Could the 2012 media be so misled?

Hillsborough

RECOMMENDED LINK | Media | Misinformation: With the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report dominating the British news agenda this week, and the news coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989 very much part of the story itself, PR man Mark Borkowski has been wondering whether the media of today could be similarly misled by spin from individuals or institutions trying to cover up some fundamental failings.

The report confirms, of course, what the families of the 96 people killed at the Hillsborough football ground in 1989 have long believed, that senior police chiefs, supported by a local MP, set out to smear the victims in a bid to distract attention from a plethora of bad decisions by various powers that be that led to the tragedy.

The Sun, of course, most readily accepted the false allegations, if anything giving them more credence than their own sources had by applying the bold headline “The Truth”, a move that the tabloid soon regretted, and which has had a major impact on the paper’s sales in Merseyside ever since.

And as last week’s Independent Panel report finally officially confirmed the scale of the cover up, both The Sun and its editor in 1989, Kelvin Mackenzie, were forced to issue apologies more resolute and humble than ever before.

But could such a cover-up happen again? It seems likely that in circumstances such as those that occurred at Hillsborough in 1989, in the social media age a cover-up of that kind would be much harder, given those on the ground would be reporting events via social networks before any conventional media, spin-doctors or politicians could apply any misinformation. But in other circumstances – well, who knows?

In his blog post, Borkowski reckons that, with the PR industry so much more sophisticated today than in the 1980s, and with newspapers under-resourced and more reliant on the PR machine, media could again find themselves unknowingly involved in a major cover up if care isn’t exercised. Read’s Mark’s thoughts here.

Chloe Smith to oversee lobbying register plans

Chloe Smith

NEWS-BITE | PR | Public Affairs: While the public relations industry was pleased to see a former PR and advertising executive take the top job at the Department Of Culture, Media & Sport last week, Maria Miller’s appointment wasn’t the only manoeuvre of significance to the comms industry in the latest ministerial reshuffle.

It’s been confirmed that Chloe Smith, perhaps best known for her infamous ‘Newsnight’ performance in which she, somewhat unsuccessfully, tried to defend her then boss George Osbourne’s policies, will now oversee the much discussed plans for a statutory register for the lobbying industry.

A statutory lobbying register has been on the political agenda for sometime, with half the public affairs industry pushing for the government to basically adopt the voluntary register already operated by the CIPR, and the other half pushing for something different. Though all the industry agreed that the government’s original proposals, that would have only required agency-based lobbyists to register, was not the way forward.

Smith will now oversee plans for the register in her new role at the Cabinet Office. Supporters of a compulsory registration system for the lobbying sector feared that when the project wasn’t included in the last Queen’s Speech that the whole thing was on the back burner, though the Cabinet Office has said plans will continue to be developed to be re-presented to parliament before next summer.

PR industry welcomes new DMCS chief

Maria Miller

NEWS-BITE | PR | Politics: While the arts and entertainment industries weren’t sure what to make of the new head of the UK government’s Department Of Culture, Media & Sport yesterday, the PR industry welcomed Maria Miller, who prior to moving into politics worked for PR firm Rowland Communications after an earlier career in advertising.

Miller replaces Jeremy Hunt, whose time at the DCMS proved controversial because of his handling of News Corp’s bid to buy BSkyB outright. Nevertheless Hunt departs the culture ministry via promotion, to take the top job at the Department Of Health.

Some thought one of Hunt’s junior ministers, most likely Ed Vaizey, might get the top job at the DCMS, but in the end Miller was appointed, having previously worked at Work & Pensions. Unlike her predecessor, Miller will also have second brief, of Minister For Women & Equalities.

Given the DCMS already oversees a number of diverse industries, some have criticised David Cameron for dividing Miller’s time in this fashion, though the PM might point out that the Olympics was under Hunt’s watch, and that the completion of the London Games reduces the brief somewhat.

