When is an advertorial not an advertorial? When it’s ‘native advertising’

Native advertising

What is native advertising?

A version of this post first appeared on All Media Scotland on April 7, 2013.

Gotta love this change stuff, eh?

We’re no longer writers or story-tellers, we’re now content producers. We don’t crib, borrow or adapt ideas, we repurpose them. And my personal favourite? We no longer deal with advertorials – it’s now sponsored content on ‘native advertising’.

Say what? How this latest buzz phrase came about is beyond me, but native advertising is a term which is rattling around the  digital-savvy side of the media and gathering quite a lot of breathless hype on the way.

Coming from a print media background I found this hard to understand at first. I was weaned on newspapers when the Chinese wall between advertising and editorial was impenetrable. Back then advertorials were usually a low rent, low quality attempt to make unlikely products look like the subject of even more unlikely news stories.

They invariably stood out for the wrong reasons. The writing was ropey, the accompanying pics were usually mince. Oh aye – and there would be a great big strapline across the top or the bottom saying: “This is an advert”.

Funnily enough a recurring advertorial from the 1980s and 90s that sticks in my memory was for a book to help buyers improve … memory skills. Oh, the sweet irony.

The ad was usually accompanied by a 1950s-style line drawing of a Brylcreemed man wearing a blackout eye mask along with a number of patently made up, glowing testimonials from people with only one name (“I now remember everyone I meet!” – John, Cambridge) or referred to only by their initials (“I can memorise 100s of phone numbers!” – SJ, Doncaster).

It wasn’t just the tone and quality that was suspect. As well as feeling a bit sneaky, these ads disguised (badly) as news stories were tainted by the distinct whiff of ‘sad and desperate’. You get the picture. Credibility and advertorials weren’t close. Not even on nodding terms.

Now though the advertorial – or more accurately its 21st Century incarnation as native advertising – is being talked up as a possible financial saviour of news sites which have  struggled after giving content away free online, while seeing print advertising pounds melt away to digital advertising pennies.

Managing to put aside my lingering prejudices over bad advertorials from pushy carpet discount stores and smarmy car sales outlets, I can actually see why this might work and may even be a good thing.

Brands and businesses want to feature on credible news sites in a way that will encourage visitors to actually read about them, rather than simply paying for banner ads to be ignored.

So, the theory goes, those brands and businesses will have to start being interesting, useful or entertaining by paying to deliver content which sits alongside relevant news or editorial while adding actual value.

From a PR point of view this is potential winner for those agencies which are equipped to produce well-researched, news-focused, informative and non-salesy articles on behalf of clients. There could also be opportunities for entrepreneurial hacks prepared to try their hand at so-called ‘brand journalism’.

Meanwhile, I’m all for advances that will help support paid journalism, while readers could also benefit from easy access to genuinely useful content.

Needless to say there are also some extremely grave concerns about the continual blurring of those once clear lines between editorial and advertising.

Purists out there will be relieved to hear that Google has now stepped in and promised heavy web ranking penalties for those news sites which fail to make a clear distinction between editorial and paid for content.

Google has been the catalyst and carrier of so much change in the media landscape, so it’s good to see the search giant doing its bit to help preserve the sanctity of editorial integrity.

And for the record, no payment was exchanged to place this article here.

Sometimes a missed PR opportunity can be the best result of all

A version of this post first appeared on All Media Scotland on March 24, 2013.

First Group - ScotRail franchise operator

First Group – ScotRail franchise operator

Train operator ScotRail has just been involved in a wee case study of damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-dont media relations.

A finger-wagging report from The Scotsman’s Alastair Dalton tells us Scotland’s rail franchise operator ‘sparked anger’ after ‘snubbing’ a BBC documentary team. Tough-talking tabloid type words.

What we’ve got here is a classic media village story that’s nothing to do with service levels, delays, overpriced sandwiches, patchy onboard Wi-Fi or the nuts and bolts of what commuters really care about.

