Everybody has their own favourite brands, that’s why PR should broaden its spectrum to optimise results

Everybody has their own favourite brands. That is just a fact. Take the recent Brexit vote for example: some journalists reported about the favourite brands of the Remain versus Leave voters, as a certain category of people is drawn to some particular brands rather than others.

The sense of brand image exists.

Brand perception is developed through various sources of information and influencers. Marketers have grown to gain a strong echo within the discipline as they have mastered the art of communicating a particular message to a targeted audience, or a market segment which they believe has a particular interest in the brand or the organisation they speak in favour of.

The importance of Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC)

An effective campaign is the result of planned, integrated and coordinated efforts tailored to a particular audience revolving around key messages portraying a brand’s mission and vision.

Integrated Marketing Communication helps to achieve this goal. IMC means that the purpose of the campaign is not to use as many mediums as possible. Instead, marketers aim at using the right (best!) communication channels that are used by a particular segment. Obviously, the advantages are significant: higher effectiveness, lower costs, increased credibility etc. Ultimately, a targeted approach results in a stronger impact and a more consistent perception.

Marketers have been using a wide range of tools to channel their message: media advertising, place advertising, direct response (messages aimed at known consumers), face-to-face interaction (in a shop, in an agency for example), sponsorship and events, promotions, online and digital content and of course, PR and journalism (Keller et al. 2008). Harmony between all the different consumers’ contact points is the golden rule.

A great example of successful IMC is Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign. It is one of my favourite communication works of all time as it has been one of the most successful campaigns ever implemented, having a powerful echo from 2003 until today.

The clever idea behind the ‘Real Beauty’ campaign was to redefine female beauty according to ‘documented evidence’ as opposed to ‘advertising evidence’.

Dove’s initiative started off with outdoor billboards, transport advertising spreading to television and print content. The beauty brand’s innovation laid in their ambassadors: six non-professional women models advocating natural beauty and protesting against photo retouching. A website further attracted consumers for more information to participate in the campaign, supported by tremendous PR efforts in the media.

The efforts paid off with prestigious awards (IPA Effectiveness, EFFIE and Cannes Awards) and the representation of female beauty in the media sparked crucial debates.

“We need one big idea that can be used in a multidimensional way”

Like Light (2004) stated a few years ago: “The days of mass advertising are over. Any single ad […] is not a summary of our strategy. It’s not representative of the brand message. We don’t need one big execution of a big idea. We need one big idea that can be used in a multidimensional, multilayered and multifaceted way.”

Importantly, it should be advocated that PR practitioners not only understand, reach and interact with their audiences but also ensure the consistency of their message across an organisation’s wider scale of communication. In doing so, a particular message will have a stronger resonance within its audience.

Everybody has a favourite brand. Communication practitioners just need to ask themselves: who am I talking to?


LIGHT, L., (2004). ‘AdWatch: Outlook 2004’ conference. New York, NY.

KELLER, K.L., APERA, T. and GEORGSON, M., (2008). Strategic Brand Management: A European perspective. Harlow: Pearson Education.

TENCH, R. and YEOMANS, L. (2014). Exploring Public Relation. Third Edition. Harlow: Pearson Education.


Brexit actually brings new opportunities to prove the value of PR

The referendum results in the UK came as a surprise to the majority, including the Brexit campaigners. The advent of post-truth communication, the emergence of fake news in social media and even in traditional outlets, polling, activist leadership and media bubbles lead us to re-think the old ways of interacting with the general public. PR practitioners have agreed to state that we are facing new levels of uncertainty following British and American wake-up calls with the recent votes.

Stephen Waddington, partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum and professor, recently commented: “I don’t think public relations is in crisis but we do need to be brave and ask tough questions about our business.”

Recent examples in the media have further eroded the trust relationship with audiences. In #FuturePRoof, Second Edition, Rob Brown, Managing Partner at Rule 5 and President of the CIPR talks about two instances whereby inaccurate information particularly resonated amongst the public. An example of this is the £350 million a day to the NHS pledge from the Brexit campaigners which evaporated as soon as polling stations closed. Elsewhere, Trump announced on Twitter: “Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!” seemingly oblivious about the 68% of Scots who voted in favour of remaining.