Either way, the boss of the PR Consultants’ Association, Francis Ingham, welcomed the appointment, telling esPResso: “It’s fantastic that there is another senior member of the cabinet that understands public relations and the wider advertising and marketing field. In these tough times public relations is proving to be a real success story in the UK, and we welcome the appointment to such a crucial position for our industry a talented politician that we hope will further support our profession”.

PRs reckon naked photos damaging for Prince’s reputation

Prince Harry

NEWS-BITE | PR | Reputation: While many media commentators went with the “he’s just a lad on holiday” angle when naked photos of Prince Harry surfaced online recently, nearly half of 134 PR experts surveyed by the PR Consultants Association reckon the publication of the pictures – or, rather, the prince and his team allowing such photos to be taken in the first place – has damaged the reputation of the royal overall.

43% of those surveyed reckoned the Prince’s reputation had been damaged, though 67% said that the negative impact would not affect the wider Royal Family. Only 15% thought the incident could actually have a positive impact on Harry’s reputation, presumably as the fun-loving playboy Prince.

The PRCA also questioned its panel about the decision by the majority of the British press to not publish the pictures, even though they were readily available on websites overseas, in particular US site TMZ, which originally published them. 63% said they thought it was right that British papers and magazines followed the wishes of the Royal Family and chose not to publish, while 64% reckoned Harry had a right to privacy that justified attempting to stop publication.

PRCA boss Francis Ingham told esPResso: “These results demonstrate that the media is now operating in a post-Leveson world. The PR industry clearly agrees with the press that, in this instance, the right to privacy trumped the case of “public interest”. Editors got it right by widely reporting the story without showing the photos themselves. The Royal Family has worked hard to cultivate its reputation since the death of Diana. Despite its explosiveness, [this incident] is unlikely to trump the positive impact the Royal Wedding, Jubilee, and to a lesser extent, Olympics, has had on their image”.

When should bloggers declare their commercial interests?

Blog

RECOMMENDED LINK | Digital | Blogging: The debate over the duty, or not, of bloggers to declare any vested interests when writing about or commenting on any past or present employers, clients or affiliates arrived in the American courts recently.

The judge overseeing a legal battle between tech companies Oracle and Google asked both sides to reveal the names of any individuals likely reporting on the case online who have had past commercial affiliations with either company.

According to The Guardian, Oracle have pointed to one influential online commentator who has provided services to the company before (Florian Müller, who had already declared the possible conflict of interest when first writing about the case), but Google have been less forthcoming, saying it isn’t paying any bloggers directly, but that there could be many people sharing opinions online about the dispute who have, in the past, worked for the web giant in some way – too many to list.

As Charles Arthur’s Guardian report explains, Judge William Alsup is not impressed, saying: “Just as a treatise on the law may influence the courts, public commentary that purports to be independent may have an influence on the courts and/or their staff if only in subtle ways. If a treatise author or blogger is paid by a litigant, should not that relationship be known?”

Of course writers expressing opinions about other individuals or businesses without declaring directly relevant personal commercial interests that could affect their viewpoint isn’t an innovation of the blogging age. In the traditional media, some newspapers and magazines have always been better at declaring such interests than others (Private Eye frequently calling out those in the former).

Though in the blogosphere, you could argue that writers are generally more mysterious and less accountable to start with, making that declaration of interests more important. Especially when there are suspicions that perhaps some bloggers somewhere, deprived of any other revenue stream, are open to express opinions for money. Though whether obligations to declare commercial links lie with the bloggers themselves or their commercial partners – well, it’s certainly more practical for the former to take responsibility.

Unless Judge Alsup orders otherwise, of course.

PR experts say Olympics a big reputation success

London Olympics 2012

NEWS-BITE | PR | Reputation: The PR Consultants Association has surveyed its PR Leaders panel about the impact of the London Olympics on the UK’s international reputation, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the results are wholly positive.

And that’s despite some experts expressing concerns before the Games that certain factors – most likely transport infrastructure in the capital – could result in the big sporty event having a negative impact on Britain’s reputation overall. But with the main games now over, all of the PRCA’s panellists said that they felt the Games had had a positive or very positive affect on the UK’s international standing, with 92% rating the London Olympics as being “excellent”.

