Issues management

LinkedIn sexism debate: Charlotte Proudman has made it harder for others to speak up and be heard

Charlotte Proudman One of the hot topics on Twitter this week was the case of Charlotte Proudman, who publicly shamed a partner at law firm Brown Rudnick for calling her LinkedIn profile picture 'stunning'. 

Charlotte took to social media to share the message she'd received from Alexander Carter-Silk and her response, in which she stated she was not on the networking platform 'to be objectified by sexist men.'

While there's no doubting that Carter-Silk's message was poorly thought through, the tone and content wasn't unpleasant and referenced the fact he wanted to understand Charlotte's skills and how they might work together.

It's hard to know what was in Carter-Silk's mind when he penned his unfortunate note, but it's unlikely he was expecting the aggression in Charlotte's reply.

Shaming someone is not the answer

By turning this into a public issue via social media, Proudman did everyone a disservice.

Every day people compliment each other on their appearances and achievements. Sometimes there is hidden agenda, most of the time there's not.

In this situation, many would have just taken the compliment and moved on, especially as there was nothing sinister in the text. Some people would have enjoyed the attention. Others would have just turned the focus straight back to business, asserting themselves that way.

But by pushing the exchange into the public eye, Charlotte shamed a barrister and missed an opportunity to potentially achieve behavioural change on a one-to-one level. She also behaved in an unprofessional manner by not dealing with it privately and escalating what was in essence a fairly harmless exchange.

By complaining loudly about something trivial, Charlotte made it even harder for those experiencing something serious to speak up and actually be heard.

Every day sexism happens and it needs to stop

I've had my own experiences of every day sexism, from  inappropriate out of hours messaging right through to gropes of the bum and it's deeply unpleasant.

However there are ways and means of dealing with it and turning immediately to a public forum is not the solution. Those likening what has happened here to rape culture take it way too far and it's not helpful to the wider sexism and gender debate.

The fact that the majority of people seem to agree Alexander's message was a cack-handed, badly judged but harmless compliment says a lot.

Think about it this way. If Charlotte had gently and privately outlined her discomfort with his message and signposted Alexander to the #HeforShe campaign, she might have made him think twice about the discrimination faced by women and girls every day, which would have been a start.

She might have also avoided a lot of reputation damage for all the people and organisations concerned.

Andy Beckett: I hope I can visit the North East again some time, and write a more optimistic piece

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Following Andy Beckett's article in Saturday's Guardian, there has been (rightly in my opinion) a major outcry about how the North East is depicted in national press.

In terms of the piece itself, the two key interviewees, Chi Onwurah MP and Edward Twiddy from the North East LEP, have both said they were misrepresented. Several blogs rebutted the findings including one from Paul Smith that is strongly supported by an article on Buzzfeed.

The Guardian's Northern editor Helen Pidd weighed in with her take on the article.

The petition I set up has gathered over 500 signatures - thanks to all who came out in support of our glorious region. Although no revisit from Andy Beckett is forthcoming, he has written an explanatory piece for the Journal. Whether or not we agree with his response, it is good that the Guardian has been forced to look at its reporting in terms of how it describes the North East.

Here is what the Guardian's Melissa Denes had to say: "Andy's original draft was longer, as is the case with most articles we run - there is always an editing process, and we do not know exactly how much print space we will have at the time of commissioning. In this instance it was cut by around 1000 words (or a not unusual 20%), and care was taken that the balance between positives and negatives remained the same.

"As well as Helen's blog, we have given half the letters page to the subject today, and there will be more in this weekend's magazine. Andy has written a piece for the Newcastle Journal. We have absolutely no wish to alienate readers, and are happy to correct errors - but I do feel his piece reflected much that was positive about the region, as well as causes for concern." 

Let's hope this unhappy experience prompts all the nationals to consider their (lack of) presence in the region and to keep balance in mind at all times.


Avoiding #PricelessSurprises on social media

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The Brit Awards 2014 enjoyed a bit more than the usual hype when Tim Walker, a journalist at the Telegraph, shared an email from MasterCard’s PR agency House PR with the Press Gazette.

The email detailed certain conditions attached to the journalist’s Brit’s press pass, including a request for pre, during and post-event tweets using the hashtag #PricelessSurprises, with one even helpfully drafted up as an example.

