Tuesday, 25 August 2009

What next for the banks?

The positive financial news from the banking sector which has come out over the last few weeks (Barclays 8% rise in first half profits, Goldman Sachs making record amounts of dosh) certainly seems to suggest that the sector is beginning to get back on its feet. It is certainly going to take a little longer for the worst cases to record performances like that, but it is clear that we can now begin to focus on the medium to long term futures of our failed banks rather than worrying about whether they are going to announce another £20 billion or so in asset writedowns.

In fact, my back of a fag packet calculations would suggest that, at current market prices, the Government is set to make a tidy profit on its shareholdings in Lloyds (43%) and RBS (98%). The question now is: how and when does the Government sell its shareholdings? The answers are ‘very carefully’ and ‘not yet’. Certainly pumping that amount of stock into the market in one go is out of the question so we are probably going to see a drip, drip of placings with institutional investors in the secondary market over the next 3-5 years.

You can’t help but wonder though whether a more equitable arrangement would be for those that saved the banks to truly benefit from the upside, namely you and me. What about a return to the privatisations of the mid-80s and an invitation for us all to fill our boots like we did with the British Telecom and British Gas? We could even have a “Don’t tell Sid” TV advertising campaign updated for the new millennium.

It would certainly make for a very populist policy for any political party to take into the next election campaign and would seem to sit very well with the Conservative Party’s publicly expressed aim of breaking the link between retail and investment banking.

Oh and there’s another very good reason to go truly public and have oiks like me at their AGMs - the banks would hate it!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Graduates need not apply?

Fresh faced and ambitious, many new graduates are embarking on the search for work within the exciting arena of PR this summer, but what are their prospects within the current climate?

This time last year, PR Week reported record numbers of graduates coming into the industry which was very encouraging at the time – after all, these are the account managers of the future. However, with the economic outlook challenging for companies across the board, the problem now is that there simply aren’t enough jobs out there. PR certainly hasn’t been immune. To put this in context, a recent survey from the Association of Graduate Recruiters found that there were 48 applications for every graduate vacancy. Within the competitive PR industry, this is much higher (our latest graduate position was responded to by 80 applicants), so the prospects for university leavers aren’t looking too healthy.

That said, I don’t think that the outlook for graduates is quite so bleak and would encourage any students reading this not to be disheartened. If anything, the trials and tribulations of gaining a first foot on the PR ladder will stand you in good stead for the trials and tribulations of life as a PR practitioner. As the old adage says, ‘what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.’

In my view, university leavers need to be realistic. We would all love to fall into our dream job straight away and start earning the wages that make our student loan look like peanuts. However, what the graduates of today are facing is competition from their professional elders who have been unfortunate to find themselves out of work and who need to go for positions further down the ladder just to keep doing what they love.

For all new recruits, experience, commitment and a strong work ethic are the order of the day. Many universities offering PR related degrees are now placing a much stronger emphasis on work experience throughout the three years – this is crucial in building an understanding of the PR world outside of the lecture hall and will set students up with the all-important contacts that could be invaluable once the degree results are in. With that being said, it can be a ‘chicken-and-the-egg’ scenario, as students can only gain relevant experience if agencies give them the opportunity in the first place, so a little understanding on both parts is needed.

Four years ago today, I joined WPR just one month after getting my degree results and whilst I was very fortunate to find the right company with a junior executive position available, I hope my personal experience helps new graduates to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, PR is as hotly-pursued a career as ever and each agency has a different protocol when it comes to recruiting students for work experience or graduates for junior positions, but the industry needs fresh blood in order to keep its finger on the pulse. This is more relevant than ever with the growth of viral, digital and social networking possibilities and graduates would do well to understand the skills they can bring to the fore.

Whilst some agencies have put the brakes on graduate recruitment, others have been unaffected and to be successful in the search for work now, adaptability and versatility is key. If you can’t get a placement with a PR agency when still at university, widen the net and consider other aspects of the media; after all, journalists, researchers and design agencies need PR’s and PR’s need them. The most important thing is that you DO something that will help demonstrate your skills and appreciation of PR to a prospective employer.

To achieve stand out, show you understand the company and the career you are pursuing, and you never know, you could be the right graduate at the right time.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Rupert Changes His Mind

A $3.4bn loss is enough to make anyone think again and that is exactly what Rupert Murdoch is in the process of doing. After once declaring that the subscription model for online news does not work, last week he declared himself confident that his company could produce "significant revenues from the sale of digital delivery of newspaper content" and that “we intend to charge for all our news websites.”

Radical thinking or panicked knee jerk reaction? Only time will tell, but we have been down this path before with the New York Times and they were forced to pull back more than two two years ago (although the Paper of Record is reportedly looking at the subscription model in another format again).

Those, like me, who remain fascinated by the future shape of journalism and the print media in the digital age might find some enlightenment in this week’s Time Magazine which was delivered to me via snail mail on Saturday morning (I remain a luddite at heart). It contains an excellent article by James Poniewozik which can be found online HERE.

Definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Warts and All to be Saviour for Brit Teens’ Esteem

Teenage girls live in a world of comparison, insecurities and media – from the glamour of American teen hits Gossip Girl and “reality drama” the Hills to Britain’s very own Chester beauty queens on Hollyoaks. The pressure to look good impacts on every teenage girl’s esteem – but how much of this is really down to advertising airbrushing?

The Liberal Democrats yesterday launched their campaign to ban airbrushing in children’s adverts. With their latest campaign for “Real Women” it feels as if someone has been reading through Marketing Week, noticed Dove’s award winning “Campaign for Real Beauty” and saw column inches waiting to be capitalised on.

For anyone who didn’t see Channel 4 news last night, it was the battle between Annabel Brog, longstanding editor of Sugar Magazine, and Jo Swinson, the Liberal MP at the helm of this campaign.

Brog justified her corner by saying they used lots of “real girls” and that airbrushing was only used for an out-of-place hair here and a pimple there. Having interned on the magazine a few years ago (under Annabel’s leadership) I can only herald the attitude of the editorial team. They were extremely conscious of their role as an outlet for teen issues and keen to grasp the balance of being responsible without being alienating or judgemental.

Swinson suggested airbrushed advertising aimed at under 16’s should be banned - and for adults should be signposted, literally, with a flagged up commentary. Yes, this beauty is too perfect, too polished and, to be frank, too unrealistic.

But this campaign also seems to underestimate people on a grand scale.
Advertising is not the only arena where this happens and her example of Kate Winslet on GQ’s cover hardly works as an example, with under 16’s clearly not in the title’s demographic.

If airbrushing is really doing us harm why not just ban the use of airbrushing in general? Perhaps it is because we like to see attractive people? Who wants a luxury product advertised by average Jo when by its very nature it is aspirational?

What about those too thin? Too muscly? Those who have had cosmetic surgery? Or those who are genetically gifted?

Teenage girls, and boys, have rising complexes about the way they look but I fail to see how the implementation of this one thing would have any causal effect.

She wants to see girls getting more involved in physical activity and the introduction of modules at school to discuss body image, health and well-being, and media literacy. That’s a lot of pressure being put on the girls themselves – to wisen up! To get fit! To forget what they hear and read and to be themselves! To be individuals!

Surely as a teenager trying to find yourself and be comfortable in your own skin is the hardest thing. With their identification with brands they are merely playing with what is out there. Maybe this has been taken too far and the brakes need to be put on a little - but as to how much of a success I can see those classes being, I’ll bite my tongue…

Coverage in the past two day has managed to take us away from Lembitt’s ladylove and handily airbrushed the expenses drama away. Cunning Jo.

That’s “Real Women” for you.