PRCA boss Francis Ingham told esPResso: “PR leaders have given a ringing endorsement to the Games. These figures are astonishing in their uniformity. Not only were the Games a triumphant success, exceeding expectations, they have also delivered a significant boost to the UK’s international reputation. Given the challenges faced by our country at the moment, that is an absolutely fantastic and concrete result”.

Meanwhile, some viewpoints from individual panel members:

Kevin Craig, PLMR MD: “As well as being a PR and public affairs professional, I was privileged to carry the Olympic Torch onto the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral on the day before the Olympics started. Like I said on Sky News, the Olympic Games have been amazing for London and the country. Unforgettable”.

Alan Twigg, Light Brigade PR MD: “To see the British population and its media passionately back something that has no real taint of vacuous and superficial celebrity has been a revelation. There were times when our euphoria could’ve slipped into the world of ‘The X Factor’, but we managed to turn away from it! I’ve seen London smile, chat, relax and share – something I have not seen a great deal of in over a decade since I moved here from Scotland. British pride without the squeals, the macho aggression and obscenities of a football crowd – integrity and endeavour all over the place. I would love it if that was the true legacy!”

Amy Ross, Satellite MPR Account Manager: “The London 2012 Olympics was a stunning success and really showcased London as a great venue for the Games. The British athletes were stupendous – I was on the edge of my seat for many of the races, especially the cycling events and the athletics. Hopefully now more people will take up sport”.

Spoof newspaper hits out at Olympic partners

London Late

NEWS-BITE | PR | Protests: Following that recent spoof social media campaign carried out in Shell’s name by environmental protesters, a newspaper has been distributed in London taking aim at one of its main competitors, BP, as well as five other official commercial partners of the London Olympics.

Seemingly created by a collective of pressure groups, the spoof newspaper – called London Late and looking a little like the one-time capital freesheet London Lite – includes articles on what its publishers believe are the failings of the six targeted companies, which also include EDF, Adidas, Rio Tinto, Dow and G4S.

Such spoofs are becoming more common, albeit usually online where it is cheaper and easier to run a protest campaign. The challenge for PR teams at the big companies that are targeted is whether to respond, and if so, whether to do so in an aggressive, jokey or informative way.

Most of the brands targeted by London Late have remained silent, though EDF published a long statement in response to the allegations regards its environmental record, with the full statement published on Marketing Magazine’s website.

New site explains copyright for PRs

Commscopyright

NEWS-BITE | PR | Legal: Communicate Magazine, the PRCA and Meltwater Group have all collaborated on a new online resource called Commscopyright.com, which provides PR people with information on all things intellectual property. The interactive site will aim to provide corporate communicators with advice and help on issues around copyright, licensing and picture rights.

Confirming his company’s support for the site, Jens-Petter Glittenberg, co-founder at Meltwater Group, said: “Online copyright is a subject close to our hearts at Meltwater and is an area that lacks clear guidance and updates for the communications industry. Our main objective for CommsCopyright was to provide an interactive online hub where up-to-date information and discussions about copyright law could be easily accessed, enabling clarity and increasing knowledge whilst illuminating the confusion that often looms over the industry”.

“Our hope is that beyond the communications industry, those from the legal sector and businesses of all kinds will learn from and interact with the hub. Each user of the site can contribute by engaging with other users as well as the panel of experts. We firmly believe that CommsCopyright can become the go-to online resource for the latest copyright and intellectual property news and views.”

Shell targeted by spoof social media campaign

Shell Spoof Site

NEWS-BITE | Digital | Social Media: So, there’s been a lot of chatter online this week about some woefully bad social media activity from the guys at Shell. And the Shell-branded activity being critiqued was woefully bad. It just had nothing to do with the oil and gas giant. Which poses a really tricky challenge for the company’s real social media team.

It all began with a simple website bearing Royal Dutch Shell’s branding, which focused on the company’s ambitions to exploit oil and gas in the Arctic region. Similar to genuine online campaigns that let users add their own captions to pre-supplied photography, the site encouraged people to propose snappy straplines alongside Arctic imagery, supposedly in celebration of the firm’s plans to drill for Arctic oil and gas. The site said that the best captions would be used on company posters.

