Managing A Multi Channel Crisis Response

MMU Business School hosted this recent CIPR North West event which attracted senior practitioners from across the region and students enrolled on the MSc Public Relations programme.

So what is a multi channel crisis response? Amanda Coleman, Head of Communications for Greater Manchester Police (GMP) was happy to translate this into Plain English – a multi channel crisis response quite simply involves the integrated use of social media. ‘Quite simply’ however comes with a caveat. Although the GMP’s use of digital communications may appear to be seamless, their position today reflects three years of work to achieve the organisational buy-in to liberate staff throughout the organisation to engage in online conversations. Over 300 frontline staff across GMP now use Twitter and Facebook to plug into local communities. Officers are expected to communicate through these mediums in the same way they would any other. Transgressions therefore reflect problems with recruitment rather than the channel itself.

In 2011 during the London Riots, the first questions about whether these would extend to Manchester were posted on Twitter. The GMP was keen to establish themselves as a trusted voice which meant they had to be transparent and engage honestly and openly in online conversations.  The payback was immense – GMP could access what Coleman describes succintly as a Virtual Homewatch  – 24/7/nanosecond – as people in Manchester posted images and reported incidents online. GMP attracted over 100,000 twitter followers during the disorder which they have since worked hard to maintain.

Coleman suggests that PR practitioners should:

  1. Understand the channels they are using and why
  2. Not wait for a crisis to prompt the use of social media
  3. Invest in time, a team and technology
  4. Keep in touch
  5. Evaluate – don’t just monitor

The advice from the session is stark – organisations need to be networked ahead of any crisis so that they are already engaged when an emergency is triggered.


My first week at business school

Hello everyone,

As expressed in Diana’s post the first day on the MSc Public Relations course was both nerve racking but also very exciting! Jane helped us all to relax and get to know one another in an ice breaking activity, before lots of need to know information to get us off to the best start on the course. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and I left feeling both excited and daunted about the year ahead.

On the second day, we were very privileged to meet a number of PR professionals who gave us their insight into the industry, including information on the best way to enter the field of PR which we are favouring. They were also very keen for us to come and get some first hand experience of the career at their agency! I found this day extremely inspiring and it was great to be provided with such valuable contacts.

The third day began with the last guest speaker of the week, which was again very enjoyable and inspiring. We were then set the challenge of creating our very first campaign!! I think it is safe to say we all felt the nerves. However, after being given the brief for the task, I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into my very first campaign. It was great to immediately get stuck in and gain some practical experience. The course tutors provided us with a real time stimuli for our drink driving campaign in the THINK car outside the university (pictured).
We got to speak to the victim’s sister which enabled us to get a great insight into the audience that our campaign should focus on and demonstrated the importance of having a personal connection to the campaign. The tutors then gave us feedback on our presentations which gave us some useful tips for our future campaigns and presentation skills.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my first week and I am looking forward to what next week and the rest of the year will bring! I feel very excited and inspired. I have also learnt about the importance of networking in the industry too and I am enjoying working on my profiles and blogs to help me to get work placements in the future. I certainly already feel like a PR professional!

Thanks for reading,
Saffron xoxo


MSc Public Relations Induction Week 2013 – Up It Goes

MSc Public Relations Induction Week 2013 – Up It Goes

Tuesday morning 8.45 am – With twisted nerves I took the elevator up to the 4th floor of the MMU Business School. Regardless of reading a number of articles and website material, an emotion reminiscent of my very first day at elementary school came to mind as I wondered what will lie ahead of me and who I will meet. As measured by the silence in the seminar room I assume most of my fellow students felt the same way.

Fortunately, induction started with a customary ice breaker activity, followed by an awful lot of important information about the programme and administrative stuff. In the evening we were allowed to attend an event hosted by the Charted Institute of Public Relations. Amanda Coleman, Greater Manchester Police’s head of corporate communications, talked about the PR tactics applied by her and her team when PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were killed on duty last October. Amanda’s talk was truly inspiring – in particular when it comes to the benefits of using social media as a communication tool.

Even more PR practitioners and their catching stories awaited us in the following two days, from Kristen Gaines (Vibe PR) to Alison Dwyer (Smith and Smith PR) to Sue Souter (Souter PR). However, the relaxing guest speaker unit suddenly came to an end on Thursday afternoon when we were challenged with our first PR campaign planning exercise. The set target was to tackle the excessive student drinking culture in Britain and its negative consequences. All of us were very nervous, but we came up with some good proposals. So even though the exercise came as a shock, I can now say that it was indeed a brilliant idea. It gave us a good kick start to working life and an additional shot in the arm for the months to come. Well done MMU PR team!

On Thursday evening induction week was completed by a lovely social event with some tasty food and drink from around the world and funny games. I was left with a warm fuzzy feeling that this year at MMU will be one of the best in my life.

After a very exciting induction week I can finally say bring on the challenge of the Public Relations masters programme! Let’s enter the elevator to success!

PR Disaster from Walmart/Asda

PR Disaster from Walmart/Asda

At a time when Mental Health is such a sensitive issue and increasing in terms of both public awareness and anxiety, this example demonstrates the need for Public Relations to play a role in all elements of a business.

The Public Relations department should have had sight of the new range proposed for this season to ensure any such incidents were headed off at the earliest possible moment.  This is a good example of a large organisation NOT using the systems theory ‘boundary spanning’ function of Public Relations to its fullest extent.

As usual, the Public Relations department is instead left dealing with a crisis it could easily have averted if it had been involved at the appropriate stages of new line development.

“Is there a different model of leadership for women?”

