Future Proof PR: CIPR Guest Lecture

Paul Matthews, Corporate media relations manager at Unilever held a guest lecture yesterday at Leeds Metropolitan University. Unilever is a worldwide organisation and turns over 40 billion euros worldwide and represents over 400 brands including Ben and Jerrys, Vaseline, Persil, Marmite, Persil and Sure. Paul Matthews studied Politics at University of Exeter before heading into PR and “going over to the dark side”.

Paul began the lecture with a fantastic quote from Edward Bernay, the founder of PR “If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway” It was clear this quote was important to Paul and the PR values that Unilever work by. Paul also identified three new opportunities and change in the media:

  • Digital Media – The rise of social media and the different online outlets; Facebook, Twitter, Blogs etc
  • Fragmented Media – The huge number of outlets now available to PR professionals and journalists
  • Developing media hubs and emerging markets

It was clear from this lecture that Unilever have a strategic plan that they carry their PR across.. and it works. Paul took us through this plan and it was great to see that they had a tailor made step-by-step guide on how to deliver great PR and be as successful as you can within your campaign. They had analysed it in great detail and the plan allowed Unilever to avoid the worst, but also be prepared for it. An important thought that Paul had was that “Journalists and PR need to understand eachother’s roles” and that “reputation matters”. Both very good points; as a PR professional you do not necessarily delve into the world of journalism but are basically told that Journalists and PR people don’t really get on. Paul made a great point that surely – if we have to work together surely we should understand what one another does to work in harmony so we do not repeatedly get referred to as ‘spin doctors’.

Reputation matters: Paul gave two great examples. The bad: Indian Commonwealth Games bridge collapse The good: Beiijing olympics success.

Before Paul delved into his guide, he highlighted Unilever’s mission. Unilever usually deliver corporate PR and stand by their strong mission “To help secure a favourable external climate for growth and trigger re-appraisal of the business amongst key opinion formers by promising and protecting Unilever’s reputation” Unilever focus on Key Opinion Formers to spread the good word of their organisation and the work they are doing. They favour Relentless storytelling, or the ‘drip, drip, drip’ approach; dripping good stories into the media one by one to build a good repuation.

Unilever is not one of the world’s largest and most successful organisations for nothing. Paul’s guide really highlighted why they are so successful:

1. What do you want to be famous for? Unilever focus on four key reputation themes; Business performance, Sustainable Living, Talented people and Branding and Innovation. It is a very important for the company to hire talented people to ensure their great work is always consistent. Unilever want to be a thought leader and at the forefront of marketing innovation. I think this is so important, you need to stand out from the crowd and be the first one with the new ideas. They rely on pushing boundaries and although Paul said “it may go too far”, it works. For example, their award winning campaign for AXE Clean your Balls (click link for video)

2. Are you listening to the business? What, at that time, is the right lever to pull? You need to keep your finger on the pulse and trust and listen to your business – Do not underestimate how important this is.

3. Who are your Key Opinion Formers? These are very important to Unilever and are the people who will talk positively about Unilever. They have even developed a tool which maps out their KOF’s on various themes based on access, confidence, reach and their past experience with them.

4. What do they read? To target the correct audience – you need to know what they are reading. If you are focusing on your sustainable impacts then target The Guardian, Green TV, BBC radio 4, BBC 5 Live etc. Although you can never prove this is what they are reading or watching, you need to take that risk and measure your results.

5. Who are your key journalists? This is extremely important. Without knowing these, you cannot even publish your article in the right place anyway. How well do you know them? You need to build relationships with them: What do they like? What are their deadlines? Paul believes that the ‘days of wining and dining journalists is dead’ but he believes that face-time is key.

6. How good is your content? Clearly something Unilever has always been good at. Take the new Peperami advert for example. Paul also outlined six rules of news: Is there change? Are people involved? Is it close to home? Are there numbers? Is it topical? Is it quirky?

7. How good is your execution? Extremely important!! It does not matter where or what or who you get – if you do not execute it right – then you need not bother. Paul outlined the many considerations when you talk to a journalist or brief your spokesperson. Is the shirt too white? Then you will look pale. Is your shirt too patterned? Then the reader will be distracted. How good and trained is your spokeperson? Do they have a good photo to share? Has the journalist been briefed beforehand? Have they checked the news agenda? Are they taking thorough notes? Paul has a great example for when execution is not so good. Unilever’s scientists carried out an experiment that claimed that background noise affects the tastes of foods; explaining the dissatisfaction of aeroplane meals. The scientist had a radio interview on BBC 5 Live and was not briefed properly about the interview – meaning on the first question “Why did you decide to study into the taste of food and background noise” there was a lot of word stumbling and not a lot of answering.

8. How effectively did it land? “We need to measure the impact more scientifically” said Paul. Measurement is key; otherwise how will you know what worked and what didn’t and how will you avoid making the same mistakes next time.

After a fantastic and insightful lecture, Paul finished with some great points; valuable to all us PR students:

  • Think about your objectives
  • The principle remains the same – no matter the channels
  • Get the basics right



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