Tuesday, 2 December 2014

PR memories - Tim, Toni and Dan

Looking back across the literature of public relations, one of the gaps has been the story of participants and leaders. The number of biographies can probably be counted on one hand, in English language at least. Ivy Lee, John Hill (Hill & Knowlton) and Edward Bernays come to mind. Others have been memorialised in academic journal articles but they aren't easily accessed.
Now, like London buses, three have come in fairly close timing. Two are memoirs; one is a corporate biography. In this northern autumn/fall, the two memoirs have been published.
The loudest and brashest is Right or Wrong by Lord Tim Bell of Saatchi & Saatchi, Lowe Bell and Bell Pottinger advertising and PR renown. It is published by Bloomsbury and has been serialised in a national newspaper.
More simply presented is Glow worms, self-published by Italian PR adviser Toni Muzi Falconi and available free online or as a low-cost paperback from Amazon. But don't let the packaging confuse you, as both authors have considerable personal and political lives which are placed before the reader.
The Bell memoir has points of Mad Men-type humour that are funnier and more ribald than the TV series, considerable insight into UK Conservative politics from the late 1970s until the mid-1990s and into the golden era of British advertising in the 1970s.
However, it is a mess to read with lumps of Ayn Rand-type libertarianism bobbing up at odd times that confuse the narrative. Lord Bell, in life, is a charmer in the style of what Australians call 'a larrikin in a suit' - Fun to be with, loyal to friends, devastating to enemies (many examples in the book) but not always in control of his actions. His opinions are strongly held but tediously expressed.
Toni Muzi Falconi, now in his mid-70s, tells about his role in the development of Italian PR from the 1960s onward complete with tales of success, errors, and corruption in the inter-relation of government and the promotional sectors. It is interwoven with tales of his privileged upbringing, a priapic youth and a sometimes turbulent personal life. Along the way he developed and sold several PR and advisory businesses and was a leader of the Global Alliance PR body at its outset.
Both memoirists present a 'warts and all' tale of themselves without 'spin' or embellishment. They have impressive networks of contacts which are exercised in personal and professional life, so there is no doubt that they see themselves as leaders and innovators but there is an essential raw humanity in these books.
Published a year or so ago is the corporate biography of Dan Edelman, founder of the eponymous internationally-operating Edelman agency group. Titled Edelman and the Rise of Public Relations and written by former agency staffer Franz Wisner, it is also offered as a free download (via the annoying Scribd service) and as a impressively produced hardback.
It tells the story of Edelman senior as he moved from his home in New York City to Chicago after war service and, with some risk, set up his agency in a distant city after making his name promoting Toni Home Perms to American women. The agency, after initial problems, took off and the book then tells more of the rise of the company than of Dan Edelman.
Treated as a popular history of the rise of the PR business in the US, Edelman and the Rise of Public Relations is useful background. However, it is the product of a (very successful) PR agency which wants to put the best image forward, not only for its founder but his heirs and successors. For all the glossiness and presentation, it could have been a stronger and more engaging book had an historian researched and written it.
All three books are worth tracking down for personal reading and libraries, if you are a practitioner, historian of PR or students. Let's hope more memoirs are being prepared by practitioners and industry leaders to fill this deficit in the history of PR.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Bernays did not create public relations

When you spot an error that is so obviously wrong, you assume others will notice it. But when it is repeated and published, unchallenged, in a leading European industry publication, it is time to set aside fears of being perceived as a pedant and respond.

The error in question is a statement by Robert Phillips in the latest Communication Director (03/2014). In his article, Trust me, PR is dead, he wrote that “Public relations was the brainchild of Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, created as a means of control over the masses, whose democratic judgement he did not trust” (p.24).

Except that Bernays did not create public relations, which was a term that had been in use for around 40 years and had many other practitioners before Bernays started his business in the early 1920s.

Even Bernays’ biographer, Larry Tye, does not make this claim or did Scott Cutlip in his history of American PR or did Stewart Ewen, whose “PR, the social history of Spin” has an essential first chapter on Bernays.

PR was in use by railway companies and utilities in the US from the final quarter of the 19th century onwards. The first US PR agency was recorded by Cutlip in 1905. It was soon followed by the emergence of Ivy Lee, who was vastly more important as a practitioner, industry influencer and author on PR than Bernays.