Given the contentious nature of Shell’s Arctic endeavours, the campaign seemed flawed from the start, and sure enough the online gallery where each user’s proposed captions are stored and shared was soon filled with lots of statements opposing the company. The website also had an official Twitter feed attached to it, and as the campaign developed it started interacting with the site’s users, demanding they not share any direct tweets with other users, and threatening to unleash Shell’s legal team.

Although somewhat dubious from the start – “surely no company would pursue such a risky social media strategy?” you wondered – as the campaign gained momentum, an increasing number of people seemed to be taken in, so that Shell was now being criticised on the social networks for both its Arctic strategy and its terrible grasp of social media.

But none of this activity was emanating from Shell HQ, and was instead set up by the firm’s opponents, according to an article on the Huffington Post website the environmental group Greenpeace and activists the Yes Group. This left Shell’s real social media team with a challenge: how to respond in a way that countered the belief they were behind a disastrous digital PR campaign, but without generating an even wider audience for the scam?

So far they’ve gone for a simple message on Shell’s website, accompanied by a subtle tweet, which is probably the wise move. It will be interesting to see whether – after everyone has had a good laugh at Shell’s expense – whether the company might actually receive a little sympathy from social networkers at large. Because when you’re a mighty conglomerate, sometimes being the underdog for a few weeks can be a good thing.

Parliamentary criticism of government’s lobbying register welcomed

Houses Of Parliament

NEWS-BITE | PR | Public Affairs: Both the CIPR and the PRCA have welcomed a report from Parliament’s Political & Constitutional Reform Committee regards the UK government’s plans for a statutory register for the lobbying industry.

Both the political community and the public affairs strand of the PR industry have been grappling for some time over how to improve public perception of the lobbying sector, with most parties agreeing that the solution is some kind of register in which those involved in political communications on behalf of companies and organisations declare their work and contacts. There is disagreement, however, on how that register should work.

The CIPR collaborated with the Association Of Professional Political Consultants to create a voluntary register and, since David Cameron’s government announced its intent to launch a compulsory statutory registration system, it has been encouraging political types to adopt its system as a template. The PRCA, however, having originally been partners in the CIPR/APPC project, now has its own ideas on how a government-led registration system should work.

However, the one thing both the CIPR and PRCA agree on is that the government’s own initial proposals – which would see only one part of the public affairs industry having to declare its interests (mainly agency-based lobbyists working for big business) – are pointless, because if only one strand of the lobbying sector is involved, while it may tick a box for Cameron, it will achieve little to make the business more transparent.

And the Political & Constitutional Reform Committee in Parliament agrees, saying this week that the government should scrap its current proposals and consider a wider approach.

Welcoming that viewpoint, CIPR CEO Jane Wilson told esPResso: “I’d like to thank the Political & Constitutional Reform Committee for its timely report on the government’s ‘Introducing A Statutory Register Of Lobbyists’ consultation. The committee has taken on board the concerns of both lobbyists and those outside the industry, that the government’s current proposals as they stand are ‘too narrow’. A register with no ‘good cause’ exemptions, as recommended by the Committee, provides a level playing field in lobbying for all. It is my belief that a universal register should be underpinned by a strong definition of lobbying and that the right definition is also crucial to the success or failure of any register”.

Meanwhile PRCA chief Francis Ingham said: “It is a great sign that the Committee broadly endorses our proposals. It is now up to the government to drop its current plans and introduce a universal statutory register as quickly as possible. Not a single person has said to me that the current proposals for a statutory register are right. I hope that the government listens to the growing number of voices both inside and outside Parliament that disapprove of this poor sop to the Coalition Agreement”.

Capitalising on the summer lull

Summer

RECOMMENDED LINK | PR | Tips: You’d be forgiven for not noticing, but summer is upon us people, and for those of you not involved in any Olympics-related activity, that will hopefully mean a slightly quieter few weeks in the office. But how to capitalise on that extra free time? Especially when the British Summer hardly makes a longer lunch break in the local pub garden seem in anyway attractive.