Through uncertain times, PR practitioners can and should act as strategic leaders, making sense of complexity, maintaining influences and managing corporate stories as it seems that we have reached the threshold whereby it is crucial to do so. Communication should help brands navigate in the tumultuous waters brought by the Brexit referendum.

More than ever, PR practitioners are urged to bring clarity and do more than just put their spin across and persuade communities. Robert Wynne predicted the end of mass persuasion in a “post-factual fake news world” for organisations using the media and social media to promote their products and services.

Professionalisation is key Brown argues. Concretely, we need to promote transparency and accountability within organisations, act as watchmen towards brands’ doing. We must be explicit in the way news is provided and share evidence-based information.

Public Relations’ ultimate goal is based on listening and understanding audiences, it is by doing so that communication professionals will restore trust. In this way, PR departments need to explain to board members this reality so organisational strategies are guided accordingly.

In the Brexit aftermath, PR’s crucial aim is to reshape the organisations’ place within the communities they operate in, making sense of themselves by displaying professionalism and accountability.

From the Brexit results, we have to acknowledge that the messages put across by the corporate world and the establishment more generally were not taken into account by a majority. Interrogations have arisen regarding our borders, our trading relationships and our relationships with European subsidies.

With these challenges rise new opportunities to evolve and improve within the industry to prove our value. “The time is now” says Brown.




How Trump has revolutionised political communication

Clinton and Trump’s differences in the media are quite sharp as we have all witnessed during these last few weeks. Both embody two different visions of politics and more broadly, America’s image. This resulted in tailored and antagonistic communication strategies for their campaigns. Nobody thought Donald Trump would be the last one standing, particularly the media. Still, this strategy turned out to be successful despite the onslaught of negative journalistic reports and polls.

What the media investments tell us

First, the financial aspect of both campaigns puts forward interesting points on how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump utilised their budgets towards the media. One striking fact is the Democrat candidate collected the important budget of almost $500 million, while Trump’s donations represent half of this amount.

Clinton’s strategy was centred on elite mobilisation as parismatch.com recently reported. On the other side, Trump failed to win the favour of wealthy conservative donators such as the Koch brothers or the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, forcing his communication team to innovate with a new “cheap” approach.

A “low-tech campaign”

Since the internal Republican’s elections, Trump has made the strategic choice of utilising the social media and the “free” coverage as much as possible. “That is the reason why his rhetoric was often the one of provocation” Vincent Michelot explains. More importantly, as the Trump patriotic brand was already known by a vast majority of Americans, his strategy has been held on the assumption that “any publicity is good publicity”.

Another important point could be drawn on his choice of not micro-targeting voters and building gigantic databases as Clinton did. Instead, the Republican Party was focussed on organising impressive mass meetings.

The failure of pop culture

Conversely, Clinton’s communication team aimed at purchasing advertising space and controlling the candidate’s reputation in the media as much as possible. The same strategy was implemented for Obama’s elections with a PR success demonstrating a solid understanding of all the previous known techniques: political marketing, television speeches and debates, flyers, direct mail, newspapers, phone calls, canvass, etc. Wanting to benefit from the hype period triggered by Obama’s equality and tolerance image, Clinton’s team aimed at perpetuating Obama’s pop culture legacy through celebrity support and multiple appearances on famous TV shows.

The Clinton’s defeat at the last U.S. presidential election symbolises the failure of pop culture and the advent of a post-true society promoting emotional and impulsive reactions over objectivity in the public debate. Trump has enforced new rules in the political communication game albeit political communication should remain centred around salient values inspiring mutual aims and rallying communities.


Media industry: Four important lessons from Jeremy Paxman’s last interview

Jeremy Paxman went unmasked in his last interview given to The Times magazine (24.09.2016). As one of Britain’s most popular and controversial journalists, Paxman, 66, has amassed various juicy anecdotes and has led “war-gaming” interviews with the most influential public figures for the last decade on Newsnight for the BBC.