It was great to see more than 50 local PR practitioners at the CIPR NW (Lancashire) Leadership Masterclass at the University of Central Lancashire Preston campus last Wednesday (18 September 2013).

As PR in the UK is a profession populated largely by women but led by men, the topic for my session for the evening was “It’s different for girls” – is there a distinct leadership model for women?” It’s a complex topic and could just about be covered in a short session, so I promised to give longer answers to one or two of the excellent questions via a blog post.

Here are the ones specifically to do with transformational leadership, which the research I summarised suggest is the model of leadership women in particular prefer to use:

Q: As the sole PR practitioner, I’m the only female senior manager in my organisation. I don’t think my way of leading is recognised or fits in. What can I do about it?

My brief advice in the talk about this was:

At interview or performance reviews, ask directly about the organisation’s preferred leadership style.

In more detail: few organisations make this explicit, and they should. At the very least, you will know the yardstick you are being asked to measure up to; and if it’s not a yardstick that fits, you can take the opportunity to explain YOUR definition of leadership, showing your different (and possibly superior!) level of knowledge and understanding.

Talk YOUR reality into being, in their language

In more detail: When there are concepts and ideas which are real and important to us but have no physical reality, our words and behaviour are the only tools we have for making them real to other people too. So if your leadership is invisible because your organisation doesn’t “see” emotional intelligence, you will have to make it visible by the way you talk about it. You need to be able to talk about how people are and how you manage this as a leader as firmly and as factually as you do about the strategic plan or the end of month balance sheet. As you persist in this, it will become real for them too, and your people skills will become an appreciated leadership asset rather than somewhere at the periphery of your organisation’s vision.

Finally, as James Grunig has pointed out in his PR ‘Excellence’ studies, the window of opportunity sometimes comes in a time of crisis. This may be when a ‘command and control’-led organisation finds that it needs not only PR counsel, but a model of leadership which has the humanity to feel and respond to the distress of employees who may be handling shock and trauma. In my own experience, if you can show this type of leadership in your organisation’s hour of greatest need, doing the right thing simply because it IS the right thing can lead to winning the credibility you have been seeking – both as a PR professional and as a leader who harnesses her (or his!) emotional intelligence in the role.

A strategic mind, a principled soul and a kind heart. That’s transformational leadership in a nutshell, however many theories underpin the idea. It’s not rocket science!

Surely it’s not too much for us to ask of our leaders – or of ourselves.

Leadership Masterclass – CIPR NW Wed 18 September 2013

Leadership in PR is a topic well worth further investigation, so it was great to see more than 50 local PR practitioners at the CIPR NW (Lancashire) Leadership Masterclass at the University of Central Lancashire Preston campus last Wednesday (18 September 2013).

Keynote speaker Professor Anne Gregory of Leeds Metropolitan University gave a guided preview of her new book on Strategic Public Relations Leadership. As well as exploring leadership roles in a PR setting, she flagged up the need for a clear focus on what PR actually does to support an organisation’s strategy.

Best of all, it was great to hear one of the UK’s key PR thought-leaders highlighting one of my own long-term convictions – that a real PR strategist is to fix the reality of the organisation and then communicate the better truth, not to create images or manipulate perceptions. It’s a lesson which still needs to be heard more clearly out there.

As PR in the UK is a profession populated largely by women but led by men, the topic for my own session for the evening was “It’s different for girls” – is there a distinct leadership model for women?” It’s a complex topic and could just about be covered in a short session, so I promised to give longer answers to one or two of the excellent questions via a blog post. Here’s the first one:

Q: Is there a model of leadership which you think works particularly well for PR practitioners?

A: I really wanted to include this one in my talk but had to cut it for time reasons. Here it is:

Kouzes and Pozner’s (1987; 1995) Five Leadership Practices Model , whose key target audience is really CEOs –

1. Model the way (walk the talk; show some small wins to inspire confidence)
2. Inspire a shared vision (including powerful, provocative language)
3. Challenge the process (be an agent for change – questioning, challenging, seeding new ideas)
4. Enable others to act (includes sharing information, being clear about your ethics and values, not being afraid to show vulnerability, investing in their CPD)
5. Encourage the heart (celebrate success – something we all need to do more of)

PLUS from Hefetz & Laurie (1997):

6. Protecting voices of leadership from below – giving a voice and a channel to counter-cultures and dissident views in the organisation.

Both these models chime well with PR, because much of leadership is what good PR practitioners do from day to day anyway. The leadership challenge for PR is to take this up to the next level of formulating rather than communicating strategy.

One of the many heartening things about last Wednesday was seeing so many PR professionals who are clearly up for that challenge. I hope we might get to help some of you get there with our new practitioner-level online Masters in PR here at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School!

Manchester Publicity Association Awards

Thursday of last week played host to the very first MPA (Manchester Publicity Association) Awards at Gorton Monastery with MMU as one of the main sponsors.

With attendees being drawn from agencies across Manchester and beyond it was great to see in excess of 300 people there, all eger to see if they had won an award. A quick glance through the programme and I was surprised by just how many award categories there were and in my experience that can make for a long night.

I can honestly say I was very pleasantly surprised with award presentations taking place between the courses of the meal. An especially nice touch was that the winners were presented with their award at their table and allowed to give a short speech via video link, which was a great idea and speeded proceedings up.

What was also incredibly encouraging was that PR had several of its own categories and there were some lesser known names competing along with the well-known larger agencies. Well done to Havas PR for wining PR Agency of the Year.

All in all a great night, where Ruth Ashford also presented the Rising Star award to Lisa Thompson from MEC.

mpa awards_1photo 4