I just fired the Chairman

24 Apr


Peter Heath, MPRINZ, Due North 

I’ve blogged before about the need for public relations practitioners to stand up for themselves if they want to be taken seriously. To believe in their own value. To push back if they feel their expertise and advice is being overlooked. And to have the guts to ‘consider their positions’ if this becomes an ongoing issue.

Today I practiced what I preach. After many months of being frustrated by a client’s refusal to engage with us on anything other than an arm’s-length basis, I “withdrew the services” of Due North after being told by the organisation’s Chairman that he just wasn’t interested in our advice and wanted us simply to do as we were instructed. By him.

It strikes me that we in PR are sometimes our own worst enemies. Too frequently I see cases where a communication advisor has quite obviously acted against best practice and I just know that somewhere in the mix there is an executive somewhere higher up the food-chain who has told that hapless individual: “I don’t care what you think. Just do it!”

Whether it’s issuing a piece of puff dressed up as ‘news’ or some more serious element of corporate misbehaviour, it’s a common-enough story.

And then, of course, it’s those “devious PR people” who get the blame in the court of public opinion.

I don’t write this with any sense of bluster or bravado. Just sadness and a large dose of trepidation. Ours is a small consultancy and we struggle to find our niche among some of NZ’s larger players. We need desperately every cent of business we can find. So firing clients is not a decision that is ever taken at all lightly.

But in this case it needed to happen. For our own self-respect, if nothing else.

No, I write this solely in the hope that it will give other PR practitioners elsewhere, struggling under similar dictatorial regimes, the inspiration, courage and motivation they might need to ‘consider’ their own positions.

Here’s the correspondence, with all identifying details deleted:

Good afternoon, [redacted]

This is meant with sincere respect: we would be delighted to continue working with [redacted] but I’m afraid we’re not able to do so purely as an order-taker and news release distributor.

Where we can add value is from the inside. [Redacted] faces considerable reputational and relationship challenges and, given the opportunity, we are able to help you navigate these. That is the role that interests and engages us professionally, and which will keep our team up late at night to fight your corner.

Of course there would be times where our advice and guidance would need to be tempered by operational, political or commercial considerations. But we prefer to operate as close and trusted advisors to the Board and to the management team because that is where we feel we can add value and provide insightful and meaningful guidance.

If that is a role that you feel we can play I’d be delighted to work with you on making it happen. But otherwise I’m afraid I must withdraw our services.

With very best personal regards, etc

Monica Lewinsky and the Power of PR

14 Apr

Hazel Phillips, Baldwin Boyle Group 

Type ‘Monica Lewinsky’ into Google this time last year and you’d get suggested terms such as ‘Monica Lewinsky blue dress’ and ‘Monica Lewinsky cigar’. Both will give you lewd results, of course – there’s hardly a human alive in the English-speaking world who doesn’t know at least the rudimentary details of her dalliance with then-president Bill Clinton.

But type her name into Google now and you’ll get a different set of suggestions. Stuff like ‘Monica Lewinsky Vanity Fair’, ‘Monica Lewinsky TED talk’ and ‘Monica Lewinsky Forbes Under 30’.

At some point last year, Lewinsky decided it was time to take back her narrative. It was time to own her own PR. And it was time for her to dictate how her story should end.

Her first stop was New York PR dynamo Dini von Mueffling, who advised her on morphing back into public life on her own terms – and building her profile as an opponent of cyber-bullying.

Von Mueffling arranged a speaking gig for Lewinsky at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in October last year (watch it here). It was Lewinsky’s first ever proper public speech, one where she talked about going from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one overnight. She was, she says, ‘Patient Zero’ of internet shaming, and her search suggestions certainly show as much.

Lewinsky also penned a brilliant essay in Vanity Fair magazine, where she described how hard it was for her to get jobs, how her parents had kept her on suicide watch, and how even 17 years after the scandal first broke, it’s impossible for her to go unrecognised.

She writes: “I turned 40 last year, and it is time to stop tiptoeing around my past – and other people’s futures. I am determined to have a different ending to my story. I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past.”

