Webs of Influence, by Nathalie Nahai

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Public Relations has been flirting with neuroscience for some time now, but although the attractions are obvious, it often seems that the relationship is still at the giggling and coy glances stage. 

For PR, the factors that prevent full on courtship include shame and lack of self confidence. Some in PR go to great lengths to promote their good intentions as communicators and information providers, and go all squeamish if it is suggested they might be trying to manipulate the way people think and behave. Studying the science of how people make decisions, and learning psychological techniques to trigger certain bahaviours is somehow cheating.... and bad PR for a discipline that is so sensitive to mentions of propaganda and spin.

More importantly, even those who are happy to accept that persuasion is integral to PR, fear the embarrassment of backing the wrong horse in a rather confused race. The challenge, and from where I stand it is a huge one, is to try and distinguish the serious science from the quackery. How does a beginner build a body of knowledge that is sufficiently robust to feel confident in one's judgments?

In Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion, Nathalie Nahai (@TheWebPsych) makes an impressive stab at writing an accessible book that is full of useful insights, but not reticent with caveats and questions.

Nahai, who is billed as The Web Psychologist and clearly has a sharp eye for marketing and self-promotion, brings a common sense approach to some complex issues. It is not easy for a non-expert to assess how influential are the thinkers and theorists that shape her narrative, but her conclusions are sensible and carry the ring of truth. As she says: "When it comes to the art of persuasion, there is no silver bullet. There are, however, many principles that you can employ to significantly increase your chances of success."

The combination of new online technologies and new scientific understanding leads Nahai to predict: "We're witnessing the dawn of a new kind of business, one that utilises neuroscientific research to aid marketing, advertising and the film industries."

In ways which will be familiar to readers of Daniel Kahneman's big selling Thinking, Fast and Slow, she shows how few of the decisions we make are under our conscious control. There are three elements to the human brain, the primal brain, which deals with sex, hunger, motion, contrast etc, the emotional brain (empathy and storytelling) and the rational brain (gut instinct, authority), and that these processes can work in parallel. It follows that messaging that understands this multiplicity can be effective.

A few moments thought about our own individual behaviours will doubtless reinforce the insight that emotion often trumps reason, and that many, many of the "decisions" that feel natural are not necessarilly the most logical or even the most advantageous.

The online world, wherher through ecommerce of social networking, seems to highlight the link between behaviours thought to have had evolutionary benefit in the past and a virtual environment which presents few physical dangers but many distractions of pleasure and suffering.

For communicators, Nahai writes convincingly about segmenting audiences, the sue of Hofstede to provide insights into culture, and Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as well as pointing towards apparent gender differences in our approach to online environments.

Her discussion of self-esteem and self-actualisation rings true and present a useful framework to explain the power of sharing platforms, not least Flickr and Pinterest.

Likewise, her observations on symmetry, colour, simplicity and motion, will be of real value to webdesigners and content providers. Although most of us no longer hunt, we are evolutionarily primed to respond to motion, and this can either distract attention from the desired message or provide the contrast that highlights certain eleemts.

Arguing for simplicity and signposting, Nahai says: "The role of well-presented information is to reduce the the cognitive load that you place on your users when they visit your website.... but a break in flow can be used to dramatic effect."

She uses Picasso's Bull's Head to illustrate the njoyment we derive from discovering implicit, hidden similarities between seemingly disparate items. She show how aour barins are hard wired to identify and link related features, ie the yellow dots that are lions among teh trees), explains why we are drawn to high contrasts in images, which tend to be data richm and how we show an intense dislike of an unusual vantage point, which makes the brain work harder - and can if used properly, grab our attention.

Part 3 of Webs of Influence, titled Sell With Integrity, contains useful sections on influence and reputational capital, and further explores the tensions between cognitive and affective trust (information-based decisions versus the emotional).

Webs of Influence is very good when it seeks to deliver on its cover line, "The secret stratgies that make ius click" but, perhaps understadably, Nahai is a little less forthcoming with an exposition of what what it means to sell with integrity.

Overall, I found this one of the most interesting PR-related books I read in 2012 and am very much looking forward to welcoming Nathalie Nahai to Campus Helsingborg to lead a NEMO research seminar in March.

Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion (2012) by Natalie Nahai is published by Pearson 





It’s Boomsday!