Besides the very personal statements he makes, unleashing about his strained relationship with his father, Paxman makes some audacious remarks on an industry he has worked for for almost 40 years. From the start, the young BBC trainee has been adamant about his role and journalism’s ideal. He has remained objective, as a genuine journalist, about what surrounds him.

Here are the four points that we can learn from his latest interview:

  • “It’s my job to dig”.

Journalism is all about “digging”, investigating, checking facts and telling stories. Paxman reminds us that a true journalist isn’t content with superficial gossip or given facts. Paxman is a journalistic model since his perception of news is to help in the existential crisis journalism is currently enduring. Indeed, a true journalist must dig more than ever before according to Eric Scherer and his “augmentated journalism” theory. His/her role only sees irrelevancy in today’s chaotic hyper-connected and over-informed society only if fact-checking and thorough investigations prevails.

  • In his memoir, Paxman expresses regrets about his crueller questions to Gordon Brown (”Why does no one like you?”) and asking Charles Kennedy, “Why does everyone say of you, ‘I hope he’s sober’?” He believes his famous monstering of hapless junior treasury minister Chloe Smith was needed to bring the government to account, but asking, “Are you incompetent?” was “unanswerable and unkind”.

A paradoxical idea arises here.

Paxman’s popularity could be grounded on the simple premise that he comes across as a relatively blunt, straightforward and brutally direct character. His image is colourful and attractive for the masses as he gives a sense of authenticity to an industry enduring a confidence crisis .

 Although he now seems to express regret, it has to be reminded that journalists’ role is intrinsequely linked to democracy. In saying so, it could be argued that Paxman’s purpose is first and foremost to embody the citizen’s voice. In this way, it could be added that Paxman’s controversial style could reflect a fringe of British agora’s voice, hence accounting for his important popularity.

  • The media, he says, can only accommodate one idea of a person. “I know that I will always be Mr Rude or whatever”.

Sad but true: a good key message in PR is a SIMPLE message. Putting forward a succinct and concise message is the most effective way to put a message across in the media industry and elsewhere. A simple message is easy to remember because it tells a story and ensures consistency (regarding a person, a situation, an organisation).

  • At times he sounds highhanded, especially when discussing peers. Newsreaders, Jon Snow aside, are failed actors, not proper journalists. […] “My great discovery in the last past year is that news doesn’t really matter”.

Paxman’s comment obvious doesn’t refer to the whole of the media industry, but his view on this matter is shared by many supporting the Postmodern stances around the media spectacle (infotainment) and the Simulacra theories.

Paxman’s view directly relates to Baudrillard’s investigation revolving around the impact that an image-saturated society can have on the process of representation of the real and creation of meaning. He argued that given that truth and reality are mediated by various mediums of representation, then it would have become almost impossible to distinguish the true from the false, the original from the copied. Likewise, Paxman’s comment could embody Debord’s early reflection on “spectacle” in society, in other words, on our world of mere representations, in which journalists are not journalists anymore, but representations of journalists.

Despite apparent simple statements, Paxman’s discourse remains highly relevant while contineously contributing to contempory debates on the media in society.


Is objectivity actually dangerous for the future of journalism?

The End of Newspapers and The Future of Information. That is the book I took on holiday with me last month in which Bernard Poulet (yes, he is French) puts forward an interesting point at the beginning of the book directly questioning the role objectivity in journalism.

Coming from a French background and having followed a three-year Journalism course, it is a well-known fact at home that a good journalist must be an objectivity gate-keeper. Fairness, disinterestedness and factuality are just some of the noble qualities that are necessary for journalistic objectivity. Non-partisanship seems to provide strong credit to the media industry and to audiences. This is also valuable for other societies than France. Modern literature seems to have emphasised the importance of objectivity in the U.S. as David T.Z. Mindich discusses “how objectivity came to define American Journalism”.  Globally, factuality seems to be the key.

The Washington Post helped redefining journalism’s role

At the same time, several recent studies investigating journalism’s image in France reveal the poor opinion French people have towards the “Fourth power”. Poulet explains that for the last two decades, credibility has sharply dropped, resulting in a vertiginous drop in newspaper sales. He further notes that it is in the 1980’s that audiences paradoxically started to question journalists’ credibility as media professionals bore new neutrality standards. This period coincides with the Washington Post’s revelations on the Watergate scandal, setting up a new example of journalism in schools and universities. Importantly, Poulet ascertains that it is this new objective journalism that contributed to trust and sales issues in the print media industry.

