A crisis: my views on handling a communications crisis

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The world is always changing and evolving with new events constantly reshaping current affairs as we know it. The political landscape, fall in share prices or the constant debate on whether the UK should remain in the EU, are significant things that may affect us all. With so much going on in today’s society it’s not hard to look at today’s media and see you’re not short of some sort of scandal taking place.

Recently one of the biggest leaks in history has caused a huge storm – The Panama Papers. I haven’t been able to listen to the latest headlines or open a newspaper, without reading about the most discussed story in today’s current affairs. The scandal came to public attention, following the leak of 11.3 million documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm. High-ranking politicians, socialites, delegates and banks (who secretly set up accounts for clients), were all embroiled in the nail biting scandal placing them under public scrutiny. This left many questioning what is really going on among some of the wealthiest individuals in the world.

Previously, I had never considered analysing the media the way I do now. Since completing my third week on the Taylor Bennett Foundation, I find myself studying stories in the media without consciously realising it. I began to focus on key events in the news; breaking down where PR had been used to try and control a reputational crisis. What better place to look, than the Panama Paper scandal itself?

The Panama Papers had many officials caught in the centre of these shocking series of events but the story that I found most intriguing was that of our very own Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron. The PM was drawn into the limelight, after it came to public attention that his father Ian Cameron (who had a multimillion-pound investment fund in an offshore account) avoided having to pay British tax for nearly 30 years and was named in the Panama leaks.

When I first analysed this particular PR crisis I saw a number of disparities with the way Downing Street handled the situation. Even though efforts were made to control the situation at hand, I do feel that there were a number of things that could have been improved from a PR perspective, starting with the incoherence of the messaging!

The messaging that has been released from Downing Street was very inconsistent and incoherent, leaving many people frustrated. This in turn caused the PM’s trust polls to fall by eight percent, in comparison to the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn whose rose by 2 percent. In the beginning of the scandal, David Cameron refused to answer questions, stating it was a private matter. Not long after, this completely changed. With heavy amounts of pressure and the EU referendum around the corner the PM then went on to admit having shares in his father’s offshore account, Blairmore Holdings which he went on to sell making a profit of £19,003. The entire handling of the situation began to make him look guilty of wrongdoing, despite stating he did nothing illegal and that he dealt with everything in the right fashion. He then went on to publish a report of his tax earnings.

I was completely shocked by the way Downing Street had dealt with the crisis as they left the PM open for more criticism from the public, key officials and his fellow political peers/opponents. Mr Cameron is heading the fight against corruption yet is being conveyed as not being completely transparent with the public, leaving many to question the PM’s agenda. After closely examining the PR handling of the political crisis, I came up with some strategies on what Downing Street should have done differently. I’m not an expert yet (I hope I will be after seven more weeks) but from a logical PR perspective there are a number of things that could have been implemented to improve the way the circumstances were dealt with.

Below, I have compiled a small list of objectives that I would use to improve the way Downing Street executed their PR strategies and it goes as follows:

  • Consistency, consistency and consistency again!! It is highly important that the messaging is always coherent, consistent and unified as it builds public trust in a positive light.
  • Produce a number of potential questions and answers that he could refer to when speaking to journalists instead of deflecting the problem at hand as a private matter.
  • Push the focus back onto the remain in the EU campaign and fight against anti-corruption, empathising that he is for the people and is doing all he can as a leader to improve current events.
  • Secure the PM an exclusive interview slot either on the news i.e. BBC or publication – this gives Mr Cameron the opportunity to be transparent because he wants to, not because his been pushed into a corner to defend himself!
  • Finally push a social media campaign out on Twitter with the #TellDavid – this gives the public an opportunity to voice concerns (of what is going on) to their leader, making them feel that the PM is not a stereotypical politician but in fact is innovative and willing to connect with his people in a modern form. (Of course these would need to be gone through with a fine-tooth comb!)

Overall there are a number of ways that the PR crisis for this particular situation could have been handled differently. Clear lines of communication are vital for leaders and key figures to gain support and insure all key stakeholders are satisfied without the fear of disruption to business operations.

Let’s hope Downing Street make it a priority to have a clear line of messaging before releasing any more statements in the future!

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PR Publications worth checking out!

 

The PR industry has often been referred to in the past as a very closed industry. It is said that PR and corporate communications has to be one of the most difficult industries to enter – I wonder why?

I considered the reasons why this particular industry has such a reputation and what is apparent is that PR is a very specialist area – it manages the relationship of a company/ business with key stakeholders, which is highly important when it comes to the growth of a business.

Previously we could say that it was pretty hard to gain inside knowledge of PR but with the explosion of the internet over the past 15 years, we live in a world with access to so much more. This includes being able to experience previously inaccessible PR publications/websites. So I decided to check out some of the highly rated PR platforms out there offering career advice, trends and news on the PR business.

The first two I checked out were PR Examples and PR Moment. PR Examples is a blog committed to commemorating the best in PR, social media marketing stunts and campaigns. This particular blog offered some great written content on PR campaigns across a broad range of sectors including technology, entertainment, health and beauty and much more. Despite the range of written posts on the different sectors, there was so much going on immediately when entering the page this made it difficult for me to enjoy the site as a trainee within PR because of the overwhelming content.