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It's Monday morning and the Great Academic War on 2013 is underway in earnest...

And what better way to limber up for the battles ahead than with a train read of Boomsday, by Thank You for Smoking author Christopher Buckley?

The intellectual adrenalin was already pumping as I pulled out of Malmö Central...

Cassandra Devine was not yet thirty, but she was already tired.

“Media training,” they called it. She’d been doing it for years, but it still had the ring of “potty training.”

Today’s media trainee was the chief executive officer of a company that administered hospitals, twenty-eight of them throughout the southeastern United States. In the previous year, it had lost $285 million and one-third of its stock market value. During that same period, the client had been paid $3.8 million in salary, plus a $1.4 million “performance bonus.”

Corporate Crime Scene, the prime-time investigative television program, was doing an exposé and had requested an interview. In her negotiations with the show’s producers, Cass had learned that they had footage of him boarding the company jet ($35 mil) wearing a spectacularly loud Hawaiian shirt and clenching a torpedo-shaped—indeed, torpedo-size—cigar in his teeth while hefting a bag of expensively gleaming golf clubs. Unfortunate as it was, this footage was only the appetizer

I think I am going to enjoy the company of Cassandra and her boss, Terry Tucker:

Terry Tucker had built a successful PR firm, Tucker Strategic Communications, on the premise that those with a debatable claim to humanity will pay through the snout to appear even a little less deplorable.
Terry had represented them all, from mink ranchers to toxic waste dumpers, dolphin netters, unzipped politicians, makers of obesity-inducing soft drinks, the odd mobster, and pension fund skimmers. Terry had apprenticed under the legendary Nick Naylor, at the now defunct Tobacco Institute....



Learning PR lessons from Robots

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Rest of robots
As more and more crucial processes move online, we are all being asked to place increasing trust in mechanical devices. The internet of things sounds wonderful, but if you can hack a PC, what is to stop an assassin attacking a heart pacemaker?

Technophobia has been a staple of science fiction since Frankenstein created his monster. What if it gets out of control? What if this new device turns on its creator?

Such fears were grist to the mill for classic sci-fi writer, Isaac Asimov, who in 1941 laid down the Three Laws of Robotics that went on to underpin a whole genre of speculative fiction.

Despite the Laws being hardwired into their positronic brains, people in Asimov's world were still scared of robots, so much so that they were banned from operating on Earth. This is, of course, rather bad news for monopoly supplier, United States Robots and Mechanical Men, IncRobotics. They are confident they have a good product, but somehow they have to build trust in a technology that spooks the ordinary person.

It is an interesting PR conundrum, and one, Asimov addresses in several of the stories contained in The Rest of the Robots. Take this, from Lenny, which was first published in 1958:

(Research director) Lanning grunted. The idea of public guided tours of US Robots was a fairly recent origin and was supposed to serve a dual purpose. On the one hand, the theory went, it allowed people to see robots at close quarters and counter their almost instinctive fear of the mechanical objects through increased familiarity. And on the other hand it is was supposed to interest at least an occasional person in taking up robotics as a life work.

Classic tactics that many a PR would recommend now. Immediately, however, Lanning raises an equally familiar line - ROI.

"Once a week work is disrupted. Considering the man-hours lost the return is insufficient."

"Still no rise in applications?"

"Oh some, but only in the categories where the need isn't vital. It's research men that are needed. You know that. The trouble is that with robots forbidden on Earth itself, there is something unpopular about being a roboticist."

"The damned Frankenstein complex," said Bogert.

By framing the debate in terms of a cultural icon, opponents make it even harder for the pro-robot lobby.

In Galley Slave, from 1951, two scientists at a prestigious university are discussing the merits of accepting a robot proof reader offered to them at a cut rate by US Robotics (again, a classic PR tactic).

"The question in my mind, Dr Lanning, is why we need a robot at all, with all the difficulties in public relations that would entail."

Unfortunately, the robot, Easy, tries to protect an academic by correcting an error it fears maybe damaging, leading to an acrimonious court battle.

Robertson mangled his sandwich. The corporation would not founder for the loss of three-quarters of a million, but the loss would do it no particular good. He was conscious moreover, that there would be a much more costly long term setback in public relations."

Inverse sponsorship: Quantifying Self for Charity

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One of the reasons I am becoming increasingly interested in the Quantifed Self is that brings together mechanisams for changing behaviour (that thing some people call PR) and concerns about privacy and constructed personality.