In 1938, when Brandon Batchelor listed the 10 most influential PR practitioners in the US in his book, Profitable Public Relations, Bernays was not listed among them. Essentially, he was a self-publicising loner who was avoided by his contemporaries, as several histories and biographies show.

What Bernays was successful at doing later in life was to create his own legend as ‘the great influencer’ which he did through books published through the University of Oklahoma and then giving his archive to the Library of Congress. He assiduously courted the image after his consulting career was over.

Ewen captured the self-aggrandisement of Bernays when he visited him as an elderly man at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts and found that the visit had been an artifice developed to show how important he was. It is well worth reading.

As for Bernays, it has to be admitted that his books from the 1920s - Crystallising Public Opinion, and Propaganda - are still in current print which is an enduring legacy. But this is largely because they are used by critical scholars and media studies academics to show the evils of PR to students. They, too, have been taken in by Bernays’s claims of thought leadership. At the time of their publication, it was Ivy Lee’s books and his ‘Declaration of Principles’ that were widely read and influential, not Eddie’s tomes.

Bernays neither had the power nor the clients to shape PR as “a means of control over the masses”, as Robert Phillips claims. However, he was following the concerns of Walter Lippmann and others about the impact of democracy when looking at the revolution in the new Soviet Union and the breakdown of order in Germany in the early 1920s. It was a common attitude.

PR has a rich history, but it wasn’t invented by Edward Bernays as cursory reading would have demonstrated.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

What is 'love? Abuse by marketers

This won't be a treatise on love, although I love my wife and family and try to 'love my neighbour', as Jesus said. But I don't 'love' a brand. In fact, any brand that asks me to affirm my love for them is sadly misguided.

Here's the situation: Recently, I bought a new Ford Focus. It's very nice and a top example of how a manufacturer can constantly improve a product yet remain price competitive. When completing the purchase, the salesman told me that I would be sent a survey by email asking about my experience of the purchase. Please, he implored, say you were 'completely satisfied' with the purchase or he wouldn't get his bonus.

So yesterday, the survey arrived and I ticked the question that I was 'completely satisfied' so the salesman, who had been very professional, would get his reward. But what disturbed me were questions, with a five-point scale' was whether I 'loved Ford' and, later, whether I 'loved' the (unnameable) dealership.

What an abuse of the term 'love'  to imply that I could have (to quote OED) 'a strong feeling of affection' or 'great interest and pleasure in something'? I have left out the sexual attraction element of love definitions as it would be perverse to have such feelings about an inanimate collection of metal, plastic and rubber or a corporate entity

Even these definitions are low on the scale of the understanding of love as a complex emotional state with deep ethical and trustful characteristics. So my view is that Ford's reputation has slumped with these inept questions.

I answered "neither agree nor disagree" on the five-point scale because I simply didn't care that much about Ford. It was a question that was utterly irrelevant. I hope Ford keeps making nice middle-market cars but their marketers learn not to abuse their customers with such repellent demands for corporate affection.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Checklist for CSR

As Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is increasingly drifting from its moral and ethical base, I have proposed a checklist for communicators to use when reviewing the validity of CSR strategies.

The historic reason for CSR activities being developed by organizations was recognition of their role in society. From the 1950s onwards, forward-looking businesses accepted that their purpose was not only to make a profit but did so in order to improve society.

“CSR” is now frequently used as a marketing ploy with little relationship to “doing good”. It’s becoming another form of ‘greenwashing’ where a patina of social engagement is wrapped around product and service marketing. Even the graphic symbols of CSR frequently show the world being saved and green shoots rising from coins, which are gross over-statements.

The 10-point checklist calls on communicators and executives to ensure that motives for CSR are clear and honorable; that policies and activities are created by consultation; that there is a commitment to CSR, not just a short-term advantage; and resources are in place, along with governance, to make sure policies stay on track.

       Motives? Is something being hidden?
       Dialogue before CSR policies are announced?
       Employees and other stakeholders involved?
       Long-term commitment or short-term advantage?
       Mutually beneficial outcomes or ‘licence to operate’?
       Resources to implement?
       Senior management “owns” the policies? Or a functional task?
       CSR governance structure?
       How will ‘value’ and ‘benefit’ be assessed?
       Is the policy ethical? Can you live with it?

CSR, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability are valuable concepts and actions that bring business closer to society. I hope the checklist will aid formation of CSR actions that benefit everyone – management, employees and communities.

