Jul 06 2015

CIPR taking more active role in construction

CIPR logoCIC logoThe Chartered Institute of Public Relations is to take a more active role in the UK construction industry, having joined the Construction Industry Council (CIC) as an associate member. The CIC represents professional bodies, research organisations and specialist business associations in the construction industry in the UK.

The CIPR will be represented at CIC meetings by a nominated member of its construction and property special interest group (CAPSIG). The application for membership was agreed at the CAPSIG AGM in May (which also featured the chair of the CIC’s diversity panel, Bridget Bartlett, in its debate on diversity in construction and PR – post) and approved by the CIC at its June council meeting, and as chair of CAPSIG I am looking forward to participating in CIC activities. As quoted in a CIC news release:

CAPSIGlogo-2014The traditional media image of business sectors such as construction is a continuing challenge, and, contrary to many people’s view, PR is not to blame. The industry’s reputation is the result of what it does, what it says, and what others say about it. It can’t control the latter – it can only control its own behaviour and communications. As associate members of the CIC, we aim to bring the expertise of professional communicators to bear on this challenge.”

Graham Watts OBE, CIC chief executive, added:

Graham Watts“CIC warmly welcomes the CIPR as an Associate Member.  By working together with our professional colleagues in the field of communications, industry will be better placed to improve its public image and perceptions of the built environment as a career path.  This in turn will attract the new talent we need to help deliver the economic, sustainability and climate change imperatives that lie before us.”

Incidentally, I will be at the International Building Press Communication and PR Awards party this Thursday, 9 July (still time to book!), representing CAPSIG, sponsor of the best in-house team category.

Jun 23 2015

#ProtectFOP or lose your marketing collateral

Proposed EU changes to national Freedom of Panorama (FoP) rights could have a profound potential impact on individuals and organisations taking photographs or videos of modern buildings and sharing them in any public media.

I blogged about it yesterday, musing also on the extent to which architects and other design firms would be prepared to administer a deluge of requests for copyright licenses for images taken from public spaces. Industry reactions to my blog post (via the comments and Twitter) were broadly incredulous: “bonkers”, “scary”, “unworkable”, “unnecessary”, “extremely worrying”, “ominous”, etc.

PublicLondon exhibitYesterday, I dropped into the Building Centre in central London and talked to a few more people about the issue. FoP rights changes would potentially cause problems for many of the organisations that use the Building Centre for offices and for marketing purposes. For example, the basement exhibition area is used by several construction product manufacturers and suppliers to showcase their wares (the sector’s umbrella organisation, the Construction Products Association, also has its headquarters in the Building Centre). And the ground-floor hosts exhibitions about the built environment – the current New London Architecture display is ‘Public London‘: “public space is where the daily life of the city is played out,” says the welcoming banner.

Selectaglaze exhibitBoth the product exhibits (Selectaglaze’s, right, is typical) and the NLA exhibition feature numerous photographs of modern buildings (as do most of  the brochures, leaflets, datasheets, case studies, websites, CPD presentations, blog posts, Facebook posts and other pieces of social media content, etc, produced to support products). Potentially, unless these images have been expressly sanctioned by the building’s designer, the proposed European Parliament FoP changes would mean they were in breach of copyright.

I hope the Chartered Institute of Marketing and its construction group CIMCIG will oppose the proposed EU steps. I spoke to people from the Association of Consultant Architects, the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Construction Industry Council (among others) yesterday, trying to both alert organisations to the issue and to put them in contact with Wikimedia UK’s Stevie Benton. He is coordinating signatories to a letter from cultural and heritage organisations protesting about the proposed FoP changes – if you want to add your body’s support, please email him.

Jun 22 2015

City-Insights: hyper-local story-telling

As a construction technology blogger, I sometimes encounter tools that have wider potential including use by communications professionals. City-Insights helps ‘tell stories about places’ via mobile devices, and could be used for a host of hyper-local internal and external communication purposes.

City-Insights logoAt a recent COMIT* community day, I met Tim Gardom, the founder of City-Insights, a young (c. 2013) angel-backed startup based in The Biscuit Factory in Bermondsey in south-east London. After a brief conversation at the COMIT event, we had a follow-up meeting, including his colleagues Mike Gardom and Mohammed Rahman, in the ‘Almond’ building at the former Peek Frean factory last week.

