Within an hour or so of an article appearing in The Telegraph last week saying that The Guardian is 'seriously discussing' an end to its printed edition, Guardian columnist Roy Greenslade had blogged to say 'that The Guardian isn't about to do any such thing'. But in the same week, US-based news magazine Newsweek announced it will be shelving the print edition from the end of 2012. So, in all this, is there something that might mark the beginning of the end of paper newspapers and news magazines?
Ever since the advent of broadband, websites of all type have been developing apace. Where once you had to wait for ages for dial up to download an image, most of us now have easy access to news, photos and even videos in a matter of seconds.
The media has been grappling with the business challenges thrown up by online news dissemination. Even for those of us in PR we have seen how online publishing has changed the way we do our job.
For example, we can now upload and distribute press releases and high resolution photos via our own website and social media channels long before a print publication can turn the story into tomorrow's 'chip paper'.
Newspapers have kept hold of their paper versions for longer than many technical trade journals, which were amongst the first publications to go 'online only'. In fact, many of them have never been paper versions, they started their published existence as online publications.
Fundamentally, I suppose it does not matter to the reader how they get their news. However, for those that work at the printing presses, they will, no doubt, see it very differently.
The move to digital publishing is inevitable. Only Luddites are going to smash up the PCs, tablets and smart phones in a vain hope to save the presses.
As consumers we are going to have to come to terms with the slow disappearance of newsstands, or at least in the way they look now. Who knows, maybe we will pop into the newsagents of the future to grab a 'chip' containing an overnight digest of world news but even that would be a type of physical 'newspaper'. More likely we will just view it online, but the real challenge in this format is the increasing assumption that news is free.
And here The Guardian and others have made a rod for their own back. For the past few years their content has been paid for in the physical paper and free on their website. How will consumers find the prospect of a paywall on a website that was previously free?
Maybe newspaper publishers will find a half way house, by maybe just printing on profitable days so that readers buy a once or twice weekly round-up of analysis and opinion and get the news delivered online for free.
But surely this type of model is just repeating the whole process over again. In another few years, the newspapers will probably feel obliged to offer the analysis part for free. At that stage surely the print version will die.
As I look at my desk with its piles of paper, mostly magazines and newsprint, I feel a slight sadness at the prospect of no printed news. But then my desk also has a PC, tablet and smart phone on it. And I am no Luddite.
Image courtesy of Naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Posted at 2:39pm on 23rd October 2012
For the duration of my career in public relations (albeit short) I have always aimed to build good relationships with journalists.
A couple of the team from Ethos public relations recently attended a very insightful networking event with Stephanie McGovern from BBC Breakfast, who talked about how to catch her attention when emailing across story ideas and, conversely, what not to email her about.
Having a journalism degree and experiencing first hand life in a busy newsroom myself, I know that it is common knowledge that journalists can sometimes become frustrated with some PR professionals, but I think it’s safe to say that the frustration often comes from us PR people too.
Working in communications is very rewarding, and there’s nothing better than seeing your client’s name in the paper or a magazine, knowing that you’ve worked hard to get it there.
However on a number of occasions, I have found myself unfortunately snubbed by a seemingly nice journalist and their team of sub-editors. For example on one recent occasion, I pitched a great case study on behalf of a client, and the journalist happily confirmed they would use it that week. Needless to say it was not all as it seemed, and I discovered whilst reading the printed article a few days later, that my client had not been mentioned once!
It is very frustrating when all your hard work seems to have gone to waste, and even more frustrating, as someone who is a big supporter of traditional journalism, to know that this is actually quite commonplace in the newsroom.
I know that journalists are sent hundreds of press releases a day, and particularly at smaller local papers where reporters are few, they may not have the time or the resources to go out there and find a story the good old fashioned way. It’s much easier to just grab a decent press release from your inbox, add your own by-line, then hand it to the editor to go in tomorrow’s paper. I’m not saying this is what all journalists do now, far from it.
I guess what I’m saying is that if a journalist is going to use a press release written by someone else, at least credit them or the client they are representing. We are, in a way, doing journalists a favour and saving them a lot of time by essentially handing them a story on a plate, at least give us something in return!
The British press are enduring a tough time at the moment, and this is why I think it is important that the media really step up their game.
I have had the privilege of being taught by, and working with, some fantastic journalists who are an absolute credit to the industry – it is these people that we rely on to keep doing what they are doing and to show us, and the public, that ‘decent’ journalism is in safe hands.
Posted at 3:13pm on 20th July 2012
These days, we take it for granted that we can just turn on the TV and watch live news, sport or entertainment from around the world. Only half a century ago, this would have been impossible.
