#CIPRelection: Building stakeholder relationships critical objective for the CIPR

A back to basics approach is key to the CIPR winning more friends and influencing members and stakeholders.

Before I decided to run as CIPR President-Elect I spent several months talking to members and non-members of the Institute. 

It crystallised one thing: that the CIPR must spend time strengthening relationships with its audiences and third parties. 

There are several areas I believe require particular attention. These will be a priority for me if I’m elected. 

Academia

At BledCom in July I met with academics and practitioners. We need to tweak how the CIPR engages with educational establishments. The shift in value exchange has created tensions that can and must be addressed.

I've pledged to work with the CIPR team to align the member journey with the Global Alliance competency framework and engaging with third party training and teaching organisations would be critical as part of this activity.

We also need to implement the recommendations from Stephen Waddington’s report that explored the opportunity for a stronger community of theory and practice.

Convergence

Blurring lines between disciplines means that public relations practitioners now have a wide skillset yet the CIPR still only caters to a narrow subset of professionals.

Widening the offer to include more sophisticated digital techniques, planning and creative, would be a priority for me as our industry continues to grow and diversify.

Professional bodies

Together we are stronger. The CIPR has a small team working hard but it should leverage other networks to promote PR, be a thought leader and enhance the industry's reputation.

For me, that means working with the PRCA and other trade bodies on the big issues that require a united voice.

It means empowering CIPR Council members to build relationships with professional bodies across different industries to promote public relations and the value it can bring as a management discipline.

It also means working with the Human Resources and Recruitment sectors and organisations such as the Taylor Bennett Foundation to improve access to the industry to ensure diversity and close the gender pay gap.

CIPR volunteers

Last and most critical, there are the CIPR's amazing volunteers who are the lifeblood of the organisation and often the only contact some members have with the Institute.

The CIPR has worked hard to listen to its working groups and committees and has made big strides in providing relevant support in line with its three year plan. I'd continue this and would ensure our volunteers are celebrated and thanked for their contribution. They'd be the centre focus of the CIPR's 70th anniversary year. 

From 17 years of volunteering with the CIPR both from a regional group perspective and at a Board and Council level, I understand how the organisation works and the challenges and opportunities faced. I have corporate memory and a view to the horizon thanks to my #FuturePRoof work. 

I believe I can take the CIPR forward and would appreciate your support in doing this. As a starting point please vote for me as President-Elect when voting opens on 12 September.

Thank you.

Stand out insight for your organisation from the Ofcom report

One of the most important pieces of research to be published each year is Ofcom’s Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report.

The report looks at media use, attitudes and understanding, and how these change over time, including groups that tend not to participate digitally.

Covering TV, radio, mobile and games, with a particular focus on the internet, the research is full of insight for any public relations and marketing professional wishing to engage on behalf of an organisation.

Why it matters to your business

If you’re not sure why the data is relevant to your business, the report highlights the shifts in how people are engaging with online content and services.

The implications are widespread and impact on any communications campaign you’ll run both now and in the future.

Here are four key headlines from the report:

#1 Devices before laptops

There has been a considerable increase (from 6% in 2014 to 16% in 2015) in the proportion of adults who only use devices other than a PC/laptop (e.g. smartphones and tablets) to go online, indicating that these devices are no longer just supplementing PCs/laptops, but are starting to replace them.

#2 Mobile preferred

There is an increasing preference for mobile devices over more traditional media devices. While in 2014, adults were most likely to say they would miss their TV set the most, mobile phones are now the most-missed media device. The smartphone is the device mostly used for social media and is the preferred device for the majority of online activities. 

#3 Apps and website usage matures

There has been a sizeable increase in the proportion of internet users saying they only use websites or apps that they've used before (42% vs 31% in 2014). This is seen across all socio-economic groups and may be linked to the growing tendency to use 'digital intermediaries' such as Facebook, Google, YouTube and Amazon for much activity. 

#4 Channel confusion

There is increasingly polarity between different age groups in terms of communications activity. Whereas 25 years ago, all age groups shared just two common means of communication - landlines and letters - the landscape is now considerably more varied, and there is a risk that common means of communication that cut across demographics are becoming increasingly rare, with implications for social connectivity and information-sharing. 

What does it mean for you?

It’s worth downloading the free report and working through the 200 page document, or at least the executive summary.

What you learn will advise how your organisation engages with your target audiences.

For example, the data showing that almost two-thirds of over-75s, and a third of 65-74s say that they do not use the internet at all, would suggest that more traditional means of engagement with this demographic is likely to have greater success.

The growing number of people favouring mobile devices over more traditional media devices, underlines the need for organisations to have a responsive and easy to navigate website, where appropriate geared to easily deliver what the public wants, whether that’s buying things online or completing government processes.

The statistic that just under half of internet users watch video clips online at least weekly demonstrates that video’s increasing popularity as a means to engage shows no sign of abating and should form part of every marketer’s armoury.

With just under six in ten (59%) of mobile users using their device for content creation (which can include taking photos or videos), curation of user generated content could prove a powerful way for organisations to build relationships with the audiences that matter to them.