Well, Linzy Roussel Cotaya has given PR Daily in the US a five point plan to capitalise on a summer lull. They’re simple tips, but still worth heeding.

Link Of The Week: What would you with Dull and Boring?

Question: if a town has a funny, rude or glum sounding name, should it embrace it and turn it into a PR tool, or employ a bit of rebranding? Noting Staines’ recent rebirth as Staines-On-Thames, and the decision of the Scottish village of Dull to twin with the American town of Boring, this BBC feature discusses the pros and cons of an unfortunate place name. What advice would you give Hell in Michigan or Thong in Kent?

Inspiring Facebook campaigns

RECOMMENDED LINK | Digital | Social Media: While Facebook’s PR team deal with all the bad press that has surrounded the company’s much hyped IPO, and marketers at the digital firm consider whether it will have any impact on the service’s growth, in terms of users and ad sales (it almost certainly won’t affect the former, but could hit the latter), let’s all remember that the uber social network is still a communications network the like of which the world has never previously seen, and therefore a powerful communication channel for brands.

Which is a very long way of pointing you in the direction of this PR Daily post featuring “25 Facebook campaigns to inspire brands”. Definitely recommended reading for a PR or marketing person faced with the task of devising a brand-based Facebook campaign.

Social media and crisis comms

RECOMMENDED LINK | PR | Crisis Comms: As we’ve almost certainly said before, social media is relevant to everyone in corporate communications, even if being a prolific tweeter or having a fully-fledged Facebook presence isn’t appropriate for your company or clients, because the social networks now also play an important role in crisis management – both in communicating during a crisis, but also for monitoring online conversations to pre-empt and, if possible, avoid crisis situations. Which is more or less what this extract from Jonathan Bernstein’s ‘Manager’s Guide To Crisis Management’ says, as posted by Social Media Today. Definitely worth a quick look.

PRCA board back access recommendations

PRCA

NEWS-BITE | PR | Trade Bodies: The PR Consultants’ Association’s Best Practice Committee and Board Of Management last week both formally approved a number of recommendations made by the trade body’s ‘access commission’.

The commission reviewed social and ethnic diversity in the communications sector, and how agencies and in-house PR departments could encourage and enable more people to work in the industry. How PR firms offer and use internships was also considered.

The commission came up with thirty recommendations earlier this year (which you can download here) and, with just a few amendments, these are what the PRCA’s top committees approved last week. The recommendations now form a code for PRCA members and the wider PR industry to aspire to.

Or, in the words of the head of the Best Practice Committee, Golin Harris’s Matt Neale: “The Best Practice Committee and the PRCA’s Board of Management are both satisfied that the access commission’s recommendations are of a high standard, and that it has presented the PRCA with clear, achievable aims over the next couple of years”.

PRCA asks MPs to push for lobbying register

Houses Of Parliament

NEWS-BITE | PR | Public Affairs: The PR Consultants Association has written to 450 of those members of parliament chaps and chapesses to raise concerns about the omission of the much talked about statutory register of lobbying activity from the recent Queen’s Speech, which, of course, sets out the government’s priorities for the year ahead.

There has been much debate in British political and lobbying circles for sometime now about the need – or not –  for a register that documents lobbying activity, in a bid to make the political communications part of the PR industry more transparent, and less open to public criticism and concern.

There is some disagreement in the lobbying sector regards the proposed register – a minority are outright opposed to such a thing, others support a voluntary register system (which has indeed been set up), and others still reckon parliament should pass new laws to make registration compulsory.

The government in theory supports the latter option, though has garnered criticism even from those who support a statutory register by proposing that not all lobbyists be obligated to use it – with suggestions opt-outs might be given to in-house public affairs teams and/or lobbyists in certain sectors.

A consultation that many hoped would deal with that criticism closed over a month ago, and some hoped the government’s agenda for the year to come might indicate that reworked proposals would soon be on the table. But with no mention of the register in the Queens Speech some worry the initiative is now on the back burner.