Although there wasn’t much coverage of it in the UK media, exactly 50 years ago this week, Telstar 1, the first active communications satellite went into orbit. The day after the launch by NASA, on 10 July 1962, the first telephone call by satellite was made, then the first fax by satellite was sent, the first images and video were transmitted, and the first live transatlantic TV broadcast took place. The rest, as they say, is history…
To me, the legacy of Telstar, as well as Sputnik – the first artificial satellite launched in 1957 – and the other early satellites, is just mind boggling. In fact, I think it is impossible to overestimate the impact of satellites on our life today. They do so many things – from communications to navigation to meteorology and much, much more – but basically they just make transmitting information around the world faster and easier. Without satellites, global interaction would be a fraction of what it is today. Maybe I’m being a bit too ‘romantic’ about it all, but I think satellites are one of history’s greatest inventions.
And although I’m not old enough to remember its release in 1962, the Tornados’ song Telstar keeps going round in my head as I write this (you’ll know the tune if you hear it!) The song was inspired by the satellite and featured a clavioline – one of the first electronic keyboards – and various other sound effects to give it an ‘out of space’ feel. It was a massive hit worldwide and shows just what a big impact the first communications satellite had on the popular imagination at the time.
So the next time you pick up your mobile phone or turn on your sat nav, think of Telstar and the communications revolution it started!
Image courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Posted at 2:03pm on 12th July 2012
Ever since The Co-operative Bank introduced free banking to customers remaining in credit back in 1974, the concept of paying for my current account has never crossed my mind. Why would it?
But now Andrew Bailey, a director at the Bank of England who soon takes the reigns as the City's top regulator, has said that free banking is dangerous and needs to be reformed.
His argument is that the idea of free banking misleads customers because they cannot see how their account is being paid for while at the same time, he argues, banks themselves may not understand the costs associated with running the ‘free’ accounts.
Leaving aside the issue of how increasingly people seem to want something for nothing, it seems hard to believe that banks – financial institutions, after all – are not aware of the cost of providing their retail offer. Knowing the real price of a service you offer, seems to me to be one of the first rules of running a good business.
And as for the thesis from Mr Bailey that banks mis-sold products because of the lack of transparency in current account charges, well I have news for the sector. You CAN market responsibly! It requires a corporate decision about how to run a responsible business. It’s not rocket science, just an understanding that a good long-term business needs good long-term customers, not customers seen as a quick cash cow.
But the reason I expect ‘free’ banking on a current account is that I am essentially lending my money to the bank at no interest, the least I can expect for my loyalty is that the bank looks after it for free.
We certainly need to re-instil a sense of worth rather than a focus on ‘free’ across a range of sectors, but in banking it seems we might be in danger of swapping ‘free’ banking for consumers for paid for loans to banks!
Posted at 3:05pm on 24th May 2012
We are 14 years old. Now, compared to many businesses, that makes Ethos public relations a spring chicken, but in the public relations industry 14 years is pretty middle-aged.
During those years, business has changed rather a lot. Back in 1998 there was a newly elected government that promised an end to boom and bust and there was a sense of excitement and positivity about business. Fourteen years later the country (not to mention much of the world) is still trying to recover from one of the biggest economic ‘busts’ in history.
Technologically, much has happened in the business environment – who could have imagined in the late 1990s that people would use their mobile phones to check email; that they would tweet messages to an audience across the world and that book sales would move so significantly to online sites – not to mention that books are increasingly read on electronic readers?
In the PR industry we have all had to try and keep abreast of these developments and at Ethos public relations we have always tried to be first adopters of good practice in social media.
But the one thing that has remained constant has been our commitment to both our clients and the wider community. Since 1998 we have had a set of social objectives which outline how we want to conduct our business. These objectives help us define how we should act in certain circumstances. They are as applicable in the good times as they are in the middle of an economic downturn.
As we break open a small bottle of lemonade to celebrate 14 years in business – well, we had Champagne on our 10th Birthday – I can’t help thinking that if some of the banks and big businesses had the same commitment to their people and local communities as we have, we might not be in the economic situation we are in.
Posted at 8:25am on 5th April 2012
I have just paid for my TV licence for the year ahead and it made me think about the BBC and the media coverage they have been receiving over the past few years.
They have faced a number of challenges – such as the MediaCityUK move and high salaries for celebrities – but I feel that much of the criticism the Corporation has faced has been unfair and, in some instances, quite nasty. They have had a bit of a battering from all sides and that is why I think people should lay off the BBC.
As a service that is funded through its viewers, the BBC of course has to meet and reflect the needs and desires of its funders. I feel however that a lot of the flak they have had to take has been unjust – and from certain organisations with a selfish agenda.
Ever since the BBC announced that it was moving some services from London to MediaCityUK in Salford, it has been attacked by people questioning the move. I have always fully supported the move and when I visited the site I was very impressed by what they have done.