In March this year, she gave a TED talk on public shaming as a blood sport and our culture of online humiliation. Acclaimed as gusty, inspirational and brilliant, it’s had more than 3.5 million views – and counting. You could say it was her pivotal PR moment.

Monica Lewinsky has successfully, astoundingly, transformed her public profile. She has more than 90,000 followers on Twitter and her search results include her recent public speaking triumphs. (There’s still room to move; it also includes TIME’s cringe-worthy list of top 10 mistresses. Hello, TIME? 1950 called – it wants its culture of sexism back.)

Lewinsky has remade herself so fast it could give you whiplash. But it just goes to show what owning your story, and a good dose of smart PR, can do.

Hazel Phillips is the MC of the 2015 PRINZ Conference, 21-22 May in Wellington, book here.

Senior PR Insight: Kate Woodruffe, FPRINZ, Financial Markets Authority

9 Apr

Throughout 2015 PRINZ will interview senior PR practitioners about their career, discovering what they believe is the key to being successful in PR, what tips they were given and have used in their career, and what they expect of a junior PR practitioner in 2015.

Kate Woodruffe, FPRINZ, Financial Markets Authority


Kate is a B2B communications specialist who is passionate about delivering meaningful change and measurable business results. She has spent the last 10+ years working across a number of industries and disciplines including engineering, ICT, transport and public sector consultation. Kate is a previous PRINZ Award winner, contributed to the PRINZ Northern Committee for three years, and was awarded PRINZ Fellow status in 2013.

How long have you worked in PR/Communications industry?
I’ve worked in PR for about 13 years, but my previous careers were also in the broader communications disciplines – copywriting, publishing, marketing and design, and a bit of English teaching while overseas.

What attracted you to the industry?

When I returned to New Zealand after a number of years in Japan I was looking for a change of tack, so went to see a careers counsellor. After an hour or so of discussing my experience, skills and interests he said “you should go into PR, it would be a perfect fit for you.” I decided to take his advice and haven’t looked back.

Did you complete tertiary study? If so, what and when?

I went into tertiary study quite late in life – I completed a BA in Japanese at AUT in my mid-thirties and tacked a Graduate Diploma in PR and Communications onto the end of that, following the advice I’d received from the careers counsellor. I’ll never forget the interview I had with Joseph Peart when I applied for the course – he gave me a real grilling and actually declined me at first. I reluctantly enrolled in the marketing diploma instead, but continued to pester Joseph until he relented. He accepted me into the course about a week or so before classes started, so I had to take all my marketing texts back and swap them out. I then made it my mission to prove he’d made a good decision!

What do you think is the most significant industry change you’ve experienced?
I’d have to say the proliferation of online and social media, which has further swamped our audiences with content, changed the way newsrooms operate and made everyone a potential publisher. I think this has also shortened the currency of a story has and the time we have to respond to an issue. On the positive front, I think today’s time-poor journalists are much more open to receiving quality content from PR people than they used to be – emphasis on the word quality.

If you were a junior in the industry today do you think you’d need to handle your career differently to how you have done?

In terms of the choices I’ve made to move around through agency and in-house across a range of B2B industries, no. But if I were a junior today I’d be immersing myself in the social media and digital channels that weren’t around when I started out.

What has been your favourite piece of work to date?
That’s a tough question, as I have a lot of favourites! For a long time I looked back on the Northern Gateway project as a career highlight, but I think my time at Spark (then Telecom) might have superseded it.

The magic was in the combination of working for a great company and top CEO, with hugely talented people, on interesting work. In terms of a specific project, my favourite would have to be an op-ed I wrote for Spark Digital CEO Tim Miles. I really enjoyed working with Tim to understand the story he wanted to tell and articulate it in a style that was authentic to him. The day the piece was published Tim had a client comment on how well it resonated, so not only was the process fun, but it really worked for the business. It’s really important to me that my work contributes to the successful delivery of hard business objectives – I’m not a fan of ‘fluff.’

