DIY PR polls

You may notice a new widget in the sidebar – namely a poll courtesy of Vizu.

Thought I’d pick something anodyne just to test it out. On the surface, Vizu seems quite a neat concept – you can easily create online polls and get some basic analysis of the results such as by gender, geography, etc.

I’m sure it won’t put the big research firms out of business overnight – but at the low end (and lets face it, how many press releases have we seen based on survey results of 100 or less), another example of how the Internet is commoditising certain sectors.


PR = Persuasion, not presentation

In his PR Week column this week, Anthony Hilton takes a pop at "listen only" conference calls – where journalists and analysts are only allowed to hear what the company wants and not allowed "to interrupt, challenge, question or even express disbelief." About as far away from the PR 2.0 concept of conversation as you could hope to get.

Hilton also makes a rather good observation – namely that "the art of PR is to persuade others of the merits of a client’s case, not simply present it."

And is that not the problem with a lot of PR? Endlesss amount of "presenting" the clients case, but little done to actually justify.

Let is linger longer on the concept of persuasion. There are plenty of books on the subject – and a bit of random googling brought up this. I don’t know Tom Hopkins from Adam, and his list below may be rather old hat on the subject. But it did raise the interesting question of how PRs normally would respond to each of the points below – I’d argue in most cases, they’d behave in exactly the opposite to that described in order to try and "persuade" a journalist:

  1. Teach by example. If you want to stop a mob from panicking in a theatre during a
    fire, walk calmly. If you want humans to adopt some ethical moral code, or
    philosophical system, live it rigorously. They will pick it up from you
    unconsciously by modelling you.
  2. Lead with non-controversial statements.
  3. Humans reason mostly by analogy. The key is finding the right analogy and
    letting them reason it through for themselves. You don’t even need to assert the
    two models are related, just put them in the same vicinity.
  4. Praise the desired behaviour in anyone who exhibits it. The others will
    mindlessly model the behaviour to get praise.
  5. Don’t bother with the reasons why you want humans to do something. Get into
    their heads. Why would they want to do it? People are much more likely to
    trust you if you obviously like them and have their desires and well being in
  6. Reward humans with attention when they seem to be moving in the right direction.
  7. In debate, concede as many points as you possibly can. Your opponents will then
    perceive you as emminently reasonable and stop fighting you so hard.
  8. If you want to get humans angry at some injustice, don’t model anger. They will
    think you already have it covered and do nothing. Just calmly tell them the
    facts and let them create their own anger.
  9. Look on every response to what you say, no matter how vitriolic, as a gift from
    the universe to continue the debate. The worst thing that can happen is humans
    will ignore you totally. Treat every attack as a cry for more information.
  10. Express your own doubts about anything you say. The more middle-of-the-road you
    are in any controversy the more weight you have as a wise unbiased judge.
  11. There is no end to what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the
  12. A thing hasn’t been said until its been said a thousand times.

    ~ Ring Lardner

    And, you had better find a different way to say it every time.
  13. Keep your sense of humour at all times. It is the best weapon for disarming a
    harsh critic.
  14. Smoke ’em out. Get them to tell you what sort of argument would be convincing.
  15. Play Matlock.
    Play it a little dumber than you really are. It is useful if your opponents
    underestimate you. You are not as intimidating that way. The ethics of doing
    this are grey.
  16. Use colourful language. Play on all the senses.
  17. Using ad hominems or other logical
    is not logical.
  18. If I say it, they can doubt me.

    If they say it, it is true
  19. If an argument is not working, no matter how logical it is, try something else.
    Humans are rarely persuaded by logic.
  20. Never underestimate the role of the seconder. No idea succeeds without one.
  21. Be as ruthlessly honest as you can. Be willing to share any intimate detail
    about yourself. That way humans can get a sense of who you really are. They need
    that before they can trust you.
  22. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your
    sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention.

