Public schooled and posh: PR’s big problem

Fresh thinking is needed to tackle diversity in public relations.

 There’s a huge amount of energy around the issue of diversity and inclusivity in public relations and yet our industry remains a closed shop to anyone without money and networks.

The 2018 PRCA Census (opens as a PDF) reported that 69% of PR and communications practitioners attended a state school versus 31% attending an independent school. The independent sector educates around 6.5% of the total number of school children in the UK according to the Independent Schools Council.

Society sets up those from lower income backgrounds to fail. If you’re starting out, many of the few student grants around expect match funding; and if you haven’t got wealthy people around you to help, what then? Simple: you get into debt or miss out.

There are some routes into PR designed to give people a helping hand. The PRCA’s apprenticeship scheme and the Taylor Bennett Foundation are just two examples of organisations looking to even the playing field but we need more.

It affects all ages

This poverty trap affects people at every stage of their career. Earning potential greatly increases where training and qualifications unlock strategic, ethical and leadership capabilities but the cost of these can be prohibitive.

If you’re trapped in a predominately tactical role, your salary is not only limited but your role is also potentially at threat from automation. Sometimes it feels impossible, no matter how hard you work, to break through especially if you’re in a minority without role models and champions around you.

I’ve spent the last four years through #FuturePRoof and latterly the CIPR talking about the need for practitioners to treat PR as a strategic management function and to upskill accordingly - but equally recognise not everyone will have that chance.

Finding a solution 

Which is why later this year, I’ll be launching Socially Mobile, a charitable foundation designed to give practitioners a stepping stone.

The charity will offer grants to people from lower income households, including BAME practitioners and women returners, so they can study business management courses that open up new career opportunities.

I’m currently compiling a list of approved courses that will help professionals unlock their leadership potential. If you run one or know of any that could be pertinent, please send them my way.

We need to raise £20k in our first year to get this show on the road. If you’re an individual who’d be willing to make a regular monthly donation or an organisation who’d be willing to become an inaugural sponsor, I’d love to hear from you. I’m also looking for a media partner. 

Teams in public relations are meant to represent the publics we serve. Look around and be honest. Is that what you see?

I was lucky. I got a council grant to go to university. I’m not sure I’d be so fortunate today.

Let’s be the generation that didn’t just talk a good game but actually gave others around us that much needed leg up. We owe it to ourselves and society.

PRs should own search reputation – but do we?

by Chris Lee

Search agencies often focus on helping their clients’ sites to rank highly in order to sell products or services, but what happens when you google a company and what you find is a wall of negativity? This is where PR comes in…

Here’s a challenge for you. Open a new browser in incognito mode and google a client’s name or – if you’re in-house – your own brand. Do you like what you find? Is it accurate? Are there negative stories? How many links belong to the brand?

In a recent PR Moment post, Andy Barr from 10 Yetis highlights the impact of negative SEO on corporate reputation. While negative SEO is a challenge to some organisations, the wider issue of negative search results needs to be tackled. 

Late last year, I worked on a major SEO research project with Grayling UK. We wanted to understand how negative Google research results impact FTSE 100 brands and how they differ according to sector.

The results were shocking. 

The vast majority – 80% - of FTSE 100 companies had negative content on page one of Google, focused chiefly on poor financial performance and confidence, poor products and services, and unethical corporate behaviour. Worryingly for brands, old news sticks around. We found that 39% of negative content was more than six months old and nearly a quarter (23%) was more than a year old.

Combining our findings with other research, we estimated that these negative Google search results lose FTSE 100 companies 16% of traffic - almost 15 million leads every month. These are potential customers, investors, employees and journalists who have googled the brand and been put off by what they have found.

While news sites presented the biggest threat, other prominent sites that can provide reputational damage include Glassdoor and, in particular, Wikipedia.

In short, the online reputation of many FTSE 100 companies – on search engines, at least – is out of control.

The opportunity for PR

In recent years, Google’s algorithm that the search giant uses when assessing how to rank websites has raised the weighting of inbound links as one of its 200+ signals. Brand mentions across the board is also a big factor, as is readability. So, the areas that PRs traditionally excel in – generating online coverage and creating engaging content – are the same qualities Google’s search bots regard above many other factors.

We have the expertise to influence these negative factors that appear on page one of Google. A little knowledge of how search algorithms work can go a long way.

