Tuesday, 30 April 2013

FH rebrand: Hostage to fortune?

Fleishman Hillard has announced (see NYTimes link below) that it is rebranding as FleishmanHillard, repositioning as a through-the-line "complete communication" business, and adopting the slogan, “The Power of True”.

More than whether it is grammatically correct,” The Power of True” is a disaster waiting to happen. FH has created a ‘hostage to fortune’ and will be watched like a hawk and pilloried for every bit of overblown hype it produces. The reputational, ethical and implementational (is that a word?) threats are massive.

I hope their in-house crisis management team has been strengthened alongside the clever, creative advertising and social media bods who are being added to their staff.

As this is an Omnicom group agency, the creation of a through-the-line business could take business away from other ad, PR and digital media agencies in the group. They could all be squabbling over the same budgets.

On the other hand, the one-stop-shop model may be attractive to clients. It has been talked about for a long time, and is widely used outside major cities. Usually, it is the ad agencies pushing into PR territory (doing it badly; usually as a loss-leader), but here is an PR business going the other way.

In 2011 Golin-Harris offered a media- and channel-agnostic restructure, although it still positioned itself in the PR sphere. It has just won the Holmes Report's Americas region ‘Large Agency of the Year’ accolade, which may indicate that its transformation is paying off.

Interesting times amongst the larger agencies: I wonder if a round of consolidations will be next?

Friday, 26 April 2013

Is PR part of the 'creative economy'? Probably not

It's noticeable that PR bodies haven't rushed to comment or even acknowledge the 'Manifesto for the Create Economy' which was published by innovation charity NESTA on April 23.

This challenging document starts from the claim that the 'creative economy' provides 10% of gross added value to the national economy, employs 2.5 millions people and grows faster than most other sectors.

Its message that Britain is falling behind international competition is one that we should heed. The report says that policies in the UK have failed to keep pace with developments in North America and Asia.

Among its 10 actions points are:

  • policies to incentivise innovation in ways that suit the creative industries
  • the adaptation of copyright laws to "digital realities"
  • broadened research programmes, with greater investment in knowledge-exchange
  • changes in education to create a  "fusion" covering technology, art, maths, science and the humanities
  • greater involvement in the digital economy by publicly funded creative leaders like the BBC and museums
  • a more open internet sphere, with less control by a few major players

At the launch of the report Lord (David) Putman argued there was a mismatch between skills needed to drive the creative industries and the learning of current graduates, while Skillset chief executive Kate O'Connor said universities should do more to teach entrepreneurial skills.

I agree with them in many ways but no-one in the PR industry has come to my colleagues and me to offer that advice. The only common feedback is that graduates "have to write well".  I would like more teaching on management and entrepreneurial skills and have been working in that direction for the past 3-4 years. This report gives me greater confidence to develop this element of learning further.

But it worries me (and here's a cue for CIPR presidential candidates Stephen Waddington and Jon White as well as PRCA's leadership) is that the public relations sector has taken no part in the general debate on the creative sector which has been developing for the past decade. It certainly has no voice (or even recognition) in the NESTA report.

Why is it important for PR to be involved? Firstly because the creative economy is where the sector should be positioning itself; secondly because the ideas from this report will probably shape policy no matter which government is in power; thirdly because while PR still replicates old models of operation, the rest of the creative sector is developing creative clusters at local and regional level to drive its innovation, employment development and growth. "Communities of practice" produce innovation and employment across media, digital, animation and VFX sectors. It's time for PR to go down that route, too.

You can download the report from: http://www.nesta.org.uk/publications/assets/features/a_manifesto_for_the_creative_economy

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Remembering great-uncle Tom (Thomas Colin Watson 1897-1916)

As ANZAC Day looms on April 25, I’m commemorating my great uncle Tom Watson (Thomas Colin Watson) who served in the 20th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Forces in World War 1.

I’m by no means the first Tom Watson in my family line. My great-grandfather came by that name. He had a son Thomas Colin and my grandfather had a son named Thomas Guthrie. We aren’t very original about names in the male line (and my sister has a son named Tom).

Long ago I promised myself a visit to the Somme battlefields of northern France. With family guidance, I looked up Australian Army records online about Thomas Colin Watson.

