The return of the PR stunt

The tradition of great PR stunts is evident when watching DJ Matt McAllister bulk up to wear 155 t-shirts  setting a Guinness World Record on YouTube.   Nearly at the half-million viewing figure, this is great promotion of Matt’s 99.9 KTYD’s Early Show in Santa Barbara.  Imaginative stunts are rarely seen today, but maybe social network media is the natural home for the skills honed by mastros such as Jim Moran. If the public relations community could come up with this type of creativity online rather than focusing on how to manipulate or defeat social networking, we might all have a lot more fun.

Supersonic Public Relations

A new e-book from Spannerworks “What is Social Media?” is a helpful summary of the phenomenon – and the intention for it to be a living entity highlights the problem for many in public relations – keeping up with all the developments in PR2.0.  As soon as you’ve got your head around concepts and opportunities, there are new skills and knowledge to digest.  From a communications perspective, you cannot simply create and stand back in the new world.  Not only does the speed of change means you need to update, but thanks to the participatory nature of new media, you need to debate not simply state.  Active learning highlights the need to participate rather than simply learn at the knees of masters – and new media offers that opportunity.  The online world offers the benefit that people are generally eager to share their knowledge – with wikis, open software, blogs and through social networks.  We need to dive in and join the debate – not just by setting up our own blogs, but by leaving comments, sharing ideas and updating our own sites.  As producers of information, this is an exciting challenge – where once we’d send work off to the printers as a finished form, today we should think about creating living materials – that can be updated, amended, revitalised and reformed – both as our own knowledge changes, but also in response to dialogue from those who are able and willing to share their views on our publications.  

Miss World and public relations

Miss World and public relations – hit or miss?  Getting PR to the boardroom remains a goal for many – but one of the rare PR executives who revitalised a company and became chairman is pretty much ignored or vilified in the UK.  Eric Morley started at Mecca – then a small catering and dance company – in 1946 as a £15-a-week PR man.  Seeking to promote dancing, he originated the BBC ‘Come Dancing’ series, which became the longest running television series in history and is currently a mega-hit in the new celebrity format (and about to launch in UK in its 4th series). 

The reason for ignoring his achievements as a “PR man made good” relate more to his other creation – in 1951 he launched the Miss World competition.  Over 55 years later, we might think this competition is a sign of less enlightened times regarding women’s rights – but the Miss World final final in Poland on 30 September is expected to attract a global audience of 2 million – and annually achieves an estimated £5 million in licensing rights.  This popularity is largely based in Asia and Africa – and again, we might dismiss this enthusiasm as indicating lack of development of feminist perspectives.

 But listening to the views of former Miss Tanzania, who was a Miss World finalist in 1999, you might think differently. It seems this competition offers Hoyce Temu an opportunity to make a difference around some big issues – including women’s rights.

Interesting that Miss Temu is currently completing a degree at Wartburg College in Iowa, US in public relations and mass communications.  Which raises another question – is being a beauty queen an issue in being taken seriously.  Clearly not from the opportunities that Hoyce has used to promote the Outreach Africa project – but her PR professor seems less convinced.  She was apparently surprised to find out Hoyce was a beauty queen:  “While graceful and poised, she is equally private and humble, an interesting and somewhat unusual combination for a beauty queen.”  Some might feel such qualities are even rarer in those working in public relations. 

So Miss World and public relations – from a founder with an eye for a strategic initiative to current contestents’ influence on world politics.  Hit or miss?

Do what I say, not what I do… Public Relations education and practice

Does it matter if those educating tomorrow’s PR graduates have never worked in the profession themselves?  It could be argued as a sign of maturation of the profession if those teaching in Universities have followed an entirely academic career path.  I’m not so sure – PR graduates are already competing against those with business or other non-specialist degrees for jobs in the industry.  One benefit of a degree in PR ought to be a greater insight from those who’ve been there, not just read about it in books or undertaken academic research.  I’m not so sure that setting up academic consultancies is the answer either.  You undoubtedly gain valuable credibility and understanding in stuffing press packs, organising launches, writing speeches, responding to irate consumer media, developing internal communications campaigns and networking with influencers for real.  Sure, experience needs to be balanced with understanding of theoretical approaches that underpin good practice, but a few battle scars must help you integrate academic and practitioner perspectives to the benefit of those starting out on their careers. 

Words and context

Teaching a writing workout workshop yesterday for the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA), much of the focus was on words – emphasising their symbolic value. 

Today’s news shows that all the carefully crafted words in Chancellor Gordon Brown’s conference speech praising the PM (and himself) mean nothing against the under-the-breath remarks of Cherie Blair muttering “that’s a lie” in the nearby exhibition area.  Symbolic of a strained relationship undoubtedly.

The number 10 PR machine has cranked into action – not claiming comments out of context (this time) so much as a journo mishearing the words spoken.   In the US, Bush is busy redefining the meaning of the word torture – in the context of counter-terrorism.  Much as his predecessor redefined the term “sexual relations” in the context of denying wrong-doing.

English is a living language – where the meaning of words is open to adaptation, but their deliberate manipulation to political ends is undoubtedly propaganda.  Something that does remain a dirty word, alongside spin.  Both unfortunately linked too closely with Public Relations – which desperately needs better ethical symbolism.

Driving responsibly

The world of motoring PR today is an odd mix – crisis management with the news of California suing the industry over emissions, Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond injured in pursuing extreme driving for tv audiences and the death of a true gentleman of automotive journalism, Stuart Marshall at the age of 82. 

A common theme might be driving responsibly – are car makers really to blame for the urge of the world for personal mobility, and where are the choices in affordable, convenient and high quality public transport?  Do we have a right to drive fast and risk our own lives on racetracks – and coming on the heels of Steve Irwin, is too much expected of presenters today like modern gladiators in the arena of micro-attention spans? 

Journalists like Stuart Marshall didn’t face such pressures – they politely and competently sought out stories, interviewing executives and building relationships that lasted a lifetime.  A true gentleman according to the response of the automotive PR world in hearing the news of his death.That reputation comes from taking a personal responsibility for how you are viewed – something I’m sure Hammond and Irwin would agree with.  Yes, modern media demands high adrenaline, but the passion comes from a personal responsibility to deliver great television. 

And without personal responsibility and enthusiasm, the world is a poorer place.  Those suing the motor industry should realise it is passion and personal responsibility that will solve environmental problems not legislation and state control over individual behaviour.