22 December 2010

Some PR academics need to "get real"

Following a recent mention of my research in a PR journal I have come to question the value of PR as an academic discipline.

First, to give my comments some context: I worked for 17 years as a journalist on daily newspapers, then another 15 in various PR roles. I completed a Masters in Communications in 2004, then obtained my PhD in 2007. I taught PR for two years at two universities.

A recent article in this "junior" journal misrepresented my research. It a few sentences it primarily drew conclusions which were based on preliminary research, and not the completed work. The comments made not only were flawed, but also made me out to be somewhat of a PR chauvanist, which I am not (if the full thesis had been read). The referencing said the work was unpublished, when it is not. It is available on Amazon.

The writer, a long-standing academic, wrote as only an academic can: in waffling prose. I find this strange in PR, as we teach (or I do) students to write English as it's spoken. I sometimes wonder who these writers and journals are trying to impress? It's probably just their miniscule readership, all of whom are other academics. A mutual admiration society. Really, who will read this material, other than a few PR academics? I wouldn't have known about it, except that someone tweeted the subject.

Interestingly, the issue in question had as its theme, the subject of my research. I suppose I should be pleased I was quoted at all, given that the other half dozen authors didn't give me a mention, despite my research being the most recent. Most were content to quote material from the 1980s, which in itself is lazy research.

When all's said and done (pardon the cliché) "PR's not rocket science". In fact, PR's a soft subject, which, after all is why so many women do it (the topic of my research). Now, I said "subject". I don't mean it's soft when you get out in the real world. It's "soft" when taught at university, where in most cases, the course content doesn't reflect what's going on in the business world.

From an academic perspective, it's all very well to teach Grunig and Maslow (though I must say Grunig is getting irrelevant) but that's not going to cut it when Miss Jones is asked to write a 10-paragraph media release in 15 minutes. Academics will argue that university is there to teach you "why". If you just want to learn "how", then you go to TAFE. But knowing how is more relevant in today's environment than why. Isn't that what it should be about: relevance.

PR is attracting too many sub-standard students, because it's such an easy Degree to pass, and is a money-spinner for the universities. All this does is devalue the Degree, and the profession. Hundreds of graduates are churned out, with only a few likely to have any prospect of being employed in PR.

Academics, meanwhile, are cloistered in their vacuum, oblivious as to what the requirements of business really are. No wonder, when many of them are writing this waffle that is unintelligible to all but their closed circle.

I recently caught up with the head of news for a metropolitan TV station, who said that no university had ever approached him about having students come through to take a look at how the news is put together. Astonishing.

There's a group of PR academics who really need to wake up and "get real". Perhaps they should be given an assignment: apply for a PR job and see how far they get. I wonder.

09 December 2010

Branding in government. Necessary or not?

The following may form the basis for a Paper. As such, it is not academically structured at present. Just putting it out there.

“The value of a brand is in its reputation as a faithful provider” (Branson, as cited in Switzer, 2010).

Origin of branding

Moo-cows. What we now think of as modern branding began in the American Wild West, where cattle farmers identified their herds with a brand, delivered by hot iron. So the brand became the identity.

What is branding?

For most people branding is about a logo. Looking at government department guidelines around Australia, that’s mostly what they refer to – the use of logos and colour schemes.

That perception (and practice) is wrong, and scaringly so, particularly when considers the money that is poured into “branding”.

Branding is a deep understanding and appreciation of a range of forces that make an organisation what it is. The American Marketing Association (2001) said “the brand means the business … a reflection of everyone affecting its performance in the marketplace: employees, alliances, suppliers and consumers. The brand effectively represents the culture of all who touch the business.”

It involves
• messages,
• perception,
• trust,
• loyalty,
• psyche,
• your value (sometimes known as goodwill),
• image,
• symbols,
• organisational culture
• staff knowledge and demeanour

Edberg (2002) said your brand is the “soul of your organisation”. Or, as the lawyer in the Aussie movie The Dish said: “It’s about the vibe” (a feeling associated with that brand). It’s about everything an organisation does … what customers think about when they think about a company, a person, a product, or a service” (Graham, 2001).