Indeed, the argument being made about the French audiences is about readers sharing and believing in their newspapers’ stances. This phenomenon was particularly important between the two World Wars and after 1945. Newspapers embodied different ideologies and readers created a real bond with them, as a form of ‘activist commitment’.

 “Circle of Reason”

Conversely, today’s journalism seems to have installed some kind of distance between journalists and readers in the name of objectivity. Hence, the journalists’ role would be limited to telling their ‘own’ version of reality about an event, a public figure or a phenomenon Poulet states. In this way, he further argues that this objectivity has endorsed a real moral role, sometimes to autonomously participate in political debate. Trust issues within the media could then be explained as readers struggle with journalists’ “pretention” or “arrogance” to relate their own views of objectivity. This phenomenon has been described by Alain Minc as the “circle of Reason” (“le cercle de la raison”). Minc’s analysis takes into account the journalists’ lecturing role towards society. As a result, media professionals would establish what is of “reason” and everything that does not belong to this “circle of reason” would be nonsense.

As journalists have lost touch with readers and become so didactic that they are resented by their own audiences, the media has been associated with the establishment and the elite. In this instance, Poulet refers to the well-know national newspaper Le Monde. During the European Constitution referendum in 2005, the title placed itself as a genuine power institution, with the aim to set up the society’s new values, not on behalf of personal commitment, but on behalf of objectivity. While Le Monde expressed favourable views for the establishment of a Constitution for Europe, results demonstrated a clear refusal on the ratification of the treaty.

In sum, according to Poulet’s original stance, it would be by defining journalism as the most potent power in society that media professionals would have endangered themselves. The media print is at the heart of this lost of trust according to him, and it is now being expanded to other areas in the industry. To show the magnitude of this, he further takes the example of the activist press, which dramatically declined over the years in France, with the depletion of major titles such as L’Humanité, Combat and Le Populaire.

Facing its biggest challenge ever in France and elsewhere, media professionals have been in the urgent need to reinvent themselves in the hope of capturing audiences and regaining trust, particularly within the print media. The role of objectivity in the news is still at the heart of heated debates considering journalism’s salient role in democracy. Nonetheless, elements of answers have been put forward, and it seems that engaging and understanding audiences have never been that important for the survival of the traditional media.



Why are there so many former journalists in PR?

The Big Partnership in Aberdeen offered me the opportunity to have a placement in their Aberdeen office! I was so delighted to be able to have an experience in one of the busiest PR agency in Scotland. I have learnt a lot and now that this is over, I have decided I would write a (wee) post… about the close relationship between journalism and PR.

I was actually amazed to find so many former reporters at BIG during a recent placement, my first in a communications agency. Having studied journalism for three years, I had always been told by journalists that those going into PR were ‘prostituting’ themselves. But the reality is that PR is not what it seems: it is not about selling dodgy information. It is definitively not “pink and fluffy”.

I can honestly say that my work experience at BIG has improved my skills, both as a communications practitioner and a journalist.

• PR is all about stories, but that’s not all. Finding relevant news angles and drafting impactful articles are the main activities of journalists. But it’s also the main task of a PR executive. A story is useless if it doesn’t have the opportunity to be told. Communication is a fast-paced industry. Being a successful practitioner today involves having a deep knowledge of the numerous and ever-evolving media platforms from which to tell your story and how they reach different audiences.

• PR is about key messages. PR is not just about pitching stories, it’s about getting key messages across effectively. When writing my first press release at BIG, I thought my writing and the structure were ok but the people at BIG showed me the error of my ways and helped me to craft a release that truly communicated what the client wanted to convey without diluting, twisting or spinning the facts. My first lesson with BIG wasn’t about how to write, it was about listening to the clients.