Story-telling

City-Insights - Regents CanalCity-Insights has created an HTML5-based toolset that works across all popular smartphones and tablets, along with a supporting cloud-based content management system (Tim said clients can learn to use the system “in anything from 25 minutes to four hours”; City-Insights can also manage content for its clients, if they prefer). In Tim’s words, the mobile application “tells stories about places” – and story-telling is a powerful tactic for the PR professional (the CIPR Social Media Panel* recently devoted its second #hackday to social story-telling).

Tim’s background is in heritage and museum-related projects, but the scope for City-Insights is much wider, and the business has identified property developers, housing associations and contractors as potential customers for the solution. Essentially, City-Insights allows a customer to share interactive multi-media content specific to particular locations or contexts, and to update that content as the location develops. Using their own devices, end-users might scan a QR code, use near-field communication (NFC), click a link, receive a text message or even just use their device to recognise an image; the result will be access to rich multi-media content relevant to the end-user’s location and information needs.

A developer might use the solution for local community engagement (it can be used for surveys too), or to explain features to potential buyers or tenants, while a contractor might use it to brief subcontractors, support handover documentation or streamline maintenance.

Use cases

Example use cases included use by the King’s Cross Partnership and developer Argent at London’s King’s Cross area to create a digital heritage trail (KXplore, due to launch shortly), celebrating the area’s industrial past while also communicating rich background about its future development. Videos, photographs, audio files and interactive text-based data could all be accessed to share information about the past, present and future of specific structures, spaces or objects.

City-Insights - electricalIn collaboration with housing associations such as Octavia Housing and Family Mosaic, City Insights has explore new ways of delivering information about equipment and buildings to housing tenants and subcontractors.

Fit-out specialist contractor Overbury has deployed the application to provide progress information for client visitors to ongoing developments. Material includes profiles of workers, video interviews, archive photographs, time-lapse imagery (reusing design imagery), and slider-controlled progress photographs – with content shareable by Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (and, yes, we talked about using LinkedIn too – particularly relevant to a professional audience well versed in use of that social media).

City-Insights - tenant careAnd – showing the toolset can be used equally for different phases of a development – Overbury is also planning to use it for handover support; for example, when a tenant or new owner starts to occupy a space, the tool can be used to provide online ‘how to’ information about installed equipment (potentially saving numerous face-to-face briefings).

My view

The application’s mobile focus is timely:

  • First, we increasingly prefer to access data on our mobile devices. (something the CIPR Social Media Panel identified when drafting its guide to mobile and PR). According to Ofcom’s 2015 report on media use, two-thirds of UK adults now use smartphones (compared to 30% in 2010), with use in the 16-44 age group around 87%. Tablet use lags, at around 45% for the same age group, but adoption remains on an upward trend. Moreover, these devices are immediately familiar and simple to use, enabling both professional and lay (re)use of data and content.
  • City-Insights - handoverSecond, many professionals in the built environment sector are increasingly focused on capturing and reusing data, particularly to support future occupation and use of built assets. BIM has started to focus people’s minds beyond construction and handover, and – in the process – we are creating data that can be efficiently re-purposed for reuse by owners, occupiers, visitors, tourists, maintainers and others.
  • I was also interested in the potential to capture location-specific stories that capture ‘social history’. City-Insights could be used to record photos, a video interview, or background information about someone working on a project that could later be viewed by historians or anyone interested in how an asset was delivered. We talked at length about how the platform might be used to tell stories associated with major projects; the London Bridge station redevelopment, Crossrail, HS2 and Thames Tideway are just some of the epic contemporary projects we might compare to Bazalgette’s London sewerage network, the Manchester Ship Canal or Scotland’s hydroelectric schemes; and we wandered off on tangents including QRpedia (post), the UCL Bartlett’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and Andy Hudson-Smith’s Tales of Things, too.
  • City-Insights offers a 2015 alternative to tools I’ve previously seen, such as UK-based ResidentsHQ or Finland’s Howzee (post) that created hyper-local information services to manage the tenant/property management communications at the level of individual blocks. City-Insights potentially narrows that down to individual apartments, rooms and even items of equipment.
  • City-Insights - engagementThe application potentially complements platforms such as StickyWorld (post; and, before that, YouCanPlan), which have used gaming engines, panoramic 3D photography, video and social media tools to enable interactive community consultation projects. I know StickyWorld has also been recently testing its platform to capture geo-located and hashtagged tweets about neighbourhoods for consultation processes.
  • As a PR professional, I can also see great potential in the City-Insights platform to provide new mobile ways to communicate with a range of publics – investors, potential customers or tenants, employees, local residents, tourist visitors, suppliers, etc – regarding different aspects of built environment projects, from early planning stages through delivery to post-handover occupation and use. And, importantly, the insights aren’t just for the end-user – the PR team will be able to access analytics and measure how frequently the tool is used and what information is accessed, helping them judge the success of their place-centric story-telling.

