PRINZ Senior PR Insight blog series:  Peter Heath, MPRINZ, Due North

12 Jun

Throughout 2015 PRINZ is interviewing 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 today.  

 Peter Heath

Peter’s career in public relations spans four continents. He has worked both in-house and in leading consultancies and has extensive corporate communication experience in the technology, manufacturing, retail, energy, environmental and travel sectors. He and his family have chosen to make their home in Northland’s stunning Bay of Islands from where Peter now runs Due North, a full-service public relations consultancy with clients throughout New Zealand. He is a member of both PRINZ and the CIPR.

How long have you worked in PR/Communications industry?

I’ve worked in PR for 24 years.  I’ve been in consultancy for most of that time but I’ve kept things interesting by throwing in a hefty bit of in-house work for good measure.

What attracted you to the industry?

It would be nice to say that my involvement in PR was part of a carefully-considered career strategy. But it wasn’t. After leaving varsity I thought advertising would be my thing but a close family friend who was a very well-known broadcaster put me right and said PR was where I should be. She arranged an introduction with the man who would become my PR mentor and I haven’t looked back since.

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

My CV says that I failed to complete my BA Communication degree at the University of Zimbabwe “due to political disruption.” Of course that’s entirely true but it really doesn’t provide an accurate picture of the horror of my time there; lectures disrupted by armed policemen bursting in to corral and interrogate students, First year students being force-marched into central Harare to stone the offices of South African Airways, social gatherings subverted by the intelligence agency. I’ve often wished I could have afforded to go to a South African university, as all my mates did. But – no student loans available in Zimbabwe. So I ditched varsity and moved straight into a junior account executive position at Spectrum Public Relations in Harare, under the tutelage of George Foot, Jill Day and my mentor, Stan Higgins. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

What do you think is the most significant industry change you’ve experienced?
I blogged recently about the changes in process and approach. I smile and, yes, cringe inwardly at some of the ways we used to do things. But for me the most significant industry change really has to be the ability people now have to share and pass judgement on information, and to create news and distribute it worldwide within seconds.

Also, the proliferation of really effective communication channels available to any organisation (let’s all drink a toast to the long-overdue, but still pending death, of the long-suffering news release).

Oh, and also the deep, almost-instinctive initial scepticism that now exists widely of pretty much anything any organisation has to say. This is a good thing – it’s forcing them to become better listeners and to engage properly with people.

What has been your favourite piece of work to date?

I’m going to resist the temptation to go all dewy-eyed about the most rewarding, career-enhancing or satisfying piece of work. There have been a great many of these and, thank God, they continue to roll in. And, thinking about it, I can’t actually disclose details of the ones that really rocked my world.

Instead, I’m going to take the question at face value and talk about my favourite piece of work.  No doubt – it has to be doing the destination publicity for the Caribbean island of Grenada as a 20-something Account Manager at Pielle + Co in London. I have particularly fond memories of a media trip to the island involving hectic days, long nights, warm seas,  and the world’s finest Rum Punch.

What is the most valuable piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?

Your personal brand is immensely important. Be great at what you do, be a nice human being and you will create a personal brand of significant value. Then hold onto it at all costs and never, ever let it be absorbed into the corporate persona of any single client or employer.

And, on a related note, don’t drink the corporate Kool Aid. It does bad stuff to otherwise rational people.

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

In professional terms: Anyone who has built a successful PR business from the ground up or carved out a path to be responsible for PR at the corporate boardroom table. It’s jolly hard work. And the selfless mentors like my former boss Stan Higgins who take the time and the trouble to teach juniors about the real-life skills and bear-traps that academia doesn’t know about and can never prepare young practitioners for.

In management terms, people who can motivate and enthuse diverse teams and inspire the individuals within them to stretch outside their personal comfort zones to achieve more than they thought possible.

In human terms, the real leaders like my former client the late David Brown who would take the time to talk to even the most junior person in the crowded room, devoting his entire attention to that person and making him or her feel like they were the only other person there.

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

Ours is truly a people business; you can teach skills but when it comes down to it I’m looking for personality. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really fantastic young practitioners and they all had the stuff I’m looking for; a spark in their eyes, a ready smile, a thick skin, a hunger to succeed but without the arrogance of naked ambition, an ability to absorb stuff and a political nose.

But above all, a backbone. A willingness to say: get stuffed, you’re taking the mickey. Regardless of the consequences. And, after being knocked down, the fortitude to get up, dust themselves off and carry on carrying on.

