Yesterday I was asked to comment on the Ryanair PR fiasco story on Channel 5 News. You can view the full link here.
Channel 5 wanted a PR expert to talk about what the story meant for Ryanair from a reputation perspective, both now and in the future. My take on the story is as follows.
Ryanair are in trouble for the last minute cancellations of flights over the next 6 weeks, due to having scheduling issues with pilot holidays. Problems initially began to emerge on Friday, when customers began to receive notification of cancellations by text message. Rather than developing a swift customer service response in the immediate aftermath, Ryanair let the information trickle out organically, leaving an information vacuum to develop. As the number of affected customers began to rise, the story continued gained traction in the media.
Famously unapologetic, controversial Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary finally held his hands up a full four days later, after being doorstepped by Sky News. O'Leary did the right thing to apologise, however, addressing the issue so belatedly left him on the back foot.
This is clearly a corporate own goal for Ryanair. However, I would argue that it is not quite a 'Ratner moment' just yet. (Gerald Rather wiped £500m off his share price overnight when he described his company's jewellery as complete cr*p.) Is the damage irreparable? Not necessarily. O'Leary himself said that with only 2% of customers affected, this represents a tiny percentage of their overall revenues. But although the cost of compensation will total £17.7million, critics are saying that the cost to their reputation will be even higher.
Certainly for those members of the public who have had holidays, honeymoons and weddings cancelled, this will leave a bitter taste in their mouth. This is not the first time Ryanair have been on the wrong side of public and media opinion, leaving me to question whether their current communications policy is sustainable? If they don't take heed of the hard lessons they've learned about engaging swiftly and positively with customers, they risk allowing their competitors to steal a march on them and even more damage to their business in the future.
If you want to talk about reactive crisis communications, or planning for a crisis then contact me.
In a world where increasing pressure is being put on marketers to justify their spend, PRs need to look to their colleagues in digital agencies, for whom data and reporting is fundamental, for best practice.
I wrote this article, published today in Digital Marketing Magazine on the phenomenon of 'Digital PR', great content informed by smart reporting, which is where I believe the industry should be going.
If you'd like to discuss my thoughts on Digital PR, or how to make your PR more accountable, then contact me.
“How does PR show return on investment?” is the question often posed by a client at the beginnings of a formal relationship with an agency. And rightly so. Gone are the days when companies have a budget line for meaningless ‘fluff’. Since the recession hit in 2008, marketing has been under scrutiny like never before. CFOs increasingly control the purse strings, meaning there are higher expectations for spend to be accountable and prove ROI. Marry this with the increase in marketing platforms that can and do offer inbuilt measurement capability and PR has a fight on it’s hands to ensure it’s preserve as a vital part of the marketing mix.
PR measurement: a brief history
Back in the dark ages, the way of measuring PR was rudimentary – all it required was a ruler and a calculator. A PR would sit and literally measure the column space in a newspaper in which they had secured their client a mention and then calculate what the corresponding space would have cost in advertising dollar. Moving forward, AVE or Advertising Value Equivalent became widely adopted and favoured by agencies as a metric because, simply, the figures made our industry (and our clients) look great in front of the bigwigs.
However, as far back as the early noughties, the efficacy of AVE was being questioned as a truthful and realistic reflection of PR. Although AVE makes it simpler for those outside of the media and communications to understand the value of PR, many have argued that it is a clumsy and inaccurate comparison; after all, ad agencies do not look to the PR industry for comparison of their own success and failure.
The Barcelona Principles
In 2010, AMEC (the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) convened a summit which brought together 33 PR practitioners to establish a set of guidelines for the industry. The result was the seven ‘Barcelona Principles’ that have widely become hailed as the standards of best practice for PR measurement.
The main thrust of the Barcelona Principles focused on measuring outcomes as opposed to outputs as well as recognising the increasing value of social media in comms. They encouraged the jettisoning of the AVE metric altogether; a move that has since been echoed by other industry bodies, for example, the criteria for most awards bodies no longer recognises AVE as proof of campaign success and indeed excludes entries that use them.
