Stephen says...After recently joining O Communications on an intern basis, I took a few days out of the office to experience my first real PR campaign; Time to Change.

What is Time to Change?

Time to Change is England’s most ambitious programme to end mental health discrimination. It is led by Mind and Rethink and funded by the Big Lottery Fund and Comic Relief

The campaign

This part of the campaign was themed ‘are you feeling blue in the queue’, based around having the January Blues and encouraging people to be there for people who may be feeling blue. To promote the awareness of this, O Comms held road shows around the North East in Durham, Morpeth, Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Sunderland, where blue people (promo staff dressed from head to toe in blue morph suits) appeared ‘out of the blue’ in the streets to generate curiosity and fuel interest in the campaign.  The O Comms team talked with people on the street about the Time to Change campaign and collected personal pledges from people passing by. People were asked to sign a pledge to say that agreed with the campaign’s message to end mental health discrimination.

What did I learn on my first campaign?

I spent my first day in Newcastle city centre within Eldon Square and on Northumberland Street and my second day at The Bridges shopping centre in Sunderland.

Firstly, I learnt that you can’t be shy; Public Relations is all about communication and when doing on-the-ground street road shows, excellent communication is a must. Your job is to get across a message to as many people as possible, so confidence and enthusiasm are essential.

Secondly, it’s good to listen, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason – I learnt a lot from listening to stories and information told directly from people who cared for or knew of someone who was suffering from a mental illness. The more I learnt about mental illness the more I could engage with others who knew about it as well.

Thirdly, PR really can make a difference, and I saw this first hand. One of the fastest and most credible ways to communicate a message is through word of mouth and what better a way than out on the street in city centres around the North East.

The Time to Change campaign was all about raising awareness, generating interest and communicating key messages about mental health. All of which, I feel we did successfully on the street and through regional newspaper coverage – making the Time to Change campaign a great first campaign to learn from at the beginning of my career.



Stephen says...I woke up at 4 o’clock this morning, not to the sound of my alarm but to a question demanding an answer before the break of dawn.  How is a person creative and where does their creativity come from? How do you distinguish a great idea from a terrible one? Can you become creative or are you born creative? And so on…

This doesn’t normally happen, but it has led to my own mini creative breakthrough, by giving me an interesting topic to blog about for the first time in what was days and has now been weeks.

Being a creative person is something that every professional in PR and advertising aspires towards. I think that if they deny this, they’re lying.

The frustrating thing is that the process of being creative is so simple:  an ordinary act that combines old information into new ideas – yet it is so difficult to master. This does mean, however, that when creative ideas are successful, the creator is often regarded as having ‘a brilliant mind.’

As I mentioned earlier, it made me think: is someone born creative or do they become creative with knowledge and experience? And also, what external conditions are necessary for a creative person to be most productive (creative)?

In Mad Men, Lane Pryce, a member of the new English management that took over the American ad agency, Sterling Cooper, described the creative department as being a bunch of lazy alcoholics. To which Creative Director, Don Draper, replied: “You came here because we do it better than you, and part of that is letting our creatives be unproductive until they are.”

Andy Green is a conference speaker who specialises in creative thinking. I was lucky enough to see him at one of his most recent talks which was in Newcastle. He talked about a lot of things that evening, but for me, one thing really stuck.

It was about using a role model to help you think more creatively. I have two – one is the fictional character Don Draper and the other is Tony Blair.

The process is simple, when faced with a problem or a creative block, think to yourself: what would my role model do in this situation?

At the moment, I am in the process of creating two campaigns which will heavily determine the final year marks in my PR degree. When I’m struggling to be creative, I think, If Don had this client, what would he come up with?

If you haven’t already tried it, give it a try!



Janey says...

It is the norm that large and small companies are involved in CSR and many have very impressive programmes, but does it mean that the company is genuinely concerned with society and honestly has a regard for the public or is it down to 3 letters….ROI? (Return of Investment)


Does honest regard for the Public really make you trust a company?