Free insight for your organisation

Whether you’re a public or private organisation, local government or an individual looking to build online influence, the Ofcom Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report holds all sorts of valuable planning information. You’ll be hard pressed not to come away with insights relevant to you.

The 2015 quantitative survey was conducted by Saville Rossiter-Base among 1,841 adults in-home using a CAPI (Computer Aided Personal Interviews) methodology between September and October 2015. 

 

Communicating with conscience; influencing organisational leaders to do the right thing

The fallout from the EU referendum has created a huge void in leadership. 

With our politicians reeling and casting around for a plan in the face of Brexit, now is an obvious time for public relations practitioners to step forward as strategic advisers, but there is a clear gap there too. 

It's a missed opportunity. 

Worst of all, public relations and public affairs professionals are arguably seen as part of the problem, rather than the solution.

A few bad apples do not spoil the barrel but we seem to be happy to allow people to think they do. It's astonishing.


Why the lethargy?

Neither of the main public relations industry bodies, the CIPR or PRCA, have taken a position or are lobbying Government to utilise the experts they have at their fingertips.

Neither are they holding the communications professionals involved with the Remain or Leave campaigns to account, despite evidence that shows both sides deliberately misled the public with their referendum promises.

The lack of leadership is stark in the face of the legal industry’s response, where over 1000 lawyers have signed a letter to David Cameron to say the Brexit result is ‘advisory’ and not legally binding. They cite ‘evidence that the result was influenced by misrepresentations of fact and promises that could not be delivered’ as a clear issue with the process.

Members of the CIPR and PRCA sign up to a Code of Conduct. If any of their members were involved and broke the Code, it should be a straight forward decision to expel them from the membership. 

A high profile example like this would go a long way to placing white space between those operating unethically and the wider profession and maybe that's exactly what we need. 

I'm not holding my breath. 


Stand up and be counted

As individuals and communications professionals we also have a responsibility to make our voices heard.

If we don't, we deserve more of what we get. 

I've certainly written to my MP to express my concerns with the referendum process and to say I expect him to lobby for a stronger code of ethics. 

How else can we ensure political campaigns are no longer founded on deceit but honesty and transparency and are designed to truly engage with the public? It's up to us to take a stand. 


A new type of leadership

It's time both politicians and the public relations profession embraced a new type of leadership. 

A leadership which places people over power and profits. 

In the book I published last year called #FuturePRoof, Professor Anne Gregory talks about communicating with conscience and influencing organisational leaders to do the right thing.

It applies not just to business but at the highest levels of influence.

Anne says: "To help leaders, to build better organisations and contribute to society, we need to make them 'good'. As Aristotle said, practice the virtues and you will become virtuous. For public relations practitioners this means more than caring about the day to day interactions with stakeholders and the latest communication toys, but transforming our organisations from within."

It makes a lot of sense. 

Because of the role we play, public relations people have an unrivalled opportunity to help organisations, including Government, rethink their purpose and, to use Anne's words, how they "gain and maintain their legitimacy not only with their immediate stakeholders, but with society more widely."

Check out her chapter, it's worth a read. Let's follow her call to action and help leaders find purpose, test their principles and keep them focused on people, rather than process, profits and power. 

With the political environment as it is, it can be the only way forward. 

 

 

Make your views known - none of us are helpless

Following the EU Referendum, a lot of people have said they feel ignored, angry and helpless. It doesn't have to be that way.

Whatever your views, you can write to your local MP expressing your thoughts and concerns, as well as making suggestions for positive action. You can find out who your local MP is here and here.

For example, here's a copy of the letter I sent to Rt Hon Alan Campbell MP today.  Feel free to copy and paste if you feel the same way.

Please don't sit and do nothing. It's up to us to push for change.

 

Dear <insert name>

I am writing to you as my local MP to register my concern about the recent EU Referendum result.

While many say democracy has taken place, I find this difficult to accept when the general public was misled on what it was voting for, and not least because the result is causing irreversible damage to the UK's economy and global reputation.

I have two requests:
1) You use your influence and vote to prevent Article 50 being invoked while negotiations take place, at least until there is a clear plan in place
2) You commit to action in terms of an ethical framework for political behaviour whether this is through a Code of Conduct or other means.

I have never been so ashamed of our political parties as I am now. Those in power clearly trade on deceit, untruths and personal ambition, rather than in the name of the public for the greater good.

I hope you will help move the country towards a brighter future in which we can again look to our politicians for leadership, integrity and positive change.

All the best

<Insert your name>

The future is bright for public relations

In 1999, Dr Jon White presented a paper to the Swiss Public Relations Society that stated the future was bright for PR practitioners. 

This was dependant 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.'

Here's the deck I shared at #PRFest, Scotland's first PR festival which looks at the opportunity for public relations and the challenges faced.

Be part of the #FuturePRoof community by visiting www.futureproofingcomms.co.uk, following @WeArePRoofed and joining the group on Facebook. 

 

Drone videos - how and when to use them in your marketing strategy

Video content is on the increase as organisations cotton on to the fact it can aid brand storytelling, as well as significantly increase click through rates and reach where the content is well produced and relevant.

