Smart Content is Key

The biggest buzzword being bandied around in the PR, marketing and advertising industries right now is content. Professionals are constantly looking to create and distribute more and more content, to cut through the noise of everyone else trying to do the same thing.

But what does it mean?

To me, content is everything we do. Content is, or should be, material and collateral that is well thought through, meets objectives and drives results but most importantly, engages our audiences. Whether that’s a vine, a brand partnership or a social Q&A, the content we choose to create and provide should be done so because it’s the most effective way of reaching and engaging communities and encouraging people to take action.

I wrote my dissertation on the digital age and it’s shift on one-way communications to two-way communications (see here for more on this). To me, smart content is about facilitating that shift. Content should encourage audiences to take action, engage with the brand and leave with a more well-rounded, (hopefully positive) and knowledgeable idea of the organisation, it’s brand values and what it’s trying to achieve.

It’s not about more content, it’s about smart content.

To best illustrate this, I’ve picked a few examples of what I believe to be great, smart content:

Lea and Perrins / Emerald Street media partnership

Brunch is hot right now, and Lea and Perrins have jumped on the bandwagon with a cute little media partnership with Emerald Street to provide recipes and tips for brunch – as well as a competition to win brunch in Paris. Maybe it’s me, but I wouldn’t necessarily associate L&P with brunch (cheese on toast anyone?) so I like how they’ve used a food trend to get their name out there.

Emerald Street Promotions

Land Rover / Hibernot

A great visual campaign that provides trails, attractions and events across the UK to encourage people to get out and about this winter. People can engage with the campaign using the hashtag #hibernot and are encouraged to upload videos, images and anecdotes about their adventures this winter.



British Airways / Time Out Takeover

To promote the airlines new routes to US cities of Austin, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia, British Airways teamed up with Time Out in London and America to create a multi-faceted partnership. BA flew three of Time Out’s US journalists to explore food, music and style on the other side of the pond – resulting in a six page advertorial feature. The partnership also included a themed issue with a glossy cover and full-page British Airways ads on all cover sites.

Time Out international creative Director Adam Harris said: “To theme an entire issue in support of a brand and maintaining our editorial integrity is both ambitious and unprecedented. It’s the strength of the editorial concept and the unique collaborative relationship with British Airways and Carat that have made this possible.”

Boden Bloggers

Boden teamed up with five influential bloggers in the world of fashion and style to create a series of bespoke blogs focused on style trends, linking the user back to products on Boden’s website. Nice.


Waterstones Sleepover

A great piece of reactive content that went above and beyond an acknowledgement tweet from the brand. After a US tourist found himself locked in a store for the night, Waterstones quickly jumped on the social media storm created by desperate tweets from poor David Willis. Waterstones used Twitter to get brands such as Airbnb, Weetabix and Graze on board to offer 10 guests an overnight sleepover at the Piccadilly store, including a tour of the store and a pick of the thousands of books on offer.

The offer was being advertised on Airbnb, advertised to potential pyjama pals as: “With Waterstones Piccadilly all to yourself, saunter up and down our beautiful central staircase, from our ground floor Bestsellers to our fourth floor’s Russian Bookshop, and let your imagination loose.”


I know there’s many, many more so I’d love to know about smart pieces of content you’ve seen.


Campaign of the Week: Land Rover launches #Hibernot

This post was originally written for PRexamples

As the winter draws in and the days get shorter, our natural instinct is to spend long lazy Sundays curled up in bed or in front of a fire, dressing gown on for a long, long period of time.

Not this winter.

Land Rover has launched #Hibernot, a campaign to encourage people to make the most of the great British outdoors through a series of adventures and activities. They’ve also given people a helping hand, mapping out trails, attractions and activities through a interactive map on a dedicated micro-site.


The campaign is being run across all Land Rover’s social channels, pulling content onto Twitter, Instagram andFacebook.  It’s a strong example of true engagement with communities important to the brand, utilising user-generated content to create buzz and encouraging others to use the hashtag to submit their own winter adventures, images and tips.


