Now I know there’s money in social media: Gordon Beattie’s hiring

Since setting out solo to specialise in digital/social media PR (but still offering traditional PR to those who aren’t convinced of digital), there’s been many of those 5am moments where I’ve wondered if I made the right move. After all it can be a scary thing, especially in a country which has been slow to embrace a lot of the positives of digital communications for reaching out to customers.

But now I know there’s money to be made in social media – Gordon Beattie’s looking for people in that area.

Now lots of people have opinions about Gordon, but one undeniable fact is this: he’s a damn canny businessman with one of the most successful traditional PR companies in the UK at Beattie Communications (you could also argue that he was behind the success of The Big Partnership as well because it was his seniors from Beattie who started that after working with Gordon) and he doesn’t throw money into schemes that he doesn’t think won’t make money back. And he now has a house in Monaco to prove how successful he’s been, which by any benchmark is a job well done.

(interesting sidenote: I see on the Beattie homepage, it now says ‘London PR Agency’ – has the company moved away from its Scottish roots?)

It’s also good to see the larger PR companies accept and realise that social media and digital comms have a role to play. I know I was banging on that drum more than two years ago when I worked at Beattie, so it’s good to see Gordon taking a lead amongst the agencies in Scotland. He already has the very talented Chris Marritt on his books so the person coming in will need to know their stuff and I’m sure they’ll be able to create some good work worth talking about.

The knock-on effect is that others will also have to keep up and start hiring/training which in turns means more people out there showcasing the benefits of digital and social media communications in Scotland.

Gordon Beattie: still trailblazing. Heh. That gives me a chuckle over my cornflakes.

(Anyway, for those interested in the positions: the programmer job is based in Falkirk but the social media post can be in any of the Beattie offices.) (And if you need to ask how to apply then you haven’t grasped enough of social media yet.)

PR sex scandal shows why you should always keep your desk clean

(Sex scandal might be a bit much, but let’s be honest the gossip scene has been a tad quiet recently. The recession’s got everywhere!)

Anyway, word – and evidence – reaches me of the following scenario involving a junior PR person. The man had been taken on for a three-month trial period, it hadn’t worked out, so he was let go. Now unfortunately the guy was a tad egomaniacal so the non-renewal of contract didn’t end well and he was told that his desk items would be sent out to him.

So the MD of the company decides to get his hands a little dirty by clearing the desk and send the stuff away in a box. At first it’s all the usual stuff – letters from home, pictures of wife and kids, bank statements, notepads, business cards and so on – until he finds (in the second drawer) a page ripped from a popular, evening mass-market Scottish newspaper.

He’s in PR, a newspaper cutting isn’t unusual right?

Except for one fact: this was the page from said newspaper that advertised saunas (or rather “saunas”) and other services that some know to be fronts for sexual services and prostitution.

Now, hang on, you might say, it was the other side of the page he was interested in. And I might agree if it wasn’t for one thing: each of the “services” had been circled, some had comments next to them and most had handwritten notes on how much they charged for an hour and a half-hour of services.

A quick check of the company’s phone logs revealed that, yup, the member of staff had called each of these establishments, leading to cries of “dirty git” (and some word that sounded like banker) from the MD. Said MD was also more than a tad peeved that his ex-member of staff hadn’t got any of the sex companies signed up for PR services (what? There’s a recession going on.). A further check also revealed said member of staff had been calling premium rate phone number services.

Now said MD is peeved as this guy had been given latitude to be a PR superstar and this was how he was rewarded. But he’s not going to take it any further. All he’s done is post all his items back to the guy, newspaper page at the top of the box. What the MD can’t remember is if he addressed the box just to the ex-employee or to the ex-employee and his wife…

So the motto of the tale is this kiddies: keep your desk tidy , keep on the good side of your MD and try to never leave an employer under a bad cloud.

And for those wondering: yes I’ve seen the page in question (I doubted this tale until a scan was sent over to me) and no I’m not naming the bloke (but he lives and works in Edinburgh) (in Scotland) (or used to work there) but if anyone hires me to help with social media/digital media recruitment and this guy’s name comes up. Well…

Is Scotland rubbish at PR?

Simple enough question eh? The reason I ask is that All Media Scotland is talking about PR Week‘s PR Week Powerbook (yup, you can read the whole thing online) – ‘the definitive guide to the most influential people in PR’ – and according to AMS, there’s only a handful or two of Scots in the 300 strong list.