Some ideas:

• “A brand’s attributes can be described by a consumer’s perception of trustworthiness and credibility.”
• “Brands signify meaning to consumers about the source.”
• “Brand signals (credibility, consistency, clarity, personality).”

Today, brands are moving away from being primarily about a product. “Major brands have increasingly focussed their efforts on associating themselves with the promise of an experience or lifestyle” (Lewis, 2002).

Many people that shop in surf shops do not surf. The same with outdoors shops and 4WDs. People are buying products not for their practicality, but for what they represent. So in the case of a Porsche 4WD, it’s not that the person wants to hit the outback, but rather they want to be seen as rugged, but not dusty.

Businesses spend billions on brand identity. Look at these businesses. What do they stand for?

• David Jones
• Myer
• Target
• K-Mart/Big W
• Best and Less

When you think of the following products, do these companies come to mind?
• Rental cars (Hertz, Avis)
• Stereo equipment (Sony, Bang and Olfussen)
• Computers (Apple, Dell)
• Clothing (Country Road, Rivers)

What does branding do?
It differentiates you from the crowd. As in the examples above.

So this begs the question? Do we need branding in government (departments); particularly when there is no competition?

It begs another question: why are we doing branding, when a sound communication program would probably suffice? Some possible answers further on.

Where does it sit?
In many ways, branding belongs more in the PR domain than in marketing, as the goal with branding is not so much the short-term gain of sales, but the long-term goals of shaping and influencing people.

How do you get it?
• Define our uniqueness and value
• Goal
• Message
• Audience/s
• Management and Ministerial support

What are we branding?
• Department/Program (Buy West, Eat Best)
• Kellogg’s/Nutri-Grain

Sure, government can do with sending out positive messages. Sibbick (2008) recognised “government agencies need to mange their ‘corporate image’, because it is
the overall impression that various stakeholders have of the government agency”.

However, as with many things in government, there is often little, if any, research undertaken to determine why things should be done. Often, it’s a case of “we need a newsletter”, with the rationale simply being that “we need it to show we’re doing something”. A case in point was the Sydney Olympics, where the Olympic Coordination Authority produced maps of the precinct “just in case somebody needed one”. This is supported by Sibbick (2008).

“Only some conceptual work has been completed to date about how a consumer’s exchange of value is influenced by a government brand and that only limited empirical work has reported strategies to develop brand equity when designing a social marketing program” (Sibbick, 2008).

Apart from the fact that government agencies are usually not in competition with anyone, there are other reasons which question whether branding programs are necessary.

“Exploratory focus group findings suggests that target audiences’ interpretations of government brand signals are mixed, and at best, consumers are ambivalent about the inclusion of government logos and brands in social marketing. As the following focus group participant’s comment illustrates: I think there’s less credibility with government brand[ing]because if you see this spot you might think of it. … But first [you’re] wondering why they do it. I think it is much better without a brand” (Sibbick, 2008).

Colyer (2006) also questions the notion of branding in government.

“While public bodies have a mandate to work on behalf of ‘the people’, they have to be responsible with their finances too, demonstrating prudence with the public purse. So can investments in branding programs be justified, or is the public sector merely following a marketing fad? Indeed, is branding even appropriate for public services?”

The then director of publications in the UK government's Central Office of Information, Andrew Prince says: “I think that what you need out of the public sector is good communication,” asserts Andrew Prince, director of publications in the UK government's Central Office of Information (COI)” (Colyer, 2006).

That said, Colyer believes branding may go part of the way to assist.

“Branding is “shorthand for consumers” (AMA, 2001), or a shortcut to people's understanding” (Prince, as cited in Colyer, 2006).

“You don't have to start from scratch with a concept or idea. In government, it is important that communications get through to people and brands are a part of that. Governments have realized the need to focus communications and marketing efforts in terms of consistency of message. They are looking at the private sector and the notion of branding to help them out” (Colyer, 2006).

