Category Archives: PR practice

Does rhetoric have a place in PR?

Earlier this week a journalist asked me how I got into PR. He was genuinely shocked to hear that I had studied philosophy at university (I’d be lying if I didn’t mention here that I also studied marketing as a postgraduate, but that’s not the point right now). I am often asked I how ended up working in PR, I assume I’m not the only person who is quizzed about this, and almost every time my response elicits some surprise. This reaction never fails to surprise me.

Unconnected to the conversation I began reading Sam Leith’s book on rhetoric, ‘You Talkin’ To Me?: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama‘, this week. You’re probably not surprised to hear that a PR Manager with a degree in philosophy is reading the latest book on rhetoric, but these two events got me wondering about PR skills. Should books on rhetoric be recommended reading for PR professionals? From my own experience of PR training and PR textbooks (I’ve read a fair few, particularly during my postgraduate studies) the process of setting objectives, writing a strategy, implementing a campaign and evaluating the results is all too often emphasised over the content of what is said and done or what in the past would have been called ‘rhetoric’. Is this a mistake I thought? Perhaps it is.

I’m not saying that a solid understanding of the PR process is unimportant, of course it is. My point is that maybe the balance between content and process needs to be redressed in PR education, so to speak.  A quick glance at the training section of the CIPR website suggests my hunch is correct.

Should we be teaching budding PR’s about rhetoric, the things to say and do to influence, persuade and bring about behaviour change? If Sam Leith’s conclusion in a recent post to is accurate then is answer is probably ‘yes’:

Cicero’s rhetoric was adapted to the Roman senate. Churchill’s rhetoric was adapted to radio. Modern political rhetoric is adapted to headlines, photo captions, rolling news and Twitter. There’s more rhetoric around us than ever before. But the less rhetorical it sounds, the less conscious we are of how it goes to work.

Maybe the skills of rhetoric, persuasion and influence cannot be taught through formal training. Perhaps it’s something you learn on the job. Some say you’ve either got it or you haven’t. All valid counterarguments, but I say let’s think about training PRs in the content of what they say and do. I believe there’s a lot to be gained.

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CIPR publishes Wikipedia guidance

This week the CIPR published its guidance on editing Wikipedia pages on behalf of clients or employers, or in the language used in the text where there is a ‘conflict of interest’. Here’s the press release and here’s the PDF document. PR Week’s summary is simple and the advice is clear:

The guidance states that PROs should not directly edit Wikipedia pages relating to their organisation or a client, but should instead suggest amendments to Wikipedia editors.

Aside from the fact that PRs editing Wikipedia pages for their clients has been big news for the industry this year, I agree with Neville Hobson’s thoughts on why this document is needed, he says:

I believe the guidance document is an essential step in helping practitioners (whether CIPR members or not) gain better understanding of Wikipedia – the community itself as well as how the content creation and editing procedures work. It makes clear sense to better understand a community whose content you want to contribute to in some way, and engage with those in that community on the terms of engagement of that community.

The very nature of PR means we sometimes need to join in with other people’s games, be those games journalism, user generated content or real world events. But ultimately the Wikipedia guidance serves as another reminder that when, as PRs, we play other people’s games, we must play by their rules.

(Disclosure: the Wikimedia Foundation is a past short-term client of mine.)

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The social media newsroom

Earlier this week I saw the renowned PR consultant Stuart Bruce talk about the social media newsroom at a CIPR Social Summer event.

Stuart’s case for ditching the widely used online press release archive in favour of a social media newsroom was convincing, possibly faultless. His presentation is below. But the most interesting aspect was not the benefits that a social media newsroom can bring. Rather it was Stuart’s premise that social media is just part of modern PR practice. It’s not something new, magical or outside of the remit of PR, but very intrinsic to our function. PRs who are not using social media just aren’t up to the job in 2012. Stuart is not the first to say this, however I think it’s still an important idea to discuss.

This doesn’t mean that today’s PRs are expected to become community managers looking after, for example, Facebook on a day-to-day basis, although of course they might. What this means is that reputation management, generating third-party endorsement or whatever definition you use for PR is not restricted to traditional media and traditional channels. Influencers on social media, be they bloggers, Twitter users or Facebook fans, are just as important as journalists and thought-leaders.

While this might seem obvious, my experience is that this philosophy is not yet widely adopted in PR practice. Developments like blogger lists on the Gorkana database are helping to change the mindset of PRs, but the paradigm has not yet shifted.

In the short-term you won’t see the Museum of London suddenly adopt a social media newsroom, though this is a long-term aspiration of mine. If you look at how the Museum of London press office operates today what you will see is social media firmly embedded within our PR activity. Bloggers are included within every media list alongside traditional journalists and I encourage my team to understand that a positive Tweet by a crucial influencer is as important, and sometimes more important, than press coverage. I have even commissioned Metrica to help us understand which online influencers can help us meet our public affairs objectives. Stuart Bruce says that the social media newsroom is an evolution, not a revolution. I believe the same applies to including social media tactics within a traditional PR programme, it’s just an evolution of what PRs are already doing very well.

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