Although London has many great points, I think that the people who don’t appreciate the positives of MediaCityUK are being short-sighted. The North West has some of the best football teams in the country, it produces some of the country’s best music and some of the UK’s best loved shows are made here. People need to appreciate that the BBC stands for British Broadcasting Corporation, so it needs to reflect all of Britain, not just one city in the south east of England.
In addition to MediaCityUK heralding a new era of regionally-based national broadcasting, the BBC also boasts a very popular and informative website whilst producing new creative, entertaining, educational and engaging programmes that meet the varying needs and interests of its viewers.
To meet these needs and interests the BBC has to pay a certain price for top talent. Whether you think Chris Moyles or Graham Norton deserve their hefty wage, or if their pay is ‘right’ in such difficult economic times, is a whole other argument – however I don’t see people complaining when ITV or Simon Cowell pay even more money to their stars.
To produce quality shows you need quality actors and presenters. A hefty pay cut could hamper the Corporation’s ability to produce shows that millions of people love – is this really what the complainers want?
It seems to me that, when it comes to media coverage, the BBC are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Everyone who pays their licence fee is allowed to complain and deserves to have their voice heard – and they have lots of channels to do this. As we all know, it is impossible to keep everyone happy all of the time but it just seems to me that people want to fling complaints at the BBC over anything and see what sticks.
The BBC is envied around the world yet it seems to get a tough time in the UK. The British are good at attacking success stories but this time I really think they should stop and give BBC bashing a rest.
Posted at 9:37am on 30th March 2012
I am looking forward to a couple of days at home this weekend. Last weekend, and the one before, saw me travelling across the UK – for a mixture of business and pleasure – from the Menai Straits in North Wales to Lowestoft on the North Sea coast. In between, I visited Reading, London and Norwich.
I enjoy travelling around the UK – especially when it is by train and you can take in all the scenery and wildlife from the comfort of your seat, as well as catching up on work and emails.
This epic journey gave me plenty of time for thinking between meetings and, as I sat on the train to Norwich passing the site of the soon to take place Olympics in London, I couldn’t help thinking back to an afternoon on Bangor Pier the week before.
Before paying the princely sum of 30 pence for admission, I noticed there was a plaque proudly marking the reopening of the pier in 1988. This beautiful pier was reopened following a restoration project managed by the then Manpower Services Commission’s (MSC) Community Programme. Today, sadly, the pier, which was constructed for the grand total of £17,000, is facing a shortfall of up to £1 million for its ongoing maintenance.
The Olympic site is rightly held up as a case study in regeneration for a previously deprived part of east London, but from the train window you see so many other places across the UK desperately in need of cash.
In this time of austerity, of course, there has to be some prioritisation of projects, but the recreation of something akin to the MSC, which could utilise the energy and time of trainees and the unemployed, should surely be on the agenda. Not only would this help preserve some of the UK’s greatest physical assets, but would provide meaningful job opportunities and on-the-job training for those who really need it.
Posted at 10:13am on 15th March 2012
As a thirty-something who fondly remembers tea-time as a kid watching and thoroughly enjoying the ITV children’s quiz favourite, Blockbusters, I was sad to hear that its legendary host, Bob Holness had died at the age of 83.
Blockbusters had a simple but winning formula, in which sixth-form contestants would answer a series of questions based on letters of the alphabet and no weekday was complete without the half hour show!
The news of Bob’s death also brought back memories of what a truly great, lighthearted show it was – what with the hand jive and gold run, and who could forget the comedy classic - “Can I have a P please Bob?”
Bob Holness became a massive hit with school and undergraduate viewers, who helped to swell the ITV show’s ratings to 11.5million at its peak.
I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Holness and his wife, Mary, when I was a student studying journalism at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.
Blockbusters came to our Student Union and after the main event, myself and a fellow journalism student went behind the scenes to interview Bob and what a genuinely smashing bloke he was!
A very modest man, Bob was a delight to talk to and I remember him being really enthusiastic about the fact that we were studying journalism at university and he was very positive about the media industry as a whole.
But the main aspect, which was totally obvious from speaking to Bob, was just how much he loved being the host of Blockbusters from 1983 to 1993 and he really did deserve to achieve his cult status at the helm of the show.
A talented and much-loved presenter, Bob will be missed. But as many people continue to pay their tributes to the legend, at least we can rest in the knowledge that his memory will live on as Blockbusters can be seen on digital TV channel, Challenge, which airs a number of the old classics, including Play Your Cards Right and 3-2-1.
I for one will be tuning in.
Posted at 10:54am on 10th January 2012
by John Walding, Honorary Secretary, CIPR North West Group
In an industry where many organisations value the importance of local coverage, our BBC Local Radio stations provide an important and vital platform for people to promote our events, our expertise and our successes, something that could change under the proposed changes to Local Radio outlined in Mark Thompson's 'Delivering Quality First'.
