Lessons from the PR Specialists

Sheffield Hallam University’s PR Specialists event

This is an article by Liz Bridgen   

Sheffield Hallam University’s PR Specialists event earlier this month could have been styled as a ‘Variety Show’.

It showcased three very different types of PR from three practitioners who had as little in common as (to complete the variety show analogy) a ballerina, an opera singer and a conjurer.

But despite their differences the basic principles of their profession – attention to detail, understanding the media and knowing their audiences – stayed constant.

Giving Sheffield Hallam students a rollercoaster ride through the worlds of PR were Tracy Holmes from Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council , who gave a harrowing account of running a comms department under fire from a hostile public and media; and Colin Hampton of Derbyshire Unemployed Worker’s Centre who showed how a bit of chutzpah and lots of good ideas goes a long way towards grabbing national media attention for decidedly ‘unsexy’ subjects.

Meanwhile, CIPR 2016 president-elect Jason MacKenzie gave an account of his life in PR, his experiences of running a successful comms agency, and the lessons he’d learnt on the way.

And these are the ‘baker’s dozen’ of lessons that I (and I hope that our students) took from the event.

  • People come first
  • Some organisations are keener on reputation management than looking after their customers. You should never forget that you’re dealing with people.
  • If your organisation is under attack by the public as well as the media, make sure that employees know how to respond to a hostile public. And above all, look after your staff as they are facing incredible pressures both at home and at work.
  • Make sure that your audience understands your messages – test them and talk in your audiences’ language. (Colin Hampton told a good story about this. He was handing out leaflets announcing a campaign against austerity but the people who got the leaflet didn’t know what austerity was) .

Managing the media – on and offline

  • If someone is telling untruths about an organisation it’s the responsibility of the organisation to put it right. No one else will do it.
    If you have a good idea and it’s working, flog it to death.
  • Don’t expect the media to come to you; sometimes you’ve got to go to London where the media are.
  • Visual ideas are very important when trying to get media coverage but don’t forget that the media like stories about people – back up any stunts or media events with case studies about real lives.
  • Organisations who won’t talk to the media play into the hands of people who will – the media will go to your opponents and get their version story from them.

Life lessons

  • Keep good records – log all media calls, monitor media, keep notebooks . You never know when you’re going to need them.
  • Be nice to people on the way up and on the way down – you never know which way you’re going. It reaps dividends.
  • Don’t go into business with people you don’t like, trust or respect
  • Don’t be afraid to ask people for things you need – people are mostly incredibly kind (how do you think we put on this event? We asked people!)
  • Don’t lie. Tell the truth

You can also follow the event on Twitter as it unfolded at #SHUPRSpecialists

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