#PRConf15 guest blog seven: ‘Success: conceive it, believe it, achieve it’

29 May

Written by Amy Hacon, Associate Programme Executive at Hotwire PR

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 21:  during the annual Public Relations Institute of New Zealand Conference on May 21, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Dr David Keane, author of ‘The Art of Deliberate Success’ (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Everyone wants to know that one killer secret to success… but, what is success!?

As the last speaker of day one at the 2015 PRINZ conference, Dr David Keane, author of The Art of Deliberate Success, had an audience full of weary-eyed PR practitioners. The word SUCCESS was mentioned and the room suddenly lit up with energy.

As a grad and relatively new to the PR industry, I thought long and hard about this question: what is success?

Of course, the obvious answers jump to mind – being financially secure, achieving great results at work and being happy; however, the more you think about it, the more you start to realise the broader picture of how diverse the meaning of success can be.

Rather than asking what is success and how do I achieve this so-called greatness, it’s a matter of asking: “What does success mean to me?”

We are constantly being driven by our competitive nature to accomplish more than our peers, often confusing the fact that being on top doesn’t necessarily make us ‘successful’.

David challenged this competitive nature and examined how everyone can be successful, proposing that it’s our individual dreams that define what success means to us. He used this concept to define success as “being on the pathway to the achievement of worthwhile dreams – whatever these dreams may be”.

Before giving up everything to follow your dreams in the hope of becoming a ‘success’, David noted three important tips:

  1. Clarity – Write down what’s important to you and carry it in your wallet as a reminder. Don’t live life by chance.
  2. Priority – Pursue what’s important, not necessarily urgent.
  3. Execution – Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Through my own experiences traveling and working, I have learnt that our dreams continue to evolve so it’s vital to keep re-evaluating what’s important. As David said: “What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

Many thanks to David for giving each of our delegates a copy of his book ‘The Art of Deliberate Success’

#PRConf15 guest blog six: ‘You are what you communicate’

29 May

Written by Craig Tiriana, Manager CE’s Office, Rotorua Lakes Council

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 22:  during the annual Public Relations Institute of New Zealand Conference on May 22, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Dr Anne Gregory, Chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

I do love Anne Gregory.

It’s true, despite the fact Anne was quoted as describing my home patch as “Stinkyville” during Karen Sander’s Blair, Machiavelli, Leadership and Trust opening to day 2 of PRINZ’s Mind the Gap conference.

Karen and Anne – the Chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management – were the foreign double act responsible for dusting off the post awards cobwebs of many as observations on leadership, trust and authenticity rang true.

A first time visitor to Aotearoa, Karen said she and Anne had enjoyed a few days of sightseeing which included a visit to Rotorua or “Stinkyville” and a look at some bubbling geysers.

I think there’s a lesson there: it is indeed very hard to change a reputation when basically the sulphur air gives it away.

Anyway, Karen set the scene with a thought provoking look at Niccolo Machiavelli’s classic leadership book The Prince of 1532 and the birth of the Machiavellian type: cunning scheming and unscrupulous, particularly in politics or self-advancement. This was then blended into a modern scene with Tony Blair’s former advisor Jonathan Powell’s 2010 offering The New Machiavelli.

Once in the melting pot the discussion turned to credibility and the need for leaders to be able to calculate risk, act decisively, be courageous and most of all, not be complacent about integrity.

With the scene set @GregsAnne then probed further, taking the audience deep into the bowels of organisations where the onus is now on modern day public relations professionals to get their noses amongst it and understand what is going on.

Why? Simple: an organisation is what it communicates. Everything it says or does is communicated and if it’s valued, your audience is listening and judging.

These actions tell a corporate narrative that is more powerful than words and images.

Did you know SOS equals “send out stuff?” Not the way for a modern communicator to operate.

That’s why leaders need a public relations professional to interpret what is going on, to trawl the communicative intelligence and understand reasonable expectations and connections.

An organisation’s values are paramount in the integrity stakes.

Values define the delivery and leaders not living the values destroy trust.

“Organisations are defined and constituted by communications, not just enabled by it,” Anne observed.

“People don’t want regulation and compliance _ they expect an organisation is part of solutions.”

“Reputation is society’s judgement on how we perform.”

