Editing movies and defining PR

Defining PR or reframing it?

Over the last week or so I’ve been editing movies from #PRFest. All of the individual speaker sessions, talking about PR, workflow, tools and most importantly PR as a management discipline.

#PRFest was devised to help PR practitioners in Scotland get better at what they do. I invited specialists in areas across the PR, digital and comms board to speak and to encourage conversations in the room, sharing best practice and debating industry issues.

What is PR?

The first speakers were a panel of public and third sector practitioners. A few said they ‘didn’t do PR’ and were focused on comms and digital. I thought this was true of how people perceived their own discipline. We have too many conversations of what PR is. Public relations is the same as it’s always been. As Sarah Hall said, “we don’t need to redefine PR, we need to reframe it as a management discipline.”

When I released Sarah’s video from #PRFest, @Wadds tweeted, “PR in ten minutes by Sarah Hall”. Watch this video where Sarah talks about #FuturePRoof and the fundamental challenges and opportunities for public relations. It really does sum up PR in ten minutes!

Sarah says we need to reframe our approach. Our opportunity is in helping organisations engage with society for mutual benefit. How do we help companies test their principles? Organisations are forced to rethink their purpose with PR. Let’s reframe PR as a strategic management discipline.

40% of executives cite reputation as number one risk – so why isn’t public relations in the boardroom? Because people don’t know what PR is – they think its media relations and content creation, as proven in the CIPR’s State of the Profession report.

“The challenge today is to shift away from tactics and think holistically about business benefits. About long-term goals.”

How we can be more effective

The next two sessions of the day, by Frederik Vincx, CEO and Founder of Prezly, and Stella Bayles, Director of Coverage Book, were focused on tools, workflow and automation. They flowed nicely from one into the other.

Fred said that start-ups are at the forefront of change and tech. Start up techniques – twice the work in half the time. This comes back to workflow. Productivity and results.

He set out four of his heros and what they achieved.

Hero 1 Taiichi Ohno – Toyota Production System

Toyota was doing a poor job, Ohno improved quality control – the idea of continuous improvement. Using the Kanban board. A Kanban board is a work and workflow visualisation tool that enables you to optimise the flow of your work.


People can see who is doing what, bottlenecks, workflow and teamwork.

Hero 2 Eric Ries – Lean Start Up Author

Fast learning – minimal, viable, produced

He created Dropbox. Founder tested if people would be interested by creating a video, had 70k sign ups. His team took a year to build it. He didn’t do it the other way around.

Hero 3  Tim Ferris – The 4 hour work week

  • Automation & Tech
  • Pareto principle 20% effort, 80% result
  • Focus on what you can do very well
  • People spend so much time on “busy work”
  • com has over 250 tools – it’s like software speed dating. Pick and choose what works for you.
  • Meet quickly and often/improve all the time
  • Learn what works fast

Hero 4 Jeff Sutherland – digitised the FBI after 9/11

At the FBI their process was outdated and they thought they could have avoided 9/11 but the paperwork was too slow. They put 170 million dollars into a system, took five years and it didn’t work. Another four more years and more money, it still didn’t work.

Sutherland fixed it in a few months. It does twice the work in half the time with his SCRUM method.

#1 Instead of planning for month – he asks, what do we really, really need? We have two weeks, what do we need now? Don’t invest too much in long term planning.

#2 Small teams, no manager, all self managing.

#3 Daily stand ups instead of sit down meetings. Explain what you did, explain what you’re doing, explain what problems you have.

#4 Team introspection and learning.

Every week, have an introspective – what went well, what didn’t. Click here to see Fred’s presentation from the festival.

Grow up or get out

Stephen Waddington (or Wadds as most of us know him) spoke on the second day. His talk ‘Grow up or get out’ outlined 16 areas of change in public relations.


PR is slow to innovate and learn. Is it because of the type of people attracted to working in PR? Why do practitioners not see the opportunity for innovation?

I think a lot stems from leadership. Leaders in public relations need to lead by example. They need to invest in their teams and themselves to ensure they are keeping up with the fast-paced PR industry. They need to be teaching more junior practitioners what public relations is, from the moment they come through the door. Not just give them meaningless tasks to get the job done. The same can be said of educating clients and if you work in-house, your colleagues. In order for PR to be understood by others, we need to demonstrate its value. We can do this by being that strategic counsel boards need. Sometimes being the critical friend. Anyway, that’s to be discussed further in another blog post!

Here are some of my favourite points from Wadds’ presentation:

Are you any good?

Time served is the typical measure of competence in public relations. It’s a lousy metric in a business that is moving so quickly. Wadds has 20 years in practice but says his social media listening skills are a work in progress and he’s lousy at visual community management. The Global Alliance recently published a global competency model. It needs to be developed and adopted as a standard by organisations and industry bodies. Practitioners need to sign up to continuous learning.

Sign up to a continuous profession development scheme and challenge your own learning and development.

Who influences you?

Influencer relations is an expression of how public relations is shifting from traditional media to new forms of media. Everybody with a social network has the potential to be an influencer. A modern day Wild West is playing out across the internet. Paid sits along earned and every market has its own ecosystem.

Authenticity and purpose

Successful organisations build trust and reputation on the internet by being open, candid and timely, just like regular people behave offline. In 2016 any gap between what an organisation does and what it says will be called out. This is an issue that has been played out since social media went mainstream.

Your first job working with any organisation should be to help it discover its purpose within the publics that it serves.

Show me the money

Defining a measurement framework for a campaign is hard. Practitioners continue to use advertising equivalent value (AVE) because it’s easy. But it’s also wrong. The objectives of a public relations campaign should be tied as closely as possible to organisational objectives. When you’re planning a campaign you should be able to define the outputs of your activity and map these against intermediary and organisational outcomes. There will be challenges in decoupling the contribution of public relations activity from other activities but it is achievable.

My tip is to focus on your publics and not on the media.

Editing movies and defining PR

So, whilst editing videos seems a long way off defining PR, it has allowed me to absorb the content from #PRFest six weeks on and look at the main standout points.

In summary, if you work in public relations, it’s your responsibility to KNOW what PR is and how it works. It’s also your responsibility to learn (skills and knowledge) how to go about doing your job in the most effective way. Don’t just rely on others to teach you. If you’re advising clients then you must be able to advise with the best possible skills and knowledge.

Finally, one point that several speakers mentioned and I cannot highlight this enough, is to invest in your own continuous professional development (CPD). If you plan what you aim to learn over a 12-month period, and use the likes of the CIPR CPD platform, you’ll find it invaluable and you’ll always be developing as a PR practitioner. If you want to keep up with the pack then this is your top priority.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post. All of the content from #PRFest speakers is on slideshare and I’ll be drip-feeding other speaker videos via the festival YouTube channel.

Please share this post if you found it useful, as others may find it useful too.


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