It so getting to the time of year that people make resolutions (which usually means less of the things we like). We all know that New Year resolutions seldom make it to the end of January, and that will power alone is not enough for many people (i.e. me).

One of the motivating factors can be visualisation, linked to tangible reward or disincentives.

The game plans for fitness and weight control businesses such as Withings and Fitbit draw on the benefits of sharing motivations and success. One of the areas that is likely to see a growth in the near future are aggregators which bring together results from QS devices, and Beeminder offers an interesting model.

I like the carrot and stick idea of a Yellow Brick Road showing a desirable path, and could sign up for mild punishments if I break my resolutions, but I don't really want to my penance to enrich a commercial organisation.

It is so obvious that many others must have proposed this, but wouldn't it be great if Withings used the model to bild a charity app, rather like Just Giving? It would be an sort of mirror image of charity - instead of being sponsored by the mile to run a marathon, I would pledge to make a smallish payment to a charity of my choice every week or month I didn't hit a weight reduction/drinking/smoking/book-buying goal?


Some LeWeb links….

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Proving it: How Charity:water uses Google maps to show how it sends donations

Whatever 2 Whatever sen.se

At Sen.se, we believe there is no such thing as the Internet of Things.

We rather believe in an Internet of Everything where Humans, Nature, Machines, Objects, Environments, Information, Physical and Virtual spaces all mix up , talk, intertwine, interact, enrich and empower each other in all sorts of ways. This is what we are building and we think that we are not alone

Twiplomacy: Burson-Marsteller research into marketing a country on Twitter. 


LeWeb Paris: The Internet of Things

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Just back from three very full days at LeWeb in Paris. It was my first time, and it was impressive.

The theme was The Internet of Things and it was interesting to see how the focus has shifted from traditional communication in the form of sharing words and texts to the we-are-all-cyborgs-now emphasis on the ever-blurring boundaries between technology and people.

I am not quite sure about either the Internet of Things or Brian Solis's version, the Sentient World, as labels - neither, I think, have a life expectancy that will exceed 'the information superhighway" but it is part of a process that will change the world.

LeWeb have done a useful job in bringing together videos of various presentations, from the inspiring to the little more than a commercial product pitches, but trying to catch hold of the abundance of new ideas shows quite how hard online curation really is.

There were some good storytellers, not least Benjamin Cichy, Chief Software Engineer, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, who gave a masterclass in "goodwill and understanding" PR. 

I was also very impressed with Tony Fadell's presentation of the Nest. OK, you are off to a good start when you are introduced as the man who invented the iPod and iPad, but at the end of the day he was still talking about a thermostat. Not a very sexy product... except when you present it with the product values of Apple, and are able to show how it bring imeasurable energy saving benefits.


It was also interesting to see the glint of steel that occasionally flashed from the apparently laidback entrepreneurs who had created hugely influential platforms and devices, and to hear how some of them are putting something back with philanthropic projects.

I am sure I wasn't the only person who ordered a Fitbit during LeWeb and I am sure I will be thinking more and more about the Quantified Self during 2013 - with much of this thinking being concerned with privacy and ethics.

Livetrekker-FrontPage-mapI enjoyed discovering LiveTrekker, which does a brilliant job of linking photos, sounds and GPs trails, but was horrified at the notion of somebody wearing a sensor which could tell them if the person nearby was running a fever. I suppose there is no difference between using technology and moving away is a stranger is snuffling and sneezing but I still find it objectionable.

So what is PR, anyway…? (Remake/Remodel)

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OK, yesterday's post How PR works was a bit tongue-in-cheek. I don't really think PR is merely the process which encourages me to see a link, read an article, watch a video interview, then buy a Bryan Ferry album with just one click.

But it was part of the battle to complete Online Public Relations 3rd ed - the really difficult bit when the book is close to sign off and I suddenly start asking myself "What is PR?"

On one level I am trying to assess to what extent online interactions influence my behaviour (and whether my behaviour is in anyway typical!). In terms of consumer activity, the Bryan Ferry example was misleading - I didn't need much persuading to buy the album and my long if troubled relationship with Bryan is too deep for me to be much influenced by one interview. I did, however, genuinely buy an album last week purely because I read an article in the Guardian, "It was a tragedy we didn't stay together" (iPad edition, of course).

