Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Can You Be Right For PR in 5 Questions?

When PR Moment posted their blog yesterday ‘Am I Right for PR?’ with the opportunity to find out in just five questions, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the offer of a short questionnaire that promised to unveil whether I had correctly identified my calling or not.

After a few moments, I found my curiosity turning to impatience as I waited for the blog to address key career objectives prospective PRs should have in their sights (a fascination with communications, skills in writing and multi-tasking, a passion for the media both on and offline) but, the blog failed to mention any of this.

Instead it gave graduates the option to state whether they read the front page of a paper, celebrity gossip section or got straight down to completing the day’s puzzles. It seems to me (and everyone sitting near me) that everyone is drawn to the front page of a paper as it seems nonsensical to skip straight in without knowing what the day’s top story is (unless you’re an avid sports fan keen to find out the previous night’s score which will inevitably take you to the back page).

This struck me as a question that didn’t really have an answer – for grads looking to get into PR an interest in the media overall is key from the FT and Guardian Tech section to the Sunday Times’ Weekend supplement and Marketing Week. It doesn’t really matter where you’re looking or what you’re interested as long as you’re looking in all the right places.

Another aspect of the questionnaire I didn’t agree with was the decision to include multiple choice answers – this is incredibly restricting and as shown from the above answer often leaves crucial gaps where the real answer lies.

As a response to the original 5 PR questions I had a think and pulled together a list of what I feel to be five of the most important questions I would look to ask someone considering a career in PR.

Please let me know your thoughts and feel free to add in any you feel hold weight. Hopefully next year when the PRCA look for a test for their Frontline Guide, they’ll be able to include some questions with answers that matter.

5 Questions For Those Interested In PR

Do you find yourself drawn to a variety of media and news stories? If so, where do you gather your news and what do you enjoy to read about the most?

When working on a project, do you boast a range of organisational skills from planning and preparing timelines to evaluation and reporting? If so, list one example where your organisational skills came into play.

Are you fascinated by communication? Do you find yourself able to adapt your tone and writing to a variety of styles from informative and interesting to persuasive and promoting? If so give us two examples below of your own written text differing in tone.

Do you feel you have transferrable skills that would assist in client and team management? If so list three skills and why they would help lead and develop.

Are you able to think ahead as to how activities or a plan would be developed long term? Please give us an example of an idea that could be developed over a period of six months.



Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The real point about Barclays’ Tax Bill

Barclays have paid £113 million in Corporation Tax which equates to approximately 0.97 per cent of the company’s pre-tax profits of £11.3 billion

£113 million still sounds like a lot of money until you realise that the UK’s Corporation Tax rates currently stand at 28 per cent. What, I hear you ask, happened to all the money?

Apparently, Barclays wrote it off against losses in American subprime mortgage trading. Barclays excuse is that under UK Corporate Tax law losses made in any business division can be written off against Corporation Tax. So, in other words, Barclays played in the casino of mezzanine credit default swaps, lost and now the Exchequer is out a lot of money. (Those interested in casino banking and how our banks got involved in all of this this should read The Big Short by Michael Lewis).

Whilst this is a clear violation of the principle of risk and reward, the foundation upon which investment decisions are made, the real point is that all of this is legal. Successive Governments consistently promise to close tax loopholes, but instead leave this gaping chasm open to abuse.

Why don’t they close this loophole? Because our politicians are scared stiff that major corporates like Barclays and HSBC, who have already threatened to leave the country, will up sticks and set up in a low tax economy like the one just off our shores. It’s called Ireland and it has a Corporation Tax rate of 12.5 per cent.

So the next time you hear an Opposition party say that they are going to close tax loopholes when they get into Government treat it with the scorn it deserves.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Guess my job

Ever since I started at Willoughby almost six years ago, I have been involved in student career and networking events and have taken responsibility for offering a lucky few the change to experience public relations first hand. I believe there is such value in investing time in meeting the potential PR practitioners of the future, be it for five minutes at a speed networking event, taking part in a guest lecture or participating in a mentoring scheme.

The key strength of my degree course at BCU was the chance to meet with professionals and the impetus given to securing work placements. Opportunities such as these can be hard to come by but if agencies don’t offer support through work experience or becoming involved in student skills initiatives such as the excellent B-Hive work placement scheme, how can you expect future job applicants to have a firm grasp of PR and what the job entails?

That’s why I went to a ‘Guess My Job’ careers event last week, run by BXL (a not-for-profit charity that aims ‘to advance the education of the public by the provision of advice and guidance in relation to careers, training and personal development opportunities’). Together with a policeman, fireman, care worker, business improvement manager and other varied professionals, this event was to show year nine students (aged 13 to 14) the variety of jobs available and give them the chance to discover what skills they would need to follow any of these paths.