The furore that followed was no doubt the kind of priceless surprise that MasterCard would have preferred to avoid. Amplifying the situation was the promotion of the hashtag on Twitter, which would no doubt have trended anyway - albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Difficult client conversations

While many practitioners may have laughed or sneered at the idea of a PR being so bold with journalists about what they wanted from the agreement, publicity in return for hospitality is nothing new and many may secretly (or even openly) have wished it was that simple a transaction. I’ve certainly been privy to difficult client conversations about the lack of coverage following a journalist’s invite to an expensive freebie.

Turning to the CIPR, I spoke to director of policy and communications Phil Morgan, who acknowledged that while House PR’s actions might not have broken the Institute’s Code of Conduct, the approach taken boils down to a question of integrity.

Phil said: “It is important for PR professionals to respect the codes of conduct of other professions, which didn’t happen in this case – the transaction falls foul of NUJ rules. Equally, as Telegraph writer Tim Walker noted himself, a lot of today’s journalists may not realise that inducements are unethical so there is work to do on both sides.”

The move could have backfired in a different way

The CIPR’s independent regulatory consultant Martin Horrox also points out that arguably the agency did nothing wrong - and that in fact agreeing to the accreditation criteria could still have seen House PR’s move backfire, but in a different way.

Martin said: “This was a clearly stated commercial transaction, like free holidays for travel writers. Journalists can always refuse to accept the condition and can make public the conditions of their accreditation (i.e. state a potential conflict of interest, just as travel writers acknowledge who provided the flights and hotels). They can also do exactly what Tim Walker has done - complain in public about the practice.

“If forcing the hashtag on journalists results in no publicity or bad publicity for the event, who is the loser?  Journalists who have been critical of an event or a company in the past have been refused accreditation to future events: that might be stupid on the part of the organisation, but I'm not convinced it is unethical.”

Whatever your view, it’s clear that this has not been a good week for House PR or MasterCard, but some sympathy has to go to the agency. The email was professionally written and Tim Walker was the only journalist to come forward to complain.

However, what’s done is done and if this opens the debate about expectation versus reward and helps others decide how to tread the social media tight rope, maybe that’s a good thing.

Why not have your say - please feel free to leave a comment.


Power to the People - live blog from the CIPR Northern Conference

Today is the CIPR Northern Conference and I'll be live blogging throughout the event. The day has already kicked off with opening addresses from CIPR North East chair Chris Taylor, the CIPR's CEO Jane Wilson and President Elect Stephen Waddington. Among their brief speeches were calls for practitioners to increase their CPD efforts, to engage further with the Institute and for people to play their part in improving its reputation.

First up in terms of sessions is a talk from Brian Cathcart, founder of the Hacked Off campaign.

Here's what I'm taking from his presentation:

- the change in the newspaper industry is a clear example of power to the people (change instigated in the wake of cases brought by the McCanns & many others in response to mining of personal data) - there was a collective failure of responsibility across national press and this abuse of press power has created a big problem for democracy - exposing the large corporations behind the mass press intrusion has not been easy due to the sheer power held by these bodies - press scandals happened repeatedly over the years with heartfelt promises for change. The change never came and the pattern had to be broken. People power achieved this - the campaign has never been about gagging the press as its freedom is wholeheartedly supported - the Milly Dowler exposé was the straw that broke the camel's back for the public. Hacked Off launched a petition that week and support was unprecedented. Those who signed up are still involved & even provide ongoing funding - the voice of the victims has played an important part in Hacked Off's success. Previous campaigns had very little public engagement. Having people to repeatedly tell their story remains invaluable - where before the press was like a megaphone with people unable to respond, the digital world has changed this. People can engage & make their views known online and continue to do so - the public forum for the Leveson enquiry allowed the sheer extent of the press abuse to be unveiled - the Royal Charter approved by Parliament embodies the findings of the public enquiry at the behest of government and is backed by the public - it is therefore a solution that meets the requirements - the Charter has not been approved by Privy Council because Pressed Off have put forward a separate Charter which is currently being considered. A decision on this is expected soon. Hacked Off sees the new version as something that restricts press justice on a breathtaking scale and hopes the alternative Charter will be rejected - at Hacked Off the fight goes on.