    ~ Benjamin Franklin

    On the other paw, it can be a way to stimulate discussion.
  23. Use Pavlovian conditioning. Get them to associate what they like (e.g. sex) with
    what you want them to do. Get them to associate what they don’t like (e.g. pig
    vomit) with what you don’t want them to do. Iconic symbols are even better.
  24. Don’t rub it in when you score a debating point. The goal is to seek truth then
    persuade the humans of that truth, not to humiliate your opponents.
  25. Help your opponent save face when he agrees with you. Humans consider changing
    one’s mind dishonourable. Avoid shaming them by noticing publicly.
  26. A pause or complete silence is often more eloquent than any words. It also gives
    a chance for others to take up the charge.
  27. Counter contrarians by deprecating yourself or your ideas.
  28. Smoothly shift gears from third to second person.
  29. Use quantum salesmanship.
  30. The game isn’t over until everybody wins.

UK PR industry dead in 10 years: PR Week

OK – they didn’t actually say that – but the latest issue of PR Week contains a number of articles, which, taken together, paint a rather gloomy picture of the UK PR industry and its future.

First up, a survey of junior PR folk, conducted in December 2006, showed that a "staggering" (PR Week’s own word) 80pc of them were planning to leave the industry within 10 years. 15pc said they would get out after only 1 or 2 years, with 32pc saying they’d exit in 2 – 5. A further 27pc said they might remain in PR for between 5 and 10 years.

PRCA director-general Patrick Barrow argues that this is a "social trend" ie PR is not the only sector to suffer from a lack of long term career interest among the younger workforce. But he then goes on to concede that the traditional PR agency model puts "disproportionate pressure on those at the bottom of the heap." (A curious use of words – it immediately conjured up an image of poor Oliver Twist PR types scrabbling around for scraps asking for "more "while their cold hearted bosses told them to work harder for less…).

In another feature, 30 year old B-M veteran Adam Lewis admitted he had seriously considered leaving the industry early his career: "At a junior level, PR can be tough: development paths are blurred and is heavy on admin compared with the hand-holding and structure you find in professions such as law and management consultancy." (I like Adam’s diplomacy – development paths are blurred = training and development are non existent).

And then Firefly Chief Exec Claire Walker says: "There is a dearth of good people out there. We’re suffering a real skills shortage in PR."

PR Week then chip in with a further a piece about the recent introduction of Employment Equality Regulations : "Middle Management level PRs – average age 35 and 41 for consultancy and in-house staff respectively – are those most likely to quit their jobs in the next 2 to 3 years."

This  article  also  shows PR agencies as  the biggest culprits in terms of breaking the rules on ageist job ads. According to Neville Price at recruitment firm Price Trace Hawes: "Ignorance of the regulations is not a defence. I suspect there is an attitude problem with consultancies thinking they can either just get away with it, or assuming the legislation does not apply to them for whatever reason."

So if we join the dots here, what conclusions can we draw?

First, if the head of a major PR industry trade body likens the agency model to a dog eat dog rubbish tip, is it any wonder "those at the bottom of the heap" aren’t going to stick around.

Second – who will actually be left to do any PR if middle managers and junior staff don’t intend to stick around in the business. And simply ignoring employment law in order to hire more junior fodder for the meat grinder isn’t going to work either. Will senior level execs want to get their hands dirty in doing the real grunt work – well, they might have to if there is nobody left to do it for them.

Not a happy picture – or, perhaps, for the apparently dwindling band of experienced folk who are still around, perhaps we can hoover up the work that’s left by everyone else jumping the ship?

Crisis PR mode at Fujitsu over NHS IT

You wouldn’t want to be Andrew Rollerson, head of Fujitsu’s Healthcare Consultancy Practice, today – he appears to be in hot water over remarks he allegedly made at a conference last week regarding the NHS’s National Programme for IT. (Latest – the Daily Telegraph has very helpfully published his presentation slides here. Nice use of pictures as opposed to the usual PowerPoint text bullet overkill – though some may question the use of female mudwrestlers to illustrate a point).

Fujitsu is one of the key IT contractors on the project – £896m to be precise to supply systems in the South of England.

Tony Collins at Computer Weekly is of course having a field day – full story here. With a further twisting of the knife here.

According to Collins: "Rollerson, who is responsible for the delivery
of Fujitsu’s healthcare professional services, said there was a
"gradual coming apart of what we are doing on the ground because we are
desperate to get something in and make it work, versus what the
programme really ought to be trying to achieve. The more pressure we come under, both as suppliers and on the
NHS side, the more we are reverting to a very sort of narrowly focused
IT-oriented behaviour. This is not a good sign for the programme."

