PR and politics: the two most intertwined professions.

As the election campaign gathers pace we are reminded once again of how close and overlapping two “professions” are – PR and politics.

A UK general election campaign may not be the biggest spending marketing event – or anything as big financially as a US election – but it is one of the most sophisticated and – potentially – engaging. Last week’s “non debate” was a pure exercise in modern public relations. Little control on the message, two way communications and a mass of white noise in the social media echo chamber. (Our Prime Minister even worked in PR as an in house communications director – I pitched to him once. Didn’t get the business sadly. I also once turned George Osborne down for a job with my lobbying firm, but I did hire Priti Patel, now one of the brightest sparks on the Tory benches.)


Source: Sky News

But is the closeness of our two lines of business, with almost no discernible barrier between, a good thing?

The man who started Shandwick forty one years ago, Lord Chadlington, was and remains immersed in politics. The guy who hired me, Lord McNally, was a Labour and SDP MP, a minister and is a leading figure in the House of Lords. I was a much more lowly Labour spin doctor. (I don’t regard my time working in politics as PR – it was propaganda, but I learned a lot from it and my brilliant ex boss and mentor, Lord Mandelson.)

On Friday I attended a fascinating event at the LSE, Polis’ “Vote 2015″ conference on politics and the media, organised by Charlie Beckett. It was awash with top journalists and broadcasters, pollsters, politicians, marketers,  social media activists and thinkers.

The first person I ran into was my old friend, Tony Blair’s former top aide Angie Hunter. Angie is now a senior advisor at Edelman. In the evening I want to the retirement party of a former colleague and for most of the past decade head of communications at EDF, Andrew Brown, one of the nicest and most effective operators in PR. Andrew worked in both media and politics and at EDF showed modern PR at its best, influencing what the company did rather than just said. Also there was one of my oldest friends, Michael Prescott, a former political journalist, now head of comms at the mighty BT, and a formidable strategic mind.

You get the picture. And there are many other examples, from Charles Lewington to Alistair Campbell. The latest issue of PR Week heralds the arrival of former Labour Secretary of State Jacqui Smith into our fold.

At a fortieth birthday bash I hosted for Weber Shandwick’s London office last year, Lord Chadlington quipped in his speech that back in the 60′s and 70′s PR teemed with failed politicians and journalists. Those who switched to PR largely traded on their contacts rather than their strategic brilliance. Today I think those with political and media backgrounds largely add enormous value, experience and strategic insight to our industry. Politics and PR are now almost indistinguishable as practices.

PR is traditionally a business that “flies by the seat of its pants” as John Lloyd remarked in his recent critique of PR and the media, “Journalism and PR” (published by The Reuters Institute). Still too many of our practitioners skip the strategy bit, or don’t question the strategy they are handed, and focus on tactics. People with good and cutting edge political experience bring strategic insight, forged against a background of the invasive 24/7 real time scrutiny that brands, CEOs and organisations increasingly face.

In his brilliant new book on UK political marketing, “Mad Men and Bad Men”, Sam Delany tells great stories of how myopic UK political PRs and their bosses were back in the 60s, until the marketing and polling folks got involved. That has largely changed.

mad bad


So as we sit back and watch the PR-driven integrated campaigns unfold, hit or miss, I for one celebrate the closeness of our two practices ( of course I am NOT talking about the murkier end of what the press refer to as lobbying, politicians trading crudely on their contacts, often with a bad ending).

Sadly though, and ironically, another aspect our two “businesses” share is a poor reputation and public profile. But that’s another story. 

Archeology of Technology

I have a favourite slide for presentations at the moment. It illustrates, in horizontal bars of different colours, the speed at which various mass communication technologies took to reach a 50 million audience. Radio at the top with 38 years, down to Twitter with just 9 months. It looks like one of those sliced side views the earth, with the various periods of history shown as different coloured layers of soil and rock and prehistoric debris. I call it the Archeology of Technology.


I had a personal Archaeology of Technology moment at the weekend. My 8 year old wanted me to drive him to our nearest town with a toy shop so he could buy a skateboard with his pocket money. It was a mild and sunny spring morning, so we went in my old VW Beetle with the top down. It’s so old it has a cassette player rather than a CD player.