In fact it was almost entirely about the nature of public relations and playing the age-old poacher versus gamekeeper media game. From that point of view I couldn’t help but be interested.

As the article helpfully points out, ScotRail runs 95% of Scotland’s train services, so why did the company refuse to take part in the BBC’s programme, The Railway: Keeping Britain on Track? According to the piece, other train operators revelled in a ‘sympathetic portrait’ showing how much staff loved their jobs.

If the suggestion of a PR blunder at passing up such a golden opportunity wasn’t clear enough, there were a number of usual suspects lined up to helpfully point out the shortcomings of ScotRail’s comms and media team.

First up was Green MSP Patrick Harvie with this wee gem: “ScotRail’s public relations people are always happy to talk about their successes, and it’s disappointing that they don’t want the public to see a truly detailed picture of how they run a vital public service.”

Likewise an official from train drivers union Aslef rued the “missed opportunity to showcase the exceptional talents of their staff”, while Dave Watson, an official with Unison in Scotland, Tweeted: “ScotRail sensitive to publicity they don’t direct. Usually with good cause, but this an own goal”

Other Twitter reaction took a similar vein. Freelance journalist Andrew McFadyen ‏Tweeted: “It doesn’t surprise me that Scotrail snubbed the BBC. They have one of the least helpful press offices in Scotland.” Ooyah.

Another journalist and writer, Paul Bigland, had this to Tweet: “@ScotRail manage to turn an excellent PR opportunity #therailway into a very public own goal.”

That’s the ‘damned if you don’t’ bit. The negative tone of The Scotsman piece and some media-savvy Tweeters may smart a bit. But nobody in PR would stay in the game long if their hides weren’t thick enough to deflect the slings and arrows of disgruntled meeja types when they feel PR is getting in the way of a good story.

Should that be the sum total of the adverse coverage, then I reckon the ScotRail media and management teams will be high-fiving all round, because they just dodged a bullet. Had they participated in the documentary it could have been … well, a train wreck.

Perhaps surprisingly in a story all about the apparent shortcomings of PR people it was a journalist who pointed this out and rallied to defend ScotRail.

Nigel Harris, managing editor of RAIL magazine believes the team from the Beeb would have focused on characters who made the best TV, not necessarily the best ambassadors for the rail company. His assessment was blunt: “I commend ScotRail for holding out.”

I couldn’t agree more. Reality TV or fly on the wall documentary makers aren’t interested in ordinary workers – they are looking for outliers who will light up the screen with controversy, comedy, haplessness, heartbreak or hopelessness.

Sure, there’s a chance that ScotRail might’ve come out of something like that well, particularly if they were an underdog operator or a fresh new kid on the block. They’re not. They’re the big guy in a maligned sector whose experience is that messages about their successes (delays reduced by 50%, with passenger numbers up 20%) fall on deaf ears.

FirstGroup, which runs the £2.5 billion, ten-year ScotRail franchise, will be keen to hold on to the juicy contract (the biggest handed out by the Scottish Government) when it goes to tender in 2015. PR and public perceptions will play a role that.

ScotRail’s decision to walk away from this apparent TV “PR opportunity” meant lean pickings for the documentary makers and for journalists who can fill column inches with the cringe-inducing characters thrown up by fly-on-the-wall documentaries.

But with make or break commercial issues looming large, the job of the ScotRail PR team isn’t to give open access to reality TV crews, then cross their fingers and hope for a good result.

Whichever way ScotRail played this they were likely to get negative headlines of some sort. The storm in a teacup about some sort of missed PR opportunity is actually the exact opposite – almost certainly the best PR result ScotRail could have hoped for.

You can’t get slicker than a PR fixer – we’re the boys to trust.

A version of this post first appeared on All Media Scotland on January 13, 2013

Illuminating: Lightbulb moment.

Illuminating: Lightbulb moment.

Talk about a lightbulb moment.

A dicky brake light in my trusty old Saab led me to a couple of moments of PR illumination over the past couple of days. It resulted in a trip to Kwik-Fit at McDonald Road, Edinburgh, an outlet I’ve visited a dozen times over the past decade.