• More than communication plans, PR is about ‘social strategies’. I learnt that proper PR involved actively building relationships with people and making connections. Would you think getting published consisted of pressing a button to send press releases? Well, you would not go far doing that. PR is about building genuine relationships with the media. I can tell now that BIG’s success is mostly based on the relationships BIG people have with their former colleagues and the understanding of their expectations. Influencers, target audiences, and broadly understanding stakeholders are the golden rules for good PR.

• PR is about challenges. Every day is different. This is what I learnt from interviewing people from different BIG teams. PR is unpredictable as messages cannot always be fully controlled. Today’s empowered consumers expect more dialogue and have more expectations with the organisations they interact with. With the advent of the social media, consumers tweet, like, share and comment on every word and move. More than ever, PR’s is about tailored stories with added value so people embrace them.

I firmly believe that PR empowers journalists; this is why I think so many media people convert themselves. I will not become a PR-story-spotter-social-strategist executive in one day, for sure. But now I know that other journalists have done it. BIG’s people have showed me the way and I will always be so grateful for it.


Merci BIG for this experience!


PR evolutions under the Presidency of Blair, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama

Here I am, back again on my blog, after a long absence (I admit)!

As promised, I would like to share with you the salient ideas from one of the chapters from The Media and Political Process book by Eric Louw.

By the time I write this third post for my blog, I could have finished the book and I am still enthusiastic about it. I would strongly recommend this inspirational book for any student (undergrads or postgrads) eager to learn more about the complex relationship between journalists and political figures.

Having said that, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: ‘The Art of Political Public Relations’.

The emblematic Labour leader Tony Blair could be deemed as the last innovator regarding PR-ised politics. Unlike his former counterpart Margaret Thatcher, Blair professionalised British political communication closely following some Americans concepts. Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and Charlie Whelm were the main three men in the front line to manage the Prime Minister’s reputation. Also, I am thinking of Tim Allan, Deputy press secretary to Blair, on the cover page of the last PR Week (February 2015).

Mandelson’s successful strategy consisted in reshaping the face of the party. The challenge here was to move away from ‘the working-class clop-cap image’ (p.90), potentially threatening for the non-working class, towards a more neutral but inclusive image. Labour’s repositioning to a centre-left party resulted from this new communication approach. Not only did Mandelson reshape the party but he also introduced the so-called American concept of ‘political marketing’ (Bartle and Griffiths, 2001). He is the one who reconstructed the image of the party around the red rose symbol and pushed politicians to become telegenic performers. From that time, British politics genuinely became a ‘televisualised, PR-ised affair’, argues Louw.

Famously, Blair’s spin-team was put under a lot of pressure during the heated debates on the Iraq War. On May 2003, BBC’s journalist Gilligan alleged on the radio that the dossier on Iraqi ‘weapons of mass destruction’ had been ‘sexed up’ to advocate military intervention. This led to a succession of scandals, to the suicide of Dr Kelly and the creation of the Hutton Commission Inquiry. Blair’s reputation management turned into a public issue and his political image had then been durably tarnished. Ultimately, Campbell was forced to resign.

All in all, PR activities must always be transparent and credible to be successful. The common view is that communication practitioners are not highly appreciated by journalists. The media will relentlessly pursue busted spin-doctors. What also taught us Blair’s governance is that PR people are the first on the front line, to be scapegoated and criticised for defending a ‘built-up’ image. Nonetheless, I believe it is also vital to acknowledge the role of journalists here, and question their relationship with institutions. Following Gilligan’s revelation, the media created a discourse by blaming Campbell, Blair and Hutton. Actually, they dismissed and deflected attention away from their role in making the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ real.

The use of PR and spin has progressively been normalised and taken for granted, explains Louw. Davis (2002) goes even further comparing Western states to ‘Public Relations democracies’.

Clinton’s aggressive strategy was guided by James Carville. His personal style and his radiant seduction on cameras got on so well with the televised revolution that some compared him to a wizard performer. Inheriting the communication legacy from Nixon and Reagan, Clinton’s  access to Presidency embodied how ‘naturalised’ PR had become.