CSR: It is almost expected from companies to give back to society and take part in CSR, it shows that they have a regard for their stakeholders, but does it mean they will tell the truth and that we trust the company?

‘CSR is a good thing but why you are doing it will count towards whether it is really a good thing.’.Jane Crofts

In my opinion, CSR does not always represent the honesty of a company, as CSR is just something that all Businesses are expected/required to do.

Take Banks for example, they all have established professional CSR programmes involving Education, Charity, Community, Employees, Customers and Environments which naturally presents the image that they do have regard for the Public. Despite this the Public still do not necessarily trust their Bank, especially after the Credit-crunch.


Furthermore, do you trust an organisation or is it in the people?

Front line staff: If a customer talks to a Bank’s member of staff on the phone or in

the branch and does not have trust in that employee, this can ultimately destroy the customer’s trust in the Bank altogether, despite their impressive and established CSR programmes.

A Bank or a company may show genuine interest and regard for the Public through CSR programmes, values and mission statements but it does not necessarily mean that their staff will present this in their service. The Bank may have very commendable CSR programmes that give the image of trust and care towards their customers but it all relies on their frontline staff.


Genuine Regard for the Public = Trust?

Genuine regard for the Public does not automatically give the customer trust; trust is something that takes time to earn and build up and of course consistent great service.

I think the only way you can prove you have honest regard for the public is if you are trusted and the only way you can be trusted is if you have honest regard for the public and tell the truth!

CSR is something that all businesses are feeling inclined to take part in, it gives your

company a good reputation and it may attract future investors and maintain current ones. For me, CSR is vital and it does give a good image of the company, however, I think it is a mutually beneficial action and if businesses were not benefitting from it in some way then they would not embrace it as much as some do after all, CSR is not a legal requirement, companies volunteer to do it themselves.


Stephen says...

Stephen says...

I’ve heard it and no doubt you have too, social media is the best thing to hit the PR industry since sliced bread. It’s the future, it’s the saviour, it’s the golden ticket and the answer to not all, but most of our industry’s problems.

The “New PR”, is going to be different. It’s one to one and it’s personal. We aren’t communicating with audiences anymore, we are communicating with people.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that this is the right direction for the industry; I just don’t think it will work out as perfectly as everyone else seems to think.

The boldest claim is this: The “New PR” will be more ethical and transparent because the practitioner can no longer hide behind a third party (mostly the media).

This claim is the one I have the most beef with.

Twitter is one of the BIG NAMES when it comes to social media. It’s still considered by many to be its infancy yet, it is already being ruined – I often get spammed by random businesses and fellow practitioners and students of PR.

“Check out the new latest tricks to get instant followers” – I don’t want instant followers I want to build meaningful relationships.

“Check out my new great blog on SEO” – I don’t even know who you are, can you not say hello first? Why is this the first thing that you are saying to me????

“Follow me and I’ll follow you straight back” – What’s the point in that?

Social media is already being ruined by the same practitioners that hail SM as the saviour of the PR industry.

And that’s just Twitter, I’m also very concerned about the future of Facebook. At the moment, you “like” a business page and you get a little insight into the company, some nice pictures and a little about what the company’s doing – great.

What about when social media gets bigger and more companies join Facebook? What happens when John from down the street “likes” a few FB business pages and gets a load of spam direct messages asking him to buy company products? John is so irritated and annoyed he no longer wants to engage with other businesess on their fan page.

As social media grows and more people jump on board the same thing will happen that happened with the press release. A few people will spam everyone and ruin the industry.

Social media isn’t the answer to a more transparent and ethical PR industry, stricter regulations are.

Peter says....

Curiously, as the media industry gets more and more integrated one of the oldest of ‘old school’ divisions seems to be getting wider, not narrower.  Journalists and Press Officers are depicted as bitter rivals and even the trade press panders to the idea that the two are opposites that repel rather than attract.

Which is all very odd when one considers that the communications community sees PR skills as a media discipline and recruitment to PR posts, in-house and among consultancies, is just as likely to be from the ranks of journalists as from public relations professionals.