I dug out one of my ancient tapes, a compilation of 80′s stuff recorded off the radio. To do this you had to listen to the chart shows, wait for the idiot DJ to stop babbling over the intro to press record, then wait again, finger poised, until they threatened to start babbling again over the outro to hit the stop button.


The poor kid was treated to me waxing on about the joys of dancing to Clare Grogan and Altered Images doing “I Could Be Happy’ and to Heaven 17, and about how cassettes worked, when all he wanted to do was get his hands on a skateboard.


(And let’s remember than the Walkman was the Smartphone of its day in terms of personal technology and lifestyle desirability.)


Further back in my technology archaeology, before I had a radio cassette deck, we used to practice what would now be illegal downloads by taping friends’ albums live on a little portable cassette player. This involved playing the album on a stereo and painstakingly positioning the little microphone in the right point between the speakers to try and pick up the best recording. Often this involved having to do it several times as police sirens, barking dogs or friends’ little brothers and sisters yelling intruded on the recording. The result often sounded like you were listening through damp cotton wool. It was a labour of love.



I tried explaining all this to my bemused son, whose personal technology archeology starts with the laptop and tablet. He couldn’t figure out all the sweat and hassle involved. Or maybe he was just thinking about his skateboard.



I have been having some interesting conversations with senior political journalists, new media leaders, digital & social media managers for press and broadcast organisations and social media political consultants in recent weeks. It’s part of a study I am doing, with The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, on how social media might be used to engage people more in political debate and the forthcoming general election.

I will be looking specifically at engagement, as opposed to the media using social as just another channel to broadcast their coverage.

A dominant theme is control. Or loss of control.

Pre social media powerful media brands told us which way to vote. Who The Sun would back was almost as important an event in politics as the outcome of the election.


Source: Wikimedia

I still expect press & broadcasting to be a major influencer of how we make up our minds, but given the woeful state of political disillusion at the moment, it would be nice to see the media engage and inform more – and social media is ideally suited for that. An early good example is Sky News’ #Stand Up Be Counted, where the main party leaders faced questions live both from a studio audience of young voters and via Twitter and Facebook, and was produced in collaboration with Facebook. There was huge buzz on social media, from reactions to Ed talking about his career to Dave’s bafflement on tampon taxes.



Back to control.

Parties – and I speak as a former political spinner – try to control the dialogue and stage manage everything in a campaign. The media try to disrupt that. The most obvious recent example of control are the negotiations over the party leader TV debates.

The media in turn have liked to drive their often partisan views through their coverage and comment.

Social media has disrupted everything. I hope for the better.

Established journalists are no longer the sole source of information and views on politics. There are other voices now, other sources of information.

A gaff or offhand comment can now fly round the web in seconds on Twitter before established media even get their stories out.

The wrestling between the party campaign machines and the media, aside from the wrangling between the parties, was something we were spectators to. Now we can be players.

Friends and family have always been major influencers of how we vote. Now Facebook amplifies our take on the candidates and issues to our virtual friends and family. Hence the Conservatives spending over a million a year on their Facebook profile.

So the parties are losing control. The orchestration and spin will continue, but it’s just not as effective any more.

The media are losing control. They don’t dictate our views any more, and there are so many voices and influencers out there on social media.

The question is will we use social media to get engaged in the debate and take more control on politics ourselves. 

Thoughts on communications in Europe

Yesterday I was in Brussels meeting staff, clients and helping celebrate our new merger with Swedish communications firm Prime on the ground in EU Public Affairs with a nice party.

As I walked around the city, now with the strange – for that sedate businesslike city – sight of heavily armed soldiers in full battle dress guarding EU institutions following a rumbled terror plot, I thought about lines for my speech on communications in an EU setting.


Here are some of them.



The Economist


Our world is restless.

Much of that restlessness, insecurity, fear, centres on Europe and EMEA.

From terror attacks to Ukraine, from the Ebola epidemic to continued financial insecurity, from a new generation of restless, digitally empowered but often unemployed youth to the potential fragmentation of the EU itself in the face of rising populist anti-EU parties on the right and left, fueled by frustration at years of austerity and Eurozone crisis.

Challenges to free speech, open borders and free markets. The decline of trust and confidence in governments, institutions (including the media) and business.

