Paul Bennett on working with Kinetic Communications

Paul Bennett, Corporate Services Partner of George Green LLP

“Kinetic is a very different communications and PR company.  As much energy goes into making sure that you have the right message as in communicating that message. A successful strategy is built around key differentiators and a successful business will have not only a successful strategy but ensure that key stakeholders from employees through to customers buy into that strategy.

Communication driven by  the purpose and shared belief of a clear strategy is really powerful, and Ang and the team  bring focus and clarity to strategy and communication in equal measure.  Kinetic’s unique approach delivers high impact communication both internally and externally, as I have discovered to my benefit.”

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What to do if someone makes a defamatory comment about you by Rebecca Sloan

Rebecca Sloan of Kinetic Communications

On Tuesday 30th November, I ran a talk on measuring and managing corporate reputation in the 21st century for Birmingham’s Women in Business Association (WiBA).

One topic of particular interest to attendees was how to handle a defamatory comment made online.  In response, I’ve compiled a basic factsheet to help you identify when a comment is ‘fair’ and when it’s crossed the line into defamation. (NB this is only a guide.  Legal advice should be sought before pursuing a claim).

A basic guide to defamation:

A statement about a person is defamatory if it tends to do any one of the following:

1)            exposes him to hatred, ridicule or contempt;
2)            causes him to be shunned or avoided;
3)            lowers him in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally; or
4)            disparages him in his business, trade, office or profession.

The defamed person does NOT have to prove that the statement is false or that he has been damaged in any way.  He needs to show only that the statement tends to discredit him.

What’s the test for defamation?

The test for juries is whether, under the circumstances in which the statement was published, reasonable men and women to whom the publication was made would be likely to understand it in a defamatory sense.

What the claimant must prove

To succeed in an action for defamation, a claimant must prove three things about the statement he is complaining about:

1)            it is defamatory
2)            it may be reasonably understood to refer to him.

The claimant must prove the words of which he complains of identify him as the person defamed. The test of whether the words identified the person suing is whether they would reasonably lead people acquainted with him to believe that he was the person referred to.  It is not necessary that the entire world should understand the libel; it is sufficient if those who know the claimant can make out that he is the person meant.

3)            it has been published to a third person.

NB: every repetition of a libel is a fresh publication and creates a fresh cause of action.

Who can sue?

1)            Individuals
2)            Corporations – if the comment is capable of injuring its trading reputation or if the company has a corporate reputation distinct from that of its members which is capable of being damaged by a defamatory statement.

Exceptions:  associations, such as a club, cannot sue unless it is an incorporated body but words disparaging an association will almost invariably reflect upon the reputations of one or more of the officials who, as individuals, can sue.

Please note, although this guide will equip you with a basic knowledge of defamation, it is by no means an expansive guide.  Always seek legal advice before pursuing a claim.  Alternatively, if you’d like to discuss this in further detail beforehand, then get in touch!

Professionalization in the PR industry – how does the Midlands stack up? by Aimee Postle

We recently attended a lunch at Bank in Brindleyplace (very nice food!) with the PRCA Midlands group and representatives from PRCA HQ in London. The PRCA is putting a lot of time, energy and resource behind campaigning to see PR recognised as a professional industry and this includes media relations, some newly-launched qualifications and the Find a PR Agency service (FAPRA).

However, one of the most interesting titbits of information was the frequency with which briefs from companies in the Midlands are won by agencies outside the region or had been withdrawn.

Lunch table explanations for the Midlands’ lack of success included pricing, compatibility and client expectations. But, what about perceptions of the region?

Perceptions of the Midlands have changed radically over the last ten years. It is now a hub for business and professional services firms – in particular lawyers and accountants. Birmingham Forward has just celebrated 20 years of promoting the interests of the Birmingham business and professional services (BPS) sector and has a long list of achievements to show for it – not least the fact that Birmingham now ranks on the Cushman & Wakefield European Cities Monitor (something which didn’t happen ten years ago).

But, the creative sector in Birmingham (and the Midlands) is still not getting the recognition it deserves, in spite of a wealth of talent and leading agencies raising standards through techniques such as investing in the internationally recognised Consultancy Management Standard (CMS).

So, back to the original question, how does the Midlands stack up when it comes to professionalization in the PR industry? Honest answer – it is like every region (including London). You get some good, some bad and some average PR consultancies. If clients don’t feel confident that they can tell the difference, then I’d suggest they use a free independent service like Find A PR Agency to help.