PRCA boss Francis Ingham told esPResso this week: “Despite the government’s repeated public commitment to introduce legislation, the Queen’s Speech made no mention of a statutory register of lobbyists. We strongly believe this continued uncertainty is damaging not only to the public relations and public affairs industry, but – more importantly – to parliament, and the public’s faith in the political process”.

He continued: “To address this problem, the government should now introduce the legislation it has promised for the past two years [after first amending its original] plans so to include all of those who lobby, rather than just those who do so on behalf of clients”. This is also the message communicated to the 450 letter receiving MPs, who have been urged to approach the man overseeing the register initiative, Mark Harper MP, about the matter.

The PRCA was originally working with fellow trade bodies the CIPR and Association Of Professional Political Consultants to launch a voluntary register for lobbyists, but quit that consortium last year. The CIPR and APPC have since launched their voluntary register, and are urging government to use it as a template for the statutory system.

Alastair Campbell to join Portland

Alastair Campbell

NEWS-BITE | PR | Public Affairs: Fresh from his appearance at the Leveson Inquiry to discuss the relationship between politicians and the media, Alastair Campbell has announced he is joining political communications agency Portland, where he’ll be advising on relationships between leading companies and the political community.

It’s the former New Labour spindoctor-in-chief’s first full-time PR role since leaving his comms job at Number 10 Downing Street in 2003, though he has advised companies on a freelance basis, including for Portland, the public affairs consultancy founded by Campbell’s former deputy at No 10, Tim Allan.

Confirming his new job on the Portland blog, Campbell wrote: “I have had plenty of offers since I left Downing Street to join PR consultancies or go in-house. It was not something I ever thought, to be honest, that I would do. But Tim Allan is nothing if not persistent and over the last few months I have found myself working with Portland more and more, advising clients and helping develop their bright young staff”.

Noting that, in his new role, he’ll be working alongside ex-Tory MP Michael Portillo, who was recruited by Portland once it became pretty clear Labour would lose the 2010 General Election, Campbell added: “I’m not sure when I was in No 10 that I ever thought I would be working alongside Michael Portillo but then I think even Michael will admit he’s changed his outlook more than I have”.

Crisis tip

Goldman Sachs

RECOMMENDED LINK | PR | Crisis Comms: Whatever you think about the big banks, I think most PR people will have felt a little sympathy for the comms team at Goldman Sachs this week, when one of the finance firm’s executive directors decided to announce his resignation from the company via an op-ed piece in the New York Times in which he blasted his now ex employer’s management approach and corporate culture, reaffirming most of what the banking sector’s critics have been saying in recent years. Presumably the phones were ringing off the hook in the Goldman Sachs press office.

I dont know whether they checked out PR Daily, which used the incident as an excuse for a quick refresher on the very basics of good crisis comms. Just in case you ever find one of your employees writing an angry resignation letter in a national newspaper, perhaps you should give these the once over!

PRCA’s register thoughts

PRCA

NEWS-BITE | PR | Public Affairs: There have been more developments in the good old lobbying register story this month, as the government undergoes its consultation on what their statutory register should look like.

Obviously the public affairs bit of the PR industry has been considering this matter for quite sometime now, and the CIPR and Association Of Professional Political Consultants recently launched the latest version of their voluntary register of lobbyists’ interests via the joint UK Public Affairs Council. They’d like government to just adopt their register, though the PR Consultant’s Association, originally partners in UK PAC, are no longer backing that system.

Either way, both the government and parliament’s Political & Constitutional Reform Select Committee are now considering anew the best way to regulate the lobbying industry, in a bid to throw a little more transparency on to the ways companies and organisations talk to decision makers and advisors in Westminster and Whitehall via their PR reps.

And earlier this month the aforementioned PRCA made a submission to the select committee outlining the opinions of its public affairs group. Once again the Association called on the statutory register to apply to all lobbyists in all sectors, and not just agency lobbyists, as the government’s most recent proposals have suggested. This is something on which the PRCA agrees with its former partners in the UK PAC project.