According to the OECD only 40% of citizens around the world trust their governments. Business fares slightly better but the lowest trust in business regionally is in Europe.


Belgian soldiers guard outside the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, near the Belgian Parliament


[As I type there are armed soldiers patrolling Calais station platform outside my stalled Eurostar train - "Je Suis Charlie" ]

Overlay this with the digital & social media revolution. The levelling of the communications playing field, the empowerment of citizens and consumers. A most dramatic shift of power. Whether it is the huge growth of mobile phones in Africa  where more people have one than have a toilet, to teenager vloggers like Zoella building a following over over 6m for her hair and make-up tips, to civil rights activists toppling governments – but also a scary new platform for hate merchants.

The overwhelming expectation in our digital, restless, sceptical and insecure Europe is that corporations and institutions will be transparent, held to account.

Reputation and trust have never been so highly prized, yet have never been so easily lost. Maybe in a tweet.

In this restless, noisy world, communications, dialogue, engagement, have never been more important. Public relations – human relations – has never been more important. Engaging, authentic storytelling that cuts through the hubbub and connects, one to one, person to person,  has never been more important.

So, in this restless world of changing and challenging power structures and power elites, with the remorseless rise of the Millennial workforce and voter, and the imminent arrival of Generation  Z as consumers, employees, voters and citizens – it all requires new communications thinking and innovation.

And communications, dialogue, listening, engagement, have never been more important than now.

[It was a speech at a party, so don't worry I told a few jokes as well and got to wear a glittery top hat.]


EU Public Affairs team, Brussels 2015.

PR isn’t dead, spin is dead, and the future of PR is female.

I have been doing a lot of university talks and panel discussions recently, broadly on the “Future of PR” theme. I have debated with my friend Robert Phillips, whose crowd-funded book “Trust me, PR is dead” is out soon and worth buying.

I have made some statements that have caused disagreement, concern, alarm and pained expressions, and been retweeted without the supporting evidence.

So for the record, let me elaborate.


PR isn’t dead

If anything, it is growing in numbers and influence and “beyond traditional PR” reach. It is evolving, not dying.  62,000 professional PRs in the UK alone and rising. Attracting talented young people who previously would have gone into law or finance or management consultancy.

With digital and social media changing everything, it is moving beyond the media relations silo that it has been in for most of our profession’s lifespan. We were not created as a profession of press release writers, but print and then broadcast media were the main channels. That is no longer the case.

There is a lot of debate about whether, in a post (traditional) media world, “Public Relations” is an adequate descriptor for what we do. I am less concerned about this navel gazing. When I fell sideways into PR, having failed to make a living as a budding music writer, my first boss gave me a sort of idiot’s guide to PR. The opening chapter led with a definition of our practice: “The dialogue between an organisation and its publics”. Now we call them stakeholders. In a fast changing world where trust is challenged, dialogue and authenticity and transparency are demanded, it strikes me that dialogue and communications are more important than ever.

But to Robert’s point, the role of PR has to change. To summarise a point Paul Holmes made recently, PR has to move from trying to spin that a company hasn’t really polluted a river, to telling the CEO the firm has to stop polluting the bloody river.

colin and dude2.jpg

Colin Byrne and Robert Phillips

Interestingly this month PR Week in the UK published their PowerBook of the 500 most influential people in the industry. Leaving aside my own modest showing at, ahem, #9, the really interesting thing was their choice for #1. It was Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever. The point is that whether it is the Dove campaigns, or Project Sunlight on sustainability and genuine brand purpose – witness the new corporate advertising campaign – that company and CEO are leading examples of authentic, engaging communications, business with purpose and what my pal Robert calls “public leadership”.

power dude

PR Week Power Book 2015 issue cover

Growing in influence

We do a lot of research at Weber Shandwick, so these are not just my opinions.

Our Rising CCO survey charts the growth in influence of chief communications officers. Circa 60% of CCOs at world leading firms now report to the CEO, Chair or the Board – interestingly the region with the lowest percentage of seniority is Europe.

We also monitor the growing trend for convergence of the in house marketing and communications function. – the rise of the Chief Communications & Marketing Officer or CCMO. More than a third of CCOs now also oversea merge ting, a 35% increase at world-class firms globally in the past 2 years.