I felt that a PR Account Director would be one of the most difficult things to guess, particularly as it can be difficult enough to describe what we do ourselves let alone to teenagers whose experience of PR is limited to Max Clifford (shudder).

However, I discovered that during the six classes, my props were often unnecessary (I armed myself with my address book, notepad, phone and a stack of magazines and coverage). Whilst not knowing what PR was specifically, many of the students managed to deduce my job with ideas such as ‘you put together ideas and sell these to the press’ and ‘you promote a product or service through the media’. Alright, it’s not completely on the money, but it was encouraging to see that PR wasn’t a completely foreign concept to them.

Some of the other professionals taking part even seemed to have job envy (I shameless named dropped a little to get the students onside) and the feedback has been very positive indeed. According to BXL, most of the students gave the session at least nine out of 10, and one student even said it was the best day of year nine so far -praise indeed!

It was a fun and eye-opening event to be a part of and it hopefully gave a unique insight into a range of professions, including the weird and wonderful world of PR, and I encourage others to consider ways in which they too can help support the professionals of tomorrow.

BHive 2011: For those driven students who want to get ahead in PR, as well as the other creative industries of marketing, advertising, graphic design and web design, I urge you to enter B-Hive this year for your chance to win paid for work experience with top agencies such as ours. Submissions are due by 7th March.

Friday, 18 February 2011

AV ‘No’ Lobby needs to find a coherent argument

Today the Prime Minister will set out his reasons for voting against the Alternative Vote System in a Referendum in May. The electorate must now brace itself for nearly three months of political arguing and posturing over how we will elect our politicians in future.

The problem for the ‘No’ campaign in the coming referendum on AV is that a ‘No’ vote for AV (which actually is understandable in that it is by no means a perfect system) is also a ‘Yes’ vote for the First Past The Post (FPTP) system we currently use. As both Martin Kettle in the Guardian and Steve Richards in The Independent have pointed out in recent days, the anti-politics sentiment of much of the electorate is tipping the scales towards change, any change.

However, it also strikes me from listening to the opening skirmishes in this battle that the ‘No’ campaign is struggling to get its arguments straight.

Firstly, they argue that AV is undemocratic, in that voters have to choose a second and third choice who could, ultimately, emerge as the overall winner. Well yes, that could happen, but FPTP is hardly democratic either in that it virtually guarantees a job for life for MPs in vast numbers of constituencies around the country. As a case in point, the Conservative Party could set off a nuclear warhead in Bromsgrove High Street and the town would still vote Tory, in large part due to the boundary changes brought in many years ago which added the terribly nice suburb of Barnt Green into the boundaries of the constituency.

Secondly, the ‘No’ voters argue that AV leads to hung Parliaments and back room deals. Well, isn’t that what happened after May 6th? Is the Prime Minister going to stand up today and say he can’t countenance such grubby, undemocratic bartering of the type which got him into power after the last election?

Finally, it’s costly. The ‘No’ campaign argue that AV will cost us £250 million (this is a much disputed figure) and tell us on their website that it is a straight choice, schools or AV? Only it isn’t because my recollection is that the Government, elected under FPTP has already cancelled the Buildings Schools for The Future programme.

I’ve no doubt there are good reasons for rejecting AV, but the ‘No’ campaign needs to find them fast, because at the moment you can drive a bus through the holes in their arguments.

Monday, 14 February 2011

So the bankers want to be loved - it'll take more than a couple of press releases!

Fascinating story in this week's PR Week, namely that the entire banking sector is going to employ a PR agency to rehabilitate its reputation.

Apparently, there is great concern that bankers are no longer viewed as supportive by SMEs. That's probably because bankers aren't supportive of SMEs.

As a case in point, I recently visited a small precision engineering company in the North East which has won a major aerospace contract for the new Airbus. In order to fulfill the order more efficiently, the company decided to spend approximately £70-80,000 on new capital equipment, namely machine tools.

The MD made a big presentation to his bank (who shall remain nameless) and then nothing more was heard. Phone calls were not returned, emails were not answered. Finally, two months later the answer came back. "No, we think you are going to go bust."

There was of course no evidence of this, the bank manager concerned just assumed that every company in the manufacturing sector must be teetering on the brink. How massively supportive?

In the end the MD turned to his own savings, credit cards and Finance For Industry to help him invest in the equipment needed and fulfill the promises made to his customer.

My point is that it is going to take a lot more than a barrage of press releases to rehabilitate the banks amongst SMEs. What is required is for the banks to regain the trust of the business community and the public in general by making credit, namely the principle of buy now pay later upon which modern society is founded, actually available, in the form of loans for capital equipment and mortgages for you and me.

Much was promised by Project Merlin last week, but even a cursory read of the fine print demonstrates that the banks have inserted plenty of caveats, which the more cynical amongst us believe will be used to renege on the promise to deliver £190 billion this year in credit for business.

Time will tell.