[* Disclosures: I am a member of the COMIT steering group, and of the CIPR’s social media panel; Stickyworld is a past pwcom.co.uk client. This is an edited version of a blog post first posted on my ExtranetEvolution.com blog.]

Jun 21 2015

PR use of public images under FOP threat

Photographs including modern buildings and other creative works may fall foul of new European Parliament copyright proposals. New constraints on ‘freedom of panoroma’ may stop PR businesses using photos and videos taken in public places for professional purposes, including reuse on social media.

Statue, ScheveningenDo you take photographs on your foreign holidays? Perhaps share some of them on Facebook, Instagram or Flickr? Or maybe even put some in the public domain for reuse on places like Wikipedia? Depending on where you took those photographs and what they show, it seems that this innocent activity may already be breaking copyright law, particularly if your photos (or videos) show modern buildings or sculptures.

And it could get a whole lot worse, impacting PR professionals using photos and videos taken in public places for professional purposes, including sharing them on social media.

Freedom of Panorama

Stevie Benton of Wikimedia UK blogged on 11 June about the UK being at risk of losing Freedom of Panorama:

“Every day, millions of Europeans are breaking copyright law. Due to an obscure rule known as Freedom of Panorama, those innocent snapshots of modern buildings you’ve taken in countries such as France and Belgium are breaches of copyright. While the UK has this freedom, we are at risk of losing it in the ongoing copyright reform negotiations taking place in the European Parliament.”

Freedom of Panorama in Europe NC.svgCopyright reformers led by Julia Reda MEP would like to introduce UK-style freedom of panorama (FOP) across the EU (evaluation report explained here; para 16 addresses FOP), but other MEPs are proposing a non-commercial clause in the FOP rules which would make it useless. They suggested: “use of reproductions of works in public spaces should require express permission by the rightsholders.” Posting your holiday snaps on Facebook, Flickr or Instagram, or taking PR shots or video against the backdrop of well-known public buildings could become illegal.

In the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and several other countries (see image, right **), the right of FOP is protected, so photos taken in public spaces are fine. However, in countries including France, Italy and Greece, any unapproved photograph of a modern public building is an automatic infringement of the architect’s copyright in the building’s design (I expect the same could be said of an engineer’s copyright in designs of bridges and other structures). Taking and uploading your own photos of those works is unlawful unless approved in writing by the copyright holder.

Benton also echoes Reda’s point that even photos of older buildings may still be banned:

“For example, you can share a photo of the Eiffel Tower because of its age – but only if it is taken during the day. If the photo is at night, the lighting is considered a separate installation and falls foul of Freedom of Panorama.”

Wikipedia cannot even use such images for free educational purposes, as Wikimedia UK chair Michael Maggs says:

wikipedia-logo“The problem we have today is that many Wikipedia articles about buildings and monuments cannot be appropriately illustrated when the structure is located in a country without Freedom of Panorama. … It’s important that the European Parliament takes care of freedom of panorama. We support the very long-standing right of UK citizens and visitors to these shores to take photographs of buildings in public places and to do what they want with their own photos without having to seek permission from any third party commercial rights holder.”

It is not just posting of images to Wikipedia and social media sites that is giving rise to concern. Taking photographs in public spaces that include modern buildings, structures and/or sculptures will also fall foul, creating a potential new bureaucratic nightmare where – to comply with the law – PR, marketing and advertising professionals (among others) will have to seek out and gain permissions from architects, engineers, other designers and artists if photos or videos include views of their work.