The checklist was launched at the Middle East Public Relations Association Symposium in Dubai on March 20 and will be presented in Australia at a public lecture to be held at Macquarie University on Thursday April 10.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

PR Evaluation Survey 2 - 45% say there's a "lack of information"

This is the second of two posts on small-scale research into current PR measurement and evaluation practices. See # below for the methodology.

The first posting identified that while 80% claimed to formally or informally evaluate PR activity, 43% continued to use AVE as a prominent measurement metric.

This post reports on who is doing evaluation, the percentage of PR activity evaluated, some attitudes, knowledge of the Barcelona Principles and students’ views on the whether evaluation was being undertaken ethically.

Who did the evaluation of PR activities?
Account team/PR staff – 45.6%
In-house research and outside media analysis company – 26.5%
In-house research section – 16.3%
·         It looks as if self-certification of PR activity is common

What percentage of PR activity was evaluated?
100% - 35.7%
90% - 19.0%
80% - 11.9%
·         Good news – Two-thirds of the 80% who evaluate their PR coverage (53.3%) measure and monitor 80% to 100% of their PR activity

Questions about attitudes to PR measurement and evaluation
1)    PR budget is difficult to obtain: 37.7% agree or strongly agree; 28.2% disagree or strong disagree
2)    There is a lack of information on PR evaluation: 45.3% agree or strongly agree; 34.0% disagree or strong disagree
3)    There is a lack of time for PR measurement: 55.6% agree or strong agree; 24.1% disagree or strongly disagree
4)    PR is difficult to measure: 35.8% agree or strongly agree; 35.8% disagree or strongly disagree
5)    Practitioners fear evaluation: 25.0% agree or strongly agree; 42.3% disagree or strongly disagree
6)    Without measurement, PR’s future is threatened: 64.1% agree or strong agree; 20.8% disagree or strongly disagree

·         Mixed messages – 7% more say budget is difficult to obtain; there is a gap of 11% between those who agree that there is a lack of information on PR measurement (a large 45.3%) and those who don’t; a clear majority don’t have time to evaluate ('too busy doing PR'); there is a balance between those who find PR activity difficult to measure and those who don’t, which is an improvement; Many disagree that practitioners fear evaluation, but nearly-two thirds (64.1%) agree that PR’s future is threatened without the consistent use of measurement and evaluation.

·         The most concerning attitudinal outcome is that 45.3% of organisations say there is a lack of information on PR measurement and evaluation methods. This is a negative comment on the professionalism of many practitioners who can’t be bothered to look at abundant resources in terms of online materials (often free), books and training courses. Measurement and evaluation has been a major education and training topic since the mid-1990s and appears to have been ignored by them.

Students were asked about the percentage of PR budgets that were applied to PR measurement and evaluation. Most, not surprisingly because of their junior positions, ‘Didn’t know’ (53.8%) but the next largest valid percentage was for 1-3% of total budget (17.3%), which aligns with other research in the UK and Australia.

Barcelona Principles
Students were questioned whether the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles (AMEC 2010) was referred to or mentioned at their main placement. Their answers were wholly negative with 55/55 ticking “NO”. Bearing in mind the support that AMEC, CIPR, PRCA, PRSA, IPR, Global Alliance, etc have given to the Barcelona Principles in the past three years, this is a very disappointing result but is similar to US research (Ragan and others) that found low awareness.

Was PR evaluation undertaken ethically
YES – 74.0%; NO – 26.0%
No comment!

# Methodology: PR students at Bournemouth University were surveyed recently about their experiences of evaluation practices during their 2012/13 sandwich year placement. 55 students (85%) took part, voluntarily, in the self-completion survey. As all but one (98.2%) had been on placement for nine months or more in a single organisation, they can be considered valid observers of practices taking place around them or in which they participated. The data were analysed using SPSS which provided descriptive statistics, mainly frequencies. The data used in these posts is based on ‘Valid Percent’ which omits missing answers unless they are a large part of the sample.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

PR Evaluation Survey 1 – 80% do measurement; 43% use AVE

PR students at Bournemouth University were surveyed recently about their experiences of evaluation practices during their 2012/13 sandwich year placement. 55 students (85%) took part in the self-completion survey. As all but one of them (98.2%) had been on placement for nine months or more in a single organisation, they can be considered valid observers of practices taking place around them or in which they participated.

