PRINZ event – Creating a movement for change

10 Nov


The PRINZ Student Ambassador Programme allows students studying relevant qualifications to become involved and engaged in the communication and public relations industry. The programme gives students a head-start in the industry, encouraging them to participate in the PRINZ community. This blog post is written by Charlotte Wright, PRINZ Student Ambassador at Massey University Wellington.

On Thursday 13 October, PRINZ hosted members in the stunning setting of the Grand Hall at Wellington’s Parliamentary Buildings. The event which was hosted by Melissa Lee, National MP bought together three political experts Andrew Kirton, New Zealand Labour Party; Richard Harman, Politik; Jenna Raeburn, Barton Deakin and one experienced journalist Sean Plunket. The event led to an impassioned discussion on the insights of political campaigning. The panel was asked a variety of questions that both allowed them to provide insight to their thoughts on successful campaigning and also challenged their perspectives. PRINZ was fortunate to have Sean Plunket as the interviewer, who has a strong background in politics, leading the discussion.

Richard Harman gave some interesting points on how campaigns have changed over the last forty years, saying that what was once a “linear, rigid, and sometimes totally boring” subject to report on, political journalism is now focused more on entertainment and encouragement of ‘gotcha journalism’. He went on to explain that “a lot of people out there are looking to ankle tap politicians” to get noticed in the media space.

Jenna Raeburn elaborated on this and explained how campaigns are “changing exponentially” and that the use of data, technology and social media are all now critical tools in targeting specific demographics during campaigns. “You used to have to call, and then visit a target to find out which way they might vote, but now data on Facebook shows us this already, so we can target instantly and with purpose,” she said. She also discussed how the immediacy of social media and online news made rectifying media errors a tough task, saying that it was a long a difficult process to unwind what people hear in the media to ensure accuracy.

Andrew Kirton agreed that it was important for campaigns to integrate social media into their strategies, but assured that the Labour Party were not going to ignore more traditional methods of outreach in next year’s campaign. He said that the way news operates was changing, and by analysing the way people are using media, they would re-balance their campaign priorities and tactics accordingly. He noted that he didn’t think that the New Zealand media would act like the U.S media have in the lead up to the U.S election, saying that the Kiwi culture understands “not to be too silly” when it comes to political reporting.

After some moments of heated discussion, the conversation closed with the panellists’ final thoughts on the New Zealand media space and the role of journalism in society. They all agreed that good journalists were the ones that fact checked, got both sides of the story, and acted as a fourth estate – however, this was at risk with journalistic pressures and the likely possibility of a Fairfax and NZME merger. “Duplicating stories across the media space with no fact-checking and taking out the competition will be bad,” Richard Harman concluded – and an equally risky possibility could be that access to the media could be restricted with a pay-wall, which will mean that media consumption could soon be “a thing for the rich,” he said, looking concerned.

You’ve Got to Know When to Fold ’em

9 Nov

Written by Carl Davidson, Head of Insight at Research First

Businessman standing on stack of books with a magnifying glass. Business vision

If you have read The Luminaries then you will know that it’s a substantial book. Indeed, one of the reviewers on National Radio joked that it’s a book that ‘gets better after page 400’. Regardless of what this says about the merits of The Luminaries, it raises an interesting general question about when it is okay to abandon a book you have started reading. After all, if you give up too soon then you might miss an amazing plot twist that transforms your experience. But if you plough on regardless, you’ll lose those precious hours you could have used doing (or reading) something better.

Clearly this is not a recent problem. Mark Twain once famously said that a ‘classic’ book is one that ‘everybody wants to have read but nobody wants to read’. A quick search of the internet demonstrates that little has changed since Twain’s day, with any number of sites listing books that people pretend they have read. Amazon will even sell you a book to help with the pretense (Anne Taute’s Bluff Your Way in Literature).

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that social scientists have something to say about our reading behaviour, but you may be surprised about what that is. In short, the view from the social sciences is that we should all learn to ditch unsatisfying books sooner.

