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 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!