The Principles were updated in 2015 to further refine and develop their definitions to now read as follows:
These guidelines now offer both PRs and clients a useful reference point to hold in mind when setting a framework for the measurement of their success.
Applying measurement in practice
Although AVEs are a dying breed, some of our clients do still request them and in these cases we reluctantly accommodate them. Where possible, however, we encourage them to hold us to account with meaningful metrics. The first question to ask at the outset of any campaign is what is your objective and who are you trying to reach? Without clarity on this in the initial brief, it is very difficult to put together a strategic PR campaign. You would be surprised how many clients come to engage PR as a ‘nice to have’ without having fully thought this through. The more information about your business goals the better. Once this has been established, we work with you to create a plan for where to target those relevant demographics, at which watering holes.
Some of the other metrics we use might include: target publications, number of pieces of coverage and prominence of coverage. Although a note of caution on coverage numbers: the news agenda can be subject to force majeure, for example terrorist attacks or global events can dominate news headlines, giving your story less prominence. Do you want to be seen as an authority in your field and some corresponding thought leadership content to prove that? In which case, collateral output and thought leadership press and broadcast opportunities in specific outlets might be appropriate. If your objective is attracting signups to an event that you are hosting, our activity would be based around attracting a certain number of attendees. You may wish to educate the media about your new product, in which case we can set down KPIs for number of journalist meetings organised. Or SEO may be at the top of your mind and so we might be targeted on linkbacks. It all comes down to strategy and your business objectives.
Social media campaigns, content marketing and SEO provide many more metrics such as impressions, engagement, increase in followers, prominence, share of voice and positive sentiment. The best kinds of campaigns interface with an analytical element to help to track the performance of the PR, for example setting up dedicated microsites for campaigns and measuring visitors to site and conversions.
How does PR impact Sales Conversion?
Another question that I often get asked is “how can your PR impact my bottom line?” I always have the same answer to this question. Whilst PR is responsible for taking the proverbial horse to water, we cannot make it drink. Once we have raised awareness and brought the eyeballs to your brand, conversion is within your purview. Once visitors have been attracted through PR, it is your responsibility to make sure that your ecommerce system is working, that your site is user friendly and that your sales team is tenacious to close the deals down.
Although we can’t, therefore, guarantee sales as an outcome, we have many examples where can prove a direct correlation between our activity and business impact. We find that the most effective relationships are where we work in partnership with clients to ensure transparency and fluidity of reporting. And we love to share in your success and see the fruits of our labour translate into increased exposure, sales and impact on your bottom line.
I have written more about this in PHA Media's latest ebook How, |What, Why, PR Tips for Startups and Businesses.
‘Tech for Good’ has exploded in recent months. Many UK publications have dedicated Tech for Good streams, MeetUp groups are popping up and sector-specific awards have come to the fore to celebrate innovators. As tech continues to dominate the headlines, technology businesses that solve social problems or support those in need are now a hot topic.
However, these organisations can run the risk of being pigeonholed, finding it difficult to position themselves as ambitious and profitable brands capable of being a mainstream success.
Our ‘Tech for Good – How To Make The Mainstream’ panel discussion will shine a light on how Tech for Good brands can push themselves to the fore, position themselves as authoritative, ambitious and profitable brands, and make it to the mainstream.
I'll be hosting the event and joined by panelists Saasha Celestial-One, CoFounder of OLIO; Nick Couch, Brand Consultant at Bright New Thing; Jude Ower MBE, Founder and CEO of Playmob; Nathaniel Smithies, Founder and CEO of PlusGuidance.
To join, register here.
On Sunday a crowd, both human and canine, assembled at East Dean village car park. This slightly unusual spectacle (comprising 22 humans and 15 dogs) were gathered for an annual event, the Sponsored Dog Walk in aid of Child Rescue Nepal. Started around 8 years ago by long time supporter and former CEO Ian Kerr and his wife Jenny, the informal event is a fun morning for dog lovers and for those interested in knowing more about the charity.