The first part of this argument arises from what is known as ‘the sunk cost trap’. This describes the tendency to stay with an activity simply because of the time (or money) we have already spent on it. It’s also known as ‘throwing good money after bad’. But we all fall for it to a lesser or greater extent because overcoming sunk costs first means accepting that we have made a bad choice. Our reluctance to make this admission explains why people finish movies or meals they aren’t enjoying; hold on to investments that are underperforming; and keep clothes in their closet that they’ve rarely worn.

The second part of the argument focuses on what is known as ‘loss aversion’. This shows that we feel the pain of losing much more acutely than we do the pleasure from winning. The fear of losing may be what motivates the All Blacks to their great heights of performance but it often inhibits the rest of us. This is because when it comes to making a decision, we are always confronted with the possibility that we’ll make the wrong one. Given this possibility, sticking with the status quo can often seem safer. And I don’t mean a little bit safer – the evidence from the psychology lab suggests that losses are felt about twice as powerfully as similar gains.

Finally, social scientists point to what is known as ‘the Zeigarnik Effect’. This describes how we remember incomplete tasks much more readily (and vividly) than we do complete ones. This Effect has been shown in a number of studies but it began when Zeigarnik’s professor noted how a waiter in a local restaurant could recall unpaid orders but not those that had been paid. The subsequent research demonstrated that the things we start and don’t finish weight much more heavily on our minds than tasks we finish.

Taken together, ‘the sunk cost trap’, ‘loss aversion’, and ‘the Zeigarnik Effect’ mean we are predisposed to staying with tasks long after we should have given up on them; are intrinsically biased towards the status quo; and much more likely to remember our failures than successes.

But while the psychologists have much to say about why it’s so hard to give up on a book you have started to read, they provide little guidance about when we should stop. For this, we need the no-nonsense wisdom of aviation. Mark Vanhoenacker is a 747 pilot and the author of Skyfaring. In his book, he notes that on the final approach to an airport there is a point where the pilot in command has to make a ‘decide call’. To make sure this happens, when the plane reaches the decision-altitude, the flight computer says ‘DECIDE’ out loud and unmistakably. Vanhoenacker talks about how this has become a tool that he uses in his own life when he finds himself procrastinating.

I like the idea of readers creating their own ‘decide’ calls for books. This decision point might occur after you have read the first 60 pages, the first three chapters, or after spending one whole morning reading. But an idea I like even better is to deduct your age from 100 and reading that many pages before giving up. After all, the older we get the less time we have to spend on bad books. And we really do need to know when to walk away and when to run.

Research First is PRINZ’s research partner, and specialises in impact measurement, behaviour change, and evidence-based insights.

Image credit: iStock

The Wonders of Work Experience

18 Oct


The PRINZ Student Ambassador Programme allows students studying relevant qualifications to become involved and engaged in the communication and public relations industry. The programme gives students a head-start in the industry, encouraging them to participate in the PRINZ community. This blog post is written by Kendra Stone, PRINZ Student Ambassador at Massey University Auckland.

When I was 14 years old, I was already planning my future.  Mum had me see a career advisor- who had you take personality tests and produced a three-page report on whether you’d be a lawyer with three kids or a teacher with one.  I’d go in there all prepared with “Hi, I’m Kendra, and I want to be a journalist”, but in all honesty, I didn’t have much of an idea of what a journalist was. I thought that they were the pretty ladies who got to be all dressed up on TV, and men who wore really fancy suits, or perhaps the not-so-lucky ones who got battered about by the weather on live television.

“Honey, you’d make a great journalist as you’re always talking and asking so many questions,” Mum would say or “maybe you’d actually make a pretty good detective because you’re so nosy.”  I definitely considered both of these roles for a while, but funnily enough, my three-page report spat out a spiel on how I’d be a great psychologist.  Now in my mind, I imagined a psychologist to be someone lonely, sitting in a stark-white room dealing with everyone’s problems but their own.

