Break from the bullshit: it’s time for truth not tabloid headlines

Today I attended a superb Strategic Comms Forum on devolution organised by CIPR North East.

It featured Gill Morris from DevoConnect, Will Mapplebeck from Core Cities and Neal Smith from Tees Valley Combined Authority all speaking on 'How regional mayors & Brexit are transforming the North’s power map'.

The three guests and host Huw Lewis were superb about the opportunities afforded by Metro Mayors but I had two key questions: how do we increase diversity and where are ethics built into the political process? Whose role is it to call out bullshit?


White, male and middle class

Those in the room with me will have sensed my frustration at the all male shortlist that we have for the North of Tyne Mayoral Election on 2nd May.

On this occasion, none of the political parties used an all-women shortlisting system, although they had the power to do so.

None had succession planning or mechanisms in place to ensure both female and BAME leaders had a chance to put themselves forward with a genuine opportunity for success.

A leadership scheme for those keen to get more political experience would be a great start.

The answer though, isn’t just to point at a woman and say ‘well then you go for it.’ We need the right people for the job.


Bye bye to bullshit

And then of course there is the question of ethics.

At a time when trust in the political system is at an all time low, Metro Mayors have an opportunity to fix this and show how engagement with the community can create solutions that help the whole region, and in fact the North of England, thrive.

But it’s dependant on the candidates.

In her book Airhead published last week, Newsnight journalist Emily Maitlis writes about her regret in not calling out President Donald Trump’s exaggeration and bare face lies.

Maitlis interviewed Trump on three occasions in the UK and US for a profile for Newsnight in 2013, long before he declared his candidacy for the White House and ran in the 2016 election.

She acknowledges the fact that ultimately the media and US society failed to call out Trump, facilitating his rise to power - and her role in this.

It’s a refreshingly candid admission from a senior journalist that acknowledges the huge influence that the media still has in democracy and holding power to account.


Codes of Conduct and calling out bullshit

I’d argue that as professional communicators adhering to a Code of Conduct, we also have a role to play in ensuring messaging is factual, accurate and, critically, rebutted if it’s not true.

We’ve seen with Brexit how lies can achieve political ambitions – and the fall out when promises can’t be delivered. It’s divisive, dangerous and leaves people disenfranchised.

Today I held a North of Tyne mayoral party candidate to account for passing off someone else’s work as his own. Someone else then followed suit.

Calling time on bullshit is a collective responsibility and we all need to get better at it.

If anyone is interested, I’ll be voting for John McCabe on 2nd May. He has a strong manifesto based on collaboration and cross-party working that I believe plays to our economic strengths. He will also introduce a Mayoral Commission on Opportunity to break the glass ceiling and remove all barriers to people achieving their full potential. I’m all for that.

The profession is in a right old state. This is a pissed off post - less talk, more action please

CIPR State of the Profession survey reports diversity and inclusion problem and mental health epidemic. This is a pissed off post: when will we learn?

In February 2017, Stephen Waddington and I published a #FuturePRoof report for the PRCA which characterised the issue of mental health and the cost of absence to the PR profession.

Within this we made recommendations for agency owners and managers and signposted individuals to sources of help to try and make a change within organisational culture. The problem was already stark.

Fast forward two years and according to the CIPR State of the Profession, the sector is in crisis.

Workload, unsociable hours and unrealistic expectations are all driving stress, with 63% of respondents rating the stressfulness of their job at 7 out of 10 or above. 23% of respondents have reported sickness absence on the grounds of stress, anxiety or depression.


White, well paid and public schooled

Coupled with this, the CIPR reports that the sector is failing to make any progress on diversity and inclusion.

According to the survey, more than nine in ten (92%) classify as white, the third increase in as many years.

Meanwhile four times as many practitioners as the national average apparently attended a fee paying school. When you read that those who attended a private school are more likely on average to hold a senior post and be paid accordingly compared to those who did not, does that seem fair to you?

Despite every PR event in the land featuring Billy Big Bollocks talking about how we need to represent the audiences we serve, lip service appears to be the best we can do.

For an industry that purports to place people front and centre of our work, it appears we are spectacularly failing and worst, we’re all apparently cool with that.


It takes a village

The thing is it’s going to take a village to raise this child.

With both leadership bodies acknowledging the issues and providing policy advice, it’s now down to organisations and individuals to drive change.

Collective responsibility means we all have to step up and make the interventions needed to make our workplaces happy and healthy and inclusive to all.

The help is out there and where it’s not, practitioners need to ask for it – or do what’s needed to make it happen.


Give people a leg up

It’s one of the reasons I launched Socially Mobile this year, a new charity aimed at improving social mobility within our industry.

Socially Mobile will help those from disadvantaged backgrounds get the leadership and management skills they need to unlock their earning potential. It’s supported by Reuben Sinclair, a progressive recruitment agency also trying to widen the talent pool by showing how recruiting differently can change the makeup of teams for the better.

So the ask is this: what can you do for the better? If you want to motivate your team and drive up profits, start internally and start now.  Stop repeating platitudes like there is much to do, instead get a move on and make it happen.     


The new North of Tyne Mayor - what makes a good leader?

On May 2nd, devolution will see the election of the first ever North of Tyne mayor who will be responsible for working with the new North of Tyne Combined Authority. As the election approaches, it’s useful to identify the traits that strong leaders demonstrate and which values and behaviours members of the public should look for from the various candidates.

Accountable leadership

At a time when trust in the government, media and business is at an all time low, leaders who found their work in purpose and are looking to achieve a wider social benefit outside of purely money making are the ones cutting through the noise. They’re also the ones most aligned with the values of the public sector.