Some of you already know that I’m a Trustee of Child Rescue Nepal. Our mission is a bold one: to end child slavery in Nepal. We estimate that there are almost 100,000 child slaves in Nepal working in hazardous situations. These children are extremely vulnerable and often suffer from physical, emotional and sexual abuse. We rescue them, keep them safe and reunite them with their families.
We work with local police to raid factories, restaurants and hotels where they are being held captive. We take children to a safe house where they receive medical attention and counselling before being reunited with their families. So far we have rescued over 700 children, but our work is far from over and we won’t stop until every child is free. A little money goes a long long way in Nepal and we are committed to fundraising to ensure that we can continue with this vital work. All of the proceeds of the sponsored walk are going towards helping Child Rescue Nepal.
As well as humans, we had a large number of four legged fundraisers out in force:
Those who were on time set off at pace, whilst Ian had to wait for stragglers (sorry Ian!) but we did eventually catch up with the pack. A couple of stately dogs brought up the rear, whilst the main crowd divided into two as we headed off. The gang was prepared for the weather, but despite a ubiquitous mist that rendered the walk through sheep fields atmospheric, the temperature was decidedly humid. Our circular route took us from East Dean car park to Belle Tout neolithic village, to Birling gap and back to East Dean. We covered at least 2.5 miles over a time period of about 2 hours, with some of us doing a slightly longer route past artist Grayson Perry's house and ceramic studio in a neighboring village.
Afterwards, we gathered at to Ian and Jenny's to devour a delicious spread of home made soup, salad, bread, cakes (humans) and treats (doggies), before retiring home for a well-earned afternoon nap. Thankfully, despite the variety of beasts who had never met before, there were no incidents at all. In fact, the only bad behavior to report is that of Flossie knocking over (but not breaking) a plant pot and sneakily licking one of the walkers' lunch (I hope she took it in good humour).
So far my 'four legged fundraiser' has nearly hit target of £250. If you would like to donate, there is still time. Just visit my Just Giving page here.
Many thanks to all who have so generously donated so far and looking forward to updating you further on the latest developments at Child Rescue Nepal in the near future.
The increasing importance of digital marketing, content marketing, SEO and social media means that organisations, and charities in particular, now need to master more than just the traditional communications space.
This is a trend that is being reflected in the skills being called upon by the charitable sector, with almost all organisations on the UK Public Appointments list now having Trustees with this specific skillset.
I recently became a trustee for a charity called Child Rescue Nepal and one of the reasons I was appointed was because; although the charity has plenty of fundraising and on-the-ground experience; they needed more in the way of a digital communications skill set.
Since I have been working with Child Rescue Nepal, I have delivered a digital marketing campaign for the #oneyearon anniversary of the earthquake in Nepal.
We will shortly be launching a new digital campaign to coincide with the anniversary of the earthquake and will keep you posted about how you can follow and get involved, this time with the new and messaging attached.
In the meantime, if any charities are interested in learning about why they should consider appointing a trustee with a communications background, you can download my chapter 'the role of trustees in charity comms and how they can add value'.
You can also download the full eBook How to Use PR to Promote Your Charity here:
This week the government will impose new legislation forcing companies with 250+employees to publish information showing the gap between their male and female employees.
I was asked by the PRCA to contribute a blog on the new legislation and, given that it is a thorny and misunderstood issue, I thought it best to address the fundamentals first.
In the blog I answer the following questions:
You can read the blog here.
What are your thoughts on the gender pay gap? How are you embracing it as a business? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.
Yesterday, I was working from home and minding my own business, when an unexpected, unsolicited and rather lovely email popped into my inbox. It was from Neil Kerber, one of the UK’s leading cartoonists whose drawings can regularly be seen in Private Eye, Daily Mirror and Vogue.
He said “Dear Sophie… I draw interesting people, so I drew you, and thought you might like to see it.”
I wrote back to him straightaway to thank him for his interest and, out of curiosity, to ask him how he had found me. Being in PR, one likes to know that one’s own marketing is working.