I had all but compleetly forgotten 10cc, but something about the interview aroused my curiousity. I wanted to know if they really were the missing link between Abba and Frank Zappa. (Oddly, a social media friend who I like a lot but who has very different tastes to me, tweeted a link to the same interview and, if anything, that made me less likely to buy...).

Anyway, this line of thinking very much frames PR as 'part of the marketing mix', the bit which is categorised as earned media. Conceivably, the article contributed to an increase in my goodwill towards and undertanding of 10cc.

What it doesn't do is make me part of a "public." I was not mobilised into action by any shared ambition or response. 

I was part of a distinct market segment - of an age to have grown up with 10cc singles (and they lived nearby), and Guardian reader down to my beard and sandals, etc. Should a similar article have been published in the Daily Mail it would have triggered a whole different range of responses and I wouldn't have bought the album. 

It is down to perspective and values. I share some of my perspective and some of my values with other readers of the Guardian piece. An article in the Guardian is still a reasonable way of reaching me, and reaching me in a way that goes beyond alerting to me to new Bryan Ferry album I would bought as soon as I was aware of it, to creating an interest in 10cc that I didn't know I had. The Daily Mail could have done the first part, it couldn't have done the latter.

Exploring the concept of semantic analysis, David Phillips explains:

What is evident is that the technologies we are deploying (based on semantics) provides us with this new type of constituency segment:  ‘community perspective’ segment. 

It is sensitive to the values of the people who are engaging at the time and it is sensitive to the values in on-line and offline conversations of the minute.

Not publics, not stakeholders, not socio-economic and cultural demographics but people with a community perspective expressed in some words they have in common.

This constituency does not have to be very engaged but does have similar values:


 Giving a tantalising glimpse of what he calls The Lisbon Theory, David goes on to argue:

A new theory is emerging based on the idea that the perspectives of people evident in their values. These are evident in what they are interested in and look for and are made available to the practitioner by application of Big Data semantic applications.

Historic segmentation theories such as Grunig and Hunt's publics, Freedman's stakeholders and the marketing approach of social and economic demographic segmentation models need to be re-cast to accommodate the new reality.

Most notably, we now have considerable evidence of people commenting about organisations and brands with little of no reference to the organisation or brand (often no experience at all). They are part of an eco system of brand values that are not much influenced by organisations but are (often if only by sheer numbers) influential. 

Organisations, in many instances have lost control of the brand. It is owned by what can be regarded as the community perspective

Anyway, simply alerting people to new products is marketing, isn't it.   



Does social media take us back to pre-industrial times?

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Reading Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Internet Persuasion, by Nathalie Nahai.

She tells us:

The very existence of social media has enabled many of us to revert back to a pre-industrial system of reputational capital, in which we rely on trusted, filtered sources of information to help us make informed choices on whom to endow our business and loyalty. Of course, this system is far from perfect and trust can sometimes be misplaced but the fact that this system exists at all has forced many companies out from their PR closets to face up to and engage directly with their customers again. Social Media has made business accountable (p130).

It is an interesting idea that social media usage is somehow 'pre-industrial', which I take to mean as being no longer dependent on the physical technologies of mass communications  (Web 2.0 doesn't need a printing press).

Likewise, she makes a valuable point about PR having to make a dramatic switch from being a defensive cloak to becoming a channel for enagement.

I am looking forward to Nathalie speaking to NEMO researchers at Campus Helsingborg in March... 

"Denigrating" Sodastream ad banned in UK

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Marketing Week reports: "SodaStream was forced to pull a television advertisement hours before it was was scheduled to break after it the body that clears spots for air slammed it as “denigrating” to the soft drinks market."

Here's some background: The campaign claims consumers can save up to 2,000 plastic bottles every year by using SodaStream to make soft drinks from tap water at home.

The British Soft Drinks Association says: “The nation’s favourite brands need the best quality packaging to ensure that they delight their consumers every time. Soft drinks packaging is recyclable and recycling rates are growing fast. This packaging makes up only a small proportion of all packaging used by households, and we don’t think that asking our consumers to recycle their empty bottles and cans is too much to ask.

The decision to ban the advert - which seems bizarre to me - seems not yet to feature on watchdog Clearcast's website.

Can anyone explain the fuss?