All that said, and with all the best intentions, there are a range of problems in getting government branding programs underway. Josef Jurkovic, a partner and director of the Centre for Excellence in Communications in Ottawa, Canada, explains:

“For governments it is a more complex and difficult issue to brand than the private sector. The main difference is the degree of control the public sector has over branding. In government, branding is made harder because of complex reporting structures, bureaucracy and decision-making. You need 360-degree alignment of all activities [and people], and it is hard for a large organization to exercise this control” (Colyer, 2006).


The challenges for government branding are in many ways no different to private enterprise. Everything operates in a Web 2 World, which is the overall communications environment. More groups are increasingly competing for someone’s attention. It is estimated the average American (sorry about that – couldn’t find Australian figures in the given time) sees between 3000-4000 marketing messages a day.

While we can be ever so vigilant about how we craft our messages (and our Brand) the world today is a heady place, and the best laid plans can be hijacked. According to Drapeau (2008) “everything put out there – video, blogs, tweets – is open to interpretation, comment, sharing, and re-use. It all affects your brand, and while you can direct and define things to some extent, it is largely out of your control”.


American Marketing Association (2001). Who’s in charge of the brand and just what do we mean by brand? Toronto Table Roundtable. www.glasgrp.com/downloads/In_charge_of_brand.pdf. Accessed 9 December 2010

Colyer E (2006) Branding in public: A waste of money? Brand Channel, http://www.brandchannel.com/features_effect.asp?pf_id=310
Drapeau (2008). Government 2: What’s your brand? Business.com, http://mashable.com/2008/09/03/government-brand/
Graham J (2001). The Canadian Manager. Toronto: Spring 2001. Vol. 26, Iss. 1;
Lewis S (2002). Who’s in charge of the Brand? Reflections on Brand and Reputation. millennialmarketing.com/.../brand-building-and-social-media-whos-in-charge. Accessed 9 December 2010.
Sibbick, Joseph B. and Previte, Josephine A. and Russell-Bennett, Rebekah (2007) Is government branding ‘just wall paper’ or does it enhance product acceptance : conceptualising brand influence in social marketing. In: International Non-profit and Social Marketing Conference, 27-28 September 2007, Brisbane.
Switzer P (2010). Brand power with Richard Branson. http://www.switzer.com.au/small-business/business-management/marketing/brand-power-with-richard-branson. Accessed 9 December 2010.

24 November 2010

Women in Pr

I wrote a PhD in 2007 on why more women than men do PR. so it's old "news". I wish people would do some research before commentating.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


08 October 2010

Spin in the surf

The shame that is surf life saving continues. The spin also continues.

Following the second death last summer of another young competitor, Saxon Bird, at the national titles venue of Kurrawa, the organisation decided to extend the competition to a week, with "vacant" days.

According to SLSA, the reason for this is due to extra competitor numbers. That logic in itself is flawed. If there are extra competitors, they would be using the additional days to compete.

The real reason there are "lay days" is in case of more dangerous seas, so they can move the events forward or backward a day or two, depending on the weather and surf forecast.

The travesty is that the reasons put forward by SLSA are pure spin in the worst traditions of PR. What's wrong with telling the truth?

I have competed in more than 30 Australian championship and won 39 medals in surf events. I also warned SLSA of the dangers before last year's events (and this is documented in the media).

Certainly this latest rubbish emanating form SLSA HQ at Bondi does nothing to convince me this organisation has regained any credibility following last season's tragedy at Kurrawa.

This approach also avoids any mention of Saxon, thereby relegating him to the dustbin of history. That is extremely sad. I imagine, SLSA is taking a purely business-like approach in wanting not to draw attention to the real reasons for the change. Well, that sort of thing has a habit of working the opposite way.

PS: I have not seen any Coroner's findings, so have written to the Court asking if there has been a finding, or when one is likely.

06 October 2010

Bikies' PR a shambles

Events at the weekend, when three Perth bikies from the Finks were injured in a dust-up with the Coffin Cheaters, must all but signal the end of the United Motorcycle Council's PR campaign.