After working as a clerk, he enlisted in October 1915 and was shipped from Sydney to England on the ‘Ceramic’ for training as an infantryman. He had quite a disciplinary record: Once for “using indecent language in a public place in the hearing of the public”, he was severely reprimanded. More than once, he was promoted to corporal then dropped back to private. Generally, he seems to have been a ‘larrikin’, as Australians call noisy, scrappy young people.

Tom joined 20th Battalion in the Western Front on October 2nd and was ‘Killed in Action’ on November 7th, 1916 at Caterpillar Valley near the village of Longueval, 6 miles from Bapaume. His family was told he was killed by concussion from a German artillery explosion. He was 19 years old.

Tom was later buried in the Commonwealth War Grave at Caterpillar Valley. His family was sent his effects that comprised a few letters only. Later they were sent his medals, the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. By 1922, all that remained were their memories and a gravestone in a carefully maintained graveyard on the Somme.

He wasn’t the only relative of mine to die on the Somme. Guthrie “Goo” Reilly, my grandmother’s brother, died in August 1918 at Villers-Brettoneux on the first day of the great offensive that forced the German army back and led to the end of World War 1. A 33-year-old farmer-turned-sergeant, he was killed by a German prisoner.

Those are the facts. Going to Caterpillar Valley and finding great-uncle Tom’s grave was an unexpectedly emotional journey. After a morning touring the Somme, we came to the graveyard and found the gravestone by the front wall. Cue an enormous lump in my throat. It was quite surprising to feel so strongly about an unknown relative but he was my personal connection to the carnage of the Somme. It was a very humbling moment.

As for the next Tom Watson (Thomas Guthrie), he was killed by a Japanese sniper in New Guinea in July 1945. So I am the first Tom Watson in this family line to live so long in three generations, only because others had laid down their lives.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Are PR associations past their 'sell-by' date?

As there is a real debate-led CIPR presidential election campaign in the UK, it's time to ask whether PR associations perform any real purpose other than ensuring their continued survival.

They can offer benefits but I am unsure whether they do so at present. I'd welcome the views of the CIPR presidential hopefuls, Stephen Waddington (@wadds) and Jon White (@drjonwhite) about how CIPR or a refreshed version would perform.

My membership of CIPR goes back 30 years, so I should declare an interest here. What follows may lead you to ask "why are you still subscribing to it?" Good question!

The purpose of professions is seen in two perspectives - maintaining status quo and playing a positive role in society (functionalist) and self-promoting and restricting entry to the field (revisionist). Jo Fawkes has written recently that "traditionally professions secured (or at least asserted) public trust by virtue of their professional status (body of knowledge, extensive training, extra-moral ethical standards)".

Some commentators consider that the concept of professionalism, often called the "professional project", is under threat and professional identity is in crisis. Professional bodies, they say, are  bureaucratic mechanisms to promote exclusivity and monopolistic practices.

As CIPR is largely inward looking, is doing little to build PR's body of knowledge, is not able to control entry to the field and has a difficult ethical stance to maintain, its main contribution to the professional concept is training. However, it is not alone in either offering training or setting standards. PRCA and numerous training companies offer the same services, not forgetting the extensive university sector.

So what is the purpose of CIPR if it is not able to offer the objectives of most professional bodies? And it can't achieve the negative aspects (according to revisionist critics) of restricting entry to the field to those of established knowledge and professional standing. 

All evidence of recent studies is that PR=publicity and is practiced as a craft, not a profession.Recently, I wrote about inspecting 70 papers that reported on PR practices in UK organisations. I can't think of one that demonstrated high professional standards. Reading entries to CIPR's own AVE-laden PRide regional awards reinforces that impression. PR is not practiced as a profession by many CIPR members, let alone the 85% who aren't.

In an earlier post (http://fiftyonezeroone.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/prs-future-sing-along-with-tammy-wynette.html), I discussed the separation of strategic/organisation communication from PR/publicity. If CIPR wants to renew as a genuinely professional body, that is a serious option to consider.