UPDATE: ClearCast say: “In this particular case, Sodastream did not allow sufficient time for clearance of their ad for the airtime they had booked. In their press statement this was translated to us pulling the ad at the eleventh hour

My favourite search engine is….. Instagram

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Just been talking to a class about getting noticed on the web. 

"So what is your favourite search engine?"

First answer:


OK, everyone used Google as their prime means of sourcing information but the rise of Instagram deserves serious attention. My student gave as an example her search to find out more about Santorini and it is very easy to understand why Instagram delivered the most useful - and persuasive - results.

Screen Shot 2012-11-21 at 15.43.12

As in all my straw polls, almost everyone here at Campus Helsingborg said they checked their smartphone before getting out of bed, and there was predictable 50-50 split between those who went first to Facebook and those who went to Instagram.  




Twitter tips from @jangles

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Neville Hobson posted a long comment on my Twitter for Academics post, and its was too useful to be bured away.... 

Here is what he said:

1. Make a Compelling Profile

Together with a photo or other relevant image, the concise information in your Twitter Profile is an essential element of a Twitter account as it lets others know a little about you, your interests and your community - an important aspect in decision-making when deciding whether to follow someone or not.

Here are three tips to help you when you're setting up your Twitter account and Profile:

  • Write your brief bio informally and naturally. Look at Philip's or mine for an idea. It's a one-line bio, not a brochure intro or a press release headline.
  • Choose an image that reflects how you'd like others to see you. If it's a photo of you, a smile is good.
  • Add a link to more about you, your blog, something where a potential follower can go to find out more detail about you. In other words, somwehere that that potential follower can verify you to their own satisfaction.

Want some ideas of what other people do? Take a look at this Twitter list of communicators that I put together: https://twitter.com/jangles/communicators

2. Are You Public or Private?

There are two types of Twitter account: public, open to the online world; and closed or private accounts where your content - known as 'protected tweets' - can be seen only by those you have granted access to.

If you intend to use Twitter as a means of openly engaging with others online, sharing comments, opinion and links, then a public account is your obvious choice. If you wish to engage only with a small group of people, for instance, where you manually approve each request to follow you, and where your tweets don't appear in Twitter Search results, then private would be your choice.

The point is, you do have a choice. See the Twitter help page "About Public and Protected Tweets" for more information.

PS. Neville was the person who first introduced me to Twitter, soon after he joined in December 2006. I thought he was mad. Since then he has collected 11,000 followers and I have read a significant number of his 57,000 tweets.

Twitter for academics

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After having a pop at PR academics who teach communication but don't use Twitter I suppose it is only reasonable to offer a helping hand. With apologies to most Mediations visitors who probably know more about it than I do, here are a few thoughts on Twitter for non-Tweeters.

OK, the first hurdle is quite a tough one. "Twitter" and, more so "tweeting" sounds very silly. This is unavoidable. Try to ignore it. The vague embarrassment about using the words never quite goes away but you can live with it.

Next, start following interesting people. Following - listening - is the key to getting value from Twitter. You could begin by following the people on Richard Bailey's PR Educator's list, but another good starting point is to check the profile of someone you find interesting and see who they follow. (Note that anyone can see who you follow, and sometimes the lists can give unexpected insights!).

Remember that you don't need permission to follow someone and potentially anyone can follow you and read what you are saying.

Take a little care in choosing your Twitter name and think through what the account is for. You need to use separate email addresses for the sign up process but you can then have multiple Twitter accounts so it makes sense to have a dedicated academic profile.

Once you get into the swing of tweeting, be a little bit personal. An academic Twitter account might be there primarily to pass on information but don't be afraid of let some of your character show. (It will, anyway - whether you mean to or not!).

Be useful. In an academic context Twitter is often about sharing information, stories and resources. Nobody can read everything they need to read nowadays but if you follow the right people they will do some of the reading and filtering for you. A large proportion of the examples, case studies and videos I use in lectures were flagged up for me by Twitter friends.

Ask qustions. If you need some information, or background, ask your Twitter followers.

Share stuff. I teach a lot of social media and it is a fast moving world. Parts of my lectures, the illustrations and examples, have quite a short shelf life so I lose nothing my sharing slides etc, and gain a great deal when friends do the same. 