And – having worked with various UK construction professional services businesses – I can’t see architects, engineers and other design firms being keen to, or even capable of, administering a potential flood of incoming copyright license applications.

UK PR bodies protest

CIPR logoOn Friday 19 June, the CIPR and PRCA launched a joint attack on European Parliament’s failure to protect the ‘Freedom of Panorama’. The two PR membership criticised the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee’s decision to reject proposals to protect FOP, saying:

“… the failure to protect this Freedom threatens the legality of photo-sharing and social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. Under the proposals as agreed on by the Committee, full permissions, clearances, royalties, and/or use of authorised images would be required for videos, photographs, paintings or drawings with any potential commercial use.

CIPR CEO Alastair McCapra said:

We … call on MEPs from the UK, as well as other affected countries, to ensure that these disastrous proposals are not enacted into law. We also call on the UK government to make very strong representations in the European Council to stop this proposal in its tracks.

UK Construction and FOP

The CIPR has already started to contact other professional membership organisations regarding FOP, with a view to lobbying UK and other MEPs ahead of a critical vote on 9 July. A late flurry of tweets on Friday and a few exchanges over the weekend have started to put FOP on the radar of bodies such as the Construction Industry Council and its members including the RIBA, the ICE and the Landscape Institute (among others). I’ll be watching developments closely over the next couple of weeks.

[* I took the ‘grumpy statue’ image in Scheveningen, Netherlands, recently – and it’s freely available on Flickr on a Creative Commons license. / ** “Freedom of Panorama in Europe NC” by Made by King of Hearts based on Quibik’s work – Derivative work of File:Freedom of Panorama in Europe.svg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.]

May 15 2015

If challenged… engage

Faced with criticism and detailed questions about a female dress code policy change, Dartford Grammar School’s comms strategy has, from a PR perspective, failed ….

It may be a storm in a tea-cup, but, as outlined in my previous blog post, a sudden change of policy implemented, with little apparent consultation, by Dartford Grammar School has irritated some students at the school and parents like me.

On Monday 11 May, my wife sent a detailed letter to the DGS deputy head teacher and head of sixth form, Mr Robert Tibbott, summarising our concerns about the abrupt, seemingly discriminatory, and expensive, changes to the sixth form female dress code (prescribing collared tops and skirts of knee-length or longer). In particular she highlighted DfE 2013 advice to governors to consider the impacts, timing and costs of uniform policy changes (and she included a link to my blog post).

In the Western world the phrase is often used to refer to those who deal with impropriety by turning a blind eye.Two days later, we received a response from Mr Tibbott.

  • Did he respond to the specific points made regarding the DfE guidance? No.
  • Were DGS school governors consulted on the policy change? Not saying.
  • Were parents consulted about the changes? Not going to tell you.
  • Did they consider they gave adequate notice of the change, enough time for parents to respond to the change, and make the changes at an appropriate time academically? Not listening.
  • Did they deny apparent discrimination against their female students?. La, la, la….

OK, I jest a bit …. Make up your own mind….

DGS letter reponseApart from a final sentence about extending the deadline for compliance for our daughter, this is the complete DGS response. It fails to address any detailed issues or admit any shortcoming. Their ‘strategy’, apparently, is:

  • Seek to minimise (“minor revisions”) the changes to the code.
  • Don’t answer detailed points. Better still: ignore them.
  • Obfuscate: suggest “careful consideration” is somehow adequate.
  • Present a fait accomplit: claim a “positive response” vindicates the change.

If challenged, engage

All organisations may find themselves the subject of complaints, and how organisations respond to complaints has an impact on their reputations. As a PR practitioner, I advise clients and employers on how to respond to disaffected stakeholders, and the school’s approach is unwise.

I advise clients to engage with complainants, and respond in detail to as many of the concerns raised or questions asked as possible. Failure to do so treats legitimate stakeholders with disdain and is arrogant; it suggests their views are clearly unworthy of any detailed response or any further discussion; it may also appear an organisation is trying to sweep an issue under the carpet . It can also increase the risk that complaints might be escalated to other authorities.