With drone videos also rising in popularity, we asked drone pilot David Fox from SkyFox Photography to give us the low down. David has over 25 years of experience flying model aircraft, and during his service in the RAF as an aircraft mechanic, represented the RAF in the model aircraft championships.

 

What is a drone?

A drone is any aircraft that is remotely piloted, for the purposes of capturing video footage or still images. They are known by a variety of names, UAV UAS RPAS SUAS SUSA, but it all means the same. By far the most popular drones are multirotors, which consist of 4, 6 or 8 arms and motors, individually controlled to give movement in all directions.

 

Drones seem to be getting a lot of bad press at the moment. Are there actually any regulations regarding their use?

Drones are like any complex machine. If you use them properly, they are a very useful and versatile tool. If used incorrectly, they can be extremely dangerous. If you're thinking of commissioning a pilot, they should hold a ‘Permit For Aerial Work’ (Pfaw) which is the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) qualification required for commercial drone use. The CAA has issued very specific regulations about when and where drones can be used. They cover safety distances from buildings, vehicles and people, and also maximum altitude and distance from the pilot.

 

What considerations do you need to make before you hire a drone pilot?

By law, we are required to hold a Pfaw or similar, issued by the CAA. We are also required to have commercial insurance to cover drone flying activities. As there are restrictions on how close drones can fly to people and buildings, considerations should be given to whether a drone flight is a safe or practical way to get the shots you require. Any qualified drone pilot will be able to advise on this.

Reputation is also key. This industry is in relative infancy, so ring around and talk to businesses who have already used commercial drones.

What most people don’t realise is that drones flown outside are usually done by GPS. This means that with no input from the pilot, the aircraft will stay in exactly the same place in the sky, even in wind or turbulence. This makes flying outdoors relatively easy. A fully skilled drone pilot is one that can competently navigate indoors where there is no GPS signal, and the aircraft needs manual control. We recently flew around a glass factory, which was a tough test of my skills!

 

How can you incorporate drone footage into your marketing strategy?

Having a well shot and edited aerial video can be a useful addition to your marketing armoury. For example, we recently produced an aerial video for Clayton Glass which showcased perfectly the company’s new site. It gave viewers a unique viewpoint of the scale of the building, and the machinery used.

It could well be that you simply need some well placed aerial stills to display a large product or facility. For example, we were recently commissioned by the vicar at Blanchland Abbey to take shots showing the beauty of the Abbey and surrounding countryside.

 

What next?

If you think that some drone footage or images would showcase your business perfectly, then please visit www.skyfoxphotography.co.uk or give David a call on 07805 750077. 

Great expectations: how to manage clients and increase profitability

For public relations bosses, managing profitability can be a constant headache when trying to balance client expectations and deliver against budget.

We don’t help ourselves though. Often, in our eagerness to close the deal and get started on activity, we neglect an absolutely critical step in the process; getting the paperwork right.

Clearly defining project goals and agreeing deliverables is a fundamental part of the process.

A few months in to a contract, a lack of clarity about what is included within the agreed budget and what sits outside of this can very quickly see a previously healthy client-agency relationship fall apart.

 

Outcomes over outputs

Good contracts shouldn’t just be tick box exercises either. There are far too many conventional arrangements in which both parties double check that each month the desired four press releases, three blogs and two interview pitches were delivered successfully.

This way of working is hardly a route to organisational success.

As Steve Earl comments in the public relations industry guide #FuturePRoof: “Rather than stating that an agency will “carry out public relations services” and then list either categories or deliverables, we will need to move towards contracts that state not only desired outcomes but how we will measure them and what the financial implications are of achieving those outcomes.”

It’s not as easy as it seems or we’d all be doing it already. This requires business acumen and access to the management team - or at very least knowledge of the business objectives so the PR and marketing objectives can align with these.

Speaking the language of the Board to pitch the case for an acceptable comms budget and the ability to report appropriately in terms of PR’s contribution to commercial success is also a must.

 

Dealing with over-servicing

Outcome-focused contracts or not, there will always be some clients who will try to negotiate more than they’re due, or where the team doesn’t understand exactly how and where their investment is being spent.

Educating these contacts about the value of public relations and the resource it requires should be seen as a priority task in these circumstances. It’s at this point reporting the financial implications of achieving PR outcomes is absolutely critical as it may be the only language they understand.

 

The responsibility lies with you

Over-servicing or not delivering against budget however can frequently be the fault of the agency.

It can be quite normal for those eager to win business to over-promise in a pitch situation, which puts the team at a disadvantage from the start.

Poor use of timesheets can make it difficult to see how time is being utilised and whether hours could be better allocated. Take for instance the client wants regular meetings at a venue a long drive away. Identifying the amount of travel time could very quickly help strip out this type of wastage, allowing the team to apply themselves to the public relations task and deliver the sought-after results. 

Training account handlers on the importance of timesheets and using the data to open dialogue with the client about areas in which work practices can be improved can make all the difference.

Finally, how time is rationalised within the agency is an important consideration too.