It continues to have fantastic engagement online from UK communities across the country and hopefully it should create a long-term campaign that becomes a Brit’s guide to getting out and about this winter.

This is a fantastic example of a content-driven campaign that lives and breathes Land Rover’s brand values of family, the great outdoors and discovery.

PR for PR

Houston PR, an award-winning PR agency, has recently announced it’s new name. Previously known as Twelve Thirty Eight PR, it’s founder Hamish Thompson told The Capitalist “I managed to come up with the world’s least memorable name. I thought, ‘Sod this, I’m changing it.’ What they did next means it’s unlikely anyone will forget the name any time soon, because the agency sent it’s re-brand press release… into space.

Being described as the world’s ‘highest press release’, it is already doing the rounds on social media, being tweeted by the likes of Shortlist Magazine and getting picked up on blogs. It got me thinking, should we doing more PR… for PR?

It’s not unusual to see stunts like these on behalf of our clients, but agencies often fail to inject the same kind of passion, strategy and quite frankly, internal budget, into PR’ing ourselves. In this highly competitive and saturated market, it’s stunts such as Houston PR’s that are going to get them recognised by engaging, enthusiastic and creative brands who are looking for an agency who are willing to push the boundaries for themselves and their clients.

Whilst stunts such as the above are great, they’re normally one-off events and it’s important that agencies are providing a consistent representation of themselves on social media. There’s no excuse for PR organisations not to have strong social channels, keeping the following things in mind:

  • Mix it up: OK, we’ve all seen the disasters when Twitter feeds have been handed over by inexperienced members of staff. However, I still think it’s important that different people from different areas of the business are involved in the overall social ‘face’ of the agency, whether that’s a blog post, live tweeting from an event or uploading of an image
  • Be a thought leader: Whilst it’s important to know what’s going in the PR (and wider) world, through being involved in (and hosting!) online conversations such as #commschat – our social channels are also a great way to show we’re up to date with our clients worlds, whether that’s technology, tourism, food or finance.
  • Bring your brand to life: As PR professionals we are well attuned in the art of bringing brands to life, just sometimes not our own. I have written before on the importance of individuals building their own brands, but in such a highly competitive market it’s important that agencies use social channels and PR to build their own brand – highlighting their individuals, areas of expertise and unique selling points to clients and/or future employees.
  • Showcase your work: When you’ve done a brilliant piece of client work or a successful campaign, why not shout about it? Showcasing work goes beyond case studies on a website, it can be writing a blog, posting videos, making a vine…. be creative! That’s what we do best, right?
  • Network: A huge part of our business but networking doesn’t need to be air kissing over flutes of champagne. Hosting an online trends conversation or communications forum, creating a group on LinkedIn and even inviting those people you meet online to meet face to face in your offices – use social to bring your networks to life!


Social Emotion

Emotion – quite probably the most powerful tool for change in human beings. If you can make a person feel, you can make a person do. And today, almost every persons experiences and the emotions attached to those experiences are played out on social media. Whether that’s the joy of becoming an auntie, anger at a delayed journey, frustration at an organisation or sadness of a death, we’re documenting it for our followers and friends to be kept up to date in the online diary of our lives.

Our willingness and quite frankly, our need, to share our milestones and feelings with the rest of the world as opposed to our nearest and dearest is creating unparalleled opportunities and challenges for brands. It is even affecting the news agenda. Compare the public reaction to the MH370 flight to that of 9/11 – Malaysian Prime Minister Mohd Najib Tun Razak’s tweet confirming the planes crash into the ocean was retweeted 27,000 times within the hour. Stories such as the death of Osama Bin Laden and the Hudson River plane crash were broken on Twitter before the national news outlets.

An interesting article in Stylist this week described this increased display of emotion online and the ripple effect it has throughout followers and friends. The most successful campaigns are those that evoke emotion which can be shared, discussed, related to. Take the #100happydays campaign for example – studies have shown that positive emotions are more likely to go viral online than negative ones. The most successful videos and images are the ones that give us goosebumps of happiness, the tiger being reunited with his owner, the dog who beat cancer or the people being welcomed at airports by a gospel choir and a dancing troop.