Nearly 400 jobs are set to go in local broadcasting across England as part of the BBC's plan to reduce its budget by 20% over the next five years. 280 of the posts under threat are from BBC Local Radio across England, with potentially almost a quarter of the workforce under threat at BBC Radio Manchester. There will also be a move towards stations sharing some afternoon, evening and weekend programmes - with one pan-England programme from 19:00 until 22:00.
Local Radio is being asked to find savings of 12% (10% after re-investment). The BBC as a whole has been tasked with making savings of between 16-20% – so Local Radio has been relatively protected. However this does feel higher because the cost of buildings and technology which are required to broadcast in 40 locations and means that the cuts inevitably fall on the people who make the programmes.
Love it or loathe it our BBC Local Radio Stations provide vital information on what is going on and an opportunity to tune in and listen at length to the people, issues and events that affect and shape our localities. It provides us as communicators with an unrivalled local channel with which to speak in our local community. Without it we will find the local broadcast landscape an even more challenging place in which to be heard.
When our regions face challenging times be it weather, riots, or times of great tragedy it’s often our local BBC station we turn to give us up to date news and analysis of what is going on. It is hard to see how commercial radio can devote the same time and resource to this, and the BBC stations will retain the ability to stay local when people depend on them most.
Local radio has also been the training ground for a whole host of our broadcasting talent, many who have gone on to become household names after cutting their teeth reporting on the people and issues affecting our regions. Will it still be the same post cuts?
We realise that the BBC is facing some tough challenges in responding to the impact on its budgets but it is vital that we ensure that local radio is left in a position to deliver the quality of programming that our regions deserve. We can all make our voices heard by taking part in the current consultation into the BBC’s Delivering Quality First proposals which runs until 21 December.
All too often we have watched as cuts have changed the nature of our local news and programming. Let's make our voices heard to help safeguard the potential threat to yet another.
Posted at 3:26pm on 13th December 2011
Finally, my 14 year old Pioneer CD player has given up the ghost. I am a bit of a gadget geek, but I’ve never been too fussed about my music system as I mostly listen to music in the background.
I can’t even really remember buying this ‘hi-fi’ system but as I was taking it out of the cabinet to consign it to the municipal electrical recycling skip, I noticed on the back a small plate with the words ‘Made in the UK’.
Now, I must confess that I do try and support products made in the UK, although that is becoming increasingly difficult. I don’t do it for any nationalistic or xenophobic reasons, purely from the point of view that if I buy stuff made here, I am more likely to be helping to keep jobs in the UK.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn't always made in the UK for me. I am more than happy to buy products from elsewhere in the world – pasta has to come from Italy and paella rice needs to come from Spain – but I am never (knowingly) going to buy apples imported from China, for example.
I think it is important that key manufacturing skills are kept in the UK. Until recently, I thought that the exodus of manufacturing to the Far East was driven by consumers demanding cheaper and cheaper products, but when looking around for a new CD player – yes I know that it now has to include a docking station and DAB radio (told you I liked gadgets) – products made in China can be as expensive as those made in Europe.
I am assuming that there are two possible reasons for this. Firstly, that some companies manufacture their products cheaply in China and sell at a high price to maximise their profits, without thinking through the knock-on effects on local communities in this country, or that China (and other countries) now have the skills that are sadly lacking in the UK so can justify the higher prices, as we can’t make the things here.
Obviously there are some important exceptions to this, with very high end audio manufacturers still making excellent products in the UK, along with quality British made shoes, and clothing for example. Made in the UK still adorns by shoes and belt and cutlery.
Current Government policy (or rhetoric) is fully behind UK manufacturing, but I have yet to hear any broader discussion from them about the importance of consumers (and businesses) buying British. Clearly, in a free global market, and especially within the EU, there are issues about promoting one country over another, but surely consumers should spend in a way which keeps a large proportion of their money in the local economy?
As a Europhile, my default position is to purchase European products if I can’t find a suitable British one. So, I will soon be buying a Loewe Soundbox.
UK manufacturing’s loss is Germany’s economic gain.
Posted at 5:01pm on 29th November 2011
As a PR agency, one of the things we have to consider when working with clients is the value of their brand. Although many people think of brands as big names such as The Co-operative, Persil or Staples – every single business is a brand.
The perception of a company’s brand is extremely important because, if the public respect or get excited about the brand, then they are more inclined to come back – which usually results in increased sales, profit and awareness. Therefore it is essential that the heritage and trustworthiness of a brand is intact and defended.
The News of the World, Tiger Woods and BP are examples of brands that have suffered terrible damage to their reputations and may never be viewed in the same light again.