#PRConf15 guest blog five: Conference golden nuggets

28 May

Written by Heather Claycomb FPRINZ, Director of HMC Communications

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 22:  during the annual Public Relations Institute of New Zealand Conference on May 22, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Panel of Trish Sherson, Colin Espiner and Charmaine Ngarimu discuss the changing media landscape (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

PRINZ conference was full of ‘golden nuggets’ – gems of information that will have a positive effect on my professional effectiveness as I implement them.

Here are just a few:

Sending out media releases with great visuals is non-negotiable

In the ‘Reframing Media Relations’ panel discussion, Trish Sherson talked about how often she is framing client stories around a great photo. In fact she often uses a visual to determine exactly how to write a news story.

Her implication was that if you are sending out media releases without great visuals, you are mad. The days of writing up a news release and then trying to figure out how you can rustle up a photo quickly (which ends up being of the back of people’s heads and 100kb) are well and truly gone.

Getting a great visual – photo, video or infographic – needs to be as important as the news story itself.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 21:  during the annual Public Relations Institute of New Zealand Conference on May 21, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Richard Spencer, Head of Digital at Two Social (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Make it shareable or don’t bother

Richard Spencer of Two Social shared a surprising statistic: Facebook now limits your organic reach to 6%. This means only 6% of the people who like your company page will see your post if no one likes or shares that post. This means if you aren’t posting shareable, engaging and consumable content you are wasting your time!

This is a lesson that goes well beyond Facebook – it’s applicable to every social media channel. But more than that, it’s applicable to just about every piece of content PRs create. We are immersed in a ‘clickable’ society.

If your messages aren’t honed, interesting and engaging – whether it’s a staff newsletter story, Tweet or media release – you won’t achieve your communications objectives at the end of the day.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 21:  during the annual Public Relations Institute of New Zealand Conference on May 21, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Gavin Ellis, Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Your ‘good news story’ requires more commentary and balance

Opening speaker, Gavin Ellis, talked about how journalists have very little time for research and, in fact, 50% of news content can be traced back to press release. It’s common for releases to be printed verbatim without checks and balances, which puts more onus on our profession to get it right.

Gavin went so far as to suggest that the news stories we generate should provide contextualised background and multiple quotes from supporting sources. And . . . . (are you sitting down?), he even suggested this new media landscape might require PRs to report alternative viewpoints to those of our company/client. I have to admit, I’m still digesting that one! But it’s food for thought.

#PRConf15 guest blog four: PR and ethics

27 May

Written by Bruce Fraser FPRINZ, PRINZ President

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 21:  during the annual Public Relations Institute of New Zealand Conference on May 21, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Dr Elspeth Tilley, Associate Professor at Massey University (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

The London Underground, and other railway systems around the world, warn passengers to ‘mind the gap’, that space between the platform and the train.

Gaps of course can be awfully enticing and provide the subject for much discussion. ‘Mind the Gap’ is the theme for this year’s Public Relations Institute conference held in Wellington (May 21-22). Two key roles for the PR practitioner are to help clients identify the gaps and then to fill them with high quality communications research, planning, implementation and measurement.

Dr Elspeth Tilley, Associate Professor at Massey University, addressed the issue of ethical gaps for PR people and her ethics framework is worth considering for other ethical decision-making. Her ethics pyramid (based on Macnamara’s inputs, outputs, outcomes pyramid of 2002) was developed over many years of action research and takes people through four stages:

  • Research stakeholder ethics expectations – it’s not just about our ethical views but those of others likely to be involved and affected
  • Planning, agreed and shared objectives around virtues, rules and desirable outcomes.
  • Communicating using ethical tactics
  • Evaluate by reviewing the ethics outcomes.

The Ethics PyramidElspeth’s litmus test (or at least one of them) is to ask yourself, ‘what would mum think of me doing this?’ You can read more about her ethics pyramid here.

#PRConf15 guest blog three: Generation Gap or Communication Breakdown?

27 May

Written by Jacky James, MPRINZ, Shine PR

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 22:  during the annual Public Relations Institute of New Zealand Conference on May 22, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Grainne Moss, Managing Director at Bupa Care Services (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Whatever your perception of “the elderly” may be – be prepared to change it!

Regardless of whether you call it the ageing population mega-trend or the “silver tsunami”, the increasing size of the older generation means they are an important stakeholder group for almost every community engagement, marketing or PR project.

According to BUPA Care Services  Managing Director, Grainne Moss, speaking at the 2015 PRINZ Conference on Generation Gap or Communication Breakdown?, the traditional stereotypes relating to the older generation have been turned on their heads – as have their communications needs.