Planned time to grow a client account should be written off as an investment and considered non-billable. Putting this down as client hours gives a false impression of activity versus results which does everyone a disservice.

 

Honesty and transparency rules ok

Client relationships can be very straightforward where everyone is clear on the task in hand, how this will be delivered within the agreed framework and the desired outcomes.

Being proactive with ideas and finding ways to add value outside of set accounts hours is always a sure fire winner.

Equally, agencies have to be brave and start saying no to clients who want something for nothing or want the same level of service on the cheap. Public relations is a management discipline and should be valued as such.

This post first appeared on the Hiscox business blog in April 2016.

#FuturePRoof: The future is bright for progressive public relations agencies

If you’re running an agency, big or small, or aspire to, the recently published #FuturePRoof white paper for the PRCA and ICCO should be top of your reading list.

Commissioned by the leading industry bodies with the aim of outlining the different business models in use, the paper identifies eight ways in which public relations agencies are evolving. It also benchmarks how they are responding to the shifting client and media environment today.

The results show that innovation is everywhere in practice from freelancers through to the largest agencies.

Progressive public relations consultancies are rapidly modernising. They are embracing new skills in data, research and paid media, and are investing in creative teams.

Where innovation remains slow however is around billing models. The dominant structure continues to be fees charged on an hourly basis, albeit on retainer or project basis.

 

A good sector to work in

Whatever business model your agency is based on, public relations is a good sector to work in right now. Profits are healthy in well-managed businesses, and the market overall is growing.

According to the ICCO World Report, agency income grew by 7% in 2015, breaching the $13 billion mark and agency employment grew from around 80,000 people to more than 85,000.

There is no room for complacency though – blurring lines between disciplines means public relations professionals need a compelling argument against marketing, digital and SEO teams, and those who are introducing new billing models need to ensure clarity to avoid confusion over the service and deliverables on offer.

A lack of agile working despite public relation’s 24/7 culture is a clear threat to the industry.

 

Headline findings

The eight headline findings within the #FuturePRoof report are as follows:

Value

1.    Public relations is outsmarting rival disciplines through innovation. It is helping clients build better organisations. Therein lies its future, and huge value.

Drivers of innovation

2.    Clients, shareholders and staff are the three drivers pushing agency-owners to build better businesses. That can only be a good thing.

Opportunity

3.    There’s a chasm emerging between the business model of traditional agencies, and the demands of modern clients. Smart agencies are building businesses in this space.

4.    Agencies are limited only by their skills and ambition. Small agencies are able to compete with large thanks to communications and travel.

Billing models

5.    Agencies are simple businesses that are well understood by clients. Innovative business models threaten clarity and risk confusion.

6.    Better measurement systems are fundamental to business model innovation. It remains a work in progress for agencies.

Service innovation

7.    Core services within a modern agency include storytelling, creative and content, as well as paid, earned and shared media, as they shift from traditional media and publicity based services.

Threats

8.    A shift to 24/7 working and the cost of infrastructure are two big issues that need to be tackled by public relations agencies.

 

Public relations as a management discipline

As one of the authors of the report who created the call to action, it’s worth sharing that the agency bosses and contributors to the report were self-selecting, responding to an open call for information.

Each one is a leader of an agency, group or trade association seeking to break with tradition. Each consultancy has carved its own niche and some are moving beyond people to charge not for time but for creative, insight, and results. By the nature of their businesses they are natural pioneers within the industry.

As you’d expect, in each paper there are wide and varied insights and some differences of opinion.

However, where all the authors unite however is in their recognition of public relations as a management discipline focused on organisational growth.

This is their secret to success and once this approach is adopted more widely, that is when the public relations industry will be valued for the excellent work carried out.

For more information about #FuturePRoof, visit www.futureproofingcomms.co.uk (where this post was first published), join the Facebook group and follow @weareproofed on Twitter.

#FuturePRoof: crowdsourcing the future of public relations and what happened next

Sarah Hall, Editor, #FuturePRoof, and Managing Director, Sarah Hall Consulting, talks through how the #FuturePRoof project brought together thinkers and doers in an uplifting study of the future of public relations and how the initiative has developed since publication.

#FuturePRoof was launched in November 2015. Featuring 35 leading public relations professionals, the book’s aim was to remind public relations practitioners and the wider business community of the value of public relations and assert its role as a management discipline. 

The reception to the book has been extremely positive. More than 1,800 downloads and 100 hard copy sales later, practitioners are still sharing their favourite chapters and feeding through their own thoughts on where the public relations industry is headed.

A series of events has been organised across the UK looking in greater depth at the opportunities and challenges faced. 

From emerging areas of practice such as public relation’s shift towards paid, how to map workflow and freelance business models, to more traditional topics such as measurement and evaluation, ethics and stakeholder management, #FuturePRoof has generated much food for thought.

This practical guide aimed at driving up standards has instigated debate about how our profession can better professionalise and innovate. It has also provoked discussion about how we stay fit for the future and prevent other marketing disciplines from stealing our turf.