The Council (in WA and nationally) wants to have laws of association abandoned. The Council (aka, the bikie gangs) hired a Brisbane PR outfit, Cole Communications to help with its image and key messages. Frontman was the Finks' Ferret, who, while colourful, was not a great choice.

So the UMC's spokesman is a Fink, of the same club in Sunday's brawl, in which one Fink lost three fingers and another was shot.

How credible now is the bikies' assertion they are just a group of fun-loving bike riders?

Another aspect to this is the WA Police's lack of "intelligence" about the gathering. A quick glance at the Sunday Times' weekly motorcycle column would have told them about the event. Surely it's not difficult to "do the maths" and realise that drag-racing Harleys would attract bikies?

26 August 2010

Cousins documentary send wrong messages

Last night's Ben Cousins documentary seemed to me to be more a celebration about how good an AFL player he was. Everybody had their two bob's worth.

Cousins admits taking drugs from the age of 17. If that was the case, why didn't somone pick it up? I find it hard to believe all those teammates he had (in any club) would not have known he was taking drugs. Many journalists knew about it.

Cousins even still thinks, and says, he had a winning system: that he could take drugs and play well.

I'm also not impressed by his "cocky" attitude, nor his language. He comes across as (still) being a spoilt brat.

In the end, he had access to the best treatments money can buy. Everyone else just has to make do.

So, I'm not interested in the rest of the show.

I heard the WA Police Commissioner says Cousins should dob in his dealers. As nice as that sounds, I think even Cousins isn't that stupid.

05 August 2010

Twitter not an election tool

Interesting article in today's Australian about how Australian politicians haven't used Twitter to great effect in the current election campaign.

Apt because (as my last blog stated) I haven't been doing much Twittering/Tweeting myself. Reason? I just don't have the time, nor the inclination - probably because I spend a great part of the day writing stuff. Today, I wrote 11 media releases. Tomorrow I'm analysing survey results on video gaming and health.

I'm just not sure who's actually listening on Twitter, apart from the people on your list. And that's doubtful. If you have 1000 people you follow (many overseas) I'm sure you're not going to wade through screens of Tweets to see what they've all been saying while you're asleep. No, you'll just read the most recent.

The politicians and their media managers know about Twitter. If it was thought to be a useful tool, they'd be using it, for sure. But like me, they realise that most people (at least in Australia) still get their daily diet of news from traditional sources - TV, radio and print.

New media "gurus" and social media "experts" can talk it up all they like. But Twitter's been around long enough now for it to be incorporated into media strategy.

@prlab (but not today)

13 May 2010

Twitter-free diet ... almost

As I wrote in my last blog, I've been slack about writing recently; no doubt due to being sucked in by Twitter.

Not that I've got anything against Twitter. But it's all about priorities.

A PR person can't be all places in cyberspace at once, and that's what was happening. I was simply spending too much time on the computer, let alone on the computer and the Internet. Something had to give. So, I went Twitter-free for almost two weeks.

Interestingly, I read (online) on the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday about a detoxification program for social media addicts. Can't recall the details, but Susan Maushart's name was mentioned. I'd go and get the link, but it would mean more time spent on the Web. You go and do a search.

The point was that there is a big problem out there; in many ways similar to people being addicted to video games.

While Twitter has its place, it needs to be used with a specific purpose. Do you want to share information, learn or socialise? That, of course, is up to the user. However, the trick is to keep things in balance: much like diet, only in this case it's your consumption levels of social media that need to be kept in check.

If it's not Twitter, then it's LinkedIn, Facebook, or simply attending to emails. We've got a huge fare on the table (desk).

For me, I simply went "cold turkey" and didn't use Twitter. I might have missed something interesting, but certainly not life-shattering.

So do yourself a favour. Ask yourself how much do you really need to be connected, and are there other things you could spend your time doing – preferably outdoors?