According to the article:

Of the Scots entries, seven are actively practising in Scotland. They are: Alex BarrBIG Partnership, Glasgow; Barbara ClarkVisitScotland; Neil GibsonBIG Partnership, Glasgow; Carol MatthewsMatthews Marketing, Glasgow; Julie McGarvey3×1, Glasgow; Nora SeniorWeber Shandwick; and Beverley TrickerTricker PR, Aberdeen.

The others are mainly London-based: Mike MurphyTrimedia, Gordon Beattie – Beattie Communications, Andrew BrownEDF Energy, and Alan TwiggSeventy-Seven PR.

(one thing that stuck out for me – how few of those main Scottish PR sites have anything even remotely resembling social media/web2.0 – even basic things like blogs or twitter details).

Now the tone of the AMS piece suggests that there should be more in there. So let’s have a look at the figures

  • The CIPR has more than 780 members drawn from public relations consultancies, public sector organisations and PRs working for private sector companies in Scotland.
  • It is estimated that around 4000 people are employed in the public relations industry in Scotland and that the industry turns over around £450 million per year.
  • Scotland’s population is around 5 million, compared to 61million in the UK

So there’s 11 Scots out of 300 in the list, Scotland’s population is roughly 8% of the UK total. By that terribly simplistic set of sums and some assumption making, there should be around 24 or 25 Scots.

So what gives?

In all honesty, I don’t know – but can’t wait to sit down and have a full read to see what it says – but one simple explanation may be that people had to be nominated and the vast majority of PRs were just too busy to get round to nominating themselves, spending their time on clients instead (that’s not to imply that the people above don’t spend time on clients – far from it. They all have fantastic track records).

It will also be interesting to watch this over the coming year as digital media moves more to the fore and how that affects things.

But is Scotland rotten at PR and is Willy from the Simpsons the best person from Scotland at shouting from the rooftops (yup, that is what you calla tenuous link)? I don’t think so, but what do others think?

Guardian boss: PRs need to learn to pitch by Twitter

Like many journalists, The Guardian’s tech editor Charles Arthur deals with a lot of enquiries and press releases coming from PR operators – some of them relevant, many of them not. But in an effort to try and make PRs be more concise with him, he’s decided to take it to Twitter. He’s removed his email address from Gorkana and wants pitched by tweet alone.

For Charles, it’s a chance to free his inbox from some clutter and perhaps free up a chunk of his time as well. For me, it’s completely fascinating on a number of levels:

It forces PRs to play catch-up and be Twitter-savvy

It changes the rules of interaction between PRs and press

Firstly, making PRs change their method of contact is quite interesting. I’ve often argued that even if they do nothing else, PRs should be monitoring Twitter to see what is said about their clients, but now they have to learn how to use it if they want to appeal to the UK’s top mainstream technology supplement. It’s not the only bit of education involved as Charles also hopes it means people will start to be more relevant in what they send to him.

Secondly, making the PR and journalism interaction take place out in the open is a significant game-changer (and how long before some organisations insist on it for all comms involving publicly funded bodies?). A phone call or email are limited to those involved, but a tweet can be seen by anyone.

So by theoretically tweeting a pitch to Charles – and remember you can’t direct mail unless Charles follows you – everyone knows that you’ve pitched to him and knows what you are offering. So if Charles rejects it, you can’t then go to someone else and say ‘I’m offering you first bite…’ which then gives you the quandry of going to reporters one at a time or all at once. (But Charles himself is quite accepting of this, saying “I’d understand it was non-exclusive. That’s OK – exclusives last about three minutes online.”

At the other end, it’s a lot harder for a person to ignore a @reply than an email – and takes less time to reply to as well.

There’s also the possibility that this might increase PR tweetspam because if PR A sees that PR B has sent Charles a tweet about a product and A has something similar, then they are also going to get in touch with him.

(of course, some are also wondering if this will lead to people phoning up to see if someone received a tweet, just as some currently call to see if an email was of interest/received)

It’s going to be interesting to watch because if Charles – who is one of the more polite and patient senior newspaper staffers when dealing with PRs – does stick to his guns, does it mean he runs the risk of missing a good tale by email? What implications are there for PRs who don’t/won’t use Twitter? Will other reporters follow suit? Will PRs return the favour by saying ‘reach us only via Twitter?’ (Which would crazy, but that’s another post.)

But I wanted to ask Charles a couple of questions about it and he graciously took the time to answer them for me.