Spin is dead

I confess, I am a reformed political spin doctor, a phrase imported from American politics by Michael White, The Guardian’s political editor, nearly 30 years ago after his spell in Washington.

Reputation is what you do and what others say about you. Spin is what you say about yourself, and sometimes to vainly attempt to divert gaze from the truth.

When I was in politics, spin was hand to hand combat with bastard political journalists who were in turn controlled by the political agendas of their proprietors. I also lied. But I wasn’t in PR really. I was in propaganda. Very different thing.

So when I say spin is dead, and others cry no it’s not, what I mean is it is no longer effective, not that it is no longer used. Research shows that only about 40% of global citizens trust their elected governments.

I shared a panel with a journalist recently who complained of corporate PRs aggressively selling her stories, and cited this as evidence that spin was alive and kicking, I am not sure that being aggressive in dealing with journalists is right – and anyway they are only one route to  communicating with our audience in this digital world, not the only one, something that many journalists find threatening – though as a political spin doctor I did spend a lot of time slamming the phone down on hacks, telling them to fuck off, threatening to go to their editors etcetera. But that is not spin. It is hand to hand combat, and not very enjoyable in hindsight.


Malcolm Tucker, BBC’s The Thick Of It

I get a bit pissed off with journalists who project themselves as the love children of Joan of Ark and Woodwood & Bernstein, because in truth there is good  journalism, and bad journalism that is slave to the political agenda of their proprietor or just downright lazy. PR does not need morality lectures from journalists. But we do need to scrutinise our own ethics and behaviours.


The future of PR is digital, visual and female.

This is the one that really divides my student audiences. The digital bit speaks for itself. The visual bit is based on a number of facts about communications and consumers, as well as my own love of visual arts and storytelling. (Frustrated film director.) People assimilate visuals 60,000 times faster than text and only remember 20% of what they read. Average attention spans have fallen from 12 seconds to just 8 seconds – 1 second less than a goldfish! – in just a decade. Half the photographs every taken in history have been taken in the last two years. The fastest growing and most influential aspect of communications is engaging video-based storytelling, from Like A Girl to Dove Sketches to the Epic Split.



The future is female gets a mixed reception. It shouldn’t. (And one of my top moments of 2014 was hosting Emma Watson and the HeForShe campaign at our London office. Her UN speech was one of the epic YouTube moments of the year.) Despite the male dominated PR power lists, women rightly drive evolution in our industry. And yesterday I was proud to name Rachel Friend as MD of our London operations. The three largest Weber Shandwick offices worldwide are now run by talented, inspirational women.

But my point was gender neutral and about behaviours. Men have traditionally dominated advertising because it is a broadcast industry. Big budgets, macho ideology, a “push” communications discipline. PR is about dialogue, A lot of PR people think their job is to talk. It is more about listening. To the client, to colleagues, to the beat of consumer insights, global trends and inspirational thinking. Listening, emotional intelligence, are female traits that we all need to adopt. The future of PR is about young talent, thinking like and supporting young female talent.

Have a great Christmas and here’s to a transformational year for PR with Purpose  and bigger ambition in 2015.

Are we all in “advertising” now?

While I celebrate the PR industry, many of its people, it’s growth in influence and it’s innovation, I do not dance prematurely on the grave of advertising. Any visitor to Cannes or Eurobest knows that is a foolish game.

I spent three fascinating afternoons recently as a mentor on the Campaign magazine/Knowledge Engineers’ Future Leaders Programme. The participants were mainly from ad agencies and media agencies, with the odd in house marketer. I was the only non-ad or media agency mentor. I suspect I was eyed with suspicion as well as interest. I also suspect I learned more from watching them prep a pitch than they did from me.

We talk a lot in our industry about client centricity and gaining a deep understanding of our clients’ business challenges as opposed to communications challenges. Companies and organisations don’t have “PR problems”. They have business challenges which in an always on, sceptical communications democracy, require engagement with customers and stakeholders.

Advertising has always got this. Why? Because CMOs are numbers driven business people – hence so many end up as CEOs of their companies. Their ad agencies have done the creative thing, rooted in the business opportunity. PRs have tended to focus on tactics, positive mentions, raised awareness and “Likes” rather than meticulous measurement of ROI in sales and reputation.