Moreover, if those concerns have been publicly aired (on Twitter, Facebook, in a blog, in a newspaper, etc), then the organisation should be particularly diligent in its response, aware that its reaction may be shared and judged by others.

Sorry Mr Tibbott, sorry Mr Oakes (head teacher), but you have not passed this communication test. Must try harder.

May 11 2015

Be conscientious about diversity

CAPSIGlogo-2014On Wednesday, I introduced the panel at a CIPR construction and property special interest group (CAPSIG) discussion on diversity in construction and PR. It was clear from the contributions (see the Storify stream, watch the YouTube video) that UK construction has a long way to go to build a new reputation as genuinely diverse, equal and inclusive, rather than “male and pale”. We heard anecdotes regarding wolf whistles and male attitudes to women that belonged in the 1960s – not 50 years later – but also ideas about how professional communicators can help by capturing and sharing positive stories.

Cover your knees, girls!

Dartford Grammar School arms

Attitudes reminiscent of the 1960s, and professional communication, have been in my mind this weekend too. My daughter, a sixth-former at Dartford Grammar School, was last week informed of a new dress code at the school (which is boys-only, apart from the sixth form). Eight months ago she started at DGS after we had invested in suitable attire for her “appropriate to a professional work environment“; last Wednesday (6 May), an email from the school announced an amended policy “which will be effective from Monday 11th May.”

The most significant changes include an insistence that female sixth formers wear “a dark tailored suit … worn with a plain collared blouse or shirt,” (previously, the requirement was for a “plain blouse or top”) and that “skirts should be knee-length or longer” (previously, “skirts should be no shorter than 10cm above the knee”).

DGS jeopardising its reputation

To me, this is a poorly managed and poorly researched change, and one with potentially damaging effects on Dartford Grammar School’s reputation. Let me explain:

  1. For a start, this policy change has been announced at very short notice, with seemingly no prior consultation with parents (advised in DfE guidance to school governors) and with just four days for parents to buy their daughters new tops and longer skirts (no requirement on boys to buy new clothing).
  2. Implementation is also poorly timed, coinciding with a key coursework requirement (an ‘extended essay’ for many of the lower sixth form doing the International Baccalaureate) – and some girls have been sharing their frustration on social media regarding the policy (while the boys study, the girls must shop?).
  3. The “collared blouse or shirt” requirement is surprisingly difficult to find. My wife looked in four large local stores and found nothing suitable; online searches were similarly unsuccessful. Moreover, not only are women’s plain blouses or shirts difficult to buy, the requirement is potentially discriminatory insofar as Google searches showed men’s plain shirts are about six times more common, and less expensive, than those for women.
  4. And as for the “knee-length or longer” requirement…! Applying contemporary standards of conventional dress, it seems to me that girl members of DGS’s sixth form are being treated less favourably than boys, restricting girls’ choice of what to wear in order to achieve the required standard of smartness – whereas, in the real world, professional work environments carry no such constraints. Other school sixth forms (Altrincham Grammar School, for example) apply DGS’s previous 10cm hemline policy (even nearby Dartford Girls and Wilmington Grammar allow 2 inches above the knee), and I fail to see what educational purpose is served by lowering DGS hemlines – unless it is to manage the testosterone levels of surrounding male pupils (and teachers)? And is insisting girls cover up the best way to do this?

Research, consult, listen … then communicate

The lesson for DGS is that even something as apparently simple as a dress code change can, if mishandled, have unforeseen consequences and result in different treatment of individuals by virtue of their sex. To me, the school failed to research the implications of its policy change, and did not (at least as far as this parent is concerned) consult or listen.

Unfortunately, this kind of approach is sometimes still applied in construction organisations. Decisions may be taken with little (or even no) thought to the effects on different groups (preparing for the CAPSIG diversity event, for example, my previous blog post had comments including one relating to personal protective equipment, PPE – almost the construction industry equivalent of school uniform). We clearly need to be particularly conscientious regarding any potential diversity, equality and inclusion issues in a policy change and associated communications programme – unanticipated consequences can sometimes derail an organisation’s best intentions.

(My wife telephoned DGS about the policy change last week and is writing to the school to complain. If other parents do the same, the situation may change. Watch this space.)