We must learn the lessons of Trump of the 2016 US election. Yes, authenticity is important, but it must come with a strong track record of success, financial rigour and a focus on making things better for everyone, rather than a single sector-led approach.

Accountable leadership is crucial – the new mayor will need to take responsibility for outcomes without blaming others or outside forces. The ideal candidate will ideally be used to influencing on behalf of the wider business community on a national level and have the credibility which comes with that.

Barriers to entry and to delivery

Leaders within local government are well versed in the challenges and opportunities facing the North East. Any candidate setting their stall out as mayor needs a similar understanding, solid policies which aren’t being developed on the hoof and to recognise that business interventions and solutions to perceived issues need to be well researched and substantiated.

There also needs to be a recognition that the existing system creates constraints to work within. Anyone stating they can ‘fix’ the North East is not only working from the negative assumption that the region is broken but is offering a glib answer to something that is inherently complex, which probably isn’t deliverable. We’ve learnt from Brexit to beware of politicians over reaching or bearing false promises.


One of the most important traits of any leader is the ability to listen and have empathy.

Leaders in local government regularly face challenging situations and often need to deliver news that different groups of stakeholders might perceive as negative. They need to understand the impact of their decisions and actions and communicate in a way that is open and inclusive.

The North of Tyne Mayor needs to be able to walk into a room and work with people of all ages, genders, backgrounds, politics and races. Genuine engagement with stakeholders and good expectation management is critical – any candidate who appears divisive is only ever going to create greater challenges.


Strong leaders are able to make difficult decisions but do so based on insight and fact rather than opportunism or instinct. They also need to do it with the best interests of the wider community at heart. Key here is the ability to balance emotion with reason, engage relevant stakeholders and catalyse action. To achieve this any new mayor needs to be able to command respect, not ridicule.

Ethically sound

Finally, a fundamental trait that leaders need to show is strong ethics. Trump has crippled US politics rather than being a force for good. The new mayor should display a strong moral compass and a shared vision for the success of the newly formed North of Tyne Combined Authority. A capacity to recognise personal flaws shows humility and an ability to build a team that plays to strengths and also shores up any weaknesses.

White saviour row strikes at the heart of influencer relations

When Labour MP David Lammy tweeted “The world does not need any more white saviours” in response to an Instagram picture posted by documentary maker Stacey Dooley of her holding a young Ugandan child, it unleashed a row about whether charities need to change their approach to influencer relations. Here six experts weigh in on the issue.

Scott Guthrie is a management consultant. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to generate meaningful results from smarter influencer marketing decisions.

Comic Relief learned the hard way the difference between celebrity endorsement and influencer relations back in 2017. Films fronted by actors Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hardy and flame-haired, pop star Ed Sheeran were widely slammed as poverty porn when they aired.

For Redmayne, Hardy and Sheeran influence is a by-product of their fame earned through acting and music. There is no doubt their intentions were beyond reproach. But their subject matter expertise does not lie in sub Saharan Africa. Instead they lent only their fame to promoting Comic Relief and its good causes.

The recruitment of Stacey Dooley to front a Comic Relief documentary in Uganda appeared to show the charity had learned some lessons. Dooley is a journalist, TV presenter and documentary filmmaker. She has made social-issue-themed documentaries for BBC 3 for the past decade addressing challenging issues such as sweat shops in the fashion industry, people trafficking and child soldiers.

However, whilst Dooley investigates issues affecting young people around the world she is best known for winning the most recent series of Strictly Come Dancing.

The shame about the Stacey Dooley, David Lammy social media blow-up is that it centres on two ill-judged Instagram images of her holding a small child rather than the content of her yet-to-be-aired documentary.

Our decisions are shaped, as consumers, by people who are credible and relevant to the problem we're trying to solve - or opportunity we're trying to grasp. We turn to an influencer’s experience to form our evidence. We place celebrities on pedestals whilst influencers we believe are people like us; relatable. Being popular isn't the same as being influential. That's down to credibility and context.

Successful influencer relations campaigns follow guardrails laid down in a creative brief. These guides will explain the creative style guide, the tone of voice, key messages, the call to action. The brief will outline the no-go areas, too. This section might include avoiding depicting images which could be perceived as poverty porn or a distorted image of the continent. So, let's save our judgement for both Comic Relief and Dooley for after we've watched the documentary.

Ellie Waddington is a politics student at Leeds Beckett and charity volunteer, having spent time helping communities in Costa Rica.

The white saviour argument when it comes to charity work is a very tricky one but Stacey Dooley seems to have become the face of a problem much bigger than herself. When dozens of celebrities are sent off to promote charities such as Comic Relief every year, it seems unfair that she has become the scapegoat.

Volun-tourism can be extremely problematic, and it's easy to see how it can be perceived as an issue of them and us. However, I think it's so important to examine the intention behind the work. Comic Relief do an incredible job at raising money, and carry out long term, sustainable projects that really do make a difference, so demonising all the work that they do seems completely counterproductive. 

Katrina Marshall is a journalist and communications specialist who writes on issues surrounding diversity and inclusion; social justice and public relations.    

I still do a double take when news stories or advertisements flash images of gleaming skyscrapers and bustling cities in Nigeria or South Africa.  Educated in Barbados and the UK and with a firm grasp on the narratives and counter narratives of their shared colonial past, one would think those images would register as ‘normal’ in my head.  I’m embarrassed to say they still don’t. 

This single admission explains much of the problematic ‘white saviour’ storyline of the continent’s relationship with aid and relief efforts.  That drip-fed message I was subconsciously fed as a child - that famine, war and corruption (played out to the soundtrack of “We Are the World”) is all Africa is - robs its citizens of a voice in the shaping of their own image.  An image that also includes resourcefulness, ingenuity and triumph.