I’ve never had any complaint about the service I’ve received. Yet on every visit, I’ve walked in with the sneaking suspicion that I’m about to be mugged: to enter with a minor problem and leave with a whopping bill for four new tyres, a replacement exhaust and a tracking realignment.

There’s light bulb moment number one: bad PR does nothing but long-term damage to a brand’s reputation. Of course we all know this, but sometimes it takes a specific event or person to bring it in to sharp focus.

In reality, my doubts about the integrity of Kwik-Fit workers date back to my newspaper days in the 1990s when the chain was dogged by reports of motorists being shamelessly ripped off.

While I fondly remember ads featuring cheery chappies leaping to the strains of “You can’t get better than a Kwik-Fit fitter”, it wasn’t the warm, fuzzy advertising jingle which coloured my subconscious view of the firm for the next 15 years.

All of which reinforces the old public relations adage that a reputation can take years to build, yet just moments to ruin.

Let me take this opportunity to balance those cosmic scales just a little bit – and this should be music to the ears of Kwik-Fit management, as well as whoever is doing the company’s PR.

My latest experience with the repair chain was entirely positive. The guy who dealt with my initial call was polite, friendly and helpful. When I walked into the branch he was handling a difficult customer phone call with the same aplomb and the type of patience saints are renowned for.

Meanwhile his colleague cheerfully found a spot for me to park up, before an oil-smeared garage cliché in trademark Kwik Fit overalls start disassembling my motor. Later I was given a clear explanation that the problem was electrical (not a faulty bulb) and was beyond the scope of his team to repair.

I was shown some frayed wiring suspected of being the problem, then given the names of reputable auto electricians in the area. These were noted on the back of a business card, which is why I know the guy helping me was Gavin Shaw, the centre manager. Kudos to him and his team.

In the world of PR, which more often than not involves chasing coverage in the mainstream media, it’s still easy to forget the power of humble word of mouth, despite the fact it has been turbo charged by social media. Five years ago I would have told a handful of people at most about my positive Kwik-Fit experience. How many will this post reach – 10? 100? 1000?

Do a quick Google search for ‘Kwik Fit’ then refine the search by ‘blogs’ and by ‘news’. The tapestry of stories being published about the company is nuanced. A local councillor blogs about the firm’s sponsorship of a local event. A Bristol-based social media expert accuses the firm of life-threateningly shoddy work. A driving instructor writes about a new insurance product for learner drivers.

Gratifyingly for all of us in PR the search findings are liberally peppered by traditional media headlines, from reports on the company’s £17.2 million operating loss, to its collection of a Healthy Working Lives award.

But there’s no eureka moment in recognising the rise of social media or the importance of search engines. Even the dawning realisation that traditional media is more relevant than ever (just not in printed format) is now pretty widely recognised.

Nope. The light bulb that lit up for me was this: businesses have never needed professional PR advisers more than they do now. Even if not all of them realise it yet.

Yes, the media is fractured. Yes, having your reputation picked over on a daily basis by armchair critics with a web-powered megaphone is uncomfortable. In a world of online transparency, choosing to sit it out by flying beneath the radar is a fast-vanishing option.

Businesses need to tell their stories well from the top down, while understanding (and responding to) what the world outside is saying about them. Nobody does that better than the PR sector.

If my view doesn’t light your bulb, then read this Management Today article. It seems we PR people are taking over the world.

You’ll get no complaints about that from me.

 

Liar, Liar, PR consultant for hire…

A version of this post was first published by All Media Scotland on January 7, 2013

Fibbing: Carries consequences, y'know.

Fibbing: Carries consequences, y’know.

There’s always something a bit difficult to digest over the festive holiday period, or some sort of nagging unpleasant hangover which trails you into the New Year.

Yet it was neither the overdose of Brussels sprouts nor the copious amounts of Hogmanay alcohol which gave me a sour taste and a queasy stomach this time around.