Apr 29 2015

Diversity: an issue for PR, an even bigger one for construction

If PR professionals are serious about managing reputation, they have to be serious about understanding the reasons for that reputation and helping businesses tackle underpinning issues such as diversity.

CAPSIGlogo-2014At a recent group chairs meeting at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (I represented the CIPR’s construction and property special interest group, CAPSIG), my fellow CIPR Council colleague Laura Sutherland got us talking about the business case for PR, and it’s been rattling around in my brain.

During the late 1990s, I was lucky enough to work for a CEO who felt communication was critical to boardroom discussions across a group of construction professional services businesses. As a result, I was expected to join regular meetings of the MDs of all the companies in the group, and to offer communications advice, which I did.

However, I don’t this think this level of PR input is common – at least not in the construction industry where I’ve mainly worked. When it comes to legal or financial issues, lawyers and accountants sit around the boardroom table, but faced with a communication challenge, it’s rare for a PR professional to feature, even though our discipline is the one looking after an organisation’s reputation.

Business issue: the poor image of construction

Peter Hansford (source: Wikipedia)In the construction context, I have been vocal about the poor image of the industry. My frequently expressed view is that construction gets the reputation it deserves. Until it tackles some of its core structural issues, it will always struggle to attract people into the industry and to be seen for the industrial and intellectual powerhouse it could be.  Chief construction advisor Peter Hansford says “fundamental change is required in how the construction industry is perceived by the general public”, and “engaging young people and society at large” tops his list of four areas where action is needed – above health and safety, diversity, and improvements in the domestic repair and maintenance market.

Action is clearly needed to tackle gender and other diversity issues. While these affect the PR sector, the imbalances in construction are even more profound. The divisional meetings I attended in the 1990s, for example, featured just one woman, outnumbered by 18 men, and, in 2015, even in ‘white collar’ disciplines such as surveying, I read this week that just 13% of chartered RICS members are women. On site and among the trades it’s often worse. There are higher proportions of women in admin, legal, accounting and in PR/marketing roles in construction, but UK construction remains overwhelmingly pale, male and stale.

Diversity in construction and PR

Next week, CAPSIG will be looking at diversity issues, holding a panel discussion on diversity in construction and PR on 6 May. We will have an impressive and all-female panel (rare for a construction event perhaps!):

  • Liz Male MBE FCIPR (a former CAPSIG chair, now chair of Trustmark UK and a member of the government’s Construction Leadership Council)
  • Elaine Knutt (editor, Construction Manager)
  • Chrissi McCarthy (managing director, Constructing Equality), and
  • Bridget Bartlett (deputy chief executive of the CIOB, and chair of the Construction Industry Council’s diversity panel)

If PR professionals are serious about managing reputation, they have to be serious about understanding the reasons for that reputation and helping businesses tackle the relevant issues. PR is not the “colouring-in” department; we don’t just do “press relations” or “spin”; we don’t “put lipstick on a pig”. If something is broken, we should be helping businesses to fix it, not papering over the cracks.

Hansford recognises that it’s vital to engage with young people and society at large; PR will be critical to that engagement, and to tackling the diversity issues and other business challenges the industry faces. The major changes needed won’t be achieved quickly, so part of PR’s role is to manage expectations and support a long-term reputation-changing process – not get hired to run an industry week once a year, promote an industry hashtag or produce a glossy brochure highlighting just the good bits.

Mar 02 2015

Tweetchat helps UK SoloPRs set agenda

A CIPR tweetchat attracting over 60 participants has helped set a direction for UK independent PR practitioners.

I participated in two CIPR tweetchats last week.

CIPRSM Hackday

CIPR logoThe first was run as part of the CIPR Social Media Panel‘s first PR ‘hackday’, in which the panel focused in depth on a social media issue relating to PR – in this case paid-for content – and developed some content for use by CIPR members and the PR industry at large. You can view the tweetchat on Storify, read the ’10 PR Hacks on Paid Content’ we collectively produced, listen to a podcast and watch a YouTube video; all this was produced in a single afternoon.