(interestingly some of the participants had “Business Leader” as their job title, not Account Director or Associate Director.)

Back to my observations. Firstly, a big chunk of the allotted time for the pitch prep was analysis of “the customer journey”. Deep insights and research. I suspect that there are still many traditional PR folk who think “the customer journey” is whether a shopper takes the bus or their car to the supermarket.

Secondly, more and more insights and analysis. I have blogged and spoken before about how PR has to get this right and learn from advertising. (Interestingly I recently formed a partnership with Marketing Week to conduct some research amongst UK CMOs about the state of agency relationships. 25% said they still saw their ad agency as their key strategic partner, and 22% their digital agency, as opposed to 13% who cited their PR agency. That said, many felt underserved by their strategic partner agency on insights and analytics, content, social media, and the biggest servicing let down was helping them to futureproof their business and alerting them to changes in the marketplace. So from a PR agency POV, an opportunity as well as a challenge. If we get the analytics, content and business intelligence right.)

Thirdly, for a profession cast largely around paid advertising, the teams I saw in action did not rely on this medium but saw it as just one channel in the Paid/Earned/Owned/Shared matrix. For them the business challenge, the customer journey and associated insights, the killer key insight and the engaging creative response were the main focus. Tactical execution included some advertising, but often to boost earned media (John Lewis penguins anyone). Experiential and social were also at the forefront as well as creative technology.

The new breed of advertising leaders (as opposed to the old guard wedded to client budget zapping shoots on tropical islands and 30 second spots that were usually blunderbusses and increasing are getting ignored) must feel as constrained by the traditional view of their craft as many of us in PR feel about media relations, “free media” as the Cannes old guard refer to it, “spin” as many journalists cast it, and the press release.

We were not born a profession of press release writers. For much of our past “traditional ” media was the main channel. Ditto for advertising – the thirty second spot, the DPS etc.

So, are the next generation of advertising practitioners better prepared and more attuned to the new marketing era, with all the challenges and opportunities, than the current output of PR degrees and PR industry training courses?

If advertising is, as one dictionary definition puts it, “the business of persuading people to buy products and services (or ideas)”, as opposed to the craft of producing 30 second spots etc, then are we all in “advertising” now?

PR by numbers?

I was pleased last week to be a speaker and panelist at an excellent PR Moment session on big data. This post is based on my research, talk and interactions.

When I first heard the topic I was kinda surprised – prior to a PR agency I worked in politics where research and analytics were a core currency. Been there, done that. But the more I talk with clients and PR practitioners, the more I look at PR industry evolution and talk to the (often woefully underprepared) PR people of tomorrow, the more one grasps the scale of the data & information avalanche, the more I see this discussion is live and urgent. Hence, post Cannes, a timely issue for PR Moment to tackle.

So here goes….


Like many other phenomena from the digital revolution, the emergence of big data is often described in a plethora of big statistics and ‘blimey!’ gee-whiz facts that illustrate its incredible growth. For example, KPMG reckons the total volume of business data in the world increased by 30% between 2010 and 2011.

Eric Schmidt of Google claims that every two days we produce as much information as had been created since the dawn of time and 2003. We also heard scary stats like the fact that 48 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every second. Likewise 100,000 tweets generated. Etc etc.

The growth of mass information has been a catalyst for, if not the source of, a degree of introspection and self-doubt, if not occasional blind panic, within the PR industry. There are some legitimate fears. How we best incorporate data and data scientists into our industry, an industry not widely known in the recent past for a hunger for numbers?

How do we measure and sift this mass of data and where are the industry standards that measure this information? These are some of the big issues perplexing PR industry thinkers and leaders. Despite all this, a recent survey by Ragan showed that 54 percent of public relations professionals didn’t really know what big data is, let alone what to do with it.


If data is the ‘science’ and creativity the ‘art’, we have to get the right balance between the two – they are mutually supportive, not at odds. Using data to create efficiently targeted ads that inspire no one is not progress, and neither is a piece of zany creative designed just to win an award as opposed to truly engaging people. Our clients are not in the Gutter Bar – they want our help to look at the stars (sorry, been wanting to use that gag for ages).