What actually left me with a bilious aftertaste came during the whirl of festive socialising and the inevitable round of, “So, what do you do?” questions when meeting new people.

More accurately, it was three occasions when I told such new acquaintances that I worked in public relations, only to met with responses which more or less amounted to: “So you lie for a living, then?”

This is particularly irksome, as I thought I’d left behind those sorts of knowing jibes when I quit journalism. Over the past decade, telling people I’m in PR has generally felt pretty respectable, after all those previous years of watching people flinch when I told them I was a tabloid hack.

So why the sudden rash of “liar” digs when trotting out my flack credentials in the past few weeks?

While I’m not daft enough to think my own “sample of one” experiences represent some sort of trend, I’m happy to admit that three separate incidents in such a short time frame took me aback a bit. I’d be keen to hear if other PRs have experienced anything similar?

I’m no wide-eyed innocent who believes the entire PR sector to be involved in a lofty and noble pursuit. But the possibility that those outside the sector could think PR in the 21st century is driven by lies and deceit is frankly gobsmacking.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen everything from non-existent WMDs, media phone hacking, MPs expenses and the Tommy Sheridan perjury case turn public opinion away from any notion of “acceptable” lying.

Journalists, politicians, and party spinners have all been ensnared by lies, but all in all I’m hard pushed to think of any major or enduring scandals involving concerted and deliberate lying by PR people.

Indeed, last year when American deception artist Ryan Holiday brought out his book, Trust Me, I’m Lying – Confessions of a Media Manipulator, the resultant furore among reputable PR professionals proved just what an outlier Mr Holiday is. While his tales of epic lying might have raised the odd snigger, his practices are an insult to PR pros, journalists and bloggers alike.

Here in Scotland, I think we can be proud of the ethical, hard-working and – dammit – plain honest PR community we have. Every profession has its Ryan Holiday-type characters and I’m sure Scottish PR is no exception.

But let’s be clear: writing a breathlessly glowing media release or presenting positive information while crossing fingers and hoping a journalist or blogger doesn’t ask awkward questions does not a liar make.

I remain convinced the vast majority of practitioners in Scotland would simply refuse to lie on behalf of a client or an employer, particularly those signed up to the codes of conduct of either the Chartered Institute of Public Relations of the Public Relations Consultants Association.

If we’re talking over egging the pudding, gilding the lily, or spinning a line, most PR people will cheerfully admit they’ve been guilty as charged on occasion.

But outright lying? Nae chance – not least because it’s bad for the digestion.

 

The Art of Scannable QR Codes – A Tale of Abstract Painting, Gay Tours and Weddings Fairs

If you’re looking for a gimmick which divides opinion, look no further than QR Codes.

Critics call the abstract-looking, black and white, scannable codes a complete waste of time, which are largely ignored by the general population.

Fans cite them as a quick, easy and effective way to get information into the hands of smart phone users as and when they want it.

As is so often the case, the reality lies somewhere in between.

Anyone who has eagerly scanned a QR code only to be taken to a non-mobile friendly version of a brand’s standard website is likely to be let down. What’s the point?

Unscannable QR Code on a busy dual carriageway in Edinburgh

Unscannable

Worse, some QR Codes are in the most ridiculous places. Today I spotted this QR code in a totally inaccessible spot – 25ft up on a billboard in the middle of one of the busiest roads in and out of Edinburgh, with no place for drivers to stop.

Simply to take this photograph I had to drive into a bleak industrial estate, hoof it up on to a concrete flyover – and even with camera on maximum zoom could still barely make out the QR Code, let alone actually scan it.

Maybe this could even earn a place in the QR Code Hall of shame – this funny website dedicated to the worst fails involving impossible to scan or utterly pointless examples.

Until recently there’s also been the problem of finding a scanning app and downloading it to your smart phone. Then remembering where it is, opening it and using it, all of which can be problematic if you are in a busy shop or on a cold street wearing gloves.