Use a Twitter client, not the Twitter site. This especially important if you are using a Mac or PC, not such a problem on a smartphone. I use Tweetdeck, which has columns for people I follow, for mentions of @mediations (comments addressed to me, or RTs of my tweets), direct (private) messages, and then many columns for hashtag searches on particular topics. For a many of my sceptical students Tweetdeck, Hootsuite or a similar platform was the thing that finally convinced them Twitter was worthwhile. 

Learn the etiquette, and try and see your tweets through other people's eyes. It helps if you can make Tweets self-contained - "Yes, I agree entirely"!!!" isn't very illuminating for someone who has not followed the coversation.

Be concise (though avoid text speak), and if possible keep to around 100 characters maximum, so people can RT (retweet) your comments without chopping the end off.

Use hashtags to link your tweets to an event, debate or programme. I add #skchbg to tweets and retweets I think might be useful for Campus Helsingborg students. Hashtags are also the vehicle for trending memes and can be an artform in themselves. If you see an interesting Tweet with a hashtag, click on the tag and you will see all the other tweets similarly tagged.

When you do RT something you think is interesting, add a comment yourself - people often use < or <- to add their opinion, or give some indication of why they felt it was worth passing on (not sure how to do this on a Swedish keyboard!) 

You can link Twitter to Delicious, so you automatically save posts you tweet about.

If you have got this far, I hope you have found some of this helpful. And if, by any remote chance you are one of those brilliant academics who frustrate me and others by not using a very powerful communication tool, do let me know your Twitter address so I can follow you.

And do try to avoid some of the mistakes flagged up here by Hootsuite (showed up in my Twitter feed just as I was writing this...

Being a social academic…. on Twitter

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For some time now Richard Bailey at Behind the Spin has run a leaue table of the UK's most social PR students, based on their Klout and Peer Index scores. Being able to build networks and maintain a strong online presence is increasingly important in the job market and #socialstudent has worked well for several Sunderland graduates.

Now Richard has put together a similar list for UK PR Educators... and it is rather disappointing.

Some good people rate well, though some of the higher ranking names are not full-time univeristy academics. What struck me was that even with casting his net quite widely, Richard only managed to include 34 names and there is not a very strong correlation between the most "social" educators and the most significant names in PR academia.

The metrics used to create Klout and Peer Index scores are certainly open question and scores shouldn't be taken too seriously but the Behind the Spin chart does highlight how reluctant acadmics are to use Twitter and even blogs (which I think should be part of the job description).

A lot of serious people who study communication regard Twitter as trivial and simply can't see that anything worthwhile can be said in 142 characters. They are missing the point.

Careers may be made by publishing articles in academic journals, but PR is a dynamic subject, with issues and controversies worthy of debate emerging all the time. Twitter is a really valuable tool staying abreast of new ideas, sharing online finds, and now and then getting into a healthy argument.

Most of the people on the PR educators list are worth following and the best do a splendid job of opening up PR issues to practitioners, students and fellow academics. There should be more of them ... and I hope the #social students will be checking if their tutors are on the list, and if not, asking why...

I am @mediations, by the way...  


So why did CIPR Northern invite Max Clifford?

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Many of tweets I have seen commenting on Max Clifford's contribution to yesterday's CIPR Northern Conference have been critical of the man and his methods.

Even before the conference, Deborah Copeland, chair of the CIPR's Yorkshire & Lincolnshire group had felt the need to post "Protecting our profession" on the CIPR's Conversation blog. In part she was responding to a post by Justin McKeown's splendidly provocative "What if Max Clifford was an axe murderer?"

Here is how Sarah Hall reported Clifford's contribution. Sarah asked "Have you ever presented facts that you know to be untrue?" and Max, predictably replied: "Of course I have."

The next contribution came from Rob Brown, of Staniforth. Sarah doesn't report the exchange, but as @robbrown this morning tweeted: "I posted in 2009 on why the media should stop indulging Max Clifford. bit.ly/RwPmMg The PR industry must take a stand. #ciprnc" I think we can guess the flavour.

Here is a Storified selection of tweets...

And here is a useful reflection by Leeds Met second year Faye Oakey at PR Examples.

UPDATE: Here is a comment on Rob Brown's post by CIPR Policy and Communications Director Phil Morgan:

It was depressing to read adulatory tweets from some who attended his session at the CIPR Northern Conference. It shows that we have to do more to highlight the real difference between the trade that Max Clifford plies and the profession of public relations.