The CW piece goes to quote Fujitsu’s official response: "We refute any inference that Fujitsu in any way questions the success of the National Programme."

I leave it to you to decide whether Rollerson’s alleged comments could be interpreted as casting doubt on the success of the project….

UPDATE: Now Information Age have picked up  this  too.

FURTHER UPDATE: Duh – its all over the nationals too The Times is here, the Telegraph here, and the Daily Mail here.   

Something tells me this one isn’t going to lie down.

Why PR Gets No Respect: Eric Dezenhall

The ever excellent Strumpette has a guest piece from the self-styled US "pit bull of public relations," Eric Dezenhall, on why senior corporate managers have such a low opinion of PR. (Full article here.)

I confess that I have never come across Mr Dezenhall before – but his views are frank and original to say the least.

Here are some of his pearls of wisdom:

"One of the chief complaints of public relations executives is that our
discipline isn’t respected by top corporate management. Is it possible
that PR hasn’t earned that respect? I think so, and will offer one
possible explanation: PR people tend to traffic in Mother Goose crisis
management bromides that are at direct odds with what real world
experience teaches.

There’s no better example of this than that post-Watergate
canard that if Nixon has just “fessed up” and apologized, the break-in
scandal would have gone away. The PR industry’s evangelical belief in
the mea culpa and its attendant rhetoric don’t square with what real
world experience teaches, and people in positions of responsibility
know it.
Had Nixon fessed up and apologized, he would have been quickly
impeached, tried in a court of law and convicted, not to mention been
dismembered in Lafayette Park."

"In Western culture, it’s understandable that we tie apology to
forgiveness. This is especially tempting since the public relations
industry, in a desperate attempt to win respect from the broader
culture, preaches this line so zealously
. Hard evidence from the PR war
zones, however, suggests that apologies work best when the violation is
either aberrant or isolated. As for defusing more chronic battles, one
is more likely to get out alive by entering the fray and navigating the
cross-currents rather than assuming a swiftly spun apology will win the
day. Seasoned executives and general counsels understand the
vicissitudes of human nature and the marketplace and are more likely to
respect PR counselors who do, too."

Pretty, it ain’t – but you can see how his Machivaeli-style PR real politick gives him some clout in the US.

Alternatively, you could argue that Dezenhall paints a very ugly picture of top level corporate America – and their legal advisors – and thus in order to be respected, PR needs to behave in the same fashion.

You takes your choices…..

Will Google Ad Words spell the death of PR?

Tom Foremski posts on a recent conversation with ex-Sun PR man Andy Lark here.

Readers may recollect Andy sparked some discussion last August with his question about what you ought to pay a PR agency.

Clearly Andy did find an agency that satisified his criteria – the bad news for them now is that – according to Tom:

"Andy told me he recently
noticed that he was starting to spend more money on buying Google adwords
than on PR. And when push comes to shove, I know where most companies
will put their money. You can pin a ROI on GOOG adwords that you can’t
with PR. This is a very significant crossover point. It represents one of the
many threats to traditional PR. And there are many PR agencies that
only understand the old approach, no matter what they say about
new/social media. There is a disconnect in the PR world that is going to hit that industry hard."

Nick Carr  has also been riffing on the meme of how IT automation is removing not just low skilled jobs:

"(This) provides an eye-opening account of what happens when business,
and in particular media, moves from the physical to the virtual world.
For those who might be hoping that the decline in jobs in traditional
media will be offset by growth in employment in digital media, the news
is not good:

One chart shows the combined categories of publishing
and broadcasting, both traditional and Internet-based. Over all,
employment is down 11 percent. In those six years, employment in
traditional paper-based publishing is down 13 percent. Broadcasting
employment is off 3 percent. The traditional industries, between them,
have shed 148,000 workers.

Did the Internet make up the difference? Just the opposite.
Internet publishing and broadcasting now employs 36,600 people, and
that figure is down 29 percent from six years ago. A larger
Internet-related area covers Internet service providers, search portals
and data processing. It now has 385,000 workers, down 25 percent over
the last six years."