What do you expect to gain from this?
Less spam in my inbox. Seriously: there’s no reflection given to the stuff people spew at me. How many separate technology sections are there in Fleet Street? One. How many technology correspondents are there on Fleet Street? About five…If you can’t tailor your email output to a group that select, you simply shouldn’t be in the business.

How many pitches a day do you get?
Oh, God, twenty? Thirty? People to meet: average two a day. Twitter is starting to build up; I tell people to pitch the idea in 140 chars.
(Note: for a comparison to what Charles is saying, see Chris Anderson from Wired’s now legendary post on PR people)

Anyway, Charles continues…
(Or try to DM me, but I’m not following them so it’s lost.) Then there’s just all the other part-ideas. The thing though is that almost all PR stuff is announcements.

And then, he had the decency to point out something that’s probably obvious to those who have worked in editorial departments and PR but perhaps not to all…

I have a sedimentary concept of news. At the bottom you have all the debris: announcements. Almost all press releases are announcements. Above those are “issues” – topics that have people energised about something, but with no particular timeliness. (Eg parking near your house being discussed for charging by the council. Grinds on for months. It’s an issue.)

Then there’s news – when an announcement plus some issue comes together and makes news. That’s the top level, where I work. Why bombard me with sediment? I’m working at the news level. I need issues, not announcements.

And here’s possibly the most salient point from his email when talking about sending out a press release via email to a lot of reporters: I realise it’s the client who pays the bills, so they want the press release put in front of as many people as possible. But I’m afraid that model is officially broken, and has been for about five years – possibly ten or more.”

Now that’s an opinion I’m coming back to tomorrow…(what? a blog can’t do cliffhangers? It’s how you get readers coming back. Works for Jack Bauer every week)

(As an aside Anna Svenson also pointed out that Dan Martin of has done the same – pitches via Twitter – and hopefully Dan will drop us a note to let us know how he got on with it. And thanks again to Charles for taking the time for this.)

Seth Goodin’s Idea for local papers is close but not bang on…

Over at his blog, Seth Goodin speaks about how real estate companies should look into setting up local newspapers – and he gives not bad reasons for it.

It’s a cute idea – and something I’ve been thinking about recently as well – but I think he’s slightly missing the mark on this one. Yes, as newspaper companies try to reduce debt/increase profitability (most UK locals are still profitable, US is a tad different) and hammer staff at locals, someone should be stepping up with the local paper but who should it be?

I think it should be the local councils. And I think it could not only be easily done, but also become a great revenue income generator for them
Continue reading

Reasons I love newspapers #1

One of the things that I have always loved about newspapers is the variety of stories you can get on even a single page and the fact that experts know what makes a good story and give it an appropriate positioning.

None of this ‘we only print news that’s of interest to one group’ which is what most sites do now – and seems to be the trend (and preference of many readers) – but stories that are just plain great and of interest to wide sections of the community.

Like this tale about kiddy German elopers – if we lived in an age where all we had was concentrated news by concentrated sites, the odds of seeing these little tales that just make you love humanity would skip by.

(Going to be posting a lot over the next few weeks on the future of press and PR – would say days but under the weather and even a short post like this is doing my head in – as it’s a topic coming up a lot. I don’t share Shaun Milne’s optimism, but I do think there’s a future for the press – and even print.)

From Grant Morrison\'s/Frank Quitely/Jamie Grant\'s All Star Superman 11

Calling all UK PR and Media Twitter Users – Mon, Dec 8, 9pm

OK, here’s one for an experiment. Over in the US, Sarah Evans runs a rather nifty little Twitter group called #JournChat for PRs and Reporters- and it’s a good little talking shop. Feels a little more fiddly than the days of IRC but it’s still good fund (and no doubt Sarah will be along shortly to explain more about it), but it doesn’t start in the US until after 1am every Tuesday.

So let’s try an experiment. Next Monday, December 8 at 9pm UK time, can anyone interested start putting in the following with their tweets – #mediachat – and see if anyone out there wants to talk or swap comments with the so-called enemy. Who knows, we may all start getting along a little better…

(and people from outside the UK are more than welcome too)

Hopefully see you next week,


UPDATE: As anyone used to me being online round the clock may have noticed, I haven’t been due to being floored by a flu and chest infection, which sadly means I won’t be partaking in tonight’s chat – others can feel free to do so and when I’m better I’ll get involved – but I’m out for tonight as even typing this much is leaving me fecked. Apologies to one and all.

Where are the PR heroes in mass media?