CIPRIPs

The second tweetchat related to my own CIPR initiative: independent PR practitioners (see previous post, for example). While Wednesday’s CIPRSM chat was quite narrowly focused on a niche topic, Friday’s solo PR tweetchat attracted over 60 participants who shared their views on five general questions, generating nearly 500 tweets during the hour or so of the tweetchat (most of these have also been captured in Storify). Out of the wealth of conversation (not to mention the new contacts made) I’ve tried to distill some key points and ideas that were interesting to me and which also suggested future directions of travel for the growing CIPRIP network.

IP tweetchat wordle2

What motivated you to become an independent practitioner?

  • “A bad employer made me realise I could do better on my own”
  • Bored in previous role, too much admin and not enough hands-on PR; “I enjoy doing PR strategy/thinking more than running a company”; “adding value instead of feeling bogged down in process”
  • Made redundant, and freelancing was better than job-searching
  • Wanting flexibility, freedom, fun, control, a sense of achievement
  • Clients and work found me

Biggest practical challenge in setting up as an independent practitioner?

  • Setting fee rates; “identifying a niche and being able to price it effectively in a win-win”
  • “doing everything. No-one to do the numbers, no-one to format your stuff”
  • Leaving the security of a monthly salary
  • resources and finance cropped up repeatedly, both at start-up and when managing the inevitable peaks and troughs (“feast and famine”) of solo working
  • Legal, tax and NI considerations – particularly whether to be a sole trader or form a limited company, and whether to be VAT-registered
  • Keeping up to date – training
  • New business development
  • Moving to the UK from overseas, learning new legal requirements and transferring skills

Best things about being an independent practitioner?

  • “flexibility, responsibility, accountability, freedom, choice, credit, challenge, growth, respect, fun”; “3Fs…Freedom, Flexibility and Friday afternoons!”; and “you get to do a Twitter Chat whenever you damn well like!”
  • “not having to put up with ego-driven, office politics”; “no internal hierarchy, ability to focus on what you really love, only clients judge your work”
  • “building something for me and not someone else!”; being freelance means can be selective in clients and campaigns
  • … and the bottom line: “it pays so much better”

Worst things about being an independent practitioner?

  • fees for cuttings and media databases are expensive, having been created to serve big corporate agencies. No pricing models for small businesses (though PR Max got positive mentions from a couple of practitioners)
  • Being on your own (particularly if you like having people around you); “lack of team to bounce ideas with or learn from” – some mentions of hot-desking and ‘jelly’ working
  • “Had a few clients clearly think they can take the piss and not pay because I’m solo”
  • Admin, chasing payments, booking travel, etc
  • IT hassles (no corporate IT department to call on!); “slow rural broadband” (like new skills training, another CIPR Manifesto issue, BTW)

What could the CIPR do to help independent practitioners?

  • Networking was raised repeatedly. CIPR Wessex’s PR and a Pint group got mentioned, as did wine (so ‘PR and a Pinot’!), and the idea of encouraging similar face-to-face networking groups in other CIPR regions.*
  • Taking on the media services costs, there was a lot of interest in the notion of CIPR negotiating soloPR rates with selected business partners; “Group buying of relevant specialist services or negotiating deals to let soloPRs share contracts/accounts for services” (incidentally, as well as others’ talking about PR Max, I mentioned Precise Yellow News see post and later got a call from a PRnewswire salesman)
  • More webinars, more ‘business’ tools (maybe even case studies) and ‘solo’ versions of contracts etc
  • Discounts for training events and conferences
  • “Start-up ‘SoloPR in a Box’” – perhaps a new solo PR section for CIPR’s business support website page
Reviewing the two events last week, I wondered about combining the two approaches and perhaps doing some kind of a ‘hackday’ for soloPRs. Anyone up for doing this? Perhaps focused on the ‘SoloPR in a box’ idea – “everything you need to start up as an independent PR practitioner”?
* I will be resurrecting my notion of #SoloPRPint but doing it in conjunction with a forthcoming Greater London Group event. My idea: do any soloPRs in London fancy putting a team together for the GLG pub quiz on Monday 16 March?

Feb 26 2015

The State of (Solo) PR

top 5 PR consultancy sectorsThe Chartered Institute of Public Relations published its annual State of the Profession report this week, and, ahead of tomorrow’s CIPR tweetchat for independent practitioners, I have been reading the report and the detailed data tables to try and get a sense of the “State of the solo PR” sector.