The CIPR has stated its intention to promote our Code of Conduct and, with a public register of members, is creating a platform to offer stronger commentary on the ethics of practice. The standards of professional conduct in public relations are a significant contributing factor in shaping the image and perception of the profession.

The need for this is highlighted strongly by those tweets, many of which appear to be from students or younger practitioners. We need to show them that there is a professional path and an unprofessional path, and which one they should follow to achieve a worthwhile career.





Why the "PR as endorsement" model fails

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Still thinking about Morris & Goldsworthy's view that what they call digital PR somehow diminishes its unique strength.

The view chimes with Morris's one time colleague Tim Bell, who is quoted by Richard Bailey in Tench & Yeomans (2009) as describing PR as "the use of third-party endorsement to inform and persuade." This works quite well in explaining 20th century media relations, but less effective as a critique of modern PR, which is shaped significantly by online activity.

The reason PR relied so heavily on media relations was not to do with somehow legitimising and or authenticating its messages but simple logistics. Newspapers, magazines, television and radio were channels for reaching people in ways it was very difficult to achive without them. Get a story in a national newspaper and they do the otherwise very expensive transport work of getting a message out to lots of people very quickly. It was about trucks, trains and transmitters.

Online changes that. Message creation still involves investment but (broadly) distribution pretty much doesn't.

The hard bit is not making content available, but getting it noticed and making it interesting.

Here, big name media platforms are still matter. One of the reasons that it is so useful to have a message covered by a major news platform, be it the Guardian or the Sun, is that 'traditional' media stories are much more interesting. And they are interesting, partly because of the skill and judgment of the writers but mostly because good stories and features draw on many different sources in a way PR puffery does not.

The added value is not so much "If it is in the Financial Times it must be true" but that the richness of journalism adds context. It is hard for so-called brand journalists to draw on competitor sources or find the oblique perspectives that make for a compelling read.

Te traditional send-a-press-release-to-the-usual-suspects style of media relations has to be superseded by making interesting information to a wide range of commentators, some of whom will have the skill to weave compelling content. OK, few will begin to deliver the circualtion numbers associated with the heyday of Fleet Street, or even today's Wapping, but both the cumulative effect and the ability to engage with sophisticated niche areas offers every bit as much potential.

(Approaching this from another angle, it is easy to see Twitter retweets, for example, as an archetypal example of the third party endorsement model. I read this and needed to pass it on).

One of the weaknesses of discussing "digital PR" is that it seems to encourage the view that it is about digitising the same content that has always been part of PR outputs, a bit like drawing the distinction between a film camera and digital camera. Somewhow it misses the crucial implications of digital transmission, which are about unlimited reach and unlimited replication and amplification.

Organisations used to need to hitch a ride on high capital cost media platforms to achieve reach, replication and amplification. Now they have direct access to the channels - if they can create the right content.

Digital PR doesn't undermine PR's unique selling point, it makes doing what PR should do more worthwhile (if more challenging).   

Does ‘digital’ destroy PR’s USP?

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Flicking through Morris and Goldsworthy's PR Today (Mediations Book of the Year review here) I saw I had highlighted a passage in a chapter called PR in the Online World which claims:

"When it creates its own media, digital PR loses PR's unique selling proposition: third party endorsement, usually and hopefully from an authoratative media source." (2012:145)

Setting aside my discomfort with the term 'digital PR' which I consider pretty meaningless, I am still trying to decide if they are right...

One of the tricky bits comes with the word 'authoritative' which implies both expertise and impartiality. But why? Are facts and figures reproduced by a newspaper more likely to be accurate than those coming directly from an organisation? Or is the argument based on a belief that such information will be selected and filtered in a less partisan manner if that selection is done by a journalist?

From another perspective, is the claim that a journalist or commentator's opinion is likely to be more reliable because they are external to an organisation and more likely to take into account competing assessments and interpretations? 

Or, again, are M&G saying most people don't have the courage to back their own judgment and need media endorsement to help them through tricky process of choosing dog food or the next US president?

There is a strong argument for believeing that organisation should have the confidence to speak directly with stakeholders, and and this is an opportunity for PR, not a drawback. 

At the same time, this requires communicators to speak in normal, straightforward language, and not have to rely on gatekeepers to cut away the puffery and sleight of hand.