The parade of white, Western pop stars who headline well-meaning aid efforts like Comic Relief in Africa are at the core of what acclaimed Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the danger of a single story”.  The desire to help impoverished nations by using well known figures to motivate the public to raise funds for charity is overall a good thing.  That is understood.  But we are now as a country too multi-cultural; too advanced in our discussions dismantling our relationship with race, culture and colonialism to be so tone deaf in our execution. 

The late BBC broadcaster Ghanaian Komla Dumor was described as having considerable influence on how the continent was covered.  South African comic and host of America’s The Daily Show, Trevor Noah, has set up a foundation in Johannesburg to provide educational tools and training to vulnerable youth.  Both have global platforms. Both are influencers on a scale far larger than Strictly’s new blue-eyed girl Stacey Dooley.  Yet it is she who has offended the Ugandan High Commissioner His Excellency Julius Peter Moto with her social media snaps of a nameless, almost expressionless Ugandan child on her hip on a recent ‘charity trip’ there.  It is she who has reduced this polarizing and complex issue to a Twitter beef with David Lammy MP.  Simply because he dared Dooley and others to do better than perpetuate this single story. 

The good intentions of people of all colours and backgrounds can live comfortably and profitably alongside more conscious, dignified approaches to charity work.  They can certainly do better than Dooley’s simplistic rebuttal: “why don’t you go do it David?”. 

Karan Chadda is a digital communications specialist within financial services. 

Stacey Dooley’s crass Instagram post was the lightning rod, but this storm was caused by Comic Relief’s continued reliance on sending celebrities to Africa to produce broadcasts that play to the worst stereotypes of a diverse continent. 

 We could talk about the importance of due diligence, of checking what influencers do across all their channels and the need to draw up strong contracts, but patronising and reductive photos are hard to plan for. What brands must plan for, however, is the inevitable attacks from people who disagree with them. And these days there’s no shortage of opinions or platforms to share them (my contribution here being an obvious example).

Comic Relief’s defence deflects the charge by pointing to the vast amount of money it has raised for good causes. And ultimately, its videos are produced to open wallets. It is a solid defence and, although unlikely to win over its critics, it will have had many people nodding in agreement.

Ronke Lawal is the London based founder of Ariatu PR, a PR consultancy working with Lifestyle and FMCG brands and entrepreneurs. 

Altruism has never been a bad thing - in fact it is the basic foundation of a peaceful and compassionate society. Charity work is often a physical representation of our altruism at times of need. But human nature often means that charity work can become overshadowed by our desire to be praised and our egos to be stroked because of that physical representation.

This seems to be particularly prevalent when it comes to big charities who use celebrity star power to draw attention to their causes. A combination of a captive audience and the desire to be seen to be doing good means that celebrities placed in the positions of brand ambassadorship can sometimes come across as insincere and self serving. Their intentions are good but their lack of sensitivity can serve to reinforce negative stereotypes of the very people they are supposed to be helping. 

In the case of Stacey Dooley and Comic Relief her image was one of many images used by celebrities which look innocent but have a negative impact through the persistent degradation of African bodies, specifically Black African bodies.

African bodies are often used as props without agency or dignity - we see this in plenty of charity adverts and across mainstream media. The purpose is of course to evoke a reaction, an emotional draw that will encourage people to donate as much as possible. But there is a lasting impact of images like this particularly as they do not reflect change or empowerment. It would be deemed inappropriate if celebrities took selfies with poor white children in estates across the UK (given that the UK child poverty are reaching record highs).

Nobody denies that there is a need for charity work and aid serves a purpose but it has become synonymous with powerlessness in a way that undermines the positive outcomes of the work that is done. The historical legacy of colonialism may not be shared in British schools but images like the one shared by Stacey Dooley teach people that Africa needs to be saved and looked after. Images and words mean things, they leave a lasting impression on audiences and society as a whole and charities like Comic Relief should be more mindful of the tactics used to draw attention to the causes that it wishes to help.  

Marcel Klebba is an account executive at global comms agency Metia. He blogs at MK, Vuelio’s top 10 PR blog 2019. 

We’ve to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who goes extra mile to help others. But I completely disagree with the execution of the post. The caption is not right. We live in the Instagram era, where we’re all ‘obsessed’ with the picturesque sunset, a new dress or a shiny pair of sneakers. We sometimes forget about how Instagram culture changes us and how we start perceiving things. We constantly look out for the Insta-worthy shots.   

It sounds obvious, but public figures have to watch what they post and they need to be aware of the repercussions.

A few questions arise in this particular case. Should brands be even tighter when choosing who will represent them across social platforms? Should they be providing some sort of training and clearly defined messaging? What are some of the do’s, don’ts and what does a successful campaign on social look like?

I don’t need to say that the influencer marketing, when executed well, can be a great tool. But when influencers, even with the best intentions, don’t get something right, it can be a real burden for brands. 

Making Disruption Pay - breaking barriers to growth

This morning I attended a Dentsu Aegis event on how to use disruption to create growth opportunities. The event included sessions on customer insight, media fragmentation, AR and VR, as well as speakers from Spotify and Snapchat. Here are my top four quotes from the day.

Steve Underwood, Managing Partner, Dentsu Aegis Network:

“We are in a storm of change; a period of complexity and change. As marketeers this spans across political, technological and societal landscapes. The pace of change in the next five years is going to be even quicker than the last fifteen. Business leaders need to prioritise change and disruption in their plans and that starts with listening to and understanding customers.”

 Chris Davies, Group Business Director, Carat

“Change comes in cycles and follows a pattern of opportunity, investment and innovation. The opportunity right now lies in the transition to a digital economy. Brands need to grapple with issues stemming from the democracy of information, not knowing who their next competitor is, the falling cost of technology and no longer being in control of messaging. Adaptation is crucial, starting with understanding the conditions that your business now needs for growth.”