Big data should be an opportunity for us to improve our offering, not a threat to our creative instincts. In the words of my chief creative officer Gabriela Lungu: “Creativity is not the fruit of lucky inspiration or a one-off stroke of creative genius, but rather the result of an entire operating system; this is how we make sure we deliver creative, innovative ideas, fuelled by deep insight and analysis, over and over again”.

It’s an attitude that my firm Weber Shandwick, which has always focused on engagement, has long fostered within the business.

This was part of the thinking behind the development of our Science of Engagement brand health tracker tool. Using sophisticated research gathered from experts in the field of psychology, neurology and anthropology, the Science of Engagement offering gives brands the opportunity to explore how effectively they are engaging with their customers and the wider world, through understanding behaviours and analysing the numbers.

In advertising, data and concrete evaluation methods – along with creativity – have always been at the heart of the business. The only real restriction on a firm operating in an environment with so much data is its capacity to collect and analyse that information effectively.

But it is not just a matter of asking more questions. It is about asking the right questions. As the economist Ronald Coase once said “torture the data, and it will confess to anything.”. An over-reliance on data, gathering the wrong data, or twisting it to suit your objectives can be disastrous for a brand, company or organisation.

As I stressed in a previous post clients look to us for creative bravery. You can do PR by the numbers but the results are likely to be thoroughly disinteresting. At the core of what we do are our “incites” – the original creative thought and call to action at the heart of a campaign, based on deep and thoughtful insights.

Science + Art.


Celebrating our #FathersDayHeroes

Just over a decade ago my Dad died of lung cancer, aged 73. Although as a teenager I crossed swords with him, wound him up, was occasionally incomprehensible and disappointing to this hard manual working, rugby league loving poor boy from Drogheda, he was – is – a hero to me.

Born into a poor, large family in Ireland, he left school and started work in a cement factory at 13 – a year before he could legally but the practice in Ireland at the time was not to register kids until they were of working age, then lie about the birth date so they could work to support the family as early as possible. Only when his own mother was dying did he learn that he was a year younger than he thought, and had a different birthday. “Just like the Queen” he used to joke. When I was in my teens he supported my choice to go to college when relatives and friends were telling him to get me out to work ASAP.

Having met my Mum when she was visiting both their family’s Irish home town, he moved to Salford in his late twenties and started a lifetime of  backbreaking – almost literally after an industrial accident – work on what was then The Port of Manchester and the Ship Canal (now home to Media City)  as a fitter on big transAtlantic container boats. It was hard work, long hours to bring home the overtime, scrabbling around hot oily stinking ships’ engine rooms. He hardly ever complained. There was Friday night watching his beloved Salford Reds play rugby at the ground opposite our house to look forward to, and a beer with his mates.

He was a heavy smoker, liked a drink and a party and an Irish sing song. He could play almost any instrument by ear and gave me my first guitar. As kids, and encouraged by my vehemently anti-smoking Mum, we would buy him pipes for his birthday to try and get him to cut down. They would mysteriously “break” in his overalls pocket.


When he retired he gave up the cigs, spent time with his grandchildren, helped nurse my mum to recovery from cancer, learned to cook, watched the Reds, walked his dog. A legacy of his working conditions, he developed asbestosis on his lungs, which in time developed into an inoperable lung cancer. It killed him before he could see half his 18 grandchildren even be born.

This Father’s Day I will be donating in his memory to The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation (  and be tweeting a selfie with one of my favourite photographs of him using the #FathersDayHeroes hashtag. I know many people, including celebrities and top-followed Tweeters, will have similarly lost hero dads to this disease. And many others will just want to celebrate having their dad still with them or having survived cancer. I hope they will join me in doing the same selfie, with pic or, if lucky, with their large-as-life “hero” dad, and in making a donation to the Foundation and encouraging others to do the same. To help even more, and give the campaign greater impact and reach, I hope they will join me in signing up to support a Thunderclap (it takes literally two minutes) so we can share a collective message of support for the Foundation via Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr on the eve of Father’s Day in the name of #FathersDayHeroes. For this to happen, we need to recruit 100 supporters on Thunderclap to back this important charity and its dedicated fight against lung cancer in men and woman or all ages.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in men after prostate cancer, with around 23,800 new cases diagnosed in the UK in 2011. There are around 43,000 cases (men and women) diagnosed every year and it remains the UK’s biggest cancer killer.