Increasingly, though, smart phones are shipping with scanning software built in. Indeed, the excellent Nokia 800 Windows phoneI use has a one-touch code scanner which works like lightning. It will happily open the destination URL there and then or just as happily save it for viewing later. Which means I’m regularly scanning codes when I see them – on parked vehicles, magazines, bus shelters etc.

Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Phone

Built in QR Scanner

Once you have the habit of scanning QR codes the true utility becomes apparent. It can be really handy to scan a code and get information you really need or want – like the details of a property for sale or rent when you scan the QR code on a sales board.

Recently spotted a vehicle branded with bodywork for Black Kilt Tours, including a QR code. Since I’ve developed a yen for travelling the Scottish highlands and islands, I scanned it, only to learn it is a service specialising in just such tours – but for gay men.

So while it wasn’t for me, the QR codes still proved useful, sparing me any unnecessary online research, awkward phone calls or the possibility of rather uncomfortable coach trip. Moreover, it stuck in my memory. Brand awareness.

QR Code Art by Trevor Jones

QR Code Artwork

Today I’ve come across what struck me as an excellent use of QR codes, this time in an email newsletter from Edinburgh-based painter, Trevor Jones.  Since he’s a talented, professional artist, his abstract rendition of a QR code is arguably more eye catching than the standard mono square. But it goes further than that.

(* Disclaimer: I don’t know Trevor  Jones, work for him, or in other way represent the artist.)

When I tested whether his artwork was scannable, I was immediately taken to a mobile-optimised landing page, notifying me that to win a unique work of art by Trevor Jones, all I had to do was Like the Trevor Jones Art Facebook page, sign up for his newsletter – or to double the chance of winning, do both.

I duly did both. It was a frictionless process – and an object lesson for anyone else in business looking to build Facebook likes, or even more importantly, to gather qualified email leads.

Mobile optimised QR Code landing page

Mobile optimised

It didn’t stop there though. Jones has deviated from his usual colourful abstracts and there was also an intriguing come on in the original newsletter:

“I’ve just found out my QR code paintings will be on display at the Edinburgh Art Fair 16 – 18 November. I’ll be there over the three days to demonstrate how the paintings work and to answer any questions you may have about them such as, ‘Seriously. Why are you painting QR codes, Trevor? I kinda liked your older work better’.

“Ya, it’s true. I’m getting that but if you stop by the Art Fair I’ll gladly explain what all the fuss is about.  Promise.”

Now, truth be told, I’m a bit of an art pleb. Yet, depending on my diary, I might even look in on that art fair – and if I do, Mr Jones and his QR code will have been directly responsible for influencing my behaviour.

If that’s not enough for you, there’s also a mini site, called Mark of Beauty, dedicated to the artist’s representations of QR codes which he has been painting through 2012.

There he says:

When I began developing this new body of work exploring QR codes as art I realised there would be some who wouldn’t “get it” or who would even question its validity as painting…

“…The general consensus was that this artwork would indeed very likely divide opinions and, as an artist, what more could I ask for? Good art should stimulate debate and I really hope that these paintings encourage this. “

So it’s not only QR codes which divide opinion, but even works of art based on QR codes.

My advice? Don’t write off these little black and white squares as a useless gimmick.  A well-executed example which is of use to the target audience and delivers value, can greatly help them on their customer journey.

Such a campaign  can also make your brand or business memorable (the names Black Kilt Tours and Trevor Jones art are now firmly on my radar).

Yet there’s even more. Maybe you could use a QR code in an imaginitive way to help collect email addresses or to help spread your monthly newsletter? Somewhere along the line you might just help influence the behaviour of possible clients too.

This may not have painted a picture quite as eye catching as those by Trevor Jones. So here are a few more links to really clever and creative use of QR codes:

http://holtz.com/blog/marketing/qr-code-case-studies/3691/

http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/9777-six-qr-code-campaigns-that-actually-worked

http://www.nevillehobson.com/2011/06/24/tesco-connects-busy-shoppers-with-qr-codes/

 

Is it news? Is it PR? No, it’s a flagrant shill by three ailing brands.