So my question to the two candidates is: what would they do to develop the professional project for public relations in the UK of, if is is bust, how would they reorganise CIPR for a post-professional organisation age? At 65 years old, CIPR is an OAP. Retirement may be a valid option.
  • My thanks to Jo Fawkes's article, "Interpreting ethics, public relations and strong hermeneutics", published in Public Relations Inquiry, 2012, Vol. 1, No. 2, 117-140 for its discussion of professionalism.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Thatcher Years - and me

Watching Maurice Saatchi discussing Margaret Thatcher’s legacy tonight (Channel 4 News) made me feel really old. Maurice, the originator of the “Labour’s not working” campaign of 1979, focused on why Mrs T was a winner: she was a conviction politician whom people believed in, even they didn’t like the medicine.

She wasn’t an oily creature like Blair or Cameron; or a machine politician like Brown or Callaghan; a lieutenant such as the likeable John Major. Having spent from 1979 to 1997 working on local and national elections, that was the view on the doorstep.

Now, 33 years on, I reflect on this politician who had an influence on my life like no other. I have never been a great believer in the inspirational leader model. There was only one St Paul who, struck down on the road to Damascus, changed from persecutor to proselytiser. Mrs T was not a C20th female St Paul, but she did change Britain.

So why did I become a Conservative of the centre? I had come to England in late 1974, when it was just ghastly: three-day weeks; the Mussolini of the coal mines trying to bully government; the collapse of government itself. In 1976, I was working as a magazine journalist when the NUJ held stop-work meetings to demand 25% pay rises because that was the current rate of inflation. Soon after, the IMF bailed out the British Treasury. By 1978, under “Sunny Jim’ Callaghan, Britain was going downhill rapidly.

I married in 1977 and was faced with either staying or convincing my bride to go to Australia. Not an easy task. To stay meant doing something that would help change the appalling situation Britain was in. So I joined the Conservatives and started knocking on doors.

It was hard work but Mrs T won in 1979. Then followed the disappointment of the electorate – “why wasn’t everything being changed immediately”. In particular, council tenants wanted right-to-buy legislation introduced “now!” so they could buy their house and finally feel “at home”. It is sneered at now, but in the early 1980s it was the greatest social change that these people could imagine. And she delivered it.

In 1981, I was elected as a County Councillor in Hampshire with a thumping majority and in 1984 set up a PR consultancy business. [Unlike 2013, banks were very keen to help you get started. In fact, we knew the manager personally and he would drop regularly in for a cuppa to see how we were progressing].

There were, of course, ups-and-downs. Prescription charges were introduced which angered many, although few paid them. In the South, the government’s stand against the NUM was very fully supported – Arthur Scargill was deeply loathed – but police tactics seemed brutal at times. On the other hand, the Thatcher governments spent more on the NHS than their Labour predecessors did; they started the expansion of higher education which has been the Conservatives’ great legacy for reducing social division.

As for my political career, it ended in 1985 when I realised that a young family and a consultancy business were not compatible with being a county politician. I stood down and focused on election campaigns at local and Westminster level. I also attended party conferences: Bournemouth and Brighton were OK but Blackpool was always dire – a grubby, rundown seaside resort at the end of the season by the brown, windswept Irish Sea.

However, it was in Blackpool in the late 1980s that Mrs T and the party gave their support to Eastern Europe’s emerging voices and the leaders of their nascent democracies. Perhaps that was the major legacy of the later Thatcher era: very active, visible support for the new nations emerging from the Soviet umbrella.

I worked on the 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992 and 1997 General Elections in Winchester and surrounding electorates. By the end of the Major period, the aura of 1979 and the energy to give people the opportunity to develop had completely run out. I stepped down from party membership and have been on the sidelines since. I was never a die-hard Thatcherite or a “Tory”. Now, all conviction has gone from UK politics, no matter what party interests you. It’s just three 40-somethings leading dull, pragmatic operations.

With the passing of Mrs T, the era of conviction politics has finally been buried. But her support for enterprise and personal development benefited me, my colleagues, suppliers, families and the taxman. We developed a £1.3m turnover business from hard work and the enterprise-supportive atmosphere of nearly three decades ago. My life has moved on but I still hold Mrs T’s legacy in great respect. I’d hate to think of the alternative history of the UK if she’d lost the 1979 election.