The report includes some observations on the background and views of independent practitioners (Note: I spotted some statistical anomalies and these are currently being fixed by Survation and the CIPR policy and comms team). For now, these are the nuggets I picked out from the data tables:

  • Of the 2,028 people who responded to the CIPR survey, 250 (13%) were independent practitioners
  • This group tended to be older (70% were over 45, compared to 34% the total sample), which also may explain some differences in educational background (higher grammar and independent school attendance but lower university attendance)
  • Independent practitioners were slightly more likely to be CIPR members (82% were, against 74% of the total)
  • Around four out of ten IPs were based in London and the south-east
  • IPs were also more likely to be part-time: 35% of IPs were part-time (and comprised around 43% of all part-time active PR practitioners in the survey). Otherwise, 10% of all respondents worked part-time.
  • IPs tend to be more experienced. Two-thirds had 16 or more years PR experience (less than a third of the total sample could say the same)
  • The happiest PRIPs generally seem to feel less stressed and to enjoy their jobs more than their employed colleagues
  • Presumably because of the higher than average level of part-time work, average income for IPs was lower; the survey gives a figure of c. £36k. (Table 38 makes interesting reading – though this and related tables 39 and 40 should be read with caution due to the low sample sizes involved – but it seems CIPR member IPs earn more than non-member IPs!)
  • IPs tend to be slightly stronger believers in the importance of CPD (continuous professional development) and industry training and qualifications (70% rated CPD 4 or 5, compared to 62% doing the same in the general sample; 52% rated training 4 or 5 against 38% of the whole sample)
  • Again, perhaps reflecting the experience levels and specialisms of many IPs, they placed more emphasis on strategic management abilities, knowledge of current affairs and industry trends, and on traditional written communications (while not downplaying the importance of digital/social).

Tomorrow’s CIPR Tweetchat will be between 12 noon and 1pm GMT using the hashtag #CIPRchat.

Incidentally, my fellow independent practitioner and CIPR Council member Lindsey Collumbell has done a great job at explaining the differences between PR freelancers, interims and independent consultants, and will be joining tomorrow’s tweetchat – she’s @LindsCollumbell on Twitter.

Feb 23 2015

UKSoloPRs tweetchat on Friday 27 February

CIPR logoThe first CIPR tweetchat focused on independent PR practitioners is scheduled for Friday 27 February, starting at 12 noon GMT and lasting approximately one hour. The main hashtag will be #CIPRchat (though I am sure one or two others might get used along the way).

I am hoping we get some good participation from the many freelance consultants, contractors, interim workers and other independent practitioners who’ve been in touch over recent months. The CIPR-only CIPR Independent Practitioners group on Linkedin (started in November 2014) is now up to around 50 members, but this tweetchat is an opportunity to extend the conversation, to take it international (I mentioned the forthcoming tweetchat during a recent #SoloPR chat with mainly US-based PR colleagues) and perhaps to involve members of other bodies (at a recent CIPR group chairs meeting, we talked about the NUJ PR and communications group, for example).

If there is a topic that you would really like to raise, please let me know. For now, these are a few questions that may be discussed on Friday:

  • What motivated you to become a soloPR?
  • Biggest practical challenge in setting up as a soloPR?
  • Best (or worst) things about being a soloPR?
  • If CIPR did a soloPR webinar, what should be the first topic?

Practical needs

Meanwhile, I have continued some conversations with providers of PR services. I previously mentioned that I had talked to Vocus about how they might fine-tune their services to better meet the needs (and budgets) of independent PR practitioners, and I have had a similar conversation with Precise about creating a soloPR version of its Yellow News services.

Coveragebook webclipMeanwhile, PerfectFit have been in touch again regarding their new online CoverageBook service. Conscious that not all PRs work in consultancies or for large organisations, they have tailored a media reporting package specifically for freelances. Their Basic package currently costs £39/month for up to 75 pieces of coverage a month, but they have a special offer for freelances whose needs might not be so great (nor pockets so deep). For £19/month the CIPR freelance offer allows up to 30 pieces of coverage a month, but with all the same functionality (client and consultancy branding, traffic statistics, etc).

Coveragebook example

 

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