Schill-y Billys

Nobody wants to see a successful Microsoft Windows smart phone more than I do.

There are many reasons for this, but the simplest is financial.

My business is built and runs on Microsoft and a smart phone which synced seamlessly with that tech while also giving intuitive and simple access to the web and social media would be a boon.

I am about to start a month-long trial of a Windows phone and will be blogging about that, warts and all.

This week the launch of the new Nokia Lumia 800 phone with the Windows operating system has been a much-anticipated tech story – and it’s easy to see why.

it signals the first joint foray into smart phone market by two ailing giants  – Microsoft and Nokia – which once dominated their sectors, only to be rapidly eclipsed and roundly confounded by Apple and Google.

Be in no doubt, both are badly in need of a success story.

There may still be more Nokia phones on the planet than any other brand. But that is because its basic handsets are cheap and affordable in the developing world. In the developed world its  sales have gone off a cliff, with Apple, Android and Blackberry dominating the profitable smartphone market.

Meanwhile, Microsoft may still be raking in huge profits, but it is in danger of missing the mobile revolution in the same way it lost search to Google. PC sales are dwindling as customers move to mobile devices and despites its profits it is now dwarfed by arch-rival Apple and has so far failed to come up with a decent tablet PC.

Analysts and commentators say both Microsoft and Nokia may have left it too late to make a real impact on the smartphone market. They may be right. However, just five years ago neither the iPhone nor Android existed. They’ve had a meteoroic rise, so it should be possible for Windows and Nokia – with a good enough product, well enough marketed – to still become a player.

Positive PR around the joint Windows-Nokia phone launch is critical. So far the tech experts I follow have all praised the Windows operating system as being a pleasure to use, yet still distinct different from its rivals. Nokia’s reputation for excellent hardware means the quality of the device is almost a gimme.

What about word of mouth? The woman who provides IT support to us at Holyrood PR is not your typical geek and doesn’t fit the stereotype of sullen, malodorous, socially inept basement-dweller. She’s outgoing, glam and funny. She is also an Apple Mac aficionado. When discussing the new Windows phone she told me: “It’s supposed to be brilliant.”

In fact, everyone I’ve spoken to about the new Windows phone says something similar. The tech reviews and user comments have all been positive. The buzz in the early adopter community has been upbeat. All of this gives Microsoft-Nokia the right platform to build on.

Here’s the thing about PR success though – it is also known as ‘earned media’. This is because newspapers, bloggers and news sites are notoriously protective about what graces their pages.

You have to earn your way in – by being interesting, relevant or newsworthy. If you want a carefully varnished plug for your product, the way to do that is to pay for advertising.

No-one knows that better than the newspapers. You can pay for an advert which looks like a news story – but it will always say ‘advertorial’ or ‘advertising feature’ across the top.

As a former journalist I value that even our newspaper with virulent political agendas still draw the line at shameless product placement. I’m even prepared to look the other way when Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers plug his Sky TV shows – or when Daily Star and Daily Express owner Richard Desmond does the same to promote Channel 5.

So I was left speechless by this affront to journalism which appeared in Wednesday’s Daily Express. Knowing my interest in the subject my missus thoughtfully cut it out and kept it for me.

Read it and weep. I showed it to my business partner and he shook his head sadly and said he’d never – in 25 years – seen such a horrendous case of an advert masquerading as a bona fide news story. I have to agree.

Full page ad

I suspect it is not coincidence that the back page of that day’s Daily Express was taken up by … drum roll … a full page, colour ad for the Nokia Lumia 800 with Windows.

I don’t know which saddens me more about this horrible media Frankenstein.

That the once proud and mighty Express cheapens its legacy by plumbing such depths.

Or that the PR people with Microsoft-Nokia would tarnish genuine, positive ‘earned media’ success by grafting on this gratuitous and groveling promotion.