This isn’t an SEO 101 post, this is a macro view on what PRs with the right skills can offer their clients to help them improve their search reputation.

Auditing: To find a solution, you first need to understand the problem. It all starts with an audit. What appears high on search – especially page one of Google – and why? How many of the ten organic spaces are ‘owned’ by the brand, such its website, social feeds etc.? This will also include a technical SEO audit. For example, Grayling found that just 15 of the FTSE 100 companies had ‘claimed’ their company on Google My Business to ensure that accurate information appears on their ‘knowledge panel’, which is the box of info you’ll see on the right-hand side when you google the brand. Just fifteen!

Strategy development:  Once you know the problem, it’s time to plot the solution, which will involve mix of content strategy, link building, positive news campaigns and social media. Changing search reputation doesn’t happen overnight, so the strategy must be a long-term project.

Measure and Pivot: It’s key to measure what matters and check results on a regular basis. Are you moving the needle? If not, why not? Are you earning enough diverse and authoritative inbound links?

Many of the search reputation challenges that brands face must be tackled at board level – they could be cultural, for example, if a poor Glassdoor rating is an issue. The answers to the questions of why a brand has negative results on page one can usually be found in the nature and content of those ranking links. 

PR can identify the issues and plot a path out. 

For PR agencies, there is a big opportunity to provide services in online reputation, but they must do it from a platform of knowledge. One cannot blag SEO. We’ve seen some agencies excel and many search agencies have hired experienced PRs to help them earn positive coverage and links. The two disciplines overlapped a long time ago but PR really should own reputation management.

So, some takeaways: learn how search engines work with SEO training for PR consultants, understand the challenges your brand or clients face, and tell them how you can turn things around for them.

PR needs to start owning online reputation.


Chris Lee is the CEO/Founder of content and training consultancy, Eight Moon Media.

Dr Jon White

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Dr Jon White

Few practitioners can time travel but Jon White can certainly claim to have gone back to the future. Almost 20 years ago, Jon predicted that the future was bright for PR if practitioners educated and trained themselves to become indispensable to management. Sound familiar? Jon’s work inspired #FuturePRoof and has provided the foundations behind the CIPR’s drive to reassert public relations as a strategic management function. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Stephen Waddington

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Stephen Waddington

Whatever agency alchemist Stephen Waddington touches seems to turn to gold. Having grown and sold two businesses, Stephen’s ability to reinvent himself knows no bounds. While showcases much of the science, Stephen also has an art. Master of the crowdsourced project and blog post, Stephen is a community-building expert who always shares the wealth. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Laura Sutherland

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Laura Sutherland

In Alice in Wonderland we’re taught that moving out your comfort zone can lead to exciting adventures and new relationships. Sutherland has brought that same ethos to PRFest, a two-day public relations festival aimed at senior professionals. Now a key date in the industry calendar, Laura has continued to innovate through PR Space, a concept allowing practitioners to work on their business rather than in it. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Ethan Spibey

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Ethan Spibey

Once upon a time there was a government affairs professional whose pinned tweet read ‘I can confirm the rumours, I am a gay man.’ Step forward Ethan Spibey whose wholehearted and vocal commitment to equal rights has made him a pin up not just for the LGBT+ community, but for everyone, everywhere. Want to help make the world a better place? Be more like Ethan.

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Sir Martin Sorrell

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Sir Martin Sorrell

If you were to imagine a PR version of Mount Rushmore, Sir Martin’s face would be carved upon it. As founder of the world’s largest advertising group by both revenue and number of employees, Sorrell’s reputation goes before him for almost single-handedly turning a cottage industry into a global moneymaking machine. There’s no stopping this juggernaut who has just launched S4 Capital in his mid-seventies. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Peter Smith

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Peter Smith

Once upon a time, public relations came *this close* to being recognised as a strategic management function thanks to PR champion, CIPR Past President Peter Smith. Back in 1984, Smith managed to persuade Cranfield School of Management to include public relations as part of the MBA management curriculum. While this was discontinued a few years later, influencing business school teaching about the value of PR is something the Institute is now revisiting.

