Grassroots pr workshop for pr histories and practices. A review.
We had entered the room with two men already standing talking in there. One was our tutor, Jon, the other, the man who would be talking at us for the next 48 hours. We all drifted in and sat in two rows whilst we were introduced to Myc Riggulsford and explained to that this was a workshop over two days whereby we would be learning about our new module PR histories and practices. A head-bob goodbye from Jon left us with Myc who we all tiredly turned towards.
The first thing he did was smile in a way that made the whole atmosphere change, everyone sat a little straighter, notebooks were out and pens were ready. He let us know it was important for us to spell everything right, including names, which can be complicated, writing his own on the board. Welsh origins, a little different, but you could tell that this man was not going to be an ordinary Mike.
Myc hadn’t started with public relations. Originally he was a journalist; mostly on radio for Plymouth Sound, but after went freelance. He had his first taste of pr in the health service and enjoyed it but when in 1991 regulations were brought in to limit who he could contact he realised it was time to break free.
This was when he created his own agency, the Walnut Bureau. His eyes sparkled with compassion as he described his agency. “Imagine a very old bureau made from walnut wood, very old school, where you would not be sitting typing at a computer but have a quill with paper, how writing should be.” Myc wanted his agency to be simply PR that everyone understood, no complexities that would make people confused, nothing so futuristic that it couldn’t keep up with itself. Although he did have to make an income, even myc knew an agency needed a reputation before it could win good deals, so he made the first UK issues management pr. Crisis has to be managed by an agency already associated with the company, as it needs to be a speedy response and know the people and inner workings to make a respectable campaign. Issues are long term, another agency can come in and work solely on them rather than trying to juggle with all the other sides of pr, as there are many. Issues can be with extremist groups, or that the company may not be as ‘carbon footprint’ friendly as others but cannot cut down any more than they have so need the public convinced they are still good.
We learnt of four categories that all institutions fall into; the ‘public funded’ who need power, this is usually government and related; the ‘non-government organisations’ (NGOs) who are pushed into their causes by ethics, mostly charities; the ‘industry’ segment has a lot of marketing based pr as it is selling things to make profit; finally the ‘academics and professionals’ who are ranking up their reputation and need to relay facts and knowledge to the public, this is from scientists, lawyers, universities, etc. The media joins all four of these groups together. Myc gave us the tip that this square was important, if we were up against an issue with one of these segments then we needed the other three on our side to create an effective campaign.
Moving on to communication and what we pr do, Myc said that the main fear of clients is that pr can’t prove what they have done, excellent pr is hidden, the public shouldn’t realise, but how do the company know they are paying you to do something and not nothing. Trust; but a detailed plan and organisation help a lot. See flow chart below.
However, even with all the details written down, even if you have calculated every move you make, pr will sometimes be easily way sided by journalists due to context and barriers. If everything goes right at the right time then pr will happen, but there are news priorities such as tragic anniversaries like September 11 and annual holidays like Christmas. There is no use trying to overrun that coverage, it will fail. See chart below.
We started the second day with the question “what is PR for?” But before we actually answered it Myc asked us why we wanted to go into PR. Our answers referred to the challenges that it gives whilst also being able to travel for the work, socialising, the creative aspect and of course there is money to be had. He smiled, and agreed that we were in it for the same reasons as most. Then we looked at what it is for. There is an argument that PR is advocacy for clients in the media. Everyone has the ‘right to be represented’ such as a lawyer would a defendant, and that is what a pr does in front of the media and the public, like judge and jury, although many times these roles are switched between the pair so a pr also has to be able to adapt quickly and seamlessly.
As pr is new there are many arguments for what it really is, all true and all not quite exact. There are so many definitions that it is hard to pinpoint, but many still insist it is just another part of marketing for a company. As Myc had said the day before, this is quite accurate for industry pr, but what about NGO and Professionals/Academics pr? These institutions are not being marketed but just convey information and sometimes needs more media coverage to gain access to the public; those who insist pr is marketing have just overlooked the subtlety that pr practitioners work with to get media coverage and probably don’t realise that there is so much to be done.
Myc also explained that when you are working on a campaign for a company you may want to enlist help with others, but there are levels to how you work with people:
You can engage with other companies or individuals, whereby you just make sure you will not upset them, as it would be detrimental to your cause if you did. Just informing someone with information keeps them separate from your work but they feel a part of it all, and consulting and collaborating means you physically take advice from them or let them have some run of the project too. Knowing who fits these categories is as important as the campaign itself.
A few final tips and a heartbreaking goodbye from Myc ended our two day workshop. Full of ideas, knowledge and eagerness we awaited the first sessions of our new module.