Meeting Jack Straw...the CIPR AGM

20130613-092123.jpg This morning I attended the CIPR Annual General Meeting at the Royal College of Physicians.

The step change that is happening at the CIPR is quite astonishing and exciting. I encourage everyone to find out more and support our industry body as it continues to modernise and looks to blaze new trails.

As part of the morning I was proud to act as ambassador for the CIPR North East committee which picked up the national / regional group of the year award.

The sectoral award went to the CIPR International group, while the sought after Stephen Tallents medal was given to Rob Brown, who has made a significant social media contribution to the Institute in recent years.

After the official business the guest speaker was the Right Hon. Jack Straw MP. Interestingly much of his presentation was based around engagement. Here are a few quotes:

"Opposition is about what you're saying, which you can broadly control. Government is about what you're doing and how you present that. Much more complex."

"Today you have to place great importance of authenticity. Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are popular because what you see is what you get. I survived as long as I did by being who I am and personal contact."

"Social media underlines an appetite from people for personal contact. It's fantastically important but if you're trying to close a sale, personal contact is more important than ever. We have to bother all the more so people can ascertain authenticity and the truth of what you're saying and know it's not the usual political codswallop."

"Lobbying is an essential part of our democracy."

"You need to speak in language people understand. Repetition is important. Tell it all and don't leave any question unanswered."

Crisis control - it's all in the advance planning

A client of mine, which is part of a group, recently had a major crisis on its hands. It involved serious allegations about a member of staff that attracted widespread regional media interest.  Managed by the organisation’s central communications team, the issue was dealt with so beautifully, I felt it was worth sharing some best practice tips to help others navigate any issues in a similar fashion. The key to crisis management is always in the preparation and however laborious and time-consuming it may be, it’s well worth doing. By planning for something, there’s a strong likelihood it won’t happen - and there is also a lot to be said for knowing that if it actually does, you and your team are ready to roll with the right processes and procedures.

The best starting point is to gather key employees to identify what they perceive crises to be - this can provide critical insight into how people will react and the type of questions that will be asked.  This should be followed by a brainstorm of the type of crises that could arise to affect the organization.  For example, what would happen if the manufacturing plant had to close for a day or of there was a fatality at work?  How would the business manage a scare over contaminated produce or a call centre communications failure? There are many potential scenarios and it’s always worth considering the unexpected and thinking about how the business would respond.

The types of crises that can be experienced include:

•Structural (major long-term trends such as technological developments, over which the individual organisation has little control)

•External (mainly contextual issues such as environmental or community concerns, political imperatives)

•Short-term (arising from unforeseen events, eg a fire or flooding, bereavement, closure due to illness)

•Internal (industrial relations and the like)

•Current affairs (anything of immediate public interest, usually the subject of intense media coverage at the time)

•Potential (issues that have not yet emerged).

Once all the various nightmare situations are out on the table, a crisis manual then needs to be prepared. In this goes all the written plans that the company is likely to need should anything kick off. Actions and responsibilities should be listed and media statements should be prepared, although these will always need adapting to suit the situation as it unfolds. At this point it is important to agree who the company spokespeople would be and organize media training, if this has not been carried out before. In his book, ‘Communicating out of a Crisis’, expert Michael Bland advises carrying out crisis simulations to assess the team’s strengths and weaknesses and to follow up with regular audits – regular spot checks ensure staff stay on top of crisis policies and that crisis manuals are kept up to date.

When a major issue hits, speed is of the essence and the agreed plan of action should be cascaded back around the team so everyone is absolutely clear on what to do. A holding statement should be ready for the media within 30 minutes, even if the situation is still unraveling – it can be as simple as: “We have a crisis plan in place and are taking action.’ Never run for cover or let the crisis dominate – and make sure the business is communicating with all its stakeholders directly, not just via the media. If necessary manage expectations by offering an apology, explanation and solution and make sure the business follows through with any promises made.

It’s safe to say that crises are inevitable but reputational damage isn’t - how a business reacts can be far more important than the circumstances of the crisis and advance planning is key. All organisations are vulnerable, just in different ways.  By following best practice guidelines, it is possible for a business to survive a crisis not just with its reputation intact – but having strengthened it with forthright and ethical behaviour.