public Relations Society.

Jon sounded a note of caution that success was dependent on practitioners recognising ‘the opportunities presented by the environment and management needs’ and taking ‘steps to educate and train themselves’, as well as making ‘full use of communication technology, to provide reliable, if not indispensable, services to managers as they seek to deal with complexity and manage successful businesses.’

Sage words indeed. Please consider this as a renewed call to action.

Chartered status at the heart of the public relations profession

There is more disruption coming to the world of public relations in the form of artificial intelligence and automation. With threats come opportunity.

It is imperative we look to the horizon and make sense of incoming change, both in a personal and professional capacity.

At the CIPR, our intention is to innovate and lead the way by promoting the elevated advisory role our members ought and deserve to occupy.

I’m going to close by talking about the CIPR’s ongoing drive to professionalism.

I look forward to the day when Chartered status is no longer something to aspire to, but is the norm. Where strategic, leadership and ethical skills are common place.

We must continue to develop skills that allow us operate at the top of our game, speak truth to power and give credible advice based on knowledge, experience and insight.

If we hold financial, business management and consultancy skills we can command the respect of management teams by speaking their language.

If we demonstrate what the true value of public relations is, the leaders of organisations will invest in it.

The business of public relations has a great opportunity to grow and succeed. We just need to step forward and take it.

Thank you for listening. Please join me in a toast to the CIPR’s role at the heart of public relations over the next 70 years.
 

 

Public relations as a strategic management function

Today the CIPR's Education and Skills Group held a fantastic Going for Gold workshop led by CIPR President-Elect and Loughborough University marcomms director Emma Leech. This was followed by its AGM. I was invited along as CIPR President to talk about the 2018 plan and why we need to reframe public relations as a strategic management function.

One of the CIPR's biggest assets is the strength, depth and dedication of its volunteer network. It has numerous national, regional and sectoral groups who are often the main or only touchpoint for members.

This afternoon I was invited to speak at the AGM of the Institute's dynamic Education and Skills Group under the leadership of chair Alison Tobin.

As the CIPR's 2018 plan is focused on reasserting public relations as a strategic management function, I spoke about the need to reframe our work in this way, touched upon social purpose and provided a sneak peek at some State of the Profession survey results. 

You can see my presentation here.

 

Talking about PR as a strategic management function acts as a useful prompt for us to feel proud of what we do, but also to develop skills that allow us operate at the top of our game, speak truth to power and give credible advice based on knowledge, experience and insight.

It puts Chartered status at the heart of CPD, ensuring strategic, leadership and ethical skills are given the attention they deserve and become mainstream. 

If we hold financial, business management and consultancy skills we can command the respect of management teams by speaking their language. If we demonstrate what the true value of public relations is, the C-Suite will invest in it.

As far as I'm concerned, the business of public relations has a great opportunity to grow and succeed. We just need to step forward and take it. 

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From Two Pints of Lager to more than 150,000 Twitter followers

Ralf Little has promised to speak candidly with me about personalities in politics and the importance of speaking out about injustice in a CIPR discussion on 30 January.

‘Ralf Little video accuses Jeremy Hunt of misleading public’‘Ralf Little challenges Jeremy Hunt to a debate on the NHS’ and ‘Jeremy Hunt shut down by Royle Family’s Ralf Little in 42 tweets after double daring actor to challenge NHS claims’.

These are just three of the news headlines that Lancashire-born actor and writer Ralf Little has generated in recent months.

Little is best known for his roles in The Royle Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, and as the writer, producer and star of Sky One's The Cafe. But it’s his public support of the NHS and his challenges on Twitter to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, that has most recently brought him notoriety.

On 30 January at the CIPR’s first ever Influence Live! event, I’ll be interviewing Little about his new-found status as a vocal advocate of the NHS. We’ll also talk about the how the debate has affected him personally, his career prospects and plans for the future.

During the forty minute Q&A I’ll be asking Little about personalities in politics and individual responsibility. Do celebrities have the right to use their public platforms to hold power to account or is it an abuse of influence? I’ll also ask how he deals with trolls and what he considers to be best practice in managing social media at its murkiest.