What is the most valuable piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Cedric Allan once told me that the only real job security you ever have is being good at what you do – if you focus on that you’ll never be out of work. He was right! Being really good at your job won’t necessarily mean you’re never a victim of restructure or other corporate hazards, but it will ensure you can quickly land your next job.

I pass this advice on a lot but add that alongside being good at your work, you should also be pleasant to work with.

Who do you look up to/who did you look up to as a young practitioner?

There were a number of people who inspired me early in my PR career – Joseph Peart, Aline Sandilands, Cedric Allan, Michelle Boag, Jill Dryden, among many others. I admire so many of the PR people I come into contact with through my work – we are a diverse and talented industry! I consider ongoing engagement with industry colleagues critical to professional and personal development – PRINZ events are great for this type of networking.

What do you expect of young practitioners that they may not be aware of?
While I will look at a graduate’s grades or an applicant’s professional experience, it’s really the quality of the interaction I have with them that makes the biggest difference in terms of hiring decision and their ongoing success in the role.

When I hire I find myself referring to ‘attitude.’ We measure performance based on how we work as well as what we do, and in my experience skills can be taught, but a good attitude tends to be hardwired. In practice a good attitude means a number of things to me:

  • being genuinely interested in the job and taking an interest in the broader workings of the business
  • self-confidence and self-awareness
  • punctuality, positivity and willingness to learn
  • ability to work as part of a team
  • ability to use initiative but also to ask the right questions.

Thanks to Kate for sharing her insight. If you would like to be involved in this series please email membership@prinz.org.nz.

Waikato Members Get the Schaake Down on Internal Communications

2 Apr

Alice Kennedy, PRINZ 2015 Student Ambassasdor – Univesity of Waikato

On the 24th of March some lucky University of Waikato Communication Students got the inside scoop on Amanda Schaake’s internal communication strategy that won her the 2014 PRINZ award for Internal Communications. Here are the top five tips from the presentation:

Amanda Schaake

  • Harness the power of positive psychology: Framing everything in a positive light helps to create a happy workplace environment. Instead of focussing on everything that is wrong with your company, bring to light what it does well and how you can get more of the good stuff. Positive focus=positive energy=happy workplace=productive employees.
  • Create specific and in-depth objectives: There were two overall objectives Amanda used in her strategy. These were then broken down into sub-objectives; what they wanted the employees to think, feel, and do in relation to each of the company’s major goals. Determining what you what your employees to think, feel, and do helps you in defining not only your objectives, but also what it is going to look like when you have achieved them.
  • Get people involved: Talking at people and not reinforcing active participation is not going to get you anywhere. Get people up and moving and discussing. Once you have your employees actively involved they stop becoming witnesses of a companies vision but an intrinsic part of it; once they are a part of something they are invested in it and committed to its success.
  • Create leadership potential: Amanda’s strategy involved getting employees at the lower end of the ladder to assume leadership positions. Not only does this make them feel more valued and important as employees, but also ensures that projects are encountered with fresh energy and alternative perspectives.
  • Embrace negative feedback: Never shy away from negative feedback. Amanda described her feedback as being polarised: people absolutely loved her strategy, or absolutely hated it. She also said that even if people hated it that was good because at least they were feeling something. Strong emotive responses mean that you have engaged and active participants. Now you know they are engaged in your cause and you have the feedback to switch negative responses to positive ones; the hard work is done.

We walked away from this PRINZ event with a great amount of knowledge under our belts. Opportunities to learn from the best cannot be missed; we will see you at the next PRINZ event.

Up Periscope or Down Meerkat – will public relations dare to win?

1 Apr

Catherine Arrow, FPRINZ

I can honestly say I haven’t been this excited about a new network or app since Twitter launched. With the advent of live streaming video apps, Periscope and Meerkat, a whole world of possibilities opens up for public relations and communication professionals – if they dare. And, the chances are,  these apps will be the tipping point that shifts us even further away from text to total visual communication.