Confirming his organisation had made a submission to parliament, and that making any register fully inclusive was their key message, PRCA boss Francis Ingham told esPResso: “Statutory registration is a necessary step forward in increasing transparency in the industry that we support. However, to only include multi-client consultancies would mean that the register would only capture around 20% of the lobbying industry. The register must be founded on a universal definition that is based on the professional act of lobbying itself – not a specific type of lobbyist. Otherwise it appears as an unjustifiable tax on consultancies”.

Defining PR

PRSA

NEWS-BITE | PR | Definitions: The PR Society Of America has completed its previously reported bid to find a new definition for what exactly it is that PR does, having decided that their existing strapline dating from 1982 – “Public Relations helps an organisation and its publics adapt mutually to each other” – was no longer adequate.

And the new definition is – “Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics”. You can read more information on why that was chosen after an extensive online debate on the PRSA website here.

So, should the British PR industry now be embracing this definition too? Well, the PRCA consulted its members on that question and the majority weren’t completely happy with the PRSA’s new description, meaning the UK trade body doesn’t feel it can also embrace its American counterpart’s definition.

Says PRCA boss Francis Ingham: “The PRSA is to be commended on its efforts here – they’ve spent a lot of time and effort working to get this right. However, most PR leaders in the UK think that this definition isn’t quite right. So while we are very grateful to the PRSA for their contribution to this debate, we won’t be adopting their definition”.

The PRCA has published some of the UK responses to the PRSA’s new definition here.

How chatty when you tweet?

London Midland

RECOMMENDED LINK | Digital | Social Media: Any company which has decided to use social media as a routine customer communication platform is having to work out what constraints should be put on those in charge of the tweets – after all, most messages will be in the public domain even if they are directed at one specific customer.

It’s tempting to provide your in-house tweeter with pre-prepared cleared statements to cover all eventualities, though all research shows that customers respond much more positively if it’s obviously a chatty human being at the other end of the twit-line, and not someone regurgitating corporate speak.

Which means opinion was divided by recent tweets by London Midland railways, after a suicide caused widespread delays on one of their lines. The Twitter messages in question weren’t outwardly offensive, but some felt they were too informal given the circumstances.

But Forbes contributor Tim Worstall reckons the rail firm’s tweeter-in-chief was right to issue the informal instruction “go to the pub – things will be rubbish for at least the next hour” and the chatty observation “can’t stop someone jumping off a platform in front of a train I’m afraid”, rather than something more obviously crafted by a corporate statement machine. See what you think after reading Tim’s article here.

Copyright tribunal considers links licence

NLA

NEWS-BITE | PR | Legal: The UK’s Copyright Tribunal considered the previously reported links licence issue yesterday, reaffirming last year’s appeals court ruling that said such a licence is required by all media monitoring organisations, but amending the fees to be paid by said agencies.

As previously reported, this affects any cuttings or PR agency, or in-house PR unit, that provides commercial media monitoring and reporting services, ie providing cuttings of or links to any coverage about a company, its operations or its competitors. Traditionally this service would involve making physical photocopies of coverage, and such copies required a licence from the copyright owner, ie the newspaper or magazine publisher. And this was usually administered by one central body, the Newspaper Licensing Agency.

Increasingly these days, though, cuttings and PR companies provide clients with lists of headlines and links rather than physical cuttings, and some in the sector argued that, as physical copies were no longer being made, no licence should be required. Which probably makes sense at first sight. But the NLA disagreed, successfully arguing in court that a copyright also exists in a headline or any URL primarily made up of an article’s headline, so even if no physical copy is made, a licence is still required – albeit a special online licence. And the Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal on this matter, meaning the Court Of Appeal’s ruling in the NLA’s favour stands.

Though one additional issue is still to go before Supreme Court – one which revolves around a technicality of how web browsing works – ie when you access a website your browser makes a temporary copy of the content you see. Under EU law that temporary copy is exempt from any copyright licence requirement, though it isn’t clear whether that applies in a commercial context, especially where an article is accessed via a commercially supplied link. That particular point is still to be argued in the UK’s highest court.