As a football fan, I was interested to read recently about the decision of Newcastle United owner, Mike Ashley, to rename the stadium of his football team. He has changed the St James’ Park name to the Sports Direct Arena – after the company he owns.
The owner already had a fractious relationship with the Newcastle fans and many of them now think he has just gone too far – dismissing the heritage of the club’s illustrious past. But has the renaming of the stadium damaged the Newcastle United brand like many suggest?
Mr Ashley says he has renamed the stadium so that potential new sponsors can see the potential of having a big and atmospheric stadium emblazoned with their name and branding. But if Newcastle fans are so up in arms about this, then are they going to be anymore accepting of any other brand? To them it is, and forever will be, St James’ Park.
Other football clubs have rebranded and the renaming of their stadiums seems to have worked – for example, Etihad Stadium, Reebok Stadium, Emirates Stadium. But the problem to me is when the sponsor’s contract comes to an end.
York City, who now play at Bootham Crescent (their original name), signed a deal with Nestlé that saw their stadium rebranded as the KitKat Crescent. And AFC Bournemouth renamed their stadium (Dean Court) the Fitness First Stadium – and now that that contract has ended it is now called Seward Stadium after rights were sold to the Seward Motor Group. How long until their stadium name changes again?
Mr Ashley says that renaming the stadium will bring in £10 million a year which will enable them to build a better team. But if the renaming damages the brand, isolates the fans and causes them to not attend matches, then what is the point of having a good team playing in a half empty stadium?
Posted at 11:46am on 22nd November 2011
by Chris Morley, Northern & Midlands Organiser, National Union of Journalists
Local newspapers are not dead but they are being killed by remote and irresponsible owners who care nothing for them but as a source of ready cash. The damage is being compounded by the air of defeatism being generated by often timid editors (with a few honourable exceptions) who refuse to challenge the bean counters to protect their own titles.
The fact is that the public has been conditioned to believe circulations are inevitably falling due to once-loyal readers switching to on-line news and other fancy new distractions. The old line is trotted out that young people are not reading newspapers and older readers are being lost due to life’s attrition.
No doubt some consumer tastes have changed to some extent. But let’s get real: younger people have never typically bought newspapers and aren’t we all supposed to be living longer in any case?
The true situation is that newspaper titles changed hands from the old family owners who saw their titles as giving them a virtuous and prestigious place in the community to a small band of corporate giants totally divorced from the consumers they are trying to reach. The new breed of owners consistently starved their local newspapers of investment because circulation income was only a small part of their earnings. So long as the advertisers kept on coming back, the money still came rolling in they thought.
And to wow the City, the profits rose higher not through new income streams or winning new customers but by cutting back, on staff and on quality. This happened in the boom times and so when things turned tougher the answer was to cut more to keep profit margins of 25-30 per cent going. And in this respect I charge the newspaper companies with sabotaging their own titles. They have done this by culling the most experienced journalists and circulation staff who had the best knowledge of what worked in retaining and winning more readers - but were the most expensive in wages.
Of course, if newspapers were just another commodity all this would be sad but just part of market economics. However, they are a lot more than that. They are part of our democratic fabric: scrutinising the powerful, standing up for the minorities and giving a voice to the ordinary citizen. Newspapers have been highly successful in fulfilling this role in our democracy for a couple of hundred years but the new media seen as taking on this task - local blogs and community websites etc - currently often lack the resources, professionalism or objective nature to make them influential, although there are some notable exceptions. And of course, so far, they have real problems in being able to generate the revenue and profits to become sustainable.
All this may just be academic if everything else was standing still. But it isn’t and the 600 journalist jobs under the axe out of the 2,000 posts the BBC has earmarked to go will only make the crisis in journalism – and therefore our democracy – that much more acute.
The cutting has to stop and as a society we have to learn to cherish quality – and pay for it.
Posted at 10:12am on 7th November 2011
This weekend I paid one of my quadannual visits to a large supermarket. Although I usually shop locally in small stores, I have to drive to a larger store every now and again to pick up those things that aren’t available in a convenience store. It was probably all of the talk last week of Apple Day and our work with Co-operatives UK on cider co-ops for the workplace that got me wanting to do some preserving.
Having made some very tasty, if unusual, vanilla apple jelly recently, I thought I’d try some different flavourings this weekend. Which brings me back to my trip to the supermarket. Having perused the aisles for inspiration I bought a number of spices that I thought worth a try.
Piling all the goods on the supermarket conveyor belt, it became obvious that I had bought rather more than just a few spices for apple jelly, but then I give in to the stack end promotions as much as the next man.
As one of the spices was scanned, the checkout operator asked me what it was. I am sure many of us will recognise the situation where you are asked what a particular product is for or worse, ‘is this a nectarine, sir,’ when it is clearly a peach, but I guess it would be hard to know all the varieties and products in a store.