In today’s world, the over 65 years’ age bracket do not consider themselves old. In a recent survey, 47% felt that “old age” did not start until after 80 years of age and 72% did not see themselves as “old” – in a survey where some of the respondents were over 95!

My grannie-in-law was a case in point. She lived on her own, in her original marital home, until the ripe old age of 98 years when she was cooking most of her own meals and baking for the family. Only a few years before that she was still working in her Church Op Shop and going to sing at the “old folks” home – the fact that she was older than most of those she was entertaining was completely beside the point!

Attitude is everything for this market. They are keeping it fresh in terms of how they want to live their lives, and the way they communicate, and are communicated to, needs to be fresh and relevant as well.

Grainne’s most important piece of advice is to take the time to truly understand the various segments (working, divorced, caregiver, low/high decile) within this complex market – and don’t give them labels.

“They do not want to be grouped – they want to maintain their independence and individuality, and are more active and involved. They want to dial up the lifestyle factor and they want to kick their shoes off!”

According to Grainne, the lower decile sectors of this market have views that are just as clear and firm, and have aspirations for a quality lifestyle, even though they may not have the means to achieve it.

Some of the traditional standards still apply – print remains the most common communications tool, followed by letterbox mailers and the Internet. Watch your font size and utilise Royal Society of the Blind guidelines in terms of colour, white space, font etc.

This is a vibrant and growing segment of society who are playing an increasingly influential role in their families and communities. Ignore them at your peril!

For some inspiration and insight, Grainne played the trailer to Hip Hop Operation, view it here.

#PRConf15 Guest blog two: Before Addressing how, ask why

26 May

Tim Marshall, LPRINZ, PR Consultant, Communication by Design

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 21:  during the annual Public Relations Institute of New Zealand Conference on May 21, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images

As a very young child I would drive my mother mad asking “Why?” whenever she told me anything. And when she explained why I would ask why again … and again … even before she’d finished her answer. Then it was a childish annoyance. Today it’s a necessity – hold that thought.

On Thursday at the PRINZ conference I joined 10 other waste-hating delegates for a short field trip to brainstorm ideas for Wellington food rescue charity Kaibosh. What a brilliant organisation – picking up quality surplus food from supermarkets and food outlets and redistributing it to people in need.

Kaibosh actually does what so many people like me have idly wondered: “Why doesn’t ‘someone’ pick up the food from cafes at the end of the day and bread, fruit, vege and meat from supermarkets and give it to people who are struggling to make ends meet.” These guys redistribute 10,000kg of food every month all bundled up by teams of volunteers.

The PRINZ connection was made through Gail Marshall (no relation), co-founder and co-manager of the Community Comms Collective, which voluntarily connects charities with communications people who are willing to donate their services – often as mentors. What a great service.

PRINZ delegates who elected to go to Kaibosh were sent a succinct two page brief including our mission: essentially to suggest how Kaibosh could communicate its environmental impact in stopping food from ending up in landfill, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving energy and water. To date Kaibosh’s environmental story hasn’t been highlighted as much as its social story. When we arrived at Kaibosh the very articulate Volunteer and Communications manager Anoushka (Noush) Isaac gave us a quick tour of the place and a run-through of how it works.

What the brief and the tour didn’t cover was “why” Kaibosh wanted to tell its environmental story better. So when we sat down to brainstorm ideas I reverted to my childhood habit and asked why –“Why do you want to do this?”

The question sparked a lot of discussion. We talked about whether the environmental message resonated as much as the social justice message. We discussed whether it was simply implicit in understanding what Kaibosh does. We asked who cared, what they cared about and why they cared. But what we needed to know to be able to usefully help was why shifting up the environmental message was important to Kaibosh.

The answer was they wanted to raise more money to extend Kaibosh’s services. We weren’t privy to financial figures or goals, but we were told that in order to do this they hoped to broaden their supporter (particularly their funding) base.

The group brainstormed some general ideas like speaking engagements with business groups, doing more to promote and recognise donor businesses, getting kids involved with school projects and having Kaibosh provide the ingredients for one of the many TV cooking competition shows.

I trust some of the group’s ideas were useful. My point though, is that communications and relationship-building is strategic – and for professionals to provide the best possible advice and ideas we need the full picture. Before we address questions of “how” to do some PR or communications task we need to ask “why do you want to do that?” to get to the heart of the matter.


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