Whatever way you look at this, it treats the reader/consumer as  imbeciles, suggesting ordinary people are too stupid to see through a flagrant shill.

Maybe execs with  each of these three companies – all diminished giants in their chosen arenas – should consider that at the next crisis meeting to discuss why their brands seem to be on a relentless down slope.

The Ancient and Noble Art of PR – It’s In My Genes!

 

The Heart crest of the Douglas clan

Heart crest of the Douglas clan

I’ve just discovered that public relations is in my genes.

 

Who told me so? None other than the BBC, in the shape of Paul Murton who presents the excellent series, Scotland’s Clans.

Turns out the Douglas name was a byword for PR excellence as far back as 1329 when legendary Scottish warlord King Robert the Bruce died and asked for his heart to be taken into battle as part of the Crusades.

The Bruce’s right hand man was Sir James Douglas, who was known as either the Good Sir James or the Black Douglas after making a name for himself during the wars of independence with England.

A great national Scottish hero, Sir James was knighted on the field of Scotland’s greatest every victory over the English at Bannockburn.

The PR credentials of the Douglas clan were assured when Sir James agreed to take The Bruce’s heart – sealed in a silver and enamelled casket and worn round his neck – into battle against the Muslims occupying the Holy Land.

THE REST OF THIS POST CAN BE READ AT THE HOLYROOD PR BLOG, HP SAUCE

It’s all PR Isn’t It? Or what public relations and PageRank can teach each other.

G is For Google. What does PR stand for?

For my money PR professionals – certainly in Scotland – haven’t paid anywhere near enough attention to search engine optimisation.

Known as SEO, this is the “dark art” of ensuring a website ranks well on a series of key words.

For most people ‘search engine’ actually means ‘Google’. And ‘ranking well’ means that when they type something into the search box and hit return, they will only look a the first page of returns. In fact  in most case only at the top two or three results.

What’s that got to do with PR? Well for most public relations professionals, very little.

The focus of PR work is still dominated by earning client coverage in traditional media. Increasingly it may also include a social media element, via Facebook or Twitter – and those remain the focus at my own PR agency in Scotland. Holyrood Partnership.

In my experience only a handful of PR people really  understand how to build SEO benefits into media coverage and into social media activity.

Shame really, because while it may not be as shiny and exciting as Twitter, a basic grasp of SEO principles can really impress potential clients and deliver tangible results.

With that in mind, I’d guess that most people working in public relations in Scotland would look at me blankly if was to tell them that PR is also a common abbreviation for PageRank. Few, I’d wager would be able to readily explain PageRank, or its importance in today’s internet.

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Coulson’s Last Hope For Crisis Management – At Least Phone Hacking Happened Before Twitter

Andy Coulson's regnation

Crisis which couldn't be managed

So, Andy Coulson fell on his sword.

Neatly he repeated the well-worn maxim that the PR man should never become the story, stating: “When the spokesman needs a spokesman it’s time to move on”.

As guiding principles go, it’s a good one and few in PR or media relations could justify becoming the centre of a news story.

Yet such a turn of events is survivable. The rules of crisis management apply even to troubled spin doctors: acknowledge the problem; address it rapidly and transparently; concentrate on the facts.

But the prime minister’s most trusted media adviser wasn’t really brought low by a mobile phone hacking scandal from five years ago. As David Cameron regularly pointed out, Coulson paid the price for that by quitting the Editor’s chair at Britain’s biggest Sunday newspaper.

Coulson was actually scuppered by the claims of innocence which let him leave the paper with his head held high. Effectively he quit the NoTW saying: “I’m an honourable guy, so I’ll shoulder the responsibility, though I was never complicit in the wrongdoing.”

His problem is that precious few – including the Westminster and political media – believe his claims that he was blissfully unaware of widespread use of phone hacking at his paper thought (he’s repeated it so often he might just about believe it himself).

In crisis management terms, how do you concentrate on facts, when your central ‘truth’ is almost universally derided as a fabrication? And what does that do for the notion of ‘transparency’?

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