When asked why I love to cook, my answer is always because I am so keen on eating. And because I like eating I like to eat quality food and try new things, rather than consuming the usually bland processed foods on offer.
Being asked what a particular spice tastes of made me wonder whether supermarkets should do more to ensure checkout operators know more about the products they sell, I mean scan.
I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of education not only to make our leisure time more pleasurable but being informed and kept in the loop at work should mean our working lives become more fulfilling too. Maybe food shops could have staff information days where they cook, taste and drink together, all in the name of getting to know the product offering better.
What a ‘super’ market it would be if everyone there really loved their food and were inspired to pass that on to their customers.
Maybe then I’d go more than three or four times a year.
Posted at 11:51am on 24th October 2011
Well, today is my very last day as PR Account Executive at Ethos public relations, as I leave for pastures new, and I just wanted to say a big thank you and goodbye!
During the two years I have spent here at Ethos public relations, I have learned a lot from working with the team and particularly from working closely alongside my director, Debbie Kelly, on a number of consumer, business and housing accounts.
What have I learned? To be honest and up-front with journalists, to check and double check everything we send out on behalf of our clients; and that creative brain-storming can often be more effective after work and sitting at a bar!
I have also learned a lot about ethical business principles and picked up a fair few fair trade recipes from our fair trade in house lunches! My teamwork experience has been strengthened but I have also gained a lot more confidence after being allowed to do my own thing.
So, adieu, it’s been a great experience. And although I do feel sad to be leaving my colleagues and clients, I am looking forward to starting a new chapter and progressing my career.
So wish me luck! And if you would like to stay in touch, please contact me via LinkedIn.
Thanks again Ethos public relations!
Bye for now…
Posted at 9:41am on 30th September 2011
As you may already know, I spent a week recently as volunteer crew on a 76 foot gaff-rigged ketch, as part of our Community Day policy, which allows everyone at Ethos public relations time off to volunteer in the community whilst still being paid.
I know for the non-sailors amongst you gaff-rigged and ketch might not be words you are familiar with, so let me explain a little bit more about the fantastic work done on board. Oakmere GMC is a sail training ship which provides a unique environment for up to a dozen young people. On each voyage, young people can experience challenge, adventure and self-discovery while learning to work together.
My role as crew was to help foster a sense of teamwork, to support the young people and to help build their confidence. The overall philosophy on board is to help the young people learn new skills, acquire a knowledge of ‘old fashioned’ sailing and, importantly, to have a lot of fun.
The boat was built some 25 years ago with significant financial contributions from the Greater Manchester councils, along with major sponsorship from North West companies. It was, until recently, called the Greater Manchester Challenge, for that very reason. It is managed by a registered charity and crewed by both paid staff and volunteers (like me!) and aims to create a 'microcosm of society' afloat.
But could a project as ambitious as building a boat like the Oakmere GMC happen today?
Well, thanks to various funding streams, the capital expense could probably still be covered, but with a serious decline in manufacturing in the UK, I doubt local companies would still be able to offer the services, products and skills needed to build it. For example, only 25 years ago Gardner in Manchester made the diesel engine for Oakmere GMC, but that company ceased production in the 1990s. I’m glad to say that, fortunately, the engine is still going strong!
However, at a time when we need to rebuild confidence in a number of English cities and encourage self-esteem amongst many young people, projects such as Oakmere GMC have never been more important. I believe government, businesses and communities should be doing all they can to make sure such projects remain viable in future, from construction through to sailing.
Posted at 2:06pm on 25th August 2011
Now, the programme may not be for the fainthearted but I find it to be good fun and the production values in this series seem to be great - and luckily the idiosyncratic, typically British one-liners remind you not to take all the horror too seriously.
I’ve digressed a little from the PR angle that you would expect from one of my blogs but the quote uttered by Danes, a central character in this series, possibly reflects a widely held view about certain aspects of the public relations industry. Of course, I’d not agree - and the whole ethos behind Ethos public relations is to deal with clients and the media in a way that certainly wouldn’t see us siding with the devil. We call this ethical public relations.
To me the term ethical public relations isn’t an oxymoron and doesn’t mean that we only deal with ‘ethical’ businesses, but rather underlines the way we want to maintain ethical behaviours between us, our clients and suppliers. We’ve been doing it now for over 13 years, so it must be working.
We subscribe to, and agree with, the National Union of Journalist’s code of conducts for both journalists and PR professionals, designed to maintain the highest ethical standards in journalism. Newspapers are facing a challenging time at present with more of us reading our news on the internet. The rise of amateur journalism on blogs and other social media is another challenge for those of us who believe in fair and accurate reporting of news, as the author may not subscribe to the same levels of journalistic integrity. Until recently, the public would have trusted what they read in their national newspaper much more than a blog (whoops, like this one!).