In case you hperiscope-twitter_large-recapaven’t caught them yet, Meerkat and Periscope have been slugging it out in the live streaming space for the last week. Meerkat, launched to much tech joy earlier this year, allows you to broadcast live to your community – and the world at large – as well as schedule and tweet the fact that your doing it.  So far there have been AMAs (Ask Me Anythings), people’s breakfast, dinner and tea, think pieces, observations, kids, cats, dogs and camps. I’ve developed a liking for a few seconds of sunrise and have shared the sun coming up over Rangitoto with people around the world still struggling through the night before.  Meerkat was the tech darling until (key change) Periscope, bought by Twitter, was launched five days ago. It does the same thing, except your footage is saved for replay. As a Twitter product it’s fast gaining traction, so much so that the tech world is predicting the death of Meerkat, even though it is still in its infancy. Personally, the Mark Twain quote (or misquote)  ‘reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated’ could be applied here as there’s life in Meerkat yet.meerkat

So, that’s the scenario – what’s the potential? For public relations and communication management, simply enormous. Live stream your story to your community as it happens.  Let them see inside your place warts and all. Manage your crisis comms as it unfolds. It is the ultimate tool for organisational transparency and, if you don’t build it in to your communications, someone else will. Whether they stream their conversation with your receptionist, broadcast during a factory tour, or filming their hospital dinner, this new ‘live tv’ will become our reality and our norm before you know it.

At a PR training course I delivered in 2006, I introduced newly launched Twitter as an essential communication channel – and lifeline – for PR.  News, crisis, issues, customer care – you name it, Twitter had the potential to deal with it all and for the first time you could use a network from anywhere. Sadly, those attending found it hard to believe and were reluctant to experiment.  The video apps launched this year have the same potential for good – and for bad. Periscope is already proving to be the harsher, more unkind environment. Meerkat has the better quality streaming but then you can only save your stuff to camera roll. There are ups and downs with both. Whatever happens to them as businesses, as a channel, network or communications tool, together they’ve changed the game. Let’s hope PR isn’t so slow to get on board this time.  Go on, I dare you – get out there and experiment.

Sourced from ‘PR From the Beach’

To attend the Social Media Bootcamp run by Catherine, register here and to attend Advanced Digital Strategy register here.

My new favourite digital reporting tools

12 Mar

Penny Arrowsmith, Communications advisor, PRINZ

One of the great benefits of working at PRINZ is the ability, and encouragement to attend plenty of professional development courses. PR Summer Camp was the first course I attended. This jammed-packed course covered everything from the traditional – creating new stories – to the latest developments in social media, blogging and even Snapchat. As well, the two day course covered protecting reputation, unravelling search engine optimisation, measurement and evaluation resources and tips for making the most of all media channels.

Being new to the world of public relations and communication it was great for me to see that what I learnt through my university studies was considered best practice in the ‘real world’ and not an ivory tower ideal.

Personally, I’m very interested in everything digital – blogging, social media – but also finding ways to evaluate this information and report it in dynamic ways. So instead of tabling papers at a meeting there are sites such as Storify.com where campaign information can be collated and presented visually or Twazzup.com which shows how tweets are performing. Buzzsumo.com is a great resource too as it shows how your content is shared through social media. My favourite resource is Piktochart.com an ‘easy to use infographic creator’.


Thanks to Catherine Arrow for putting on a great two days. If you have been using any of these tools or have others to recommend let me know.

Look out for the 2016 PR Summer Camp series in January next year! Register your interest by emailing info@prinz.org.nz and we’ll let you know when it opens for registrations.

Senior PR Insight: Anna Radford, FPRINZ, Radford Communications

2 Mar

Throughout 2015 PRINZ will interview senior PR practitioners about their career, discovering what they believe is the key to being successful in PR, what tips they were given and have used in their career, and what they expect of a junior practitioner in 2015.

Anna Radford FPRINZ, Director, Radford Communications.


Anna Radford, FPRINZ, Director of Radford Communications

Anna has been a communications practitioner for 30 years.

Before establishing Radford Communications in 1999, she had extensive experience in the corporate and not-for-profit sectors.  Previous roles included Head of the Communications Department for the World Bureau of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in London, and Internal Communication Manager and Corporate Media Relations Manager for CLEAR Communications (Telstra Clear’s predecessor).