He said that he had found me on Twitter and had been inspired to draw me in the style of his infamous Polly Bean character, who has graced the pages of Private Eye for more than twenty years and features on the Vogue website.
I can’t help but be flattered although slightly baffled by his attention; Kerber has sold originals of his cartoons to Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Charles Saatchi and other collectors and fans.
I thanked Neil for the picture and told him about my alternative life as a gallery Curatrix, having put on art exhibitions for the Venice Biennale and now being the proprietor of a small fine art gallery in my own home. I hope that he might choose to exhibit his work in one of my shows.
In the meantime, I liked Kerber's direct and personal sales technique and shall consider buying his sketch of me (which is based on the picture featured on this page) below.
What do you think, readers?
Some time ago I attended a conference and heard the very enigmatic Tim Langlois talk about Specsavers' simple, but extremely effective consumer digital strategy. "We give them entertainment and then when they need new glasses, they come to us." Langlois said that real time reaction to the media agenda with hilarious content was the key to their success. In June 2014, during the decisive World Cup Group D match between Uruguay and Italy, Specsavers' digital team responded to Luis Suarez biting Giorgio Chiellini by tweeting a picture of the Italian defender next to a picture of cannelloni, along with the #shouldhavegonetospecsavers hashtag. This week, Specsavers outdid themselves again with this simple but brilliantly timed tweet after Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty presented the award for best picture to La La Land, instead of moonlight, after being handed the wrong envelope by PWC. Their catchprase has now even been shortened to #shouldve, having become so popular that it no longer even requires the inclusion of the brand name for it to be recognisable.
The next unlikely heroes of the week are British Transport Police, whose reaction to a rather bizarre situation on a train that got out of hand, had the hashtag #bagelgate trending on twitter. The BTP were called to investigate a brawl that started when passengers on the 00.54 Great Northern service from Kings Cross put the baked goods on fellow passengers' heads. The police diffused the situation but it was their playful response with a serious message that got the Twittersphere talking.
I recently attended the PRCA’s 2017: The Year of… where great minds of the PR industry gathered to gaze into their metaphorical crystal balls and predict the future trends in media and communications for the forthcoming year.
The legacy of 2016 loomed large in the collective consciousness: communications and the media played a major role in the enactment of and reaction to seismic events such as Brexit and the election of Trump. In the UK, bloody battles were played out on social media between Brexiteers and Remoaners; meanwhile Trump gained momentum off the back of two of the best soundbites of the year – ‘Take back control’ and ‘Make America Great Again’.
There is no doubt now that we are operating in a ‘post truth world’, proliferated with ‘alternative facts’. As people turn more and more to social media, to grieve, grumble and groan to those with the same political views as themselves, sharing soundbites without ‘fact checking them’, there is a fear that they are simply shouting into the echo chamber. This is compounded by the fact that we are now consuming more and more content dictated by algorithm. Will algorithms become the future authorities and editors? In a world where a Hong Kong VC appointed an AI to sit on its board, this reality could be scarily closer than we think.
So where does this leave PRs? If our readers are ‘sick of experts’, what does that say about authority and the traditional trust invested in us? How do we ensure that we continue to communicate broadly across all our stakeholders? And how do we deal with the rift between our polarised audiences?
One of the suggestions put forward by Trevor Hardy, CEO of the Future Laboratory was for us become ‘future fit’ by embracing uncertainty and randomness. Hardy’s thoughts were that moving forward, ‘positive complexity’ will have more currency than simplicity. That means being open to ambiguity, being a bedfellow of nuance and moving away from the traditional reductive nature of our craft. Brands increasingly operate in an emotional economy, driven by people and how things make them feel. Those who will be successful, Hardy predicted, will embrace these emotional responses, in all of the complexities they embody.
And all of this could be a good thing – because after all, what may emerge from the media ashes is a new dialetic – one of radical transparency, openness and, progress.
Here is a 5 minute sample of an hour long live interview I did, talking about the value of PR.
I wrote this article on 5 Things Women Must Learn To Be Successful
I wrote for TVB Europe, celebrating ten inspirational women in the broadcast industry