Adopting the highest ethical standards isn’t just good for businesses like ours, but I am convinced it can also be a way to engender trust amongst readers. Keeping readers (and subscribers) is going to become even more challenging for newspapers and news websites in the future and a clear ethical approach to news gathering, and its reporting, is an important way that news providers can demonstrate the value of their content and so retain reader loyalty.
Posted at 8:55am on 27th July 2011
by Bob Giuliano, President, PR for Business Inc.
Building strong relationships with trade magazine editors is a public relations priority around the world, but nowhere more so than in the U.S.
The reason? U.S. trade editors generally wield greater control and operate with more editorial independence than most trade editors in other countries and regions. This observation is based on Public Relations For Business, Inc.’s interactions with literally hundreds of trade editors worldwide...
Accordingly, it is critical to understand U.S. trade editors’ needs and meet their editorial requirements. Keep in mind that a portion of U.S-based trade publications have an international readership. Cultivating strong relationships with U.S. editors can generate favorable publicity for your company’s product or service offerings not only in North America, but throughout the world.
Based on our success in generating publicity in the trade media, here are a few ideas on how to win the respect of U.S. editors and, consequently, achieve optimum coverage for your clients in their publications. The following points are broadly applicable to editors worldwide but they have special relevance in the U.S:
- Follow editorial guidelines. This may seem too basic to mention, but it is often overlooked in publicity ventures. Example: Many U.S. publications prohibit mentioning specific products by name in feature articles. If that’s the case, you can usually include generic product descriptions. By taking the trouble to discover, and comply with, a publication’s editorial guidelines, you have already begun to demonstrate your knowledge of that market and your respect for the editor.
- Avoid empty self-promotion. It is the PR professional’s job to promote the products, services and expertise of the client. However, if that promotion is content-empty - i.e., if it is self-serving but does not provide information that will benefit a publication’s readership - the editor will, quite properly, reject it. Provide specific, useful information. Do not use superlatives or make claims that cannot be supported. Instead, cite noteworthy product or service features and link these features directly to customer benefits. Keep the business needs of the publication’s readers foremost in mind. And always remember: editors love quantitative data.
- Always send photos. Photos attract the interest of editors and readers alike. They boost your client’s chance of coverage and potentially increase the column space devoted to your client. Ideally, the photos should be action shots showing your client’s product or service in use. Although editors may decide to write their own photo captions, it helps to provide a brief caption or other identifying information with each photo. Include publication-ready photos not only with press releases, but also in press kits, feature articles and other submissions. This is a basic so valuable, and so often overlooked, that it bears repetition: always send photos.
- Reach out to U.S. editors. Communicate directly with editors by phone or email, and if possible arrange meetings at conferences or trade fairs. Ask your PR professional to review the editorial calendars of relevant U.S. publications and identify upcoming issues of particular interest. Propose feature stories that fit editorial schedules, themes and requirements.
- Make it easy for editors, and readers, to reach you. Remember to include contact information and email addresses in the credit lines of articles. In general, do all you can to help things go smoothly. Editors will appreciate your respect for their busy schedules and challenging jobs. Which leads us to…
- Additional editorial guidelines. Most U.S. editors follow the Associated Press Stylebook for grammar, punctuation, word usage and restrictions. For example, The AP Stylebook frowns on the use of trademarks (™) “unless the trademark name is essential to the story.” For that reason, U.S. trade editors generally prohibit the use of trademarks in their media venues. Do not challenge U.S. trade editors on this or other matters of journalistic style.
- Write about what’s new. This is a journalistic rule as old as the hills and as fresh as today’s newspaper, web site or blog. Editors are always on the lookout for news - but news doesn’t necessarily have to be earthshaking. A new component for an existing product or an emerging trend in an established industry both qualify as news that might merit a press release or a story proposal to an editor.
By successfully adapting your PR message to the audience, you can earn the status of a preferred and trusted information source for U.S. publications.
Bob Giuliano is a former U.S. trade magazine editor.
Posted at 9:33am on 4th July 2011
I was aghast when I read recently that only 14% of employers encourage volunteering and 13% actually forbid it! And these are the same companies, I assume, that the Government is relying on to help lead us out of the economic crisis and support the Big Society!
At Ethos public relations, although we have always encouraged our employees to volunteer – and some do, for example as a school governor or helping out at a disabled sailing charity – in recent months we’ve taken steps to proactively encourage all staff to volunteer during working hours.
To do this, we have introduced a ‘community days and sabbaticals’ policy, in order to encourage our people to engage with the community. The policy sets out the paid time that employees are entitled to for working with recognised community groups.
Of course requests for community days have to take into the account the needs of the business, but our aim is to only refuse time off in exceptional circumstances.