‘The Manhattan Project’ participated in reshaping his damaged image and the famous ‘War Room’ conducted media coverage analysis to determine Clinton’s responses and strategic plans. Political communication specialists became experts at creating media strategies, setting agendas and managing content. Even though the President granted meetings with the press twice a week, he always ensured concerned topics were previously negotiated with producers and that in-depth researches on likely questions were conducted. Also, Clinton’s PR team perfected themselves in narrowcasting to get their messages across, targeting niche audiences through local media outlets. The Internet was another asset by which the White House directly communicated with the general public thanks to a special email address. What is also noticeable in Clinton’s presidency is the way the opposition was dealt with: negative spin, ‘dirty tricks’, etc. As we all recall, that did not prevent him from being publicly exposed about his sexual indiscretions.

George W. Bush’s PR strategy deployed many current techniques from this time. His communication adviser Karl Rove dramatically reshaped his image and the president performed the script well: far from representing his privileged education and well off roots, he successfully came across as an ordinary middle-class self-made man from a small Texan town. Political PR under Bush’s administration could be characterised by the special granted importance to certain key voter’s issues.

But to me, one of the most memorable successful PR moments for Bush occurred in 2003. His spin-team was expert in choreographing events to sublimate the President. After having landed off on the deck of an aircraft carrier, on the Californian coast, he emerged from the plane, from the co-pilot’s seat, in a green flight suit. The exterior of the plane was marked with ‘George W. Bush Commander-in-Chief’. Above him stood the tower of the deck, displaying a large ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign. The event was well thought out and intelligently staged. Journalists even reported this appearance being as “the mother of all photo opportunities” and “the greatest op of all time” (Bennett, 2007: 45). Rove’s event-based strategy was a success because it enabled him to keep control on the news making agenda.

His campaign slogan still resonates in our minds today: ‘Yes we can’. It is fair to say that Barack Obama turned into a real global political celebrity. His massive PR success was orchestrated by David Axelrod, who had a proven path in getting black mayoral candidates elected. Successively, he managed to get not only white, but also black voters, often callous and disengaged with political life to turn out at polling stations. Obama’s election in 2008 demonstrated a solid understanding of all the previous known techniques. Almost all of them were mobilised to bring the candidate to the top: political marketing techniques, television speeches and debates, flyers, direct mail, newspapers, phone calls, canvass, etc. The Internet was also taken advantage of thanks to the use of platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and multiple targeted websites. Obama was marketed as being the candidate of change and tolerance. He was seen as an inclusive figure, a ‘man-of-the-people’, able to gather any race, religions or classes. Akin to Kennedy’s communication strategy (see my former post), Axelrod managed to turn Obama’s difference into a strength and not voting for Obama could be equal to intolerance.

What was relatively new at the time and intelligently led was the way volunteers were mobilised across the country. Obama’s teams were dispatched and set up local campaign offices. Steve Hilderbrand, deputy national campaign, initiated the ‘MyBO volunteer mobilisation campaign’. This consisted of building a network of people able to offer support and services: canvass, districts walking, and even picking up voters and taking them to polling stations. The whole system was boosted by the Internet. The volunteers were able to set up a profile on the MyBO website (like a Facebook profile) to directly download the latest materials from the campaign to create their own local events, such as picnics or neighbourhood clean-ups and fundraisers.  Furthermore, Hilderbrand created ‘Obama camps’ so as to train the volunteers who subscribed on the website to workshops to learn rhetorical and leadership skills. In this way, the phenomenon snowballed and more and more recruits were enrolled. Popular support significantly weighted in the President’s election.

I am hopeful to believe that, having quickly gone through the main evolutions of political PR, the future will foster more and more strategies that include and give opportunities of action to people. Political communication crucially needs to understand the society’s wants and keep in mind that the human factor is at the heart of any PR story.

BARTLE, J. and GRIFFITHS, D., 2001. Political Communication Transformed: From Morrison to Mandelson. Basingstone: Palgrave.

BENNETT, W.L., 2007. News: The Politics of Illusion. New York: Pearson Longman.

DAVIES, A., 2007. The Mediation of Power. London: Routeledge.

LOUW, E., 2010. The Media and Political Process. London: Sage Publication Ltd.