Well in a bit of a shameless plug, we’re proud to say we’re bucking the trend and have won a nice piece of business through FAPRA – Atlantic Reach, a lovely holiday resort in Cornwall. Why? We’d like to think that it’s our commitment to raising standards, to achieving the CMS, to strong management and to investing in our staff. We’ll continue doing our bit to boost perceptions here in the midlands and as others follow suit, clients will have no reason to ignore the talent that is on their own doorstep.

[Obviously, it should be noted that the CIPR has also expended time, energy and resource to achieve the same goal and also runs its own qualifications.]

On good authority … by Simon Partington

For those Social Mediaites that don’t already know, there’s a war going on, and its a sticky one between the public sector and the web. I was fortunate enough to find this out at a recent event, excellently organised by the Social Media students at Birmingham City University, called Authority 2.0.

The conference did a great job of wrestling the true nature of the problems faced by local police forces to the ground. The conference was full of well intentioned members of various police forces from across the Midlands, all of whom wanted to engage with local communities via social media to make what is a very difficult job slightly easier – diagnosing criminal problems at a local, rather than regional level.

For the small room it was hosted in, the team at BCU did a fantastic job of drawing all of the right people into what turned out to be a great discussion. The conference opened with Paul Hadley from BCU, who spoke about some of the things forces are currently doing, and some ways in which they could improve. A particularly nice example was a live blogging project implemented by Derbyshire Constabulary, which managed to communicate with Derby residents at a community level straight away. Paul’s opening remarks set the tone for the rest of the conference – if you want to engage through social media, you need to dive in and be prepared for some elements to fail.

Second up was Will Perrin, a man who’s managed to achieve a great deal through his hyperlocal community site kingscrossenvironment.com. Kings Cross is an area that sees above average crime, and particularly murder, levels for the UK. By using his blog to pull together crime information and data, sometimes before local police even know about it, he’s providing an invaluable local resource to bring people together and educate the community about how to counter crime.

Will’s talk also raised an interesting issue that stuck in my mind. A youth in his area (I won’t mention his name), known throughout for committing a string of petty crimes, is understandably name checked a few times on the site. After a Google search on his name, Will’s website came top, which, being someone who believes in rehabilitation, gives him a rather tricky moral dilemma.

This has played on my mind ever since. There’s clearly two forces for good at odds with each other here, and its difficult to know which one should prevail. If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d be interested to know your standpoint.

I’m only half way through the mass of interesting topics raised at this conference, so in the interests of getting it all out of my head, I’m going to spread it across two posts!

More to come soon …

Can you trust a PR person as far as you can throw them? by Aimee Postle

According to a recent survey by PRmoment, PR is seen as the least untrustworthy profession by the general public.

Take a while to think about that sentence.

Then take a look at the other professions being measured – bankers, journalists, politicians and estate agents.

With the way that these professions have been pilloried in the last year, you’d hope that PR came out on top!

But, what does this suggest about the PR profession and should the term ‘PR’ die a death while still in its relative youth?

For many people their understanding of PR comes from a celebrity or political context – sensationalist publicity designed to manipulate the truth.

Many would argue that the PR industry does not do a very good job of looking after its own reputation and should do more to distance itself from publicists and spin doctors.

But, what actually is PR?

Met with a recruitment consultant earlier this week who attended a ‘find out about PR’ training workshop. Her perception – based on what the trainer revealed – was that it was all about getting your photo taken next to Lewis Hamilton!

In 1976, academic Rex Harlow analysed 472 separate definitions of PR (in an update for the 1990s, he looked at more than 500) – all with different emphasis. Is there even a right answer?

The question ‘what is PR’ is one that Kinetic is debating at the moment.

Our business model has changed substantially in the last three years as a result of changes in client expectations, the ups and downs of the economy and the growth and development of the Kinetic team.

The big focus is now on ensuring that communications are integrated across all channels – internal and external – and that the messages are consistent with the vision, mission and values of the organisation.

Our question then, is this still PR – often taken to mean press relations? And, if so, how do we alter public perceptions of the profession? Or, has nothing changed – is this the same focus that the industry has had all along – just with a little more clarity?

If I can venture the first comment…

The CIPR definition of PR states that PR is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

This holistic approach to PR seems to fit just as well with the new model as with the old – taking into account everything that can affect your organisation’s reputation.