 

#FuturePRoof PRCA and ICCO policy unit

Work hasn’t stopped there. We’ve continued to build the community and challenged people to apply their expertise to the future of professional practice.

Francis Ingham invited Stephen Waddington and I to create a policy unit and work with the PRCA and ICCO to think through some of the issues raised by the #FuturePRoof project with PRCA and ICCO members. 

Just four months on we will shortly be publishing our first white paper on agency business models for the PRCA and ICCO, one of three we have committed to in 2016. 

In this whitepaper, due out on Tuesday 5th April, a progressive group of agencies is seeking to break with tradition. Each consultancy has carved its own niche and some are moving beyond people to charge not for time but for creative, insight, and results.

These are real pioneers and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed for their generosity in sharing their knowledge and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. 

Many of the discussions generated by the book and this first project have identified a number of topics and issues that we’ll develop in the second edition of #FuturePRoof which will be published later this year.

A call out for contributions will be made once the final book spec has been confirmed, so please do join the community if you’d like to be involved. 

To be part of the conversation, join the Facebook group and follow @weareproofed on Twitter.

How to immediately improve your value as a PR practitioner

The question of whether we need to redefine PR so people better understand it is one that's chewed over constantly. 

The answer is very simple. PR doesn't need a new definition. It needs reframing in terms of how we approach it both personally and with potential employers.

A simple change in mindset offers the opportunity for us all to become better PR practitioners.

It also allows us to unlock the full potential of public relations as a management discipline and demonstrate the role it plays in achieving organisational success.

 

Are you approaching PR right?

Depending on the route you take into the profession and the attitude to PR of the people you're working for, it can be very easy to get drawn into the public relations as media relations trap. 

It’s a mindset that ought to be banished and we all have a responsibility to dispel the myth. When used correctly, PR is about reputation, influence and behavioural change. 

A huge step change will come when management courses finally stop teaching executives just to expect media coverage from their chosen consultants.

These future leaders need to learn that public relations professionals can help management teams find organisational purpose, agree and test company principles and keep the publics that the business is there to serve front of mind.

This is important when you consider the definition of PR from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations: “Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”

Building and maintaining a positive reputation for a company requires much more than sending out press releases on a daily basis. It takes long-term engagement through comms activity based on insight and relevance.

What’s more, the strategic PR function has to link back to the strategic objectives of the organisation or the true value can’t possibly be derived.

 

What’s the business benefit?

The CIPR’s definition of public relations is hardly an elevator pitch that captures the true diversity of PR’s role but it’s a good start at illustrating the focus it has on relationship building.

In order to improve your value as a PR practitioner, the trick is to shift away from thinking about tactics and outputs and much more holistically about the business benefit that public relations can bring.

All of a sudden, this changes how you focus on what you do, how you talk about it with people and the approach you take to your continuous professional development (CPD).

It can mean the difference between simply accepting a media relations brief and not knowing what part this activity has played in driving the company forward.

It can mean asking more pertinent questions about how the work fits into the overall strategy.

For example, asking how is it being evaluated, whether this is the appropriate course of action and what other communications support might be needed.

 

Have you got the appropriate skillset?

Talking about PR as a management discipline means you have to be confident in what you do and have the skillset to back it up.

Reviewing your CPD goals is a good start – if these are purely based around shoring yourself up tactically, you’re not going far enough.

Good public relations consultants need to have strategic, leadership and ethical capabilities. They also need to understand how organisations work and are likely to have completed management and finance courses or non-executive director programmes.

Public relations is a powerful management tool and the department that businesses should look to to lead the wider marketing function.

We need to step up and prove we have the experience, knowledge and capabilities to do this. Get this right and the need to continually assert PR’s value will cease.  

This post was first published on Hiscox's business blog on 26 February 2016.

Gender pay gap: Think, Act, Report

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) is shortly to publish draft regulations for gender pay gap reporting as part of its drive to bring about gender equality in the workplace.

It’s a critical business issue: McKinsey estimate that the UK could add £0.6 trillion of additional annual GDP in 2025 by fully bridging the gender gap.

I’ve written extensively about the gender pay gap in PR and look forward to seeing how far the regulations go. As ever the devil will be in the detail.

The GEO has already shared ‘Trailblazing Transparency: Mending the Gap’, a report produced with Deloitte and sponsored by Think, Act, Report which documents some of the challenges, opportunities and innovative action businesses are taking to successfully tackle this problem.

I’d urge you to read this. Not only is it jam packed with help and best practice on how to tackle the problem within the workplace, it sets out exactly what the benefits for organisations are.

We all have a role to play in closing the pay gap. Those in public relations also have a responsibility to accelerate the rate at which this happens. After all, a female-dominated industry like PR should be an exemplar to other sectors.

 

 

 

Key considerations for start-out public relations consultants

I regularly get asked for advice by people interested in setting up a public relations consultancy. Here are a few of my top tips if you want to go it alone as a contractor.

If you were to ask me about setting up a public relations business, my first questions would revolve around why and the type of business you’d like. What’s the dream and motivation? Is your personality fit the right one?

