PR on The Bottom Line with Evan Davis

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I like podcasts. I like the way you can listen to them, often absent-mindedly, staring into the distance, instead of actually concentrating on anything. I like the way you can listen to them wherever you are on – on the tube, in the car, in the bath – without necessarily having access to the web because they've already been downloaded.

But most of all I like the way you get to know the podcasters. Text is terrible for personality; audio is much better. Audio/video is probably best – actually, in person is best – but audio's good. If you like listening to your radio, you'll like podcasts.

I like social media and business podcasts, and I really like Evan Davis's The  Bottom Line podcast. Evan doesn't lack personality and it comes across well. You can often hear him having a little giggle in the background. In particular, you can hear him giggle in the latest podcast, which talks about PR.

The typical format for The Bottom Line is that they get in three experts, and this week they have Julia Hobsbawm (Chief Executive of Editorial Intelligence), Tim Bell (Chairman of Chime Communications) and Robert Phillips (Chief Executive of Edelman UK). You can find out more about them, with links, at The Bottom Line webpage.

Together, they discuss PR. It's fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. Fascinating because it's interesting to hear their takes on the subject, and frustrating because a lot of what I heard was quite, well, bollocksy. I have a real problem with the way PR presents itself. PR people seem to have difficulty getting across exactly what it is they do without lapsing into mention of engagement, dialogue, leveraging and so on. Evan Davis expresses this frustration himself.

Tim Bell offered the classical definition of third-party endorsement and didn't seem to want to budge from that even though social media is turning things on their head. Robert Phillips was keen to talk about how great Edelman were. And Julia Hobsbawn seemed surprised to be on the show at all given she isn't in PR any more, and I got the distinct impression she wasn't in PR for the same reasons I get frustrated with it. On a few occasions they were both nicely wound up by Tim Bell who seems to enjoy playing devil's advocate. I guess it helps when you have the urbane demeanour of a Lord.

For me the most interesting part was their discussion about Toyota, how they'd done everything wrong and they're in deep doo-doo. But I won't be prescriptive: listen to it yourself and make your own mind up.

I might even send this link to my parents who still don't quite get what it is I do. Maybe I can't explain myself either.

Btw, I'm hoping my posts are getting a bit better. I've got the hang of links and I even ventured to put a picture in this time, and some tags. I'm still sticking with Posterous and finding that GMail's interface is quite limited. Maybe that's the point?

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8 thoughts on “PR on The Bottom Line with Evan Davis

  1. In terms of describing what we do, unfortunately there will never be a singular definition for PR. This is due to the fact that what we do is changing at such a rapid rate that the second we define it, it changes. But it’s also a result of the tens of thousands of agencies all trying to find a unique way of describing what it is we do, there’s a beleif that if we describe our service in a unique way, we become more buyable. Personally I beleive this is style over substance and actually a client’s buying decision is based not on a quirky tagline for the industry but on how we go about backing up what we can do for them.

    Like you, my Mum and Dad still don’t get what I do but I’ve resigned myself to the “it’s like advertising but different” descriptor. It’s depressing I know, but easier.

  2. We’ve been around the block on numerous occasions about the public relations function, Brendan. Sounds like you persist in believing the PR marcomm agencies as to what it’s supposed to do.

    I hope you’ve taken the time to read Heather Yaxley’s post on Toyota. To me it’s the most masterful, balanced and definitive exploraton of reputation management. And Heather is, after all, a specialist in motor industry PUBLIC RELATIONS.

    http://greenbanana.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/toyota-public-relations-and-product-recalls/

    Cheers,
    Judy

  3. Hi Judy,

    I’m not sure exactly what I’ve said that gives you the impression I don’t know what PR is. There was a time when I ran the PR Friendly Index which included PR blogs – that is, blogs which talked about PR, mentioned PR, were written by PR practitioners, or had a view on PR. I don’t know how much more transparent I could have been about my methodology at the time, although I did concede that after a few months most of the so-called PR blogs were by that time talking about social media instead. Regardless of the argument about the relationship between PR and social media, I did actually detail all this on my blog and acknowledged your contribution to the discussion.

    Maybe I was a bit brief about Toyota but I think you’ll agree that, while Heather gives an excellent breakdown of the Toyota situation, they have done too little too late, in the UK at least. I noticed recently that they were still using adwords selling their wares in the UK, and that the UK site was still trying to sell us cars. That situation has since been rectified, but imho it was a major online fail in the UK.