Little has offered a wide-ranging and open conversation about his career to date so I’ll be discovering whether actors are taught how to build a public profile while they are training; how he approaches his own brand management; how proactive he is about managing his reputation and whether negative coverage keeps him awake at night.

I’ll also be asking about the experience of working with a publicist, the amount of control he has over opportunities and what his plans are for the future.

Whatever your views on Ralf Little, Jeremy Hunt and the NHS, it’ll be a fascinating debate and a great way to way to kick off the Influence Live! series. Book now.

 

How public relations practitioners can help businesses successfully navigate Brexit

As Brexit negotiations continue, here's why businesses should look to their PR practitioners – and ideally CIPR members - for support in navigating the complexities and long-term transition.

The results of the EU referendum sent shockwaves through the world and presented businesses with an unprecedented challenge.

Brexit represents considerable risk but also great opportunity for us all. It will cause monumental change, the impact of which is impossible to predict, across the economic, political and civic landscape.

But amidst the period of political turbulence, UK companies can rely on their PR practitioners to help support them through these uncertain times.

CIPR commissioned report

In a recent report Brexit and Public Relations in 2018 (opens as a pdf), the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) examined the role public relations is playing in preparing businesses for Brexit.

The survey found that fewer than 1 in 10 of the mostly senior PR professionals who responded felt that their organisations were happy with the Government’s approach to Brexit.

There was also concern among respondents that organisations weren’t yet preparing either quickly enough or appropriately.

Only 40% of respondents stated that their organisations were talking to staff about Brexit; just 30% of respondents felt their organisations were exploring their strengths and weaknesses against the requirements of Brexit; and few were changing policies to prepare for change.

Worryingly, the report found less than a quarter (22%) of respondents felt that their clients or employers were prepared for Brexit and fewer than that (21%) didn’t even believe that some of their employers or clients were prepared at all.

More than 60% of respondents to the survey agreed that better engagement through public relations would improve their organisation’s Brexit preparations.

PR’s role in helping business

So how can public relations practitioners help navigate the complexities of the next few years?

Working across the specialisms - internal communication, public affairs, media relations and investor relations - PR practitioners can help businesses build resilience through:

·       Strong, effective relationships with core stakeholders including staff, customers, suppliers, investors, Government and other key groups

·       Using all the skills of empathy that public relations can call on, as well as extensive social research

·       Leadership to ensure your organisation’s voice is heard

·       Political intelligence and influence

CIPR members are being supported by the leading industry body to help organisations prepare for Brexit with confidence and resilience.

To assist members, the CIPR will:

• Work with members through scenario planning meetings and sharing the recommendations

 • Offer a basic guide to Brexit, with regular updates on political activity as the date for the UK’s departure draws nearer, sharing key questions for professionals that arise from each significant development

 • Signpost useful information, key business contacts, best practice from other sectors and commentary on the possible impacts of Brexit

• Offer more guidance on the role of public relations at Board level, including analysis of changes affecting corporate governance and support for public relations as the practice that develops comfort with, and confidence in operating in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous macroeconomic environment

• Hold quarterly Brexit meetings

This activity will equip CIPR members with the information and tools they need to help the organisations they work with prepare for Brexit.

As the CIPR report concludes, much about the impact of Brexit is unknown and in times of unprecedented uncertainty, volatility, and ambiguity, organisations must find a new level of resilience.

With a significantly different commercial landscape ahead, organisations must be both receptive to new ways of working and communicative. Success will follow those led by flexible, highly-skilled public relations professionals with the depth of knowledge and experience to respond effectively to change.

Your 2018 CIPR plan: seeking your views

Today is my first working day as your CIPR President. I committed in my manifesto to consulting members regularly on what's planned and achieving as much engagement as possible during this very special 70th anniversary year. The Institute is here to serve its members and help strengthen the profession.

My first job as your President is to thank outgoing president Jason Mackenzie for his hard work at the CIPR. The last twelve months has seen membership increase and churn reduce. Jason has pushed hard the professionalism message, which is important if the business of public relations is to be taken seriously.

Thanks also go to Board, Council and all our volunteers for their contributions. It's through our volunteers that we are able to promote professionalism and ethics, help practitioners grow their networks and unlock their full potential, and are gradually making Chartered status the norm.