PR in Fiction: MC Beaton Agatha Raisin

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It is 20 years since the publication of MC Beaton's first novel featuring PR-turned-sleuth Agatha Raisin.
Beaton began to write theatre reviews for the Scottish Daily Mail, and a career in journalism followed—including an eye-opening spell as a crime reporter for the Scottish Daily Express, where she witnessed first hand the terrible poverty in Glasgow’s crime-ridden tenements. After she married theDaily Express’ former Middle East correspondent Harry Scott Gibbons, they went travelling, had a son, Charles, and spent some eventful years in the US, including a down-and-out spell living in a doss house “with hot and cold running winos”.
Beaton and her husband moved south to Gloucestershire in 1990, whereupon the character of Agatha Raisin was derived variously from E F Benson’s Lucia and Miss Mapp stories; Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair; and the thrusting PRs Beaton encountered during her newspaper days. “She’s middle- aged and rather pushy. Someone you may not necessarily like, but want to win out in the end.”

Agatha Raisin on Media Relations

Moonlighting for Murder - Karen Russell on Agatha Raisin

Curating NEMO

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At the Euprera Congress in Istanbul I presented a paper on Curation; last week I "curated" a conference, NEMO: New Media, Modern Democracy, at Campus Helsingborg, Sweden.

In a PR context curation can very broadly defined this:

"...concerning the creation, display and management of content in a consistent manner to encourage a desired understanding of an organisation."

For the last couple of days I have been trying to do something like this for the conversations surrounding NEMO. The most obvious step is bringing together links to conference content, beginning with the core texts - agendas, powerpoint presentations, videos, speaker bios etc, and wrote a couple of round-up blog posts.

In Curation Nation, Rosenbaum says: "Curation is about adding value from humans who add their qualitative judgment to whatever is being gathered and organised."

I have also tried to capture some of the social media interaction, for example, through Storify (http://storify.com/mediations/nemo-new-media-modern-democracy), giving a selective (persuasive) synthesis of what I consider to be helpful Tweets, mostly sourced through #nemoconf .

Naturally, I linked to Facebook updates and photo albums, uploaded pictures I took myself, and linked to others on Instagram and similar sites.

Rosenbaum emphasises ordering, presenting and making accessible information generated by and around an organisation: "Creating structure for conversation and contribution gives users clear opportunities for participation and creates a coherent experience for visitors."

He goes on: "Content curation centred on a clear set of content policies, with orderly governance, means using all your enterprise's resources in a holistic way."

My Istanbul paper discussed the creative synthesis model which describes teh processes of human intervention concerned with the aggregation of content. 

In the context of PR, curation is inherently linked to content management, but it is important to recognise that much of the curated content will be off-site.  Online curation is characterised by its signposting of outside content, much of it user generated. Online curation provides a roadmap of text, sound, images and video, fact, opinion and commentary on topics relevant to a particular understanding of the organisation. It will naturally privilege content that has a persuasive effect that complements prganisational objectives but it will also interpret and remediate dissonant content and messages.

The challenge is to actually perform these tasks in a comprehesnive accessible manner...

Setting the news agenda, with Orhan Pamuk

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Preparing for Euprera's Istanbul Congress, I read Snow, by Turkey's Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk.

Ka, a poet, travels to the eastern city of Kars, partly to investigate several suicides among young women, partly to track down a childhood beauty. Shortly after he arrives, Ka meets the proprietor of the Border City Gazette. He is rather surprised when Serder Bey shows him a copy of the next morning's newspaper, which includes a report on a theatre performance during which he read a poem.

"I don't have a poem called Snow and I'm not going to the theatre this evening. Your newspaper will look like it has made a mistake."

"Don't be so sure. There are those who despise us for writing the news before it happens. They fear us not because we are journalists but because we can predict the future. You should see how amazed they are when things turn out exactly as we've written them up. This is what modern journalism is all about."

Later, Serder explains: "The Eastern Anatolian press is in desperate trouble. Our average Kars citizen doesn't bother to read the paper. Almost all our subscribers are government offices. So, of course we are going to run the sort of news our subscribers want to read. All over the world - even in America - newspapers tailor the news to their readers' tastes. And if your readers want nothing but lies from you, who in the world is going to sell papers that tell the truth? If the truth would raise my paper's circulation, why wouldn't I tell the truth?

"Anyway, the police don't let me print the truth, either."