    I agree that Heather is an excellent PR practitioner, and that’s why I was very honoured when she invited me to give a presentation before members of the MIPAA last year.

    I know you say we’ve been around the block a few times with this. Having worked in several PR agencies I think I have a good working knowledge of Public Relations but if you think I don’t, perhaps this is a good open forum in which to tell me.

    Cheers
    Brendan

  4. Brendan,

    Rather than just being talked about, I’ll join in! I also like The Bottom Line, but often find it frustrating as there is generally a lot of the old dog’s bollocks being spoken – so the “PR experts” are no different there. I also wish those who think there are just on there for the publicity had been given a better brief, as it is those who show the most insight and intelligence that I feel deliver the best publicity. (Loved the guy from Miele the other week – made me want to buy one of his expensive steam ovens!!)

    I actually feel that most weeks there are interesting things being discussed that demonstrate the wider remit of public relations – but these are rarely seen as PR by the contributors. So interesting that when there is a major business crisis in the news, the discussion is all about PR.

    On the Toyota situation, the real reputation management happens now. The company has been quick to get the recall actioned (once Japan confirmed the situation) and there seems to have been plenty of new media comms on this. Although how much of that directly reaches Toyota customers (who are best served by direct communications from the company and the dealer) is another matter.

    I don’t think that you can expect Toyota to stop selling cars – indeed, I think this is probably a great time to negotiate a deal on one. The marketing of new models shouldn’t have been at the expense of clear communications on the recall – but to expect them to stop selling when the recall involves a pro-active rectification that would be implemented on any new car is a little naive.

    This won’t be the end of Toyota – check out some of the previous major recalls of Ford vehicles where the incident of associated deaths have been much greater. Big brands are surprisingly elastic, provided they address the cause of the problem. It is the catch and recover that is ultimately more important than the instant comms reaction.

  5. Hi Heather,

    Thanks for the comment – and yes, apologies, I should have given you a heads-up that you were mentioned here!

    I wasn’t implying that Toyota should stop selling cars, but to my mind their online reaction was too slow. To wit: I drive a Toyota, and I wanted to know whether my model was affected. So I wasn’t tremendously impressed to see the sales function front and centre when it should have been support, and when the media were all over it but their own digital media were not.

    If we want to talk other comms, I have yet to receive any communications of any kind from my local Toyota dealer. No email, no direct mail, no phone call. Nothing. Nada. Not a sausage.

    So we can talk all we like about how well or how badly they’ve done at a corporate level but at the ground level – ie as someone who actually owns one – I’m not impressed, even without my PR hat on. I eventually found out that my car isn’t affected so thankfully it looks like I’m not going to accelerate into the back of a bus any time soon.

    Regarding the Bottom Line broadcast, a quick trawl seems to indicate other people thought it wasn’t great PR for PR either. Robert Phillips has just posted on his blog about it: http://www.citizenrenaissance.com/2010/02/15/the-rat-the-squirrel-and-chimes-of-freedom-flashing/ As I said in my original post, I won’t be prescriptive – go and read it to see what he says!

  6. Brendan – I agree entirely regarding the ground level communications – which is where I honestly believe that any organisation’s reputation counts. So the fact that you’ve heard nothing from the local Toyota dealer is critical – shouldn’t matter whether your car is affected or not, you needed to be reassured and as a customer, you are a potential advocate.

    For me, this shows another basic issue with public relations – it doesn’t really include the customer as that’s considered marketing’s responsibility (especially in the car world). So customer relations in terms of handling the communications via the dealer is not seen as a PR function. And, as dealers are generally poor at their own local PR (often because they are not really empowered on issues management by the manufacturer), then a real understanding of customer relationships doesn’t seem to be the norm.

  7. That’s true – I guess most of the time customers are regarded as stakeholders, ie they’ve already (literally) bought into you, but in times of crisis they rapidly become principal audiences. That’s why you need a crisis plan so you can very nimbly recalibrate.

    The disconnect you point out between marketing and PR, and between global and local communications, is something Robert Phillips touches on in his Citizen Rennaisance blog/book (see http://www.citizenrenaissance.com/).

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