Having browsed the PR Examples blog I then went onto the website PR Moment. This particular website focuses on communication analysis of the media ranging from corporate communications, social media, internal communications and public affairs. I have to say it was one of the easiest PR websites I have used and in comparison to PR Examples it offers a wide range of opinion pieces and insight into the industry and research.

I read an article by Daney Parker, the editor of PRMoment.com titled – ‘What is the purpose of PR today?’ It was a pleasure to read and gave me great insight to the ever-growing industry. The article touched on integrated PR and how significant it has become when creating effective campaigns. I would definitely recommend anyone who is coming up (or already) in the industry to check out this site as it also offers two sidebars with upcoming PR events and conferences alongside trending articles. Both of these are great features for individuals wanting to learn more about the PR industry.

Moving further into the online realm of PR I then went onto PR Week and The Holmes Report. Two of which are my favourite!

PR Week positions itself as being the first for public relations & communications news, analysis, features & PR jobs. PR Week was the first professional platform I encountered when searching for a PR website that offered advice on the PR industry. I am happy to say I am actually subscribed to using their services, receiving regular updates about the industry across all regions worldwide. This website offers great access into breaking PR news, key opinions, events, career advice, jobs, campaigns and the top 150 PR agencies table. I just find it such an easy site to use (and visually it is an appealing website) but yet it offers so much content. The opinion pieces are well written conveying a very human insight to the industry while adding a pinch of the writer’s personal experiences which makes it more enjoyable to read.

In comparison to PR Week, The Holmes Report (in my opinion) is the online bible of PR. When first entering the website you are immediately thrown into a sophisticated online experience. The Holmes Report offers an intensive list of services all of which can be found in the Our portfolio section. What captivated me on this website was the opportunity to listen and view both podcasts and video! Something I had not seen on any other PR website.

Not only did the site offer great news and opinions but it also had a full on directory listing of firms from every region and specialty! Pretty amazing right? Even though both websites offered services to anyone in the PR profession and all levels of seniorities, The Holmes Report is definitely business-focused, offering much more in-depth by having a directory, intensive data and research. I would definitely recommend this to all business owners in PR and freelance PR specialists to check it out if you have not already!

As I continued my search into some of the well-respected PR platforms out there, I then went to a website called Gorkana. Gorkana is recognised as one of UK’s leaders in media intelligence and is used by many industry clients and offers a wide range of services from monitoring data of global media and media analysis programmes. This leading media service also has a complete database of all media professionals in the media industries. Gorkana is a company worth signing up for as it has a media database giving you direct access to all media professionals – a useful tool to have while working in the PR industry.

Overall there are some great PR websites/publications out there including CorpComms Magazine. The only monthly magazine targeted at the in-house communicator covering areas such as social and digital media, sponsorship and CSR. Communicate Magazine is a magazine with a single focused voice for corporate communications and stakeholder relations. All of which offer some great advice and services for people from the PR world. The once closed industry that had a member’s only perception to outsiders has grown tremendously in providing some fantastic material for people in the industry at all levels of their career.

It is delightful to know that I have access to such great tools being that I am a trainee climbing my PR career!

The importance of professionalism for entry-level PR practitioners

As an entry-level PR practitioner often there are many questions you start to ask yourself when first entering the industry. The transition between university and full time work along with the lack of practical experience can be a very daunting process. I have previously been in the same position but one of the key principles I learnt during my journey was the importance of professionalism.

Professionalism is such an important concept and is imperative for progressing further into your career. It is a mixture of behaviours and values that, when executed properly, exhibit a high standard of self- management, self- development and professional reflection.

The following: time- keeping; appropriate use of language; integrity; resilience; being adaptable; respectful to others and self- presentation are all key in professionalism. These attributes along with being able to work in a team are essential for succeeding in the PR industry.

Sometimes there may be difficult scenarios that unexpectedly arise but it is crucial that as a professional you are able to maintain composure despite the challenges. You may question that situation that arose may not be your fault but remember you are not only representing yourself, you are also representing the organisation that you are employed by. So be constantly mindful of the image you portray to the public, especially on social media.

The PR industry is about maintaining relationships and influencing key stakeholders and today social media now plays a prominent role in this field. Bear in mind clients also have access to social platforms so think before posting anything that may jeopardize your career in the future. Of course you’re entitled to enjoy your life during your personal time but some things are better kept private!

In addition, understanding the significance of deadlines is paramount especially at entry- level as it conveys to your managers that you are competent and can work independently under pressure. Even though deadlines are crucial, do not be afraid to communicate with seniors or request for an extension on deadlines. It is always better to communicate the issue instead of leaving it to the last moment to address the problem!

Overall, just continue to self- reflect; assessing both your strengths and weaknesses while leaving room for self- improvement. This is such a great thought process to have as it gives you the opportunity to develop and grow as an individual and in your career. Furthermore but most importantly, just be yourself and enjoy your journey. Everything else will fall into place and head the direction it needs to!