This week’s hearing at the Copyright Tribunal was less to do with whether link licences are required, and more to do with what rates it’s reasonable for the NLA to charge, and what form those charges should take. On this issue the PR Consultants Association and cuttings company Meltwater, who have opposed the links licence throughout, claimed a victory last night, saying that, in an interim decision, the Tribunal backed seven of the nine changes they requested be made to the new licence. Meltwater reckons those changes could save the PR and media monitoring industries £100 million over the next three years (though, it’s worth noting, the NLA does not agree with that claim at all!).

PRCA boss Francis Ingham told esPResso: “Both Meltwater and the PRCA have invested huge resources ensuring the PR industry and other internet users are not subject to unreasonable costs. The savings we have achieved for the industry highlight how important it was that we stood up to this scheme when others just accepted it. This is a huge win for Meltwater, the PRCA and its members. We have won the battle. We must now continue to fight to protect the broader principles of the internet. The mandate the NLA has been given is against the ethos of the internet and sets UK copyright law in a head on collision course with every day internet users. We share their concern and will now step up our campaign to make UK copyright law fit for a digital age”.

The NLA, which denies that the legal precedents that backs its links licence will ever actually affect internet users at large, also welcomed yesterday’s tribunal ruling, the impact of which it claims is far less widereaching than Meltwater says. Their MD, David Pugh, told reporters: “We welcome today’s decision which follows two court cases confirming the legality of licensing. We are pleased that the Copyright Tribunal has upheld the principle and structure of our online licensing scheme, and confirmed that Meltwater is subject to the same requirements as media monitoring organisations. The judgment provides a measured, equitable regime that will ensure stability for both publishers and end-users alike: our customers will benefit from a transparent licensing structure and newspapers can be sure of a fair reward for their content”.

Story pitch tips

Phone Waiting

RECOMMENDED LINK | PR | Media Relations: Wondering why a journalist hasn’t returned your call about that fantastic story you fed him or her last week? Well, it’s probably worth checking this quick checklist written by American PR and former reporter Gil Rudawsky.

There’s no shocks in his list of the five biggest mistakes made when pitching stories, though you’d be surprised how often PR people do commit some of these errors when sending story ideas to me. Read Rudawsky’s short blog on PR Daily here.

Optimise your headlines

Schwartz MSL

NEWS-BITE | PR | Media Relations: So, are you optimising the headlines on your news releases so they score highly on search engines?

Make them punchy (preferably less than 65 characters) and full of key words is the advice of US-based Schwartz MSL Research Group, who recently reviewed the headlines on 16,000 releases put out via the press release distribution service Business Wire to see how well companies were doing with their titles.

Just under 20% of those release headlines reviewed were of the optimum length, according to Schwartz MSL’s SEO rules, which is slightly up on last year, but not much. The average headline length was 123 characters – nearly twice what the experts recommend – while the longest was 1800 characters!

Some releases went with headlines even shorter than the desired 65 characters – the shortest was 21 characters long – though Schwartz MSL also caution against going too short, saying that can be counter-productive because it means you’re unlikely to have enough key words.

Infographics in releases?

Emerson Infographic

RECOMMENDED LINK | PR | Media Relations: Ah, infographics, they’ve become fashionable haven’t they, ever since we stopped calling them diagrams.

But how about incorporating the new fad for visually pleasing diagrams and illustrated facts n stats into press releases? Well, personally I always prefer words in my press releases, but I can see that if you have a complicated story to tell or lots of figures to share that even journalists might respond better to a good infographic.

And that’s what Meryl Serouya of PR Newswire is finding. In a blog post for Ragan’s PR Daily she writes: “According to a recent analysis of press releases by PR Newswire, the inclusion of multimedia assets significantly improves the number of views a message generates. In the age of social media, any advantage in grabbing a slice of your audience’s attention is worth seizing upon”.

Read more of Meryl’s thoughts on the issue, and check out three infographics she particularly rates, in her blog here.