This might seem strange, but this thought hit me the other day: there are no PR heroes in popular culture. Journalists have plenty – going back to even before Clark Kent and through the ages we’ve had All the President’s Men and a lot of other films/books/TV shows which show journalists to be the good guys.

But there’s no PR equivalent. Can anyone think of one?

Best Western Hotels Cyberhacked: 8 million victims

Now this is a scoop – and well done to Iain S Bruce for getting the tale: today’s Sunday Herald reveals theft of data from every guest in 1300 Best Western Hotels in the past 12 months, which was gathered by an Indian hacker and sold on to a Russian group

Not only is it a cracking tale, but it shows that in this day and age you can pull in a good scoop from contacts across the globe – as long as you have the paper willing to back you on it. Contacts are no longer just people you meet down the road.

Secondly, that’s a company that should be going on the PR offensive as of tomorrow to try and reassure customers/win customers over.

In fact, knowing that a Sunday paper was running this stuff, they should have had their PR team on it from Thursday night, countering the bad press before it was even out there. (having four days to fight a negative story is an absolute gift in PR terms.)

The first phase should have been culminating with efforts today and tomorrow, monitoring websites – and putting up reactions to every posting, getting praise out there about their IT systems, pointing out that the flaw is well fixed, talking about their aggresive system to find other flaws so that this doesn’t happen again (if they were feeling really brave, they should say to hackers ‘ find a flaw, tell us about it and have a week’s stay at a hotel of your choice).

They should also be informing all their high-profile businesses – both the individuals and the companies – and making sure they reasure them enough not to lose their bookings.

(Phase two, for those wondering, is a lot more work: continually making sure the story is always countered when it appears and keeping tabs on the customers aggreived by this.)

This is where companies baffle me in the 21st Century. You know from Thursday that there’s some bad press coming, but Best Western Hotels appears to have done nothing about it. I can understand why they wouldn’t want to mention it on their front page, but not to have something on the news page is inforgivable in this day and age.

And this is the problem: in this age of being supposedly “open” about everything, some will wonder why they aren’t being upfront with customers. I know I wouldn’t stay with them now – for two reasons: one, the data security issue, but equally, two: I wonder what else the company aren’t telling me if they aren’t telling me about this? There may be nothing (and the company is very reputable and praised), but the doubt has now been put in my head and that’s enough for me to think twice about staying with them.

This is a bad story – for Best Western Hotels – but with some PR savvy (hitting the IT press, business press, consumer and travel publications, relevant bloggers), they could have come out of this quite well and with minimum business impact. You could never have killed the story (and to be fair they have worked well with the Sunday Herald on this one – and they did close the loophole) but they could have come out of it a lot more PR positive and aggresively (in a nice way).

ADD: I see the Press Trust of India has picked the tale up, on the Indian hacker connection. Looks like the tale’s going global.

If Best Western Hotels had been hoping they could sit this one out or that it might be confined to Scotland (you’d be surprised how many companies think that way – ignore the tale and it might not spread) then they were wrong. Going to be a busy Monday for their PR team (though you would hope they were on it today and had pre-recorded audio and video to issue to news outlets).

ADD 2: Paul Ferguson’s blog all the way over in Sunny Silicon Valley, California has the Best Western Hotels story as well, so that’s people blogging on it across a chunk of the globe with news outlets picking it up too. Ouch.

ADD 3: The website has a little piece on their front page – nothing on the .com page though – but it’s little more than a basic statement. From the viewpoint of a potential customer, I’m sorry but that’s not good enough as it doesn’t provide enough information.

From a PR viewpoint, it’s hardly reassuring either – especially as the story made Slashdot and more than 200 other news outlets across the globe. That story has now potentially hit the majority of the world and there’s been little response. A poor show and easily preventable – especially as the forums show questions being asked that the company could easily have taken care of.

UPDATE (Tues Aug 26): In the interests of fairness, I should point out that Best Western have now responded .

O2 cock up iPhone 3G Launch?

There’s a PR point to this one: According to The Register and the comments people are leaving O2 stores and an Apple store after waiting up to two hours for their new phones – and leaving not only empty handed, but also giving negative interviews to reporters.


Surely after last year, someone saw this coming? Yes, the phone didn’t launch great here last year but this was the version – and at a price point – that everyone could get behind.

The PR response seems quote interesting though – more or less a denial that there’s a problem while people are going online and saying there is a problem, but from O2 there appears to be no attempt to counter the online moaning. Surely they have a team monitoring and countering this stuff? That’s basic in this day and age. If I was them I’d have someone right now logging on to every blog and forum where there is a moan and countering it. Or at least be honest and upfront with people.