This is because, of course, understanding the news agenda and the priorities of the 24/7 media world is key to successful PR operations.  It is not – by any stretch – the only requirement but it does play into the balance between a business-led corporate strategy and a reactive press-led campaign.

Corporate PR people – says the accepted wisdom – are driven by loyalty to an employer or client and directed by the business objectives of the corporation paying their wages;  so the assumption now seems to be that in pursuit of those objectives they will deliberately lie, mislead and misdirect.

Journalists are, by contrast, all high-minded seekers after wisdom and truth dedicated to quarrying out those facts that the PR people are employed to deny them.

Well, not quite….try getting a pro-Obama piece on Fox News; look at the coverage all parts of News International have given to the phone-tap allegations;  seek out the sympathetic editorial in the Morning Star towards the poor beleaguered bankers.  News has its agenda just as PR does.

The best – or perhaps we should say the most successful – press and public relations operators have a news nous and the (sometimes begrudging) respect of the reporters that they deal with.

And journalists will – usually privately rather than out loud – will acknowledge that in a rolling news, 24/7, economically-pressured media world they could not do their job without the feed of information, news and stories that emerge from PR practitioners.

Two of the most high profile communications operators in the political sphere in recent years – Alastair Campbell and Andy Duncan – came to their high profile posts not from the ranks of PR practice but from tabloid journalism and it was their intuitive grasp of news that made them the right choice for those jobs.

So let us in the industry set aside the arbitrary division between hack and spin doctor and accept that in 2010 we are all communicators now.

Peter Smith has experienced both careers of Journalism and PR and currently teaches at The university of Lincoln.

If you are interested in discussing this comment below or join NewPRMinds on Facebook to read other interesting PR articles

Janey says...

A hot topic in Lincoln this week has been the ‘Inbetweeners‘ channel 4’s comedy show poking fun at the University of Lincoln. When head master Mr Gilbert threatened sixth form student Will ‘or its goodbye first-rate education, hello the University of Lincoln’ then Will replied ‘I’d been to Lincoln and it’s a s***hole’.

Within seconds of this being broadcasted hundreds of University of Lincoln students created uproar on facebook either offended or laughing about the dig. Before the programme was even over there was already a facebook group created ‘goodbye first-rate education, hello university of Lincoln’ (http://on.fb.me/cRDNX8) and ’11.10.10 the day Lincoln Uni got ripped by the Inbetweeners’ (http://on.fb.me/cRDNX8).

Students and tourism representatives took to defending Lincoln and the University – as a student myself I can honestly say that Lincoln or the University is not a ‘s***hole’.

Although it is embarrassing and insulting for university students and to Lincoln (a very beautiful city) perhaps the publicity isn’t a bad thing? Like any bad PR if effectively acted upon it could be turned into good PR. The important thing is how Lincoln responds to the publicity and if they can turn it around and perhaps raise Lincoln’s profile and benefit from the publicity.

The shop ‘Intersport’ in Lincoln cleverly acted fast and had the quote printed on a t-shirt and in the shop window the following day – crazy but clever! It got everyone in Lincoln talking and taking a trip to the shop!

Fair enough the Inbetweeners is a comedy show and aims to humour but there’s a fine line between what is of public interest and what can actually have an effect and change people’s views. Potentially this could damage Lincoln Uni’s reputation and put off future students. During this time it is important that Lincoln Uni act effectively in their crisis management to avoid negative effects.

I think that if Lincoln University take the joke in good spirit and play on it (not too far though) it will reflect better on Lincoln University’s personality rather then taking it badly which will only give a negative reflection on the Uni. The University should leave viewers to decide whether it is a joke or truth and in the mean time continue to prove them wrong.

Not only could this publicity raise Lincoln Uni’s profile, head master Greg Davis (Mr.Gilbert) ironically has a stand-up comedy show in Lincoln on the 23rd November this controversy is bound to enhance ticket sales. Greg Davis also needs to manage his PR well between now and the show to ensure that the remark does not give him a negative reception in Lincoln.