22 April 2010

Time to blog again

If you noticed, my last blog was in February – more than two months ago. Crikey, what's happened? Answer: I got caught up in Twitter. And for what? What have I got out of Twitter?

The Twitterities will say: "well, you didn't give it a chance". No, I did. It took me several months, but I got 168 followers on @prlab – all carefully handpicked and vetted for their contribution to PR and associated topics.

But, it's friggin' had work, wading through all the dross and drivel that inhabits the Twitterverse. Once you unearth the "diamonds", there can be some learning wealth uncovered. The people I follow, I believe, are all valuable "contacts". And I will keep tabs; just not so regularly.

Twitter has it's place; just that's it's not going to be a priority. I'd rather be able to get across my thoughts in a well thought-out piece, than respond on a whim without much thought.

I do, however, recommend it for sharpening your editing skills. The 140-character limit is great for focusing (and should be for making sure you've got the grammar right – if you're in PR).

If you're not in PR, as I am in my other three persona, that rule goes out the window. Yes, that's right, I've got four Twitter personalities. One is surf-related, one aligned with motorbikes and the other a secret. I can swear on some of those, whereas I wouldn't do that on @prlab.

Before you consign me to the loony bin, consider this: we all have multiple personalities. The way you act at home is probably quite different to the way you are at work, or in different social settings (e.g., the football club, or other organisation you belong to). So why should it be any different on Twitter. These accounts simply reflect my different interests.

Does sound a bit weird, though.

12 February 2010

Government PR mostly propaganda

I fully support the claims of former Army PR Officer Andrew Bird ("Veteran charges Army over spin", Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Feb). Article

It's a sad fact of life that all Defence PR (in fact all government PR) these days exists to paint the government in a positive light. It's called propaganda.

When I first served in Army PR, in the mid-1980s, PR Officers first and foremost represented the Army and the local military commander. PR Officers could speak to the media. That is not the case now. Everything is cleared by Canberra. I honestly don't know why any self-respecting PR person would want to be in uniform these days.

We have the Howard Government to thank for the manipulative process which now permeates all levels of government PR. It's a dangerous path and does little to demonstrate the first rule of PR: be open and honest. It also does a great disservice to our people in uniform, who despise the manipulation when asked to "perform".

It's why I resigned after 23 years (four in the Regular Army). I could not stomach a government that lied about the casualities in Afghanistan.

05 February 2010

Parliament back. And they're off ... really off

Parliament has only been back for two days and already we're witnessing the election in full swing.

The PR opportunities (aka photo ops) are abundant.

Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott has been filmed 1. on the roof of a house looking at solar panels (climate change) and 2. in a supermarket with Joe Hockey talking about food prices (economy and the battlers). Their conversation was pathetic.

And all the while, we have the ubiquitous PR minders nodding approvingly in the background. Get out of shot, people.

At this stage I'm ready to switch off. Then again, I'd still have to look at the stills in the Papers.

Picture: Ray Strange, The Australian.

19 January 2010

Alcohol link to Australia Day

I enjoy a beer (had two last night) but I can not understand how, on the one hand, the Federal Government is trying to combat alcoholism and its related costs (dollars and social) then on the other hand promotes Australia Day with an alcohol-related campaign (Man Your Eskys).

It might seem cute/clever (more so to advertising people), but do those in charge of these things (the bureaucrats) think about the consequences of their actions? This campaign does nothing to help alter the culture of binge drinking that is Australia.

Having the Government's approval would make the situation laughable, if it wasn't so serious.

I live in Perth. Perhaps next time the PM is over this way he could visit Northbridge or Leederville on a Friday or Saturday night. He may also care to get the Health Minister to provide the latest figures on how much alcohol abuse costs the nation.

15 January 2010

Not PR. BMW R1200c for sale

This is a great cruiser. For sale as of January 2010. Only done 38,000km. A 1998 BMW cruiser, with near-new Metzlers, factory screen, panniers, rear gel seat. If you're in WA, registered until September. Only $10,500, ono. Only selling because I have another one. E-mail me at gms@aapt.net.au
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