Personality is actually more important than you think. If you thrive in a group scenario, working alone might not be for you. Similarly if you find it hard to get out of bed on a morning, ensuring you have a place of work to go to might be better than a home office. Getting this wrong sets you up to fail.

Whatever your goal, the opportunities are much greater than ever before. Working from home is now widely accepted, as are virtual agencies, which have dispersed teams working from different locations, potentially across different timezones.

Freelancers now also have the opportunity to tap into organisations matching practitioners with contracts, The PR Network being a great example. For mums returning to work after maternity leave, there’s 2to3days.com.

Whether you want this or a formal office with a team will help you decide what legal structure your business should have, which can make a big difference to how you are remunerated, the tax you pay and your liabilities if the business makes a loss. All these things need careful consideration up front.
 

What’s the business plan?

Thorough planning is critical. I’m regularly astonished by the number of people who come to me without a business plan or having done any research at all, wanting me to share commercial data. The only secret to success is hard work.

Launching on a firm footing requires being clear on your market, your competitors and your services. The information you gather informs your pricing and enables you to forecast sales, helping you understand what you need to sell in order to cover your costs.

It’s a natural progression, you then have to think about the new business pipeline. Where are your contracts coming from both now and in the future?

It’s a rigorous process which has real value because it forces you to be realistic about whether you have the finance needed to tide you over initially and consider what your USP is in the marketplace. What’s the marketing plan? Have you the qualifications, credibility and profile to stand out from the crowd? If not, how are you going to get them?

Ultimately you can give it a go without a business plan, but it’s unlikely you’ll get very far, unless by luck or chance. You’ll also not achieve the profit margin you might have done with a bit of effort up front.


Don’t forget the formalities

Once you’ve reached the point where you’re ready to start work, there are further formalities to address.

Contracts and insurance are there for one purpose and that’s to protect you.

The purpose of terms and conditions that both the consultant and client sign is to set out the programme of work to be undertaken, as well as the desired outcomes to avoid confusion. They provide a safety net if you need to enforce your agreement (for example if the contract is terminated early for no good reason) and minimize the chance of a legal dispute.

If you’re pitching for a public sector contract, having professional liability and possibly employers’ and public liability insurance is likely to be a pre-requisite. Either way you’d be foolhardy to practise public relations without this cover.

You never know when you might receive a claim because a client has an issue with the work carried out – stressful enough whether or not you’re at fault. Having insurance in place gives you peace of mind you can secure compensation to cover the cost of any corrective work to be carried out.


Commit to being the best you can

Finally, my last piece of advice is if you want to be a public relations consultant is to commit to being the very best you can.

Membership of the two main industry bodies, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and PRCA might seem an added expense but the value you’ll receive will more than repay the investment. Both have a wealth of information for practitioners whatever stage of career you’re at and the CIPR offers free legal advice and discounts on member products and services like insurance.

What’s more, membership of one or both bodies demonstrates you are signed up to a Code of Conduct and shows your commitment to continuous professional development – two clear signals to employers that you’re well worth hiring.

This blog first appeared via the Hiscox website in November 2015.

Key considerations for start-out public relations consultants

Image from Noemifairy.com


Image from Noemifairy.com

I regularly get asked for advice by people interested in setting up a public relations consultancy. Here are a few of my top tips if you want to go it alone as a contractor.

If you were to ask me about setting up a public relations business, my first questions would revolve around why and the type of business you’d like. What’s the dream and motivation? Is your personality fit the right one?

Personality is actually more important than you think. If you thrive in a group scenario, working alone might not be for you. Similarly if you find it hard to get out of bed on a morning, ensuring you have a place of work to go to might be better than a home office. Getting this wrong sets you up to fail.

Whatever your goal, the opportunities are much greater than ever before. Working from home is now widely accepted, as are virtual agencies, which have dispersed teams working from different locations, potentially across different timezones.

Freelancers now also have the opportunity to tap into organisations matching practitioners with contracts, The PR Network being a great example. For mums returning to work after maternity leave, there’s 2to3days.com.

Whether you want this or a formal office with a team will help you decide what legal structure your business should have, which can make a big difference to how you are remunerated, the tax you pay and your liabilities if the business makes a loss. All these things need careful consideration up front.

What’s the business plan?

Thorough planning is critical. I’m regularly astonished by the number of people who come to me without a business plan or having done any research at all, wanting me to share commercial data. The only secret to success is hard work.

Launching on a firm footing requires being clear on your market, your competitors and your services. The information you gather informs your pricing and enables you to forecast sales, helping you understand what you need to sell in order to cover your costs.

It’s a natural progression, you then have to think about the new business pipeline. Where are your contracts coming from both now and in the future?

It’s a rigorous process which has real value because it forces you to be realistic about whether you have the finance needed to tide you over initially and consider what your USP is in the marketplace. What’s the marketing plan? Have you the qualifications, credibility and profile to stand out from the crowd? If not, how are you going to get them?

Ultimately you can give it a go without a business plan, but it’s unlikely you’ll get very far, unless by luck or chance. You’ll also not achieve the profit margin you might have done with a bit of effort up front.