Naturally, I was at a loss.  When we got home from the appointment, Mum filed the report in the ‘special documents’ cabinet, giving me a reassuring look of ‘we don’t have to worry about this for a while’.  When I reached year 11 in high school, I had this urge to get out there into the real world (as if school for 6 hours a day wasn’t enough for this blossoming journo/detective/psychologist).

Rocking up to The Radio Network with nothing but trembling, sweaty hands, I introduced myself.  Within a few weeks, I was driving the Black Thunder down Marine Parade, throwing bottles of iced tea at beach-dwellers and helping run the ‘Miss Mount Maunganui’ event.  Once I added that to my CV, I was excited to think about all of the other opportunities I could have if I simply put myself out there and asked!

When I finished school, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I did know it’d be something to do with communications.  I always knew I’d be good at it, because the most common note on my school reports was ‘Kendra needs to learn when to stop talking’.  Enrolling at Massey University in Auckland was the most exciting thing ever!  This little fish was about to move out of little old Tauranga and into the great big ocean of life!  This was three years ago now, and man has it been a super fun ride!

In my first year of university, I contacted South Pacific Pictures, asking if I could come in and see how things went down there.  I was allowed to come in for a few days, helping file media documents on lots of different TV shows from Shortland Street, to Outrageous Fortune, and The Almighty Johnsons.  I worked right next to Fern Sutherland, an actress from the show, and not going to lie I was pretty star-struck! There was also an office dog who liked to sit on my feet, and I definitely think all offices need some kind of animal to ease the stress.

My second year of university was even bigger for me as I contacted the NZ Herald and went in for a one-day stint to have a go at writing a column for the SPCA.  It was all very overwhelming, but extremely exciting at the same time.  Sitting next to reporters who’d had 20-so years in the industry was really cool, but I knew this kind of job wasn’t for me.  In realising that, I emailed over 10 different PR agencies around Auckland, asking them if they’d consider allowing me to come in for unpaid work experience.  After receiving many emails of “Thank you for giving this a go, but unfortunately we haven’t got the space to take anyone on”, I received one from BEAT PR, saying they’d be happy to take me on as an intern every week on a Friday.  This was my first experience with a PR agency-packing media kits, analysing media coverage and trying to navigate my way around Media Portal and Isentia.

The previous year, I had worked at a social media conference for a company called the ‘Online Academy’.  There, I networked with a lot of really motivated people, two of whom owned a company called ‘Starlight Media House’.   Just a few weeks after leaving BEAT PR, I heard from the managers there asked if I’d like to join their team as a Social Media Manager.  My time there was so valuable, as I learnt how to really understand the target audiences I was working with.  I worked with clients like Multiple Sclerosis Auckland, a plastic surgery company, a sanitary product company, and an interior design company.  This role taught me how to analyse my audiences in relation to what kind of content they engaged with the most, and I had so much fun learning about how these different companies operated.

When that came to an end over 12 months later, I applied for an internship position at Castleford Media.  I started this role in August of 2014, and while it was meant to last for only four weeks, I just finished there in August. The best way to describe my experience here? imagine that you’ve stepped onto the set of the film ‘The Internship’ (the one with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan).  The office was situated on the 16th floor of a Victoria Street West high rise, with huge open windows looking out to the sky tower, the viaduct, and people screaming as they were thrown around in the bungee ride.  I sat at Rookie Island (which is pretty self-explanatory), and I was surrounded by the travel and lifestyle, property, marketing, and graphic design islands.  As nervous as I was on my first day, I could not have felt more welcome.  Everyone there was like a family to me, and my role as an editorial intern was a perfect balance of experience, learning, meeting new people, and plenty of laughs! We even had stretch time at 3pm, flannel Fridays and group outings to the dumpling truck at lunchtime.  I learnt so much at Castleford Media, from using programmes like Curator and Scribe, to editing articles and coming up with content plans for the writers.