100happydaysYou only have to look at the launch of ‘International Happiness Day’ this year to realise that happiness is trending. The roaring success of, a site which draws happy, uplifting and inspirational content from all over the world only confirms this belief. If brands can inject happiness into the day to day lives of people around the world, the mundane and stressful commutes, the long hours at the office, the bill-paying and children ferrying, then they they will be a seizing an unparalleled opportunity to create change and brand loyalty.

It’s now believed we look at our phones on average nine times an hour. I refer back to my original point – whether it’s deemed ‘healthy’ or not, people all over the world are turning to their online communities to convey their emotions and seek recognition and support. There’s never been more opportunity for brands to become part of this online community that there followers turn to for  an emotional lift. Furthermore, there’s never been more opportunity to reach our audiences on a personal level. Generic happiness is just the start. Soon, brands will be utilising the online ocean of data they have available on their consumers and customers to create tailored happiness that can be delivered 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Anti-social Behaviour

On the train home tonight I read an article in the Evening Standard which discussed the ever-increasing number of Londoners who are deciding to switch-off from technology. Whether this is by uploading software to their mobiles which disables apps and the Internet for a certain amount of time or simply setting an alarm to remind them when to turn off the internet or a mobile device altogether, people are turning off as we are continually urged to turn on.

In a world where we are constantly connected, from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep (and even during sleep) reading this article came as relief to me. I have often said that the more social we are, the more anti-social we become and we should all learn to switch off everyone once in a while.

What does this mean for our industry? Content, digital, social, platforms, online, viral – these are all words we are used to hearing on a day to day basis as practitioners. Content is becoming the lifeblood of our industry and apps, smartphones and connected devices are the platforms we use to allow our content reach the people who mean the most to our brands. (See, I just used those words three times)

As people get fed up of the constant connectivity, the tired eyes and the disrupted sleep, what is the alternative? A good read of a newspaper of their favourite magazine perhaps? Funnily enough as I looked around me on the train as I read this article, not a single person in my eyesight was on a phone or device. In fact the majority of people had their faces stuck in newspapers. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a normal sight – but maybe it’s one that we are increasingly going to see.

I spent last year writing an entire dissertation on how the PR industry is changing and whether we should be so quick to dismiss traditional forms of practice in the digital age. Some said we should forget it all together, newspapers and magazines are dying, media relations is dead and we as PR people are now responsible for using our brands to create content that creates conversation amongst our audiences. Others said we should integrate the two, create content but maintain relationships with journalists and the media using the internet and social media to get to know the journalist and build a two-way relationship.

I agree with the latter. Content is important. Audiences are important. The brands we own are our currency to create content that people want to talk about. But let’s not forget our old friends. Maintaining relationships with the media is vital and many clients still place a lot of importance on coverage and column inches (whether you agree with it or not). Finding a right balance of the two based on your client, the campaign, the strategy, messages, aims and objectives is what is essential as a practitioner today, rather than getting caught up in fancy digital jargon.

So, will you be switching off or staying tuned? Personally I set myself a limit in the evening – it’s important to ensure down time to talk (yes, talk!) to your family and friends and just remain in the real world a little while longer.

Traditional vs technology

Described as ‘the greatest evolution in the history of PR’ (Solis & Breakenridge, 2008) there is no question to social media’s impact on the public relations industry. You only need to pick up the latest issue of PR Week, read a PR blog or a related-Twitter stream to see the latest development, opinions and expertise regarding social media and PR. To this statement, we can all agree. However, a question mark does remain. If the internets impact on the industry is so powerful – what does this mean for the day-to-day operations of PR and more specifically – the role of the PR practitioner?