Early diagnosis is a really key message for the Foundation. Public Health England ran a Be Clear On Cancer campaign (2012 / 2013) urging people with a three-week-old cough to visit their GP. It led to around 700 extra patients (10% rise) being diagnosed with lung cancer – many at an early stage – and crucially resulted in around 300 more patients getting surgery, which gives them the best chance of prolonged survival.

So let’s celebrate our #FathersDayHeroes in a meaningful way, the ones we have or have lost, and help more to survive.


It has been a busy week on the social media front

Just finished three days in Sweden – one of Europe’s most digitally advanced and creative economies – with Weber Shandwick’s new friends and partners at Prime PR in Stockholm, the world’s most Cannes Lions winning creative digital PR hot shop. Reviewing the work and meeting the great and lovely people behind it was a joy, and the fulfilment of a personal ambition to work with creative wunderkind Tom Beckman and the team there. (Great case studies on

A few days earlier on Tuesday I was pleased to host and be on the panel for the Editorial Intelligence/London Press Club discussion on Twitter and all things future social media along with The Sunday Times’ India Knight, EI’s Julia Hobsbaum, Sky News executive editor John McAndrew and chair Charlie Beckett, director of the media and communications studies department at the LSE.

I love Twitter. As said so succinctly, it is the pulse of the world. I get breaking news, opinion, gossip, recommendations. I share everything from thoughts on PR and music, art, food, politics, fashion to pics of my chickens.

It is a wonderful platform for sharing other social media platforms – blogs, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube etc. Unlike the rush we all went through to acquire as many Facebook friends as possible, and years later don’t know who half of them are or care very much, I tailor my Twitter feed to the content I want, the people who interest me, the news and views sources I trust or arouse my curiosity. (Note – my 80 year old mum recently friended me on Facebook.)

In eight years Twitter has helped fuel the Arab Spring, exposed the nonsense of the UK’s libel laws, bring us news live and bite-sized without having to keep an eye on the telly captions in the corner of the office, and I haven’t seen a picture of a cute kitten falling off a bookshelf yet.

One senior newspaper type opined that Twitter had peaked and would be dead in two years. I bet some said that of newspapers when TV arrived sixty years ago. I think Twitter will thrive and evolve. Facebook is for old pals and family, Twitter is for the curious, the news hungry and the opinionated. Those traits and values never age. Others pointed to the slow down in adoption – up fifty per cent in the UK last year! – and the size of total user numbers to Facebook’s 1.3 billion.  That’s like saying the FT is a failure because it has a much smaller readership than The Sun. Apples and pears.

In my humble opinion, Twitter excels at gathering us around trends and delivering us bite-sized, real time communications. It is designed for modern life, be it media brands, journalists, politicians – Cameron would not make that “twits and twat” crack these days – celebrities, influencers, and the visually inclined, informed and opinionated citizen.

Twitter is the social media equivalent of coffee and adrenalin.

Twitter is also increasingly a platform for what my digital guys politely call “social customer service” – not just engaging with brands but yelling at them in public and inciting other to do the same when they piss us off.

(As for trolls, expose them, shame them, mass unfollow them and if necessary throw the deranged, racist, sexist, homophobic bastards in jail.)

So Twitter is most definitely a key part of the future of social media. What else?

I talked to several of our digital gunslingers at Weber Shandwick London to get their take.

  • emergent technologies around augmented reality and instant video
  • curation, aggregation, mass-sharing a la Buzzfeed will be increasingly important in shaping WHAT people want to share as well as how
  • immersion, the development of filters to help us deal with content overload so only highly relevant content – to us – reaches us
  • a continued move away from one-to-many back to one-to-one and small group platforms. Whatsapp, Snapchat and more to come
  • in marketing, big data analytics will drive a more science-based approach to targeting key audiences and groups (data will increase by 600% by 2020 – that’s every bit of data we have today, times six, in just six years!)

So, lots of exciting stuff. I’ll follow it all on Twitter.

Why don’t you come over?