Couple this with Nick Carr’s view on the growing inequality in wealth. And his obvervation that:
"The next wave of "superstars" may be algorithms – and the small number of people that control them."

And what does this mean for PR?

First – the vast of majority of work currently done by PR agencies will be automated to the point where it will be pointless hiring and agency to do it (the fact that many agencies barely make a decent profit now is an indicator of where things are already heading).

Second – pace Tom Foremski – there is a growing gap between what client companies value and what PR agencies offer.

Third – traditional PR skills will need be combined with a level of online marketing and technology skills that most trad agencies don’t possess

Fourth – the large agency PR model will become economically unsustainable

Fifth – the PR industry has no  valuable algorithms

OK – there maybe a little exageration here – for example, somebody making a living out of doing trad PR is likely to carry on doing this for a couple of years yet – but sooner or later – as per Nick Carr above, unless you have the skills demanded by clients (and they will be asking for it if they haven’t started already), you may find yourself trying a new career path.

Incisive Media buys VNU?

World’s Leading is saying the Incisive Media has acquired VNU’s UK assets. More to emerge shortly no doubt.

Why is late payment endemic in the PR business?

Our old chum the World’s Leading blogger has posted on how a certain PR agency has treated a freelancer regarding late paying of invoices.

The comments thread is worth a read – aside from the specifics of this particular case, it does raise the general question as to why PR agencies are rubbish at paying and getting paid.

With regard to the above example, one strongly suspects that the reason the agency has set its payment terms at 60 days is because they themselves are hopeless at getting paid by their own clients.

That said, I realise that bigger organisations tend to demand longer payment terms from their suppliers – 90 days is not unheard of. But this should be a point of negotiation before work even starts – if the client wants 90 days credit then what other aspect of the contract might they relax on eg termination period. Once again, it seems most agencies just roll over because they are scared.

On a related subject, I’ve always been amazed by the "cult of billing" that exists in most agencies. The directors and account directors that get the biggest praise are those that have invoiced the most – but I would wager that in many cases, if you examined the recovery rates of these big billers, you’ll probably find they have the clients that take the longest to pay.  Issuing an invoice is easy – getting paid on time is a different beast entirely. A director crowing about how much he has invoiced is also probably the one who is costing the company dearly in bank interest because his clients pay on 120 days or more.

In the end, there are two very simple reasons (usually) why clients don’t pay – because they are unhappy or they are in financial difficulties.  Or we can add a third where it is an unwritten company policy to find "issues" with an invoice to delay payment. PR expenses bills are the usual victims – if you’ve got a number of line items, the classic client trick is to query one small line item that holds up the whole bill. Best way to solve this is simply remove the item and re-issue – because you’ve now removed the apparent disputed item – it also helps to see who is doing this for genuine reasons and those that are simply doing it to use the agency as an unofficial bank.

Breakthrough ideas for 2007 – Harvard Business Review

Some interesting pointers here.

Not least this one:

20. The Folly of Accountabalism

David Weinberger

Accountability has gone horribly wrong. It has become “accountabalism,” a set of related beliefs and practices that bureaucratize morality and make us believe we can control our lives by adhering to specific rules. But grown-ups prefer clarity and realism to happy superstition.

If Vista were a rock star, which one would it be?

Tim Dyson has posted on how doing PR for Microsoft Vista is a bit different to Windows 95 this time around.

And Tim should know. Microsoft was a very early client for the fledging Text 100 in the mid-80s – and they’ve never gone away.

However, I was rather intrigued and amused by the following passage:

"If you think about Windows in this way you realize that the comms challenge with Windows is quite unique in technology terms. Indeed the challenge could be likened to that of an aging rock star that is trying to attract a new generation of admirers. It’s a tough trick to pull off but some manage it and I for one wouldn’t bet against Microsoft even if Vista hasn’t got off to the high profile bang it did when it scored it’s big hit in ’95."

Aside from debating, the claim that the PR challenge for Windows is unique, lets have everyone’s suggestions as to what ageing rock star Vista could be compared to. And lets have no mentions of getting big, fat, bloated and complacent in either context please.


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