Mike Liall, Strategy Director, Dentsu Aegis Network

“There has never been a more exciting time to be a marketer in the UK. There are lower barriers to market entry, increased opportunities to collaborate, we have better access to data and insight and people-based marketing is much more personalised. However there are many risks. The pace of change, greater customer choice, commoditisation of markets, complicated communications decisions and trust and credibility are all challenges.

“There is an expectation gap where consumers are demanding more of organisations while they try to adapt to new developments, creating a market squeeze. The way to deal with this is through customer centric experiences, creativity, rethinking media, closing the gap and using best in class data. Businesses must move from a channel-based approach to a customer-based approach.”

Chris Howard, Group Product Director, Dentsu Aegis Network

“People-based marketing is a strategic priority for CMOs who want to maximise the value of consumer relationships, however extracting and translating insight from data is more difficult than ever.  Organisations need to use real people not proxies (cookies, device identifiers etc) to build brand strategies, based on accurate data.

“Fuelling future growth comes from better media planning that doesn’t just target existing customers - it requires broader reach. Creative also matters: it’s not just about who you’re speaking to but what you’re saying to them.  Consumers expect companies to use their data to make their experience seamless so align the message, media and site experience to make this happen.

“Finally most marketing impacts get missed.  Measure against long-term business goals to drive sustainable business growth and avoid the short-term marketing trap.”


Best practice in public relations procurement

Choosing the best PR practitioner or agency for your company is really important if you want someone who can deliver results against your business objectives. Last night the CIPR launched a new Client Advisor Service to help organisations get their recruitment right.

When it comes to hiring a PR practitioner or agency, there are so many choices out there it can sometimes be difficult to know where to start. A lack of barriers to entry in public relations means that anyone can set themselves up with a phone and a laptop – and that you might not get the most from your investment.

It is possible to find someone who ticks all the right boxes, fits with your business and delivers more than the odd press release. Public relations is much more than media relations and when deployed strategically can be a game changer for your organisation.

Look for proof of continuous professional development

If you want someone with a comprehensive skillset, I always recommend looking for candidates who are members of a professional body like the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (I’m its immediate past president) or the PRCA.

This is a way to make sure you find someone whose PR activity will align with your organisational objectives and result in clear business outcomes, while working within a code of conduct. Remember the person you’re hiring will be responsible for managing your reputation.

An even better choice is a chartered PR practitioner. Chartered status means that person has been evaluated on their leadership, ethical and strategic capabilities, and is committed to continuous professional development (CPD).

I was the first CIPR member in the North East to become Chartered and all of my team are members of the Institute, as part of our commitment to delivering to the highest standards and being accountable.

Time served is not the equivalent of the appropriate training and qualifications, especially in an industry which is evolving very quickly.

Best practice in procurement

If you are recruiting for a new PR role in your organisation or if you want agencies to pitch for your work, the CIPR has launched a brand-new Client Advisor Service to help you follow best practice.

If you’re after a member of the team, one of its client advisors can help you prepare a job description and interview candidates, useful for companies which are new to PR, want to ensure the job description is accurate and their chosen professional can deliver fully in the role on offer.

Similarly, if you want agencies to pitch for your work and have a budget of £5,000 or more to spend, a client advisor can help you prepare a brief and select an agency.

All CIPR client advisors are experienced chartered practitioners and undertake this work at a reduced fixed fee.


Use the toolkit


The CIPR also has a procurement toolkit available to support PR recruitment. The toolkit is designed to help clients of the PR profession and their suppliers, including agencies and other service providers, to work together to maximise the value delivered by PR practitioners and PR activity.

From a practitioner point of view, having an accurate view of the job or brief makes a huge difference to how you approach the interview or pitch and critically if you even throw your hat in the ring. It’s worth following the guidance to get the best people for the job.

You can find more information on the CIPR Client Advisor Service here. The CIPR procurement toolkit is available here.


The power of your own voice

 A review of Michelle Obama’s book Becoming.

Michelle Obama’s book Becoming is a life-affirming read to kick off the New Year. It tells the story of her relationship, family and career and the impact of her husband's political career. It’s a fitting reminder of staying grounded whatever life holds.

The first section of the book is about Michelle's Chicago childhood, her acceptance at Princeton University and legal career.

We hear about her developing relationship with Barack Obama, as well as their marriage before their own personal struggles to have kids. Their two daughters Malia and Sasha were born after two rounds of IVF.

Michelle is candid and honest about her husband’s life in politics. She admits that it took her time to back Obama’s Presidential campaign, recognising the need to step back from her own career.

The authenticity of the family’s struggles to get to the White House leave you grateful there are people willing to sacrifice normal life to effect real and profound social change.

Becoming resonated with me on many levels, especially around the challenges of becoming a female leader while remaining a Mum.

Juggling the demands of a fast-paced work life while trying to provide stability and be there at the dinner table is something all working parents will identify with.

It is also refreshing to read an honest account of what it feels like to deal with detractors. It's something that I have struggled with at times in the public life over the past few years.

What’s uplifting is that Michelle, sometimes alone, often with help, always finds a solution. Her lesson is one that worked for me: “If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”

As she says time and time again, there is real power in using your own voice. A key takes out is that it’s up to us to find our voices and put them to good use.

Becoming is an inspirational read and one I enjoyed. It left me feeling a real gratitude and fondness for a family I’ve never met. Michelle Obama’s writing style is one more business leaders would do well to adopt; honest, open, self-aware and genuine.

Becoming is priced at £13 and you can buy it here. It comes recommended.