As all good things come to an end, so did this.  I left Castleford to devote myself more to my Communications group at University, organising tours to MediaWorks and NZME.   I was lucky enough to be appointed as the PRINZ Student Ambassador for Massey a role in which I’ve met some awesome people and been to some of PRINZ great networking events.

Now that I’m in my final weeks of my degree, I can look back at my work experience opportunities as a film reel, drawing on roles and scenes which stood out to me the most. If my career advisor could have predicted that I’d be lucky enough to have all of these amazing experiences, I probably would have asked him how that could be possible.  Now, I know that anything is possible if you put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, and always be willing to learn from others.  The last few years have been an absolute rollercoaster, but if someone asked me to ride it again, I’d be in the front seat ready to go.

Image credit: @Istock

What’s Wrong with The Millennials?

12 Oct

Written by Carl Davidson, Head of Insight at Research First Ltd

The Millennials (aka Generation Y) – you must have seen them. They’re that cohort of your colleagues born between the mid 1980s and the year 2000. They’re the ones who are self-obsessed, disengaged, and the reason the world is going to hell in a handcart.

References to ‘Millennials’ are everywhere.

A quick search on Google found over 200 million hits, and Amazon has at least 7,000 books on the subject. Time magazine attempted to summarise all this writing by noting that this generation are “lazy, entitled, narcissists, who still live with their parents” but who, apparently, “will save us all”.

Which would be nice, except none of it is true.

Not only are your Millennial colleagues not like this, but the notion that we can cluster people into cohorts based on their age is simply nonsense.

The generations’ idea has a long history but it really started gaining momentum with what is known as the ‘Strauss-Howe’ generational theory. This is based on a model that William Strauss and Neil Howe set out in their book Generations, and it is where the notion of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials really took hold.

It’s a beautifully elegant scheme.

Al Gore called Generations ’the most stimulating book on American history’ he’d ever read. He even sent a copy to each member of Congress. But, as any decent social scientist will tell you, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And here things start to fall apart quickly.

When scrutinised, the ‘evidence’ for generational differences reveals itself to be a bundle of non-falsifiable truisms which explain everything and predict nothing. Sure, the stories they tell about Millennials are often upbeat, fun to read, and eminently quotable, but that doesn’t mean they’re right. What they are is all pastry and no pie. After all, the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not data.

However, there is no real need to debate the evidence for once. This is because it is pretty simple to demonstrate that the notion of ‘generations’ is ridiculous on the face of it. The idea that tens of millions of people across the world will share values or ways of communicating (or even an aptitude for technology) just because they were born in the same 20 year period is laughably absurd. If you simply stop and think about what is being claimed about Millennials (or any of the other Generations), then it becomes obvious that those claims are as implausible as they are contrived.

Try it another way: Why do we accept that we can divide our colleagues at work (to take just one example) into three or four distinct groups based on the year they are born in but reject as ridiculous the notion that we can divide them into twelve groups based on the month they are born in? In other words, why is there a serious discussion about Millennial employees but not about Sagittarian interns?

Social scientists are clear that – when groups get big enough – the differences within the groups will be greater than the differences between the groups. This is precisely what the serious research about attitudes and attributes by birthdate show us. The story is one of continuity, showing that members of subsequent generations are much more alike than they are different.

But if the case against ‘Millennials’ is so strong, why is it so popular? (recall those 200 million hits and 7,000 books mentioned earlier). The answer is because there are whole industries who benefit from that belief. As a result, the notions of generations are often uncritically promoted in the media and slickly marketed. Think about all the times you have seen some offering, for a fee, to help improve how you communicate with, engage with, or sell to, the Millennial generation.

That’s what the notion of generations really is, an idea to persuade you to buy something. It’s a marketing success story but it remains terrible social science. Instead of focusing on when we were born, social scientists talk about differences by referencing our gender, our ethnicity, how affluent we are, where we were born, who we socialised with, and the whole rich tapestry of human experience. Social scientists wish the world was as simple as the notion of generations promises but it stubbornly isn’t.