Don’t forget the formalities

Once you’ve reached the point where you’re ready to start work, there are further formalities to address.

Contracts and insurance are there for one purpose and that’s to protect you.

The purpose of terms and conditions that both the consultant and client sign is to set out the programme of work to be undertaken, as well as the desired outcomes to avoid confusion. They provide a safety net if you need to enforce your agreement (for example if the contract is terminated early for no good reason) and minimize the chance of a legal dispute.

If you’re pitching for a public sector contract, having professional liability and possibly employers’ and public liability insurance is likely to be a pre-requisite. Either way you’d be foolhardy to practise public relations without this cover.

You never know when you might receive a claim because a client has an issue with the work carried out - stressful enough whether or not you’re at fault. Having insurance in place gives you peace of mind you can secure compensation to cover the cost of any corrective work to be carried out.

Commit to being the best you can

Finally, my last piece of advice is if you want to be a public relations consultant is to commit to being the very best you can.

Membership of the two main industry bodies, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and PRCA might seem an added expense but the value you’ll receive will more than repay the investment. Both have a wealth of information for practitioners whatever stage of career you’re at and the CIPR offers free legal advice and discounts on member products and services like insurance.

What’s more, membership of one or both bodies demonstrates you are signed up to a Code of Conduct and shows your commitment to continuous professional development – two clear signals to employers that you’re well worth hiring.

This blog first appeared via the Hiscox website in November 2015.

Are you ready to #GetChartered?

Chartered Public Relations: Lessons from Expert PractitionersThe Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has simplified the route to Chartered Practitioner status, widening eligibility for members in the drive to professionalism. The status recognizes the highest standard of knowledge, expertise and ethical practice within the PR industry and is a benchmark of professional excellence and integrity.

Previously the process involved a statement of experience, written paper and formal interview. To apply candidates had to have worked in a public relations or communications role for at least ten years (reduced slightly for those with a CIPR recognised qualification) and be signed up to CPD.

Public relations professionals within CIPR membership can now apply for an assessment day if:

-       They have completed three consecutive years of CIPR CPD.

-       They have completed two years of CIPR CPD and hold a Masters degree or the CIPR Diploma.

Lead examiner Paul Noble described the move this way: “Previously we awarded Chartered status to those who had reached the pinnacle. Now we want to recognize those future leaders who are very firmly on the journey to getting there.”

The very first assessment day under the new regulations took place earlier this week. I was one of the cohort of professionals to test the system. I’m pleased to report I passed and achieved the status of Chartered Practitioner.

How does it work?

If you meet the criteria and believe you’re ready for Chartered, the process to follow is quite simple.

The 2016 dates for assessment days will be published by the CIPR on the website. To apply you register online, pay the fee and submit a scan of your Masters degree certificate if you are using that as part of your application.

There are a number of competences you need to demonstrate in order to pass, focusing mainly on Ethics, Strategy and Leadership.

The Assessment Criteria states: “Candidates must show a broad knowledge of the context in which the public relations function operates and an ability to relate public relations activities to the wider organizational considerations of clients or employers.”

What it’s like to do

On the day, you are introduced to your assessors and placed into a group of people with whom you participate in three panel sessions. The vibe is kept fairly relaxed and there are regular breaks throughout the entire process. While some of the questions were fairly tough, I actually quite enjoyed it.

Your group is later changed for a peer review, during which you talk through and agree CPD plans for the next two years – a piece of work you are expected to have prepared in advance and which is part of the criteria to pass.

To complete the day there is a talk by a Chartered Practitioner and then successful parties stay on for drinks and a certificate presentation.

Think carefully before you apply

I’m pleased I applied and would encourage others to follow suit but it’s not something to do on a whim. While Chartered Practitioner status can be a lot swifter to achieve because the assessment hinges around one day of assessment rather than a three stage application, it is still a very rigorous process. Not everyone passes.

After each session and before the peer review, the assessors mark you as a clear pass, borderline or clear fail. If you fail the first two sessions, you are asked to leave there and then. If by the end of the day you have received two borderline assessments, your case goes to deliberation by the assessors and is decided by majority vote. It feels harsh but it works.

If at any point you feel you’re not presenting yourself to best effect, you are able to withdraw (you’re told what the deadline is to do this) and can register for a later assessment day without paying an additional fee.

Everyone applying has to have read the Chartered Public Relations: Lessons from Expert Practitioners book. I’m fortunate in that much of the thinking in the #FuturePRoof project I recently launched picks up many of the same themes. I’d have needed to do much more research and background reading had that not been the case.

My recommendation is that if you think you’re ready, go for it and in the meantime start your preparation now. It’ll stand you in good stead. You’ll also be a better practitioner for it.

 

Mind the pay gap: How to achieve parity in PR

#FuturePRoof #FuturePRoof launched earlier this month with the purpose of asserting the value of public relations as a management discipline. A new chapter is being shared every day on the site. Here's my contribution, the very last chapter, released early to mark Equal Pay Day. You can find out more and download the full book via www.futureproofingcomms.co.uk. Join the conversation on Twitter at @weareproofed. 