According to Philip Sheldrake (2011) ‘the PR role encompasses aspects of publicity and practitioners invest much of their time wielding the tools of publicity: press releases, pitches, interviews etc’. This definition depicts a one-way process of public relations, utilising ‘traditional’ tools to utilise the media and persuade and influence our audience with a message. A method which is not mentioned here but is certainly a dominant process within public relations is media relations – defined by Tench and Yeomans (2006) as ‘managing relationships with the media – all the writers, editors and producers who contribute to and control what appears in the print, broadcast and online media.’ The use of the word ‘control’ again suggests a manipulative process to control messages sent out to the audience.

My dissertation – which focused on Grunig & Hunt’s two-way symmetrical model and its relevance in the digital age – found that social media is rendering a complete shift away from the one-way ‘spin’ process which Sheldrake describes to a two-way communication process. As Levine et al (2009) said in The Cluetrain Manifesto, ‘markets are conversations’ and trying to engage in these new conversational markets and online communities through a one-way paradigm will lead to a very negative outcome. Furthermore, if we ever thought we had control before, we certainly don’t have it now and active audiences and the speed of the internet is creating further challenges for brands. Take the Toyota Camry Effect for example. During the Super Bowl, Toyota created a series of somehow verified Twitter accounts called CamryEffect, Camry1, Camry2 (you get the picture) and subsequently spammed a load of users on Twitter with an impersonalised, repetitive message.


Not cool. In the end Toyota had to issue an apology due to the backlash it received from consumers and anyone else connected to the internet. This is a fantastic aid to Grunig’s comment that despite two-way being ideal, ‘practitioners are merely flattening communications of old onto social media.’ What does Grunig mean by ‘old’ communications? Is it the ones that Sheldrake described – press releases, pitches, interviews, media relations? By referring to them as old, we end up back to the same question – in this new digital age should they remain and be adapted, or forgotten altogether?

Whilst Earl and Waddington (2012) believe that ‘shedding the shackle of media relations is vital to the success of the public relations industry’, there is argument to suggest that the internet and social media is changing and improving media relations. The accessibility through more professional social networking platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn is leading to easier development of informal relationships between public relations professionals and journalists, and also a better way for savvy PR’s to research the publication or journalist they want to talk too before approaching them.

What about press releases and pitches? Personally I believe these are strong tools within PR and will remain. Providing you have established an appropriate relationship and the story is relevant to the journalists interest, and the journalist has expressed interest in the story, a press release is a fantastic way of getting over information in a timely, efficient manner. This is what I believe – social media will not be the ‘death’ of these tools, and it won’t even change them. What it will change is the communication process that a practitioner adopts – engagement, dialogue, two-way conversations, research and the monitoring of feedback. Adopting these principles will lead to improved use of ‘traditional’ tools such as media relations and press releases, and they should be used appropriately to the situation (rather than the one-way, impersonalised mass send-out of a non-relevant press release) and hopefully improve our reputation as an industry. As a very wise man once said to me; ‘the most common mistake PRs make when it comes to digital is thinking that digital operates under different rules to ‘traditional’ PR. It doesn’t.’

It should be a very integrated process, with digital complementing and expanding traditional methods rather than replacing them. Whilst a press release may be sufficient at times, an online media centre for journalists to access is a fantastic timely on-going source of information. The internet offers a plethora of information and ways to connect with a variety of industry professionals, but sometimes meeting face-to-face with a journalist or picking up a telephone cannot be replaced.  Rather than trying to apply our old methods straight onto social media (I’ve actually heard of PR practitioners sending press releases to journalists via LinkedIn!) we should use the Internet to establish two-way relationships and a communication process designed to enhance our skills, knowledge and existing methods. A fantastic example of this is the Domino’s ‘Think Oven’ campaign, an innovative idea sourcing app on Facebook which encouraged users to be involved in the business process by influencing projects, leaving feedback and submitting ideas.

think oven

It’s a fantastic campaign as Domino’s utilised the internet for what it is truly best at – talking to the people that are important to your business and building strong relationships through mutual dialogue (what PR is all about) so you see it’s not about what is ‘new’, it’s about utilising new tools to do what we have always done.

Top tips for a perfect pitch

This post was prepared for Michael White’s blog nonsuchpr

In public relations, pitching to a potential client is one of the most important things you will have to face in your role and is integral to the success of a PR agency. More often than not, the pitch is the one chance you get to really wow an organisation and tell them why YOU are the best agency for them.