So, that would suggest that – while the tools and techniques may be constantly evolving – we are still in the business of PR.

Should online news be free? by Rebecca Sloan

Should businesses and individuals be charged to access news content online or forward links to particular stories? Endorsed by the PRCA and CIPR, online news service Meltwater is taking the Newspaper Licensing Authority (NLA) to court over their attempts to regulate online news distribution.

The case has a lot of us in the PR industry wondering about the ethics of it all.

Should people have to pay to access online news content in any of its forms, be it the article or through a link sent from a friend? And who will it benefit?

For some, paying for online news content is a way to ensure quality standards and support newspapers who are struggling to make ends meet through traditional print publishing.

For others, enforced regulation on accessing and linking to content seems to go against the purpose of the internet and new media technologies to make content readily available.

The reading we’ve done suggests that it can actually be more harmful than good to enforce this type of regulation – and not just for those businesses paying for the content, but for the distributors.

Although some publications, largely specialist titles like the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, have successfully managed to put a subscription structure in place many newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post have tried and failed to do this.

Slate, the online publication run by The Washington Post, commented on the reason why they chose not to charge their readers. Turns out that their own experience of online subscriptions and studies like those conducted by Matthew Gentzkow helped them conclude that enforcing the consumer to pay for content did more harm than good.

Gentzkow’s study, for example, suggests that the online market for advertising has grown so substantially that the revenue it produces generally outweighs the revenue produced by a subscription-based publication. It also suggests that online news content is not a direct threat to print because they’re used as substitutes rather than competitors (i.e. a reader of The Guardian might read the publication online on days when they cannot get the paper).

So what’s the solution? Jeff Jarvis, author of ‘What would Google Do?’ has the right idea. He argues that owning or distributing content no longer holds any value and that news sources should use their trusted and established positions in society to facilitate interactivity and conversation online instead.

After all, web 2.0 is all about interactivity. We’re in an age where content is King. And, as Jeff Jarvis points out, ‘conversation is the Kingdom’. Newspapers should instead be looking at ways to improve their reach online by facilitating conversation.

It makes sense really. Through the increased growth of web-traffic, publications will be able to charge higher rates for corporate advertisements without alienating those who cannot afford to pay for content. Charging people to access and circulate information however will have a chilling effect. And, with an increasing amount of content available online, people will only turn to pirate sites or citizen journalism to get their fix – and this could open up a whole other bucket of worms in itself.

Starting out with social media by Rebecca Sloan

There’s a whole world of people out there who are interested in what you have to say. Or at least, there could be, if you have something worthwhile to say and start saying it online. Online Journalism blogger, Paul Bradshaw, is an excellent example of how an individuals’ personal reputation can develop successfully online and spill out into the ‘real’ world.

Paul started blogging seriously about social media six years ago. Through his blog he’s grown his personal reputation, becoming known both online and offline as an expert in social media. In fact, his efforts have become so well known nationally, and even internationally, that in 2009 he was named Birmingham’s 36th most powerful person. It’s a real testament to the power of social media.

So how does one get started? Like any message, it’s important that you give consideration to what you’re trying to say, to what purpose and for what audience. The key is to be targeted in your approach. To listen and respond appropriately and to communicate, not sell.

You may find that defining a vision, mission and values (VMV) will help you or your organisation clarify who you and what you stand for. In our experience, a VMV statement is a very powerful tool which helps to lay strong foundations for long term success.

Think of your VMV statement as a reflection of who you are now and who you want to be in the future. You may find it useful to speak to other people you interact with closely too get their opinion on how your VMV can best be defined to suit your cause.

To get you started, think of your vision as your overall goal – it’s a map to a destination. A mission is a unifying statement of what you or your organisation is in business to do – it defines your purpose. Your values are the beliefs and expression of what you stand for and how you conduct yourself.

You’ll find your VMV will also help you define your audience. For example, if your vision is to be the best carpet supplier in the United Kingdom, your message might be targeted towards carpet makers, carpet purchasers, retail outlets individual consumers, authorities in carpet regulation, etc. You’ve now identified the key audiences you should be communicating with.

Next, use your mission and your values to guard what it is you say in those communications. They’ll help you better understand the ways in which you, as an individual or organisation, should conduct itself in every interaction you have.

Once you have these, you’re well on your way to being able to post effective messages online. And remember, even Paul Bradshaw started out inconspicuously online with that first single blog.