I'm looking forward to working with you all and especially the team at Russell Square in 2018, not to mention our new president-elect Emma Leech, who has equally ambitious plans for the Institute. 

About the 2018 plan

So onto the plan. The CIPR's purpose is simple. It’s outlined in a document, the Charter, agreed with the Privy Council and signed by the Queen. We exist to promote the highest standards in public relations, for practitioners, and in the public interest.

As such, the CIPR's plan for 2018 is rooted very firmly in the Charter objectives, outlined here alongside the activity I'd like to see take place.  

This working document was signed off by Council and Board at the end of 2017 so much of the activity is already in progress. It's important to say however that some areas still need further discussion and planning.

It takes a village - please get involved

This year the challenge facing the public relations industry is greater than ever as lines between disciplines blur and we face ongoing political and technological change, not to mention issues such as fake news and declining trust. But it also means there is an even greater opportunity to position ourselves as the trusted advisers we are meant to be. 

I was elected on a mandate for change so it's time to make change happen.

Firstly let's truly make the CIPR the inclusive organisation we aspire it to be. 

The Institute is not a clique. It is a place where everyone is welcome and we should come together with one purpose and agenda; to further the goals set out in its Charter. 

We need to be much more open and transparent. We need to work more closely with other membership bodies and organisations. We also need to appeal to the greater breadth and diversity of those working in public relations.

As such, you'll feel a difference in the way in which we communicate and engage this year. I intend to bring back the quarterly report, starting on 31 March, so members can track progress and hold us accountable. 

I am already ringing the changes.

For the first time on our Board we have two BAME women and strong female representation. It is time to truly represent the industry we serve and this is one small step towards doing that.

I have a vision of a dynamic, progressive and assertive organisation, that leads from the front, sets the agenda, promotes the value of public relations and I'm asking everyone, especially our Board and Council, to help me deliver this.

This is not and should not be an easy ride. 

I'm challenging all our members to scrutinise the CIPR's strategic goals and my agenda so whatever we deliver is outcome driven, relevant, agile and fit for purpose. 

There is no room for personal agendas - let's all unite in one goal to see the Institute succeed.

We have an exciting twelve months and more ahead. 2018 is the CIPR's 70th anniversary during which we get to recognise its distinguished history and celebrate its volunteers. 

The CIPR will also take up new premises in a move that will reduce its overheads and in time allow us to deliver new products and services for members.

Coupled with this we will have a much stronger presence in the regions and nations and cohesive delivery of the national plan.

I'm proud to lead this CIPR because I truly believe in all it stands for. I hope by the end of 2018, many more public relations practitioners see its relevance and value too. 

Celebrating the best of the best at the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire CIPR PRide Awards

Tonight I have the good fortune to be in Leeds to celebrate the excellent work being carried out by CIPR members across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Here's a transcript of the welcome speech I gave.

Good evening and thank you for the warm welcome tonight. It's a real privilege to be here on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

It's also wonderful to return to Leeds. I'm from Newcastle, as you might have guessed from my Geordie accent and studied French and Media here in the <cough> late nineties. I worked behind the bar at Headingley Cricket Club and spent a lot of free time at Brutus Gold’s Love Train. Now that’s a night out.

I'd like to open by congratulating each and every one of you. Whatever transpires, you're already the best of the best as evidenced by your CIPR membership, commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) and shortlisting in the PRide Awards. 

Before I go any further, I'd like to ask everyone to recognise the hard work of Stefan Casey and the CIPR Yorkshire and Lincolnshire committee, plus the events team at CIPR, by putting your hands together. It's thanks to them that amazing nights like these happen. 

Public relations has much to celebrate. You may already know me from the #FuturePRoof books and community I created. One of the objectives of this was to act as a cheerleader for our profession. I'd now like to extend this to the CIPR.

Next year as your CIPR President I want to raise PR's standing and reinforce its value as a strategic management function. 

But I need your help.

Please, wherever you can, treat public relations as a business discipline and develop your management and finance competencies. Do whatever you can to speak the language of the C-suite and report accordingly. Finally - and it's a key one - promote public relations to employers and the wider business community at every opportunity.

Well that’s it from me – all that’s left to say is good luck and enjoy your night!

Thank you.