Similar to this situation is the bad reputation that PR professionals seem to be branded with ‘spin doctors’ but this bad image can be turned around, it is important for any PR professionals to be honest and have their morals and values in the correct place to earn more trust and respect from those branding us spin doctors.

It is part of life that something will always threaten reputation but what matters is how it is dealt with! It can be turned around.

Jane says...

For over 25 years I worked in public relations of one form or another although I never had a job with those words in the title. I have been a road safety officer – even a County Road Safety Officer, a Communications Manager, an Assistant Director of Corporate Affairs, Project Director but never a Public Relations Officer. So, what’s the point I am making? Well, PR manifests itself in many ways so don’t limit your job searches, the skills of a PR graduate will take you into arenas you never dreamt of.


My career has always been within the public sector so I have always had restrictions on what I could spend and be associated with. But that never stopped me achieving some great results and some major firsts!


I spent a very happy time working in road safety and green transport campaigning.

I can remember as a young and naive member of the team in the 1970s being horrified when my boss told me we’re going to run a drink drive campaign called ‘how are you going get home now you’re pissed?’. Now you may think that is mild but remember we are talking about the era when the Sex Pistols said the ‘f – word’ on TV and caused a media frenzy and Mary Whitehouse was a real person not just the name of comedy show. The posters we devised were to go on the inside of the gents toilet doors in the many local pubs in and around Cambridge…I had to deliver them by hand and explain the campaign to all to the landlords, many of whom were personal friends for some reason!!  We made it on to Radio One’s Newsbeat….


But I digress, you don’t want my memoirs – edited or otherwise, you want to know how to add value to your degree.


Experience of doing is essential but it doesn’t have to be just work experience. A good portfolio of effort is a must – especially an online presence that starts to establish your personal brand as a professional.


Website – have a repository for your electronic brand – your online CV if you like. Interesting photos of the professional you, examples of your work and anything you have done for real. Link it to the other outlets for the virtual you.


Facebook – maybe you need a fictitious persona for the student antics and something more moderate for your professional life?


Twitter – follow and be followed, engage in #CommsChat on Mondays at 8pm – you will make contacts with professionals around the world.


Blogging – DO IT!! But don’t be passive it’s back to the follow and be followed rule. Select subjects that interest you in PR and talk about them – how have recent campaigns gone down? How was the latest government policy delivered top the public? What would you have done differently? Do opinion pieces about current affairs – political, crisis management, reputation etc. Guest blog for other people – Birds on the blog, Behind the Spin, EmilyCagle.co.uk, PRCompany.co.uk and of course New PRMinds,


Then there’s all the others I haven’t got my head round yet!


As to getting work experience, if you can grab it with both hands, but…it’s a cold call I’m afraid.  Use the contacts your tutors have, read PR Week and follow up the interesting characters by name and don’t be seduced by the idea that London is everything. I worked in London for a very short while well into my career when I was asked to support the Department of Health with work around PR capability in the NHS, The Nye Bevan Awards and a major NHS Careers promotion at Tomorrow’s World Live. It was great fun, very educational but by no means the high spot of my career. In a big London agency you may not get the variety of experience you need at the start of your career, in a smaller regional agency you will get thrown in at the deep end and be able to make a real difference with some real work.


I believe that long term placements should be paid but if you are only doing a couple of weeks, or a day a week while studying, then fair enough – treat it as a good opportunity and as a really long job interview!!!


Remember PR is about relationships so to get that placement or job you need to be out there building relationships; you have to network your socks off. Join the CIPR, get in with one of the regional groups and special interest groups, go to their events if you can – be cheeky and ask for a student freebie to fill places – and ask to visit different organisations you meet there to see what they do and how they do it, you never know what it might lead to.


Finally, hang on to this thought…in a recession PR fairs very much better than many of our partner disciplines of advertising and marketing. When the bottom line is suffering your reputation and point of difference becomes all the more important and you need someone to get that message out there cheaply, enter PR!