In one regard, my argument here is that the notion of generations is an elaborate con and that social science provides a powerful riposte to being conned. But the argument also hides a criticism of many of the ideas that we uncritically use to explain the social world. How many of those ideas fall into the same trap as the notion of ‘generations’? More to the point, how often do you stop to think about the ideas you use to make sense of the social world?

Research First is PRINZ’s research partner, and specialises in impact measurement, behaviour change, and evidence-based insights.

Image credit: iStock

What makes your heart sing?

7 Oct


The PRINZ Student Ambassador Programme allows students studying relevant qualifications to become involved and engaged in the communication and public relations industry. The programme gives students a head-start in the industry, encouraging them to participate in the PRINZ community. This blog post is written by Anna Strong, PRINZ Student Ambassador at WINTEC (Waikato Institute of Technology).

“What makes your heart sing?” was the question posed by the late and great Steve Jobs co-founder of Apple. I came across the quote in a book I’m currently engrossed in, ‘The Storyteller’s Secret’ by Carmine Gallo – I thoroughly recommend it. This question was in the first chapter and it immediately stopped me in my tracks, because I wondered –what is my response?

Currently I am in the final stages of my degree. The end is in sight and I’m struggling to contain the temptation to prematurely celebrate. Soon the job hunt will begin, and I find I’m continually asking myself where I want to go, what I want to do, and what do I want my future to be? If I can figure out what makes my heart sing now, will it help shape where I’ll head after this year? While a response didn’t come straight away, that question resonated with me. So I had to read on.

Firstly, I wondered where does one begin to find the heart’s song?  Steve Jobs found it, so it can’t be impossible. Quickly the answer became quite clear and it’s only one word. Passion.

Your story begins with your passion. We simply cannot inspire unless we are inspired ourselves. And while we can easily recognise passions in others, we can struggle to unmask our own personal ones. That is why Steve Jobs asked himself that same question, and his response led him to creating a tool to that will enable other’s to pursue their desires. Equipping others with tools to succeed was his heart’s song.

Your passions are expressed in the ideas that make your heart beat. In those activities that get you out of bed before your alarm goes off. It is the first thing you think about when you wake up and is the last thing on your mind as the lights go out. Passion is the driving force, or the rhythmic beat, of our heart’s song. Once unlocked, pursuing your passions is not an easy feat. At times it takes gumption – a word that isn’t heard too often in today’s society.

I thought a lot about passion in regards to the PR industry. In many pitches I’ve given this year we searched for the beat that ran through our client’s organisation, their lyrics, and tried to think of out-of-the-box outcomes to share the music.

Some of these big ideas take gumption to pursue and bring into fruition. It might mean going against the crowd, or speaking up about an idea that you believe has real potential to benefit your client. It took Steve Jobs’ gumption and passion to believe that Apple could change the world. And it will take those same qualities in our own lives to make a difference, or to play the right chord, to keep with the musical analogies.

Maybe right now it’s finding the gumption to really ask yourself the question – What makes your heart sing?

Picture credit: iStock

The Multitasking Myth

14 Sep

Written by Carl Davidson, Director of Strategy and Insight, Research First

Busy business people working hard on his desk in office with a lot of paper work, Business conceptual on hard working.

Can women multitask better than men? Before you read any further, stop for a moment and consider that question: What do you really think?
It probably won’t surprise you that this is a question social scientists have given plenty of attention. Nor may it surprise you that their answers point both ways.
The argument against is perhaps the most interesting. This tells us that women are not better at multitasking than men because no-one really multitasks. The research evidence here is very clear, we can only ever give our full attention to one task at once.

When we think we’re multitasking, what we are really doing is rapidly shifting our attention from one task to another. This shuffling of tasks often makes us think that we are simultaneously attending to them but that is just an illusion. When we shuffle between tasks our performance on all of them decreases, and the likelihood of making mistakes goes up. This is why driving and talking on your phone (with or without a hands-free kit) is a bad idea.