Recently, a team made up of me, Jo Trimmings, Georgia Reilly and Chloe Wise were crowned the winners of Grayling’s annual competitive pitch competition. Working on a real-life brief from the agency, we were chosen out of 18 groups and made it into the top four groups selected to pitch in front of a panel of judges at Grayling North’s Leeds office.

Christine Emmingham, Director Grayling North, said ‘This year’s winning team were clear winners; they had the right strategic approach brought to life with workable ideas and creative flair.”

It was a fantastic achievement and provided practical skills and confidence we can all apply to future pitches and in our new roles outside of University. Using this experience, I have devised some top tips for new business pitching.

My top tips for being ‘pitch perfect’:

1. Form a team: Working as a team is essential and it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each member and choose accordingly who will work on the brief based on these. Does someone have a fantastic creative mind? Is someone a confident speaker and great with people? Or is someone better with presentation design and research? Drawing on key skills will result in a smoother process.

2. Understand the brief: During a new business pitching process, the organisation or individual will begin by sending you a brief summarising their business goals and what they want to achieve through their work with you. Take time to really read and comprehend this – greater understanding of the brief will lead to more realistic strategies and tactics that are sure to impress the client.

3. Do your research: It’s important not to use the brief as your only information throughout the pitch. Be aware of external issues that may be affecting the organisation including environmental issues and prevalent topics in the news. The beginning of your pitch should demonstrate a great understanding of the company and the environment that they operate within. Start with the client’s issues, aims, objectives and goals and then how you will achieve or solve them.

4. Be concise: Remember, the client isn’t in PR so don’t overwhelm them with fancy jargon and whole-world promises. Make sure you are addressing their needs and do this in a clear, concise way in a language they can understand. Show that you really understand their business.

5. Engage: Whilst you shouldn’t spend TOO much time working on the slides, make sure they are clean and not overloaded with text. They should give an overall summary of what you are discussing, but maintaining eye-contact with the client and adding information vocally is very important and demonstrates and encourages engagement.

6. Creativity and personality: It’s important to be practical and realistic with ideas based on the brief and the budget, but make sure you add some creative flair to really inspire the client. You might even want to do something different from a presentation. Is their brief heavily social media based? Why not create a video or interactive social media pitch?

Finally, stay human and ensure personalities shine through throughout the presentation. After all, the client wants to pick an agency they believe they can work with – so be personable and friendly!

From left to right: Katie Eborall, Jo Trimmings, Chloe Wise, Christine Emmingham, Leah Eser, Georgia Reilly, Lucy Laville

Defining public relations

A recent competition from the PRSA witnessed a new ‘modern’ definition of public relations, as voted for by members of PRSA and the International Association of Business Communicators. It is as follows:

‘Public relations is a strategic communications process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.’

Among anything else, it is a little vague. It doesn’t seem to reflect the true modernization of public relations today. In his blog, Harold Burson criticizes this definition for its assumption that ‘communications’ represents PR in its totality. In fact, he believes that a more accurate definition is one adapted from L.Bernays classic ‘Crystallizing Public Opinion’ in 1923:

Public relations (pub’lic re-la’shuns) n. sing. – An applied
social science that influences behavior and policy, when
communicated effectively,  motivates an individual or
group to a specific course of action by creating, changing
or reinforcing opinions and attitudes. Its ultimate objective
is persuasion that results in a certain action which, to succeed,
must serve the public interest

The use of ‘public interest’ is what is interesting here. In fact, it is what Harold Burson believes we are quickly forgetting when remembering the true function of public relations: reconciling employers goals with the public interest and effectively communicating information that reflects employers actions and behaviors. Professor Anne Gregory echoed this when she stated that PR shapes organisation values and gives them life to which people can attach. Basically, by taking an organisations values and weaving them into the messages and strategic planning that an organisation sends out, people will relate and this will create loyalty. Values shape culture and interaction and are at the heart of authenticity, risk and integrity. I like this, and I do agree that it is one element that is at the heart of successful public relations.