Although it is early days for our new policy, one person has already booked community days in the summer and others are thinking about what they can do. I’m sure the policy isn’t perfect, and will be refined over the months and years to come, but it’s a start, and something that is at the heart of our business ethos.
The issue for us isn’t about making time for volunteering available (that’s now clearly laid out in the policy) but about encouraging our dedicated, hard working staff to take time off to volunteer. Because of this, I can fully appreciate the findings of the IFF research which show that, regardless of support from employers, less than 10% of staff volunteer during working hours. This needs to change for all companies and at Ethos we’re determined to make it happen.
The issue of volunteering was high up on the agenda at our staff conference last year and we will be reviewing progress at our next conference in the autumn, but for now I’d encourage my colleagues to step away from the office and their PCs for a while to help others in the community.
Posted at 2:05pm on 9th June 2011
Long before the McNulty Report was published at the tail end of last week, I already thought that some train tickets were too expensive whilst others were too cheap. Sat on the pretty empty 14.35 from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston, the media coverage of the report had focussed on how Sir Roy identified that: “The current structure does not do some of the important things that a pricing structure should do ... it appears that some fares are set below the level which passengers would be prepared to pay.”
In general, prices should reflect the real cost of offering a service. Call me old fashioned, but running a train service should be a public service and should be priced so that the public can afford it. And affordability is not the same as ‘as cheap as possible’. On the Virgin Trains’ service to Manchester tickets seem to range from £17 single to London to £139.50, if bought on the day. Now no one can tell me that the service can be run efficiently, sustainably and safely for less than twenty pounds. Especially not if as few tickets were sold as was the case on my 14.35 service. Some consumers are just getting the service too cheaply. But why should this matter, ‘everyone likes a bargain’ and first come, first served means these low prices are not open to all. But to address Sir Roy’s concerns about the relative costs of UK train fares compared to European counterparts, everyone should be paying a fare that better reflects the cost of the service.
But the essence of public service to my mind is that it should be there when you need it. Booking (and paying) in advance might make sense on a holiday flight to the Alps or on a hand built sofa in shocking pink. But the basis of our train services is that it is a ‘turn up and go service’, and this is enshrined in the franchise agreements with train operating companies. Train travel isn’t just another consumer product. For many people train travel is a ‘must have’ not a leisure experience. The current pricing structure penalises small business like ours that need to go with little warning to a client meeting or, arguably worse, to those people who need to go and visit friends or family that are taken ill or befallen some other mishap.
McNulty has brought many issues to the fore in his report, none more important to my mind than that of price. Not only do we need a debate on high prices, but we need to think about low prices too and adequately funding our services. We need a real debate about paying adequately for our services (and as an aside, I think that goes far beyond the price of train tickets, to Fairtrade commodities and to funding our health service or council services).
Sir Roy McNulty has said it in a 320 page report but my summary is a little bit shorter. It is just not sustainable to pay too little for things.
Posted at 2:19pm on 23rd May 2011
by Emma White, Manchester Gateway Marketing Manager, New York
Why, you might ask, am I based in New York? Firstly, let me explain how I came to be out here in the first place. I work for Visit Manchester, the tourist board for the Manchester city-region and have done now for six years! In 2009 Manchester held onto its position as the most popular destination in the UK for international visitors, just behind London and Edinburgh. North America is one of the most important markets for the city-region as it delivers a large number of these international visitors, for both business and leisure every year.
In order to really tap into this market, the decision was made to have somebody based ‘on-territory’, as we call it - and guess what – I was the lucky person. That’s right, not only do I get to promote the greatest city in Britain, but I get to live in the city that never sleeps – New York!
Now I bet you’re wondering what do I actually do out here and let me tell you, it’s a real mix of activity. My main objective is to increase the number of visitors from the US and Canada and to do this I focus on the travel trade, the media and leisure and business tourism marketing. For instance over the last year I have delivered successful consumer campaigns with Orbitz and Travelocity and have met with key decision makers at numerous travel tradeshows across the country.
Being based on-territory; I have developed great relationships with airlines, tour operators, travel agents, journalists, meeting planners and many more - no two days are ever the same! Last year saw the launch of the new American Airlines (AA) route from JFK to Manchester. To promote this new route I worked with AA on a co-op consumer marketing campaign. The campaign promoted a time-sensitive ‘bonus miles’ offer and generated over 2,350 bookings within the four-week campaign – a great success.
Time has moved quickly and I have now been out here for four years and have developed a good understanding of the American market – this does also mean that I have started using some American words such as store, bathroom and elevator! For now my time continues in New York, but I know that when I do return to the UK, I will of course choose Manchester as my base, as this is where my heart is.
Posted at 1:58pm on 18th May 2011