Headline news, using valid percentages, was that they reported

  • 80% of placement organisations undertook formal or information evaluation of PR activity
  • 79.2% of activity was measured in those organisations that undertook evaluation
  • The main measurement was of media coverage, by 10 times (at least) ahead of measurement of KPIs, social media or organisational objectives (in that ranking)
  • AVE was used in 43.2% of placement organisations; On the other hand, it was not used in 56.8% of placement organisations
Calculation of AVE

Students who reported that AVE was used were asked “How was AVE calculated at your main placement organisation?”

Their verbatim replies indicate that (1) AVE continues to be widely used and (2) some AMEC members are actively offering products and services to calculate the metric.

Got it from Precise; PR Value = AVE x 3 divided by 100
Based on rates from Gorkana
By media evaluation agency as percentage of editorial value
[Media coverage multiplied) X 3
Via Metrica and Cision's algorithms
We rang companies for the figures or used Precise or Gorkana
We used Mymarket Monitor to indicate AVE which they used page space to decide value
A piece of coverage that took up 1/4 of the page, for example, was divided by 4 and x (multiplied) by 3 or 5 depending on whether it was online or print coverage.
PR value x 3
PR Value = Advertising by 3
For press coverage a value was calculated at the end of the month
Depending on the size of coverage times x 3
Through Precise Media and AVE reports for each campaign
We would send coverage to an outside agency (Kantor) they would reply with AVE
By measuring coverage, working out the costs of this space by advertising rates and times value by 3
Calculated the published article against (an) advertising rate card. Also against viewers
Not sure: PR Value x 3 (divided by) 100%. Same strategy applied for all.
From Precise media cuttings package

Despite the Barcelona Principles, which were announced with very visible support from CIPR and PRCA in 2010, AVE is as widely used as it ever was. And AMEC members, who wrote and adopted the Barcelona Principles which barred use of AVE, are leading the way in its continued usage.

More research outcomes follow soon in PR Evaluation Survey 2.

Monday, 3 March 2014

A Credo for PR

One of the grand old men of UK public relations, Tim Traverse-Healy, a founder of IPRA and an early member of the UK’s Institute of Public Relations (now CIPR), has prepared a Credo for Public Relations. I recommend that you read it and, hopefully, agree with the ethical and practice framework he proposes.


Now aged 90, I commenced public relations practice in 1947 on my return from service with the Royal Marine Commandos. I am the only Founding Father of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and International Public Relations Association still alive. At the close of my 66-year-long career I wish to record my professional beliefs in the hope that, aided by academics and educators, my assumptions and assertions may be debated from time to time by younger entrants to our craft.

I do not believe that “propaganda” for causes and issues or “publicity” for products and services are per se public relations activities, although they might form part of an overall public relations programme; similarly advertising, promotion, press agentry, and communications. I believe there exist extra dimensions to the practice of professional public relations which must be present in almost equal measure before an initiative can be so termed and which grant it societal meaning and community worth. I submit that, in accord with the universally accepted principles of Freedom of Information and Expression, these ingredients are: truth, paramount concern for the public good and genuine dialogue. And real dialogue presupposes that an institution is fully prepared to change its policies and practices in the light of such activity. Information fuelled by effective two-way communications is the currency of dialogue and controversy is the price that we may have to be paid to achieve credibility.

Communication effectiveness can be evaluated and reputation measured. Audience identification and message construction come within our remit as does the maintenance and protection of reputations based upon deeds well presented. In this interdependent world one of our prime responsibilities is to forecast the likely social impact of corporate actions. Our undertaking to our employers and clients regarding confidentiality should extend to include those individuals in the public sphere whom we may consult when considering the advice we tender. In the overall scheme of things the objective of our contribution to society at large is the achievement of a balance between the intentions of the institutions we represent and the legitimate concerns of their community and constituency. The argument we are like lawyers available to either defend or prosecute is untenable.

To assist meaningful dialogue between parties involved we must understand the theories and techniques of consultation, participation, negotiation, empowerment and conflict. We must appreciate the legal and societal dictates of transparency, accountability, and governance.

Substantially, our Founding Fathers shared this vision of the fundamental philosophy governing and values underpinning our vocation. My earnest hope is that future generations of practitioners will share elements of this Credo.

Tim Traverse-Healy OBE, 1st January 2014

Responses can be sent to Tim at: Tim.traversehealy@btinternet.com