What this shows is that we have our metaphors about attention all wrong. It’s common to hear attention referred to as a kind of internet ‘bandwidth’ but in reality attention is much more like a phone line. If you want to take an incoming call, you first have to put the current caller on hold. Attention is both finite and sequential.

The reason why some people think women are able to multitask successfully is that there is some evidence that women can switch between tasks faster than men. This comes from a series of experiments that showed mixing up a number of tasks slowed down men’s performance more than women’s. Some people believe this demonstrates that women are better at what is known as ‘thin slicing’ than men. That is, the ability to make very quick decisions drawn from small amounts of information.

So the view from the social scientists seems to be that while women can’t really multitask better than men, they are better at the tricks our brains play to provide the illusion that we can.
Yet if we shift our attention from psychology to sociology, the social science here gets even more interesting. Sociologists are less interested in what the experiments tell us about men and women and multitasking and more interested in what those things say about the world we live in. This perspective raises important questions like ‘why have we made a fetish of multitasking?’ and ‘why do we care if women or men are better at it?’

The first of those is about the general appeal of multitasking and the answer seems obvious. In a world where there are increasingly blurred lines between work and home, and where technology provides the ability to combine tasks in new ways, multitasking seems a virtuous way to be more productive. In this view, multitasking is seen as a way to respond to an increasingly time-poor world.

At the same time, we now know that our brains crave novelty. They have evolved to seek it out, and they reward us when we find it. Novelty is correlated with the activation of the dopamine system in the brain. This provides a powerful reward mechanism for doing the things evolution has wired us all to do. So while the multitasking myth explains why you shouldn’t mix driving and talking on your phone, your brain’s craving for novelty explains why you want to.

The marriage of technology and the reconfiguring of work explains why we have made multitasking a virtue. But it also explains why it’s convenient to believe that women can do it better than men. Over the last 50 years or so we have seen a radical change in the working lives of women. Their participation in paid work has increased significantly, and with it a ‘double burden’ of juggling work and home-life. Women who were raised to believe they could do anything, found themselves in a world where they were asked to do everything. In this world, is it any surprise that we came to believe that women are natural multitaskers and much better at it than men?

As any social scientist will tell you, social norms are cultural products. What we see as ‘common sense’ reveals a great deal about the world we live in. In this regard, our belief in multitasking tells us much more about who we are than we might like to admit. But is this ability to get behind those taken-for-granted assumptions that makes the social sciences so valuable to all of us. Because, as George Orwell noted, to see what’s in front of our noses needs a constant struggle.

Research First is PRINZ’s research partner, and specialises in impact measurement, behaviour change, and evidence-based insights.

Stakeholder Engagement and Community Relations

6 Sep

Written by Bruce Fraser, FPRINZ, Fraser Consultants


PR professionals do loads of different stuff in their organisations and for their clients but one of the most important is to act as the eyes and ears. We scan media channels, listen to what’s being said, talk with frontline staff and undertake research so that we can better understand the needs of our customers, suppliers, neighbours, communities, agencies and others we interact with.

Armed with that information and proudly wearing our PR hats, we then represent those views within our organisations to help inform good decision making. We advocate for those stakeholders and provide sound intelligence for the decision makers to consider all aspects of an issue before planning future actions.

Our job then is to support organisational goals with great PR planning and implementation to develop strong relationships with those various groups who affect our businesses or are affected by our businesses. The profession of Public Relations revolves around building sound relationships with those sectors that matter to us through mutual understanding and excellent communications.

PRINZ has a Stakeholder Engagement and Community Relations course planned for Tauranga on 27 September that will look in more depth at how we can be better at identifying and engaging with groups and planning ways for our organisations to be great corporate citizens. If you are interested in attending, register here.

Image credit: Istock

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