Five things to expect from your PR practitioner

Public relations is highly misunderstood. It’s much more than media relations and crisis management and when employed strategically, helps an organisation to decide its what, why and how – its purpose for being. Here Sarah Hall, managing director of Sarah Hall Consulting, provides five points on what to expect from a good PR practitioner.


#1 Someone who treats PR as a strategic management function

There are few barriers to entry in public relations. Anyone can set themselves up as a practitioner with a lap top and phone but it doesn’t mean they are any good. All PR activity should align with your organisational objectives and result in clear business outcomes. Look for someone who is a member of a professional body like the CIPR (I’m its past president) or the PRCA, as it’s an indicator that they understand the strategic value of PR, adhere to a code of conduct and are committed to continuous professional development (CPD).


#2 Someone who continues their CPD

Time served is no measure of competence, particularly in an industry that evolves as quickly as public relations. You need someone who is aware of how the business of PR is changing, continually upskilling and encouraging those they work with to do the same. Check out the Global Alliance global capabilities framework to benchmark the skills your PR practitioner should display at different stages in their career. Invest time and effort in helping them achieve them. Business and management skills, as well as tactical competencies, are a must.


#3 Someone who operates ethically

People can get a bit sneery about PR’s ‘higher purpose’ but a public relations professional should act as an ethical safeguard – ie be the eyes, ears and conscience of your organisation. A key part of the role is horizon-scanning and benchmarking, also working with management and operations to plan for any crises. PR starts with listening to understand your market and stakeholders, which then informs how you best engage with them. I used the word engage deliberately – businesses need to move away from broadcast mode and genuinely invest in two-way comms, acting on the feedback given to improve internal performance, which will ultimately positively impact the bottom line.


#4 Someone who can speak truth to power

Which brings me on to needing someone who is able to speak truth to power. A confident and competent public relations professional should have the ear of the board and a full understanding of your business, including supply chains and areas of risk. If there is any question that the organisation is operating unethically, expect them to speak out and advise corrective action. In today’s day and age companies have to live their values. Any say-do gap will be called out by pressure groups, media or the public with the reputation damage and drop in profits that results.


#5 Someone who measures effectively

Finally, it’s pointless doing activity for the sake of it or jumping onto a new platform or app just because it’s shiny and new. A good PR practitioner will provide a business case for proposed tactical plans. They will adhere to the latest sector standards in measurement and evaluation and will want to be measured on business outcomes, not outputs. Industry best practice would dictate the use of the free AMEC integrated evaluation framework, based on the industry Paid Earned Shared Owned (PESO) model. If your PR practitioner doesn’t know what this or PESO is, you either need to help them develop their knowledge and skills fast, or you shouldn’t be working with them.

CIPR House of Commons debate places PR at the heart of organisations

Tonight I had the privilege of representing the CIPR at a House of Commons Debating Group event. Chaired by The Rt Hon Lord McNally, we debated whether ‘Business best serves society by focusing on the bottom line.’ For the motion was Dr Jamie Whyte, research director at the Institute of Current Affairs and Valentina Kristensen, director of growth and communications at Oaknorth Bank. I opposed the motion with the support of Professor Anne Gregory, chair of corporate communication, Huddersfield Business School. Here are my two arguments in full, which show exactly how intrinsically linked public relations is to organisational strategy and how placing people before profit is better for generating financial return over the long-term.


Business best serves society by focusing on its bottom line.

Tonight I’m going to wholeheartedly and fervently argue the opposite.

And I’m going to start with Guardian coverage of a report that was published by the United Nations just ten days ago.

“The UK government has inflicted “great misery” on its people with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than economic necessity, the United Nations poverty envoy has found.

“Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ended a two-week fact-finding mission to the UK with a stinging declaration that despite being the world’s fifth largest economy, levels of child poverty are “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”.

Let’s take a couple of seconds to digest what we just heard.

“A social calamity and an economic disaster”. If that doesn’t speak to the need to place people above profit, nothing ever will. And when the government doesn’t make the general public its priority, this is exactly the situation we find ourselves in. A society more aligned to 1918 than 2018.

When society’s needs aren’t being fulfilled, we need businesses to step up and give back – remembering that they have a civic duty too.


Organisational purpose

If we want to talk about business best serving society by focusing on the bottom line, we need to understand the purpose of organisations first.

According to the Chartered Management Institute, organisational purpose is:

“An organisation’s meaningful and enduring reason to exist that aligns with long-term financial performance, provides a clear context for daily decision-making, and unifies and motivates relevant stakeholders.”

This means profit generation that is focused on and benefits all connected to the organisation. Not just in the management team’s interests so they can take more home in their pay packet.

Surely no one here can justify the obscene £265m Bet365 founder Denise Coates paid herself in 2017, more than a third of the betting firm’s annual profit. Does that sit ok with everyone here? Surely there is a point when enough money becomes too much money, especially with that type of discrepancy between your salary and what you pay your employees.

When you consider the CIPR’s own definition of what we do, in terms of being “the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its public,” it becomes very clear how relevant organisational purpose is to public relations.

The work we do is interconnected and as reputation guardians, it falls to us to help business do the right thing.


Social purpose matters

Organisational purpose outside of money making is important.

Not least at times of prolonged austerity and political, societal and technological change, like we are experiencing now.

If you need the commercial imperative outside of ‘doing good’, this type of change acts as a flashpoint when relationships between organisations and the public change and consumers scrutinise where to invest their hard-earned cash.

They seek brands aligned with their values and which, recognising their customers’ daily challenges, are committed to alleviating these.

Businesses not living their values risk being called out publicly, with the reputational damage and negative impact to the bottom line that results.

Critically, it’s not just me saying this. Social purpose is an issue rising up the corporate agenda.

Unilever’s Paul Polman has been quoted as saying “capitalism can no longer prosper at the expense of society.”

