My first job in PR was part of the community relations team at a well known private/public transport organisation. Community relations was an integral part of the CSR agenda and was very much needed as a way to engage with a rather active local community.

At the time, our work revolved around holding events and producing newsletters delivered to every home – it was good fun, and I got involved in a whole manner of strange but interesting activities, but very time consuming and difficult at times to judge its impact. This was primarily because to relate to the community we had to be within the community.

Reading about Labour’s new media strategy this week, it was interesting to see that some organisations are evolving their contact with communities to ensure they have a greater reach. PR week reportsthat Labour strategists are realising they need to be involved with new networks, particularly online, and “being in the community now also means being in the online community.”

This allows organisations to reach a new stakeholder, perhaps one who wouldn’t have attended an event or flicked through a freesheet dumped on their doorstep, so it is worth considering in the communications strategy. But looking around i haven’t come across that many other organisations who have yet taken that leap into translating it into their community relations programmes – in fact, pre-Obama campaign, social media was only just featuring in public sector media policies, as a way to monitor what is being said about or to promote an organisation.

The damage social media can do means that we do need to make it a part of our strategy, however I hope we don’t go in the complete opposite direction and start to neglect the more traditional, non-media related, ways of communicating with our stakeholders.


Friend or fries


Many organisations are trying to use new and social media as a way to engage more with their potential customers, some more successfully than others.

This week it was reported that a Facebook campaign by Burger King, encouraging members to ditch ten friends in return of a free whopper, went against Facebook privacy rules as the dumping was done in ‘public’. I think this was pretty harmless campaign and I’m sure that those who were dumped would have seen the lighter side of things and perhaps dumped friends of their own for the sake of a free feed. In banning the application, Facebook has allowed Burger King to create even more awareness to their campaign and, ultimately, their product – perhaps this was the plan all along, as pretty quickly after removing their application a ‘Whopper sacrifice’ website went live!

This campaign highlights how well the media can be utilised and if pitched correctly can create much wider coverage. Lots of public sector organisations are using Facebook and other social media more and more as a way to appeal – but I haven’t come across anything yet that has created the same buzz. Some NHS trusts have a few hundred members, all related somehow to the organisations (live locally, staff member, ex-patient) – for them this is probably all they want to achieve, after all that’s who they are trying to appeal to. But with patient choice, should they be looking for a wider reach? I’d be interested to see any examples of public sector organisations that have been able to create a real buzz.

With the current credit crunch crisis we are all looking for ways to save money. In the public sector, we always need to demonstrate value for money and our shoe-string budgets don’t allow for us to develop our PR tools in the same way a private company can. So ‘free’ is word we love, although it usually comes with a price …

Radio Four’s In business programme this week discussed the matter of free and interestingly the internet seems to be the only place where anyone can truly get a free product. The internet doesn’t offer the fake free we see in supermarkets with buy-one-get-one-free for example, it offers real products developed by companies such as IBM or through other web-users. The development of open-source software, allows users to build and develop on freely available software with the proviso they share their developments with other users. Open source makes its money through a small percentage of people/businesses willing to pay for a more sophisticated version of the product, as ‘bytes’ don’t really cost these charges cover the everyday user.

Within my team we are already utilising open source products as much as possible – these developments mean we don’t need to be behind the private sector anymore. If anyone is interested, Wikipedia has a good list of products available through open source.

And if you don’t get a chance to listen to programme, you can read a good synopsis here.

I know I’m about five years behind everyone else, having only just bought and read Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, however I was very taken by the argument and thought it still shows much relevance today.

Seth discusses that products need to be remarkable nowadays if they are to make an impact. Very good just won’t cut it anymore.

The NHS is constantly striving for very good, great and excellent as a way to attract patients to use them, but remarkable never comes into the equation. In the NHS, quality is the latest ‘buzzword’ and national ratings demonstrate the quality of service any patient can expect from their local hospital. Trusts strive to achieve an ‘excellent’ rating and use this as part of their marketing pitch – however, as Seth points out, people aren’t going to talk about a quality service (its an expectation), but they’ll talk about a remarkable service.

We know the media love a remarkably bad NHS story – it sells papers after all – but where are the remarkably good stories? How can the 200+ hospitals in the country develop a remarkable product to stand out from the others? They won’t of course,  it won’t be possible for all them to be unique, but it can’t hurt them trying!

The editors


I’ve always been a fan of BBC news’ ‘Newswatch’ feature, shown on Saturday mornings. It’s interesting to hear debates about the editorial decisions made and the reasons behind them.

Surfing the BBC website earlier this week I was pleased to stumble upon a related website and, in particular, a blog by the editors discussing the ‘issues and dilemmas’ they face. It was also good to see so many comment on the blog posts – before blogs came along it was very rare for the public voice to be so audible (visible?). All too often one or two choice responses (summing up the general tone) would be picked for publishing, and this still continues in traditional print and broadcast media. Where else other than the internet do you get a real flavour for what people think about an issue?

Of course, this also has its downside – for any organisation going through rough times, a few letters in the local or national media is a blessing compared to the tirade people can stumble across if they were to google the matter!

Over the years, public health promotion has pushed the boundaries. Smoking and alcohol-related campaigns have challenged and sometimes disturbed. 

Stuck behind a bus earlier this week, I faced another public health campaign – this time for cervical cancer, created by Camden PCT. However this campaign left me quite confused because all the photos were of men! As it wasn’t an obvious link for me, and because the wording used didn’t put it into context, I decided to google and find out more. I came across a related campaign website set up by the PCT and surprisingly there isn’t a single image of a woman used in the site, although all the text relates to them. There isn’t any explanatory text about the reasons behind the campaign and even a ‘behind-the-scenes’ video about the advert doesn’t have any commentary. Another video on the site asks men what they know about cervical cancer (v little) – so I suppose the angle they’re going for is to get men to pay more attention to this illness, but having road tested this with some male friends the delivery left them quite detached. Not sure that was the campaign’s desired outcome.

Would be interested to hear anyone else’s thoughts on this campaign – did anyone else get it?

Jemima Kiss wrote on her Guardian blog that Andrew Keen, speaking at a recent conference, compared the industrial revolution to a new digital revolution. He suggests Linkedin, Facebook and MySpace networks are similar to new nations. However, he warns that we will need to push ourselves to find “the heart of this new world”.

Some would say that second life was supposed to be that push – a literal virtual world, where people can live an alternative life through their avatars. But it hasn’t quite turned out that way – Computer Weekly this week reports that the hype has started to die down, although some believe that we’re still in the early adopter phase. The article goes on to say whilst virtual offices and companies selling virtual products have tended to fail (Reuters the latest to quit this week), those using sites for presentations have been more successful as part of a wider communications strategy.