Here’s some web2.0 advice for PR firms hit with negative publicity

As reported on The Guardian here, Finsbury has found itself becoming part of the story – in this case, involving their involvement with mining firm Vedanta and land involving one of India’s most isolated tribes – the Dongria Kondh. Basically, a group of protestors from Survivor International turned up outside the Finsbury London office.

Now, the article is balanced and it’ll be interesting to see how it develops. No doubt Finsbury will be their usual excellent and professional operation, but here’s how I would have played this, once the protestors had turned up:

0) Pre-plan from the moment you know this is controversial.
1) See what happens, but have documents backing up the claims in The Guardian article ready. Realise that now the firm is involved in the story, it’s about the PR firm and the client.
2) Get a release out there, place it on the company blog and website, back this up with other documents and interviews with key client personnel. For PR press have someone ready with comment in text, audio and video. Be available for podcasts with key press.
3) Take control of the story. Don’t be seen to be reacting to the protest. Put out a statement on the facts and ensure it goes to all the social media outlets that Survival are using.
4) Move on, using a positive news element. Continue monitoring websites and press.

That way, the story is totally balanced and you are seen to be handling it. All of that can be done before a news cycle is complete. In fact, that should all be done for lunchtime if the protest happened at 9am.

And that’s just the basics of what firms should be doing in terms of PR in these web2.0 times.

(and yes, the same tips could be applied for a counter-offensive by Survival)

(anyone wondering why I don’t post the indepth tips – well, that’s what the dayjob and rates are for 🙂 )

Why is so much PR crap?

It’s a question that’s been put to me time and time again – and I’ve asked it myself when in various journalism job and up until now, I’ve wondered if perhaps Oli Norman of Dada had a point when he bemoaned the lack of Scottish PR talent.

Now I don’t know every PR person in Scotland, but I know there are a helluva lot of good operators up here and I consider myself lucky to have learned or worked with a lot of them, but ultimately a lot of journalists still think PR output is crap – in fact they would use stronger words.

A lot of reporters and news editors moan about the quality of news releases – and this has been bugging me because a lot of ex-reporters are now PR types, so surely the one thing you could count on would be a decent press release.

Well, no, as it turns out.

I’ve seen lots of reporters come into PR over the last few years and asked them – after they’ve written it – if they would use their own release and the answer, more often than expected has been ‘naw’.

And why? Most common answer was that the release was about what they saw as a non-story (but one the client had demanded a release about), however the second point was more telling: it was written like a press release and not a news story.

Upon further probing, it transpired that the hacks-turned-flacks were writing what they thought was press release style – based on what they had been handed/seen in the newsrooms they had worked in.

So while there might be a lot of talent up here now, the sins of sloppy writing in the past are still impacting on the trade today.

In closing then, a tip for hacks who jump over: a press release for a news page should be written like a news story for the publication you are aiming for.

Do that and at some point I can guarantee your release will be cut and pasted straight in with just a byline (never yours mind) added on.

If you don’t have a Scottish PR person, does that mean you don’t care about the brands?

As has been reported here and here, InBev PR supremo Rob Bruce has moved on from the drinks giant and while the reasons for it are being kept confidential, the fact that there isn’t someone in place right away suggests that it wasn’t a planned move and for a large brand like that – especially as T in the Park is just around the corner and there’s a lot of pressure on the booze industry – that’s dangerous and for a company the size of Tennents it seems incredible that their PR team was just one man.

Now no doubt the agency who work with Tennents, the incredibly talented Burt Greener, will keep the ship on an even keel, but an agency still needs guidance from in-house. 

And it does raise an interesting question: do multinationals like InBev need a PR team in countries like Scotland or can they rule from elsewhere and leave the local work to agencies?

There are those who may think that for InBev it would be a PR disaster if they didn’t appoint a Scottish person as you’d have concerns that the Scottish brand didn’t matter and that it was being ruled from a foreign country at a time when everyone else in Scotland is talking about more independence or increased devolution, but there is also the point of view that as long as you have a good agency, then all is well.

I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle – that you can have smaller staff press/marketing teams as long as you have one or two staff in-house backed by an excellent agency (I can think of at least one off the top of my head.)

As for Rob, there’s not a lot of senior posts at his level in the country, but someone with more than a decade of experience of large-scale sporting and public events, political astuteness, crisis skills and a fantastic reputation amongst journalists like him should be able to find something soon.

If only there was an international event needing a head of PR…