Blackrock’s Larry Fink is also the perfect case in point. At the start of the year he sent an anniversary letter to CEOs saying:

“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. Companies must benefit all their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers and the communities in which they operate.”

If the leader of one of the world’s leading asset management companies is saying this, it’s time to sit up and listen.


Profit and purpose aren’t mutually exclusive

Crucially, my biggest argument against tonight’s motion that business best serves society by focusing on its bottom line, is that profit generation and organisational purpose don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Just look at businesses which do well by doing good such as Patagonia, whose purpose statement is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

The clothing brand reached over 750 million dollars in 2017 revenue all without even running a single TV ad. When it did advertise on TV it was nothing about clothing. Every time Patagonia amplifies its social mission, it grows.

Nike’s recent decision to use Colin Kaepernick as the face of its national campaign may have ruffled feathers, but taking a stand and doing the right thing saw its stock soar – in the bank holiday weekend alone after the ad launched, online sales grew by 31%, despite some protestors burning Nike apparel and stating that they’d never buy ever again.

And in a very simple but lovely example, Dominos in the US has taken to filling in potholes (admittedly stamping the Dominos logo on top), recognising that people want to enjoy their pizza in a fit state when it’s delivered to their home. A fantastic campaign stunt which has garnered them column inches and a heap more sales, as well as increased customer loyalty. Social purpose equals win-win.


There is a demand for corporate purpose

In The Power of Purpose John O’Brien and Andrew Cave set out five drivers behind the increased demand for corporate purpose outside of wealth creation:

1.   A need for established companies to find new, authentic ways of creating sustainable value across all stakeholders

2.   Entrepreneurs wanting to demonstrate a deep sense of personal purpose as they carve out new areas of business and social enterprise

3.   Government agencies looking to create collective communities of purpose-driven people, engaged in civil society

4.   Individuals looking to make an impact on the people and issues they care about

5.   Charities and NGOs wanting to create clarity around their rationale and operations to deliver enhanced impact

This is echoed by the Chartered Management Institute.

Its ‘The What, The Why and The How of Purpose’ report, states purpose is a powerful business tool which can:

1.   Increase legitimacy

2.   Attract and retain talent

3.   Drive strong stakeholder and customer relationships

4.   Increase employee psychological welfare

5.   Increase business performance


Accountable leadership is critical to a healthy society

Seventy years ago, the rationale for founding what was then the IPR was to achieve mutual understanding and good relations.

The Institute’s fathers came from local government had accountable leadership and social purpose at the front and centre of their work. It’s a focus we are now returning to.

It’s an important role. According to the Word Economic Forum’s Survey on the Global Agenda, 86% of respondents believe there is a leadership crisis in the world today.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2018 reports that trust in business is down to 43%.

Only a quarter of the population now trust social media as a source of news and information.

Public relations practitioners are well placed to help organisations find their ‘why’ and agree their ‘how’ – and most of all build long-term, sustainable relationships between an organisation and its publics based on two-way engagement, transparency, authenticity and trust.

We can help organisations find their purpose outside of wealth creation and it’s what I’d urge you all here to do too.

I’m going to close by reminding you of the definition of organisational purpose according to the Chartered Management Institute. This is:

“An organisation’s meaningful and enduring reason to exist that aligns with long-term financial performance, provides a clear context for daily decision-making, and unifies and motivates relevant stakeholders.”

I’m absolutely certain that stakeholders aren’t motivated by the ever-increasing size of director pay packets. People want to know how companies are playing their part in making our world a better and happier place to live in.

Thank you.


I spoke earlier about organisational purpose and the various drivers for this outside of purely making money.

I’m keen now to share the perspective of the CBI to demonstrate that senior business leaders also think that a focus on more than the bottom line is critical to improving the reputation of business in society.

In Josh Hardie’s foreword to “Everyone’s Business Tracker”, published in September 2018, he says:

“During a time of huge political and economic uncertainty…the public are increasingly looking towards businesses for leadership. 92% say businesses should take a stance on key social issues.”


He goes on to state that: “To deliver consistent, sustainable improvements in business reputation, companies must not only prevent future scandals, but also focus on the issues the public care most about.”

As in, there are a myriad of ways in which businesses can best serve society outside of a relentless profit drive.

We can all think of examples where businesses, trying to drive up margin, have cut corners to the detriment of their employees and wider stakeholders.

It happens across every industry, from construction to residential care homes. In fact, The Guardian reported last Friday that companies running inadequate UK care homes make £113m of profit, despite the vulnerable people in their care being badly neglected according to the Care Quality Commission.

In July of this year, it was reported that Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland were due to report bumper profits of £14 billion pounds but despite this, customers would still be stuck with easy access savings accounts paying less than 0.5% interest on average.

How is that acceptable in this time of austerity where poverty and food bank usage is now firmly part of daily life? How can those working three jobs and living on the edge ever break the cycle?

The worst example in recent history that I can think of is Grenfell Tower, where a fire caused by flammable cladding – a cheap option chosen by the local authority - resulted in the deaths of 72 people.

72 people could still be alive today if the council had made people its priority, rather than the bottom line.


Media influences opinion

In “Everyone’s Business Tracker”, it becomes clear that the media is influential in forming people’s opinions, not that there was much doubt.

Headlines about scandals and public campaigns on business issues drive the public’s view of business priorities.

I quote directly:

“As a result, the public now place a higher premium on businesses that work with ethical suppliers and that are taking action to reduce unequal pay – each gaining two places in prominence. This change serves as a clear demonstration of the impact high-profile debates have on the public’s priorities for business.”