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Nicola Regazzoni & George Blizzard

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Nicola Regazzoni & George Blizzard

Counted as one here, Nicky and George are to the PR industry what Anna and Elsa are to Frozen; sisters doing it for themselves. Just as the royal siblings find a way to break Arendelle out of its eternal winter, this dynamic double act has broken out of PR’s always-on obsession, to find a way of servicing clients around the globe while delivering great results and having a work-life balance. This innovative new way of working continues to snowball. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Alex Myers

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Alex Myers

While Naked & Famous sounds like a dodgy publication, it’s also the perfect example of why Alex’s agency is blazing a trail. Their approach to charging by how awesome a campaign is, eschewing traditional billing models, might seem risky to some but ripping up the rulebook is a Manifest hallmark, as is being nice. There’s a reason Manifest’s domain name ends in .rocks. Hard to argue really.

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Sandra Macleod

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Sandra Macleod

Traditionally in any story finding the treasure is a tricky business, but in this modern-day PR adventure Macleod has both the map and the key to the chest. By quantifying the economic value of reputation through her company Echo Research, Sandra has unlocked the value of public relations to business and is the kind of protagonist the PR world should unite behind. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Dr Jacquie L’Etang

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Dr Jacquie L’Etang

Every good story needs a narrator and that’s where Jacquie L’Etang comes in. Public Relations in Britain: A History of Professional Practice in the Twentieth Century is a comprehensive guide to how and why the UK industry developed and is just one of Jacquie’s impressive back catalogue that every PR practitioner should have on their shelves. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Rich Leigh

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Rich Leigh

Now we come to the mischievous Puck of our book, agency owner Rich Leigh. Founder of the stunts and campaigns site and author of Myths of PR, Rich’s creativity knows no bounds. Notorious for having changed his name by deed poll to Mr Public Relations, Rich recently introduced a four-day working week at Radioactive PR. Watch this space for whatever innovation he comes up with next. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Tony Langham

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Tony Langham

There are many stories of rags to riches but not many where the hero shares the wealth. In an industry which professes to be people-focused, too few walk the talk. Step forward Tony Langham, co-founder of reputation management agency Lansons, which was the first to become widely employee-owned and has more than a third of the team as partners. A leader from the front, Langham is the epitome of doing well by doing good and an influential advocate for the sector.

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Francis Ingham

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Francis Ingham

When it comes to heroes and villains, the skilled, sarcastic and complex Ingham must surely be the PR sector’s Severus Snape. Leaving the question of dark arts aside, industry leader Ingham has certainly worked magic in campaigning against NLA fees and was quick to take a strong line in expelling Bell Pottinger for unethical behaviour. Having secured the PRCA-APPC merger, members are now spellbound to see what happens next. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Dr Roger Hayes

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Dr Roger Hayes

Poacher turned gamekeeper Roger Hayes may have started his career as a journalist, but he’s now a poster boy for public relations practice, helping business people understand PR’s value through his work at Henley Business School and in Singapore and London. Hayes is one of the forerunners of international PR development in Africa, Asia and India, teaching public diplomacy as well as practicing. In this tale he plays the wise elder that practitioners would be smart to emulate.

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Jim Hawker

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Jim Hawker

What do Jim Hawker and the film Minority Report have in common? Futuristic predictions which have become a fact of life. From self-driving cars and facial recognition to voice technology, the movie clearly signposted the future, which arrived pretty sharpish. It’s a similar story with Jim’s agency threepipe, a hybrid of PR, paid, SEO and digital specialists – as he said, exactly what’s needed to deliver creative strategies suited to the modern-day media landscape. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Professor Anne Gregory

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Professor Anne Gregory

If you haven’t read at least one of Professor Gregory’s books or quoted her in your work, are you even in PR? An industry maven, whose leadership helped achieve Chartered status for the Institute of Public Relations and was integral to the development of a global capability framework, Anne’s ability to transcend academia and practice is second to none and her unerring knack of predicting the path for public relations makes her pretty prescient too. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.


Liz Bridgen

Today in Once upon a time in PR, we hear about Liz Bridgen

The Rebel Girl of this book, pole dancing and cyclocross-racing Sheffield Hallam lecturer Liz Bridgen should be on everyone’s reading list. Liz’s research on why women leave the profession is no fairy story and her diversity and inclusivity work is a blatant challenge to PR’s dominant coalition. Consider Liz mandatory bedside reading and prepare to be provoked. 

Once upon a time in PR can be purchased priced £10.