UK business has a major issue with equal pay, with women working ‘for free’ for 1 hour and 40 minutes a day according to research by the Chartered Management Institute and XPertHR.  In female-dominated industries like PR, the problem is even more acute. Parity in the workplace can be achieved: here are some steps you can take to make this happen.

In July 2015, the Conservatives announced plans to force large companies to publish the difference in earnings between male and female staff in a bid to ensure equal pay.

Currently in Britain, female workers are paid on average 19.1% less than their male counterparts and this applies across both full-time and part-time positions, according to the Office of National Statistics.

While the stringent new regulations will only apply to those employing more than 250 staff, it’s a step in the right direction. Gender pay transparency is one sure fire way to creating a fairer job market.

Management teams need to be accountable for the recruitment and reward measures they put in place if parity is to be achieved and then maintained.

Publishing salary data means directors have nowhere to hide and forces them to deal with discrepancies.

Change can be fast and effective

Despite the change in law not coming into effect until 2016, there are a handful of UK businesses already committed to this course of action. Their results underline how quickly change can be effected.

Take PwC, which in November 2014 was the first in its industry sector to undertake and publish pay gap analysis after two years reporting its diversity targets.

It identified an immediate issue with the balance of senior talent and trebled the number of female internal promotions compared to the previous twelve months. A lack of women in senior positions often plays a sizeable part of the pay gap.

The top four accountancy firm also introduced a range of initiatives that help its people achieve their potential, from Board level mentoring schemes, women’s leadership programmes to diversity training.

While emulating its now annual equal pay review may admittedly be beyond the capabilities and cost base of many smaller companies, PwC’s best practice and forward-thinking stance is one we can all learn from. Employers should look to follow suit.

Sadly it’s hard to name one employer in the communications business focusing on the problem in this way.

We can’t wait any longer

It’s a critical issue for the PR sector and one we need urgently to deal with.

For close to two years now, gender parity and the pay gap has been a key policy area for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

Its State of the Profession Survey identified a salary discrepancy of £8,483 in favour of men. This cannot be explained by any other factor such as length of service, seniority, parenthood, or a higher prevalence of part-time work among women.

It’s a sobering thought when over two-thirds of practitioners in the profession are female.

This major disparity is compounded by the problem of senior female talent dropping out after maternity leave. Many practitioners cite being unable to balance work and life pressures.

It is imperative we break down the barriers that prevent women progressing in the workplace.

Policies are in place

Some work is underway. In 2014 the CIPR teamed with Sheila Wild from the Equal Pay Portal to look for potential solutions to the issue and provide policy direction.

The return to work process was identified as one creating issues for employers and employees alike, resulting in the production of ten practical best practice guides developed with the help of The Talent Keeper Specialists.

From handing over and keeping in touch through to role renegotiation, the toolkits help those involved find a solution to suit all parties.

The CIPR’s production of nine recommendations for enabling flexible working in PR has also been useful in making strides forward.

Aimed at helping employers manage the shift to a round the clock service provision as dictated by 24/7 online and offline media, while delivering work-life balance for staff, the guides are equally beneficial in helping parents achieve hours that are better suited to managing both work needs and childcare.

Useful as they are, the next step with these guides must be to replace the word flexible with agile. While this might seem a small difference, it’s not. Using non-discriminatory language is critical in the movement towards equality in the workplace.

Agile working is seen to be about keeping pace with the way the working environment is changing, as well as a way to help staff strike a balance between work and home.

In contrast, flexible working is tarnished with being something that in the main only working mums want and need, with a lack of commitment almost implicit within this.

Changing perceptions is part of the answer and it’s something everyone can help with.

It’s also a question of skillset

The truth of the matter is that the gender pay gap will only become a thing of the past when all organisations have to publish salary data to show they are complying with legislation.

Employers can make a big difference however if they are prepared to be ethical, honest and employ best practice.

Human resources is a case in point. A serious issue with pay in the PR industry is a lack of experience by those managing people and performance.

Outside of the largest agencies and public sector, the industry is dominated by SMEs where the human resources (HR) function is often managed by a member of PR staff. Internal or external HR specialists are rarely brought in.

Without best practice policies or the use of competency frameworks, it’s easy to see how and why the system fails without oversight of an expert eye.

It’s a business not a gender issue

The Government Equalities Office states that closing the gender pay gap could add 10% to the size of our economy by 2030.

This is most definitely a business not a gender issue.

A female-dominated industry like PR should be an exemplar to the rest of the UK. The challenge is for us to make it a reality.

Ten steps for achieving parity of pay in PR

  1. Be transparent with your pay structure
  2. Use an HR specialist for your people and performance needs
  3. Have a Board with an even gender balance (if deemed necessary only ever use quotas as an interim measure)
  4. Monitor hires and promotions by gender and diversity
  5. Adopt agile working as a business model and consider part-time and job share solutions, as well as freelance support
  6. Support parents in identifying and securing affordable childcare
  7. Enable access to leadership programmes
  8. Signpost to / deliver mentoring schemes
  9. Normalise shared parental leave
  10. Use language carefully – agile over flexible working every time.