A few pages on, the report goes further: “The public want business leaders to take a more meaningful and proactive stance on issues such as the environment, immigration and equality. Despite the sustained improvements in the public’s views of CEOs, a considerable proportion still believe business leaders are out of touch with wider society (67%) This disconnect is founded in the perception that business leaders are founded by self interest….Business leaders who speak out authentically and take a stance on issues which matter to society are likely to be viewed more favourably.”

My take out is this – organisational purpose is no longer a nice to have. The public expects it.

The general view appears to be: you don’t serve society by focusing on the bottom line, you only serve yourself.

I’d like to go back to my argument that profit generation and purpose aren’t mutually exclusive. They have benefits for all.

It is more than possible to drive social good with an expectation of commercial gain.


Purpose-driven companies evolve faster

According to a Forbes article by leadership strategist Caterina Bulgarella, purpose-driven companies evolve faster than others.

How? Because while purpose can express what an organisation aspires to be and do, at a more advanced level it becomes a conscious expression of how it intends to evolve and transform.

It nudges the organisation to address inconsistencies in its own culture. What we might call the say-do gap.

Doing good in society can provide companies with the motivation to innovate and provide a different, better type of product or service. Take IKEA whose purpose is to ‘create a better everyday life for the many’.

If a large retailer can place purpose at the heart of its business and make life better for those it serves, anyone can.

As I draw to a close, I’m once again going to remind you of the very definition of organisational purpose according to the Chartered Management Institute. It is:

“An organisation’s meaningful and enduring reason to exist that aligns with long-term financial performance, provides a clear context for daily decision-making, and unifies and motivates relevant stakeholders.”


It is a way to make money, yes, but one that unifies and motivates relevant stakeholders.

Keep that in mind as I share this quote from Eleanor Turner, head of corporate reputation and purpose at Porter Novelli London:

“It’s the companies that have a clear purpose, beyond profit, that have the greatest resonance with consumers. When identifying what their purpose is, in order to be authentic and relevant, it’s critical that a business identifies those issues most pertinent to it. Articulating this purpose is more important than ever, with there being an overwhelming call from consumers for business to play a role in the discussion on social issues.”


What she said.

Thanks for listening.

Organisational leadership skills – influencing teams and individuals to greater achievement

Today I’ve been attending the first day of an Impellus Organisational Leadership Skills course which is now on offer to Chartered Practitioners and Fellows of the CIPR. Practical and pragmatic in terms of the teaching, I’ve come away inspired and looking forward to day two.

“It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behaviour is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”

Warren Buffet

If you’re wondering whether it’s for you and what to expect, the aim is of the Impellus Organisational Leadership Skills course is to investigate and challenge how you influence teams and individuals to greater achievement.

You’re expected to:

-       Be open to new ideas

-       Debate and offer points of view

-       Identify how you can enhance your skills

-       Commit to performance improvements.

Exercises are designed to have you thinking like a director and modelling the behaviours and habits of good leaders.

As you’d expect, day one opens with a definition of leadership. In this case it’s defined as:

-       An influencing process

-       Involving two or more people; leader and follower(s)

-       Occurring in situations where trying to achieve given, implied or explicit goals.

There are a variety of key learnings imparted over the course of the day. Understanding the difference between leadership and management and how these fit together is crucial. Good leaders need a balance and blend of both and to continually work on developing good habits.

Being absent is as big a measure of being a leader as is being present, because if you’ve set a plan correctly, the team should be able to deliver this without you.

Learning to stand back from the day to day and keeping a big picture overview can often provide a challenge for senior leaders. Being there to ‘set a good example’ and show that you ‘wouldn’t delegate anything you wouldn’t do yourself’ isn’t necessarily the hallmark of an inspirational manager, although it’s a mistake that directors commonly make.


Accountable leadership helps business succeed

As you’d expect, a clear take out from today is that those in management roles have a duty to act responsibly to employees, the business and society as a whole, a message the CIPR has been pushing hard around accountable leadership and organisational purpose.

It’s something we’ll actually be discussing in greater depth at a House of Commons debate on Monday 26th November, where I’ll be arguing against the motion that ‘Business best serves society by focusing on the bottom line.’ Tickets are still available and you can get these here.

It’s also the theme of the CIPR’s National Conference on Thursday 29th November, at which a few places also remain.


Dealing with complexity and uncertainty

One of the benefits of attending the course has been learning to recognise and deal with VUCA problems, otherwise known as Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity and Ambiguity, of particular interest as the UK heads towards Brexit.

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As the Impellus course teaches us:


“We associate leadership with the ability to solve problems, act decisively and to know what to do. Today’s problems can present a challenge to this.”

Knowing that it’s ok not to always have the answer but where to go to find it, is pretty liberating and confidence building as a manager.


Dysfunctional teams

Finally, and without giving too much away, anyone who leads a team will benefit from the part of the day which considers the ways in which teams can become dysfunctional.

From absence of trust, fear of conflict and lack of commitment through to avoidance of accountability and inattention to results, finding ways to mitigate these issues is hugely valuable. I’d urge those with tricky team players to seek the course out solely for this section.

On completion of the Impellus Organisational Leadership Skills course, which costs £500 plus VAT, delegates receive a Level 5 certificate from the Institute of Leadership and Management. This can be converted into a full qualification by choosing another two-day course on either Managing Performance and Efficiency or Strategic Thinking and Decision Making.

For more information or to book, please visit

Thanks go to Impellus trainer David Ross for permission to reproduce some of the content here.


Celebrating #CIPR70 with the CIPR's greatest asset - its volunteers

The CIPR thrives thanks to a large and committed group of volunteers who support the dedicated team running the Institute. Thanks to all involved, this year the CIPR has delivered its most ambitious work plan to date. Underpinning everything has been team work of the best kind. Tonight we mark 70 years of the Institute by celebrating 70 special volunteers and all those who have contributed to our superb anniversary book Platinum. Here’s a transcript of my welcome speech for those who can’t make it.