This type of communication could be suggested as persuasion, something which Harold believes to be the principle of public relations. For my dissertation, I am conducting an exploration into how the digital age is challenging traditional definitions and communication models of public relations – such as Grunigs four models of PR. For those who don’t know it, Grunig’s model of PR incorporates four separate models: press agentry/publicity, public information, two-way asymmetric and two-way symmetric communication. It is widely accepted that PR, especially in the digital age, has seen a shift from one-way asymmetrical communications (i.e. spin) to a transparent, two-way communication approach that listens to publics and tailors messages accordingly. However, Jim Grunig (1989) admits that the two-way model, particularly in its symmetric form which denotes a 50/50 co-orientation between organisations and their publics, is little practised and is perhaps an unrealized normative ideal. Priscilla Murphy echoes this belief and argues that most of those who advocate symmetric communication admit that it is extremely rare in practice.

The rise of the Internet has led to further criticism of the models relevancy and it has been attacked for ‘showing its age’. So what elements of the digital age are really breaking down traditional communication in public relations?

The democratisation of the media: The phenomenon of citizen journalism in the digital age has witnessed a significant disruption to the main gatekeepers of the news. This has been discussed as one of the main benefactors in the decline of print media, and is a growing trend which must be identified and acknowledged as a serious influence on the professional PR and journalism industry. Combined with the widespread growth of active users within the media, this has led to a change in democracy of the media, from the top-down approach to a bottom-down approach. Scanning the newspapers in the morning is not enough; practitioners must have the skills to effectively scan social media to find out what is at the top of the audiences agenda.

New influencers: The two-way symmetrical model creates a traditional paradigm which has led practitioners to believe that organisations can define, or even create their publics and ‘target’ them. (J. Grunig, 2009) However, the rise of the internet and new technologies has given regular individuals power and it is getting harder to control where or who the message ends up with. Gaining coverage on the right blog can now be more powerful than column inches in a relevant magazine. It is important that these influential people are considered and utilized into future PR campaigns.

Media Relations: It could be argued that the digital era has cut us out as the middle men between an organisation and its publics now that the consumer can talk directly to a brand and vice versa. I don’t agree. Whilst it is changing, I don’t think it is dead. I just think we need to get creative. Media relations isn’t changing, but the content behind it is. A fantastic example of this comes from Channel 4’s in-house PR team and the launch of Utopia. They selected a key group of journalists and sent them all a ‘warning’ video. Using personal information from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, each warning featured personal nuggets of information such as where they had been and with whom over the last week. Some shared the video, including Grace Dent and Rick Edward whom tweeted it to their 200,000 strong followers.

Content, engage, reach, measurement: Grunig has suggested that as practitioners we are simply transferring one-way communications of old and flattening it onto social media, the type of persuasive communication that was discussed above. Ultimately, PR has been criticized for not using social media not  to its full two-way potential. So how do we do this?

Engage: Knowing how to engage online is going to be your biggest weapon. It’s what the people want. Everybody is already – and will always be – talking and brands need to join the conversation.

Content: Many brands make the fatal mistake of using their Twitter or Facebook page to push out one way marketing messages. This is not engagement and it certainly isn’t the right content. News and trends travel fast on social media, so keeping up to date with this and adapting your content is key, whilst ensuring you are using conversation and engaging to peak consumers interest. A fantastic example of a fast response to the social media agenda is Oreo’s tweet during the Superbowl blackout which received 10,000 retweets in one hour:


PR at a crossroads

On Wednesday night I attended a lecture by Head of Legal at, Steve Kuncewicz. The lecture was titled ‘PR at a crossroads’ and focused on how the PR industry should consider legal issues in their work, an area which I hadn’t before considered would have such an impact on our role – so this lecture was an eye opener to say the least!