Twenty years ago I had lunch with an acquaintance who was then one of the most senior ad land figures in the UK. I had been in PR for about ten years and had enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside ad creatives, film makers and planners. My first love had been film, loved visual art, design and photography. I asked his advice on switching from PR to advertising. He told me to stay put – “In ten years ad guys will be wanting to switch to PR” he said.

I recalled that conversation as I sat waiting to present the Golds and Grand Prix at Eurobest in Lisbon on Friday night. Having chaired the jury, I knew that PR agency entries had been relatively few, and only one (Swedish)  had made it Gold award status. Despite our disappointment at that fact, my team of fellow PR agency heads and creative leads enjoyed our two days of studying the work and debating the relative merits. The Grand Prix winner was a great PR campaign, even if a PR agency had been nowhere near it.

I think it is less that the ad guys are switching to PR – though some are, including on my team -  more that they are evolving to add it to their already formidable arsenal of disciplines. Another platform for their creative ideas. And in some cases, because we vacate the space – creatively, not bothering to enter or turn up at Eurobest for example – they are colonising PR.

Here are a few reflections.

1. The ad guys look like they love what they do

When ad folk, particularly the creatives, take the stage to collect an award, its like The Rolling Stones at the end of a gig. They bounce. They dance. They hug. They punch the air. There is joy! Celebration! They love what they do. They create beautiful pictures, film, stories, art. You have to admire that.

Are we as passionate about our creative work?  We need to be.

2. Our ” art” isn’t the same

Though if we are serious about content creation and engaging storytelling  it needs to start being.

We are more about ideas that others bring to life, or from an ad industry perspective (see my Dumb Ways To Die story in previous posts) we are the people who implement ad agency creative ideas. And they are starting to think, given the power of some of those ideas to burst and pop across multiple channels, that they can do that themselves. If that is what our clients chose, it  is our fault.

Digital and social media has to a certain extent levelled the playing field for us and advertising. Particularly goven our heritage of dialogue. But where are the creative technologists, the creative film making talent, the pictorial poets in our industry to help bring our ideas to life. They are elsewhere. We can and must bring in more true creatives, creatives who push the boundaries and challenge the – our – status quo, push our clients into more creative bravery as the ad agencies are already doing. But they need people with the skills to bring their creative ideas to life.

And don’t assume that ad folk are not learning the dialogue game. In some cases they are overtaking us.

3. There has never been a better time to be in PR/There has never been a more challenging time to be in PR (delete as appropriate).

When the press and broadcast media dominated our lives (only really in politics does it still,  and with demographic change and declining  trust in newspapers as well as politicians, even that is changing) we had the public relations world pretty much to ourselves. We were the publicists, the spin doctors, the reputation managers. We were powerful.

But media consumption patterns have changed dramatically in just a decade, and will accelerate as Gen Z comes of age. In the Engagement Era, the engagers will thrive.

Newspaper sales are shrinking. The number of journalists working in news media is shrinking. On the other hand the number of channels to reach and engage with influencers, consumers and citizens is exploding. The key now is engagement, not broadcasting, so it requires a different approach, and different skills and recruitment protocols, but not a crisis of self confidence in our industry.

4. You have to be in it to win it.

I have been passionate about Cannes since my first experience as a juror and Cannes Lions winner. But it goes way beyond the awards. Cannes, and Eurobest, are unique opportunities to bring together creatives from across the marcomms mix, to see brilliant work, to listen to and exchange ideas and experiences. To be inspired and challenged.

We have some great PR industry thought leadership events, in the UK and other local markets, and internationally via Paul Holmes and now a refreshed ICCO. But PR does not exist in a vacuum. Increasingly we are part of an integrated broader industry and ideas maelstrom.

We need more PR firms and PR ideas people to be at Cannes and Eurobest, as well as taking part in the awards.

5. Our future is where Art meets Science

I have said it many times and saw the same chart I present in talks and lectures in an ad agency presentation. For us the science is Big Data and Creative Technology. Collectively as an industry we lack the firepower of the ad agencies. We are trailing in this particular Space Race. We need to prove to CMOs that we are about more than “free media” and “raising awareness”. They want more science, more insights, more evidence in return for their marketing money.