What a very special evening this is; marking 70 years of the CIPR with the volunteers who keep it relevant, forward-looking and a wonderful community to be part of.

As well as celebrating our 70 at 70, tonight we also mark the launch of Platinum, authored by many of you here, under the capable eye of editor Stephen Waddington.

Your efforts take no small commitment; you all have busy jobs, lives and family commitments. Your generosity of spirit in giving time and expertise to help your professional organisation and industry thrive deserves to be acknowledged.

I’m thrilled to see you all tonight to do just that and thank you personally.

Thoughts for the CIPR’s future

It’s not long now until I hand over the CIPR Presidency to Emma Leech and I have a few wishes for the future.

The CIPR’s Royal Charter signposts the path we must take and we must continue to work for the public good, placing social purpose and accountable leadership at the heart of organisational strategies to drive company value over the long-term.

To achieve that, professionals need to be the best they can be, with strategic, ethical and leadership skills the norm. If you’re not yet a Chartered Practitioner, please make that your goal. If you need an incentive, of all the CIPR’s membership levels, those who are Chartered earn the most.

We must encourage members, wherever they are in their career, to make CPD a priority.

Time served is not the equivalent of the appropriate training and qualifications, especially in an industry that evolves constantly.

Barriers to entry are a hallmark of a profession and my belief is when CPD finally becomes mandatory, we’ll have come of age. This is my wish for the CIPR as it moves into its next seventy years.


Team work makes us stronger

All that is left is for me to offer thanks.

The CIPR has a fantastic but small team which punches above its weight and I’m grateful for all they have achieved, especially against the backdrop of an office move. Everyone works hard to make your membership meaningful.

Even tonight Koray has asked me to remind you to complete the State of the Profession Survey so please do that; the more data we get, the stronger we can make our member offer.

My thanks and congratulations go to each and every one of you for your ongoing contributions.

This year the CIPR has delivered its most ambitious plan ever. We have taken an assertive stance in demonstrating the strategic value of PR to organisations and developed closer relationships with the business community thanks to partnerships with the CBI and FSB.

Membership is growing organically and churn is down because our work is resonating.

It’s been a great eleven months. I’d therefore like to propose a toast. To all of you – and to team work.

Thank you and have a lovely evening.


How Malcolm Tucker and Max Clifford committed the greatest PR fraud of our time

How Malcolm Tucker and Max Clifford committed the greatest PR fraud of our time


What do Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster, David Mellor’s Chelsea strip, The Thick of It and Edina Monsoon have in common? Well, all these and more have contributed to PR miseducation. Today I’m at Leeds Trinity’s Journalism and Media Week 2018 to chat all things fact and fiction and demonstrate what we see about public relations has little in common with what the role entails today.

Platinum: Documenting the journey to professionalism in public relations

CIPR volunteers have a capacity to stop you in your tracks and push you to really think. Think about the work we do, about its relevance to society and about what being a public relations professional really means. Platinum, the CIPR’s new crowdsourced book, launches tomorrow to celebrate its seventieth anniversary and is a case in point.

As your 2018 President, I’ve had the privilege of working with Board, Council and members to set the current direction of travel during a very special 70th anniversary year. Every aspect of our work has been grounded in the Charter principles with the purpose of reasserting PR as a strategic management function and underlining the economic contribution we make.

And yet Platinum has made me reconsider what’s right, what’s next and what the future might hold.

Readers will find the rationale for founding what was then the IPR holds true today. Mutual understanding and good relations are what we strive for in daily practice.

But the Institute’s fathers, coming from local government, also had accountable leadership and social purpose at the front and centre of their work.

This higher purpose may have faded in ensuing years, leading to PR to become predominately an occupation rather than a profession, but have no doubt that we are returning to that original focus as we look to educate business and employers about the strategic value that PR offers and uphold the laws enshrined in the Royal Charter.

Business respects our contribution

The fact that Carolyn Fairbairn, the CBI Director-General, has written the foreword to this book is testament to how far we have come in taking our place at the management table – and how important responsible business is in creating a world in which we all wish to live.

So what of the future? For me, the Royal Charter points the way. We must work for the public good. And as part of that professionals need to be the best they can be, with strategic, ethical and leadership skills the norm.

If you’re not yet a Chartered Practitioner, please make that your goal. If you need an incentive, of all the CIPR’s membership levels, those who are Chartered earn the most.

A hallmark of a profession is a commitment to continuous professional development (CPD) and we must encourage members, wherever they are in their career, to make this a priority.

Time served is not the equivalent of the appropriate training and qualifications, especially in an industry that evolves constantly.


The young have taken the lead

It is motivating and gives me real optimism for the future to see the determination of younger generations to occupy that sought-after strategic advisory role to management, because they understand that is how they can best add value and where the opportunity lies.

Less positive is the fact so many making a strong contribution to the CIPR and wider industry are ineligible for Fellowship because they believe CPD is no longer relevant to them when it has never been more important for us all.

Barriers to entry are another hallmark of a profession and my belief is when CPD finally becomes mandatory, we’ll have come of age. This is my wish for the CIPR as it moves into its next seventy years.

All that is left is for me to offer thanks. This thought-provoking and must-read book has been produced through the hard work, generosity and expertise of our members.

My gratitude goes to each and every contributor, Carolyn Fairbairn for her incisive foreword, Tim Traverse-Healy OBE for reminding us of what our forefathers wanted public relations to stand for and achieve and to editor and past-president Stephen Waddington whose dedication to reflection and the future of practice has resulted in this valuable contribution to the CIPR’s ongoing legacy.

Platinum launches at 8am on Wednesday 17th October. Follow #CIPR70 for updates.