He began by talking about the Leveson inquiry, the crux of the topic. When he asked the room about its opinion on Levesons impact on the PR industry, most agreed that in fact they were not too worried about its effect on PR. However, the inquiry itself has thrown legal issues within the media into the spotlight and will inevitably see increased regulation throughout the industry as whole – beginning of course with the development of a replacement of the Press Complaints Commission, as ordered by the inquiry.

Another huge impact of course is the digital evolution. Due to the growth of online and digital, new skills are needed, and needless to say the use of Twitter is now much more regulated. We have already witnessed the crackdown on regulation on social media through cases such as the following:

Tom Daley was recently victim to Twitter trolls when he received tweets claiming his father would be ashamed of him after he failed to win Gold at the Olympics 2012.

Fabrice Muamba: When Liam Stacey tweeted that he was glad that Fabrice Muamba had suffered a heart attack, he was sentenced to prison, chucked out of University and de-registered from his rugby team.

Both of these cases come under the umbrella of the Malicious Communications Act – an act that has already been around, but has become more well know due to the advance of social media and the growth of malicious trolls which seem to be infesting Twitter. The law of Confidentiality has also been thrown into the spotlight due to social media allowing everyone to say anything about anyone, at any time – making it increasingly hard to keep things confidential in a digital world. HMV has recently seen itself the centre of a confidentiality issue when HMV employees with access to the companies Twitter account told the world they were being fired. 

But what does this mean for the PR industry? For those responsible for the management of celebrity reputation, issues of confidentiality, privacy and malicious communications are extremely important. The digital era has allowed regular individuals to say whatever they want, and report whatever they want – with celebrities generally being at the heart of each scandal. For everyone else, it is important to consider how easily reputations – of anyone – can be destroyed online. We all know as PR’s that the Internet has given us unprecedented opportunities to create brands online – something which has been a fantastic addition to any client campaign. But if we can do it so easily, so can everyone else. Take for example Ryanair, who recently had to deal with a customer complaint in the form of a hate website… Unbelievably, Ryanair were unable to take any action against the creator of the website, it was his own domain and he could pretty much do what he liked, until he took £300 in advertising for the website (he was profiting off the Ryanair brand without rights or licensing to do so). Learning from his mistakes, he then set up, which is still going strong with the tagline of ‘The world’s most hated airline’. A website which Ryanair can do nothing about. Suffice to say, I’m glad I’m not a member of its PR team.

The moral of the story? As a PR person, take disputes offline wherever you can. In this digital world, bad news travels fast.

Some eye opening facts…

When it comes to PR and the law, it’s content that we need to keep our eye on. For example, did you know that any press release, image, campaign material or content originally created by the PR organisation is by rights yours?  And if for whatever reason your client does not pay you, they have no rights to use any promotional material you may have put together for them. It is important for PR professionals to know that they would have legal backing should any dispute over material with a client should come to light.

On the flip side, we must also be aware of how to cover our own backs against legal issues of copyright.  As Steve wisely put it; “Don’t assume if it’s on the web then you can use it.” This is relevant when it comes to images, quotes and content that you might find on the web. Each of these has its own copyright by the persons whom originally created it, and even if you change 3 words – it doesn’t make it yours. So, if you need to use something which isn’t yours – cover yourself by checking the rights to the content and gaining approval. If you can’t, don’t use it – you could be allowing yourself liable for being sued! You even need approval to use your client’s logo on your own website.

Did you also know that posting content from one social networking site onto another (for example, copying content from Twitter onto Facebook) is infringing on copyright laws? Interesting, especially as most applications such as Twitter allows you to select an option which simultaneously posts your Tweet to your Facebook account.

Case studies: Case studies can be a key editorial piece in any client campaign. Most case studies require input from external parties, including images and quotes of which may not be originally written by the PR companies themselves. Most PR practitioners will know that a lengthy approval process must be conducted due to this, but is having approval in an email enough? Apparently not. In fact, Steve advised us that we should make any third party involved within our case study to sign a release form to cover us if we would like to use their images, quotes and content in years to come.

If like me you were as unaware to the legal issues that shadow our work as PR professionals, I’m sure this post has been as much of an eye opener to you as the lecture was to me.