In more recent years, Anna has worked with clients in the security, intellectual property, adult literacy, financial services, local government, natural health products and infrastructure services sectors. Anna is a PRINZ Fellow and the current PRINZ Awards Chief Judge.

How long have you worked in PR/Communications industry?
I’ve been in the PR and communications industry for 30 years. I originally trained as a journalist and worked briefly at the Herald before deciding journalism wasn’t for me. I went back to university and finished my degree and then got a job in a PR consultancy. I then worked in-house for the next eight years until I set up my own consultancy.

Did you complete tertiary study? If so, what and when?

I studied a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in History and Political Science. I also have a Diploma in Business Studies with a PR endorsement and a Certificate in Journalism. Next semester I will be doing my first tertiary study in a long time –a level three change management paper through Massey University.

What attracted you to the industry?

I read an article about public relations and thought it sounded like an interesting career so I went and saw a career guidance counsellor. He suggested I do the PR course at AUT, which was the only one in the country at the time, however having just completed a three year degree and a six month journalism course meant I wasn’t keen to continue studying. After hearing that he suggested I get a job as a receptionist in a PR firm and wait for a job to apply for.   I didn’t want to do that and wondered whether he’d have given a male graduate the same advice!

Instead I wrote to a number of Auckland consultancies asking if they had any available positions and, if not, would they meet with me anyway so I could find out more about PR.  A couple agreed to meet me and one even knew of a junior consultant position going, which is how I got my first job. 

What do you think is the most significant industry change you’ve experienced?
The change associated with information technology, which has brought opportunities and challenges. For example, when I first started work, offices had typewriters rather than computers.  When we created a newsletter we typed it up and then had the printer run off the content as bromides (a high resolution version of the content).  Newsletter lay-outs involved cutting up the bromides and gluing the stories into place on the design board before giving the designed product to the printer. 

We’ve come a long way since then and the internet has certainly made life easier, but also more demanding. We are so connected, it’s fantastic. I am always online. But it has also meant more risk management, i.e. a bad review can go a long, long way. We have to think a lot more broadly and deeply about risk management today than we had to in the past.

What is the most valuable piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
A manager I had when I worked in-house taught me how to think and work far more strategically than I had in the past.  This has benefitted me as a practitioner and opened up more opportunities in my career, allowing me to take on work I might otherwise not have.

What has been your favourite piece of work to date?
I don’t have a favourite piece that springs to mind; it’s more the pleasure of a job well done. My favourite part of my job is that, as I’m able to think of the bigger picture, I can often get clients to lift their heads and see all that is possible strategically. That is what I most enjoy, seeing their eyes light up.

What PR discipline do you enjoy doing the most?

I am passionate about internal communications.  The way organisations and their people function and interrelate absolutely fascinates me!  My strategic insight really comes into play during internal communication work – so much so that I am currently helping a client and his management team to develop their organisational strategy (vision, mission, business objectives and values) as a precursor to their internal communication programme. 

Who do you look up to/who did you look up to as a young practitioner?
I used to attend PRINZ functions and look up to the senior PRINZ people like Rob Crabtree and Joseph Peart and wonder if I’d ever be like that! Now I look back on all that I’ve been able to do with PRINZ, being a Viva Voce APR panellist, an Awards judge and now Chief Awards judge; it has all been a great experience.

What do you expect of young practitioners that they may not be aware of?

  • Big picture thinking: Understanding that we’re sending a media release not just to get media attention but to meet an organisational objective.
  • How to set SMART objectives and appropriate measures: This will ensure your PR work has a strong and strategic foundation.
  • Business experience: It’s a bit of a circle with no beginning because you need business experience to understand how business works; I think that understanding really puts you ahead of the pack.
  • Writing: How to write really well. Whether we like it or not, writing is the bread and butter of our industry.

Anna is the PRINZ Awards Chief Judge, for insight into entry in the PRINZ Awards, see the 2014 Chief Judge FAQ video.


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