PR: Education or Experience?

Welcome to the first of several entries which will address the question of how important it is for aspiring PR professionals to have a degree level qualification in the discipline. Is education or experience more important? Is having a first degree in a non-PR subject a drawback? There may be no definitive right or wrong answer, and so I will be interviewing PR professionals to give us their perspective.

We are joined today by Ross Wigham.

Who is Ross?

Ross currently runs communications, PR and marketing at Northumberland County Council, one of the largest local authorities in England, and before this was media relations manager at Gateshead Council.

He is a current PRide award winner and has worked on some of the biggest public sector campaigns in the region. He has spoken extensively about how local public services can use social media and regularly finds himself helping politicians handle the media.

Ross is also an experienced journalist, having spent a decade in London working for top trade publications as well as producing content for firms such as Sony, HSBC and Business link.

He has interviewed some key figures in British political life including senior government ministers, and even one-time England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Ross is from Northumberland originally but now lives in Monkseaton after spells in the midlands and London.

Interesting Fact: With the summer’s event on the horizon Ross once got to wear Kris Akabusi’s Olympic Silver medal!

Tell us about your journey into PR.

It’s probably fair to say I sort of fell into it by accident. I was originally a magazine journalist in London working on a few different titles but mainly specialising in management and workplace issues. After that I went freelance and starting doing loads of assignments for consumer and business magazines. Once area of my work that really expanded once I went freelance was copywriting and reworking copy on corporate websites.

After taking some time off to travel I was offered a temporary assignment to work in house at a council PR department covering maternity leave and 5 years later here I am.

Do you feel PR degrees are necessary for a career in the sector?

After seeing my route in you won’t be surprised to hear me say no. While I think a degree in PR will give people a massive advantage I don’t think it’s an absolute necessity for a career in the sector. We’re currently in a period of massive change and I think new ideas and innovation can come from people with all sorts of backgrounds. The short answer is probably that candidates need a solid set of skills, and although a PR degree will probably provide them, there are other ways in.

What would you say to a student who has the option of a long term internship in a comms role? Would they do better to get that experience than complete a Masters in PR?

For me absolutely. Probably lots of others will disagree but in my particular field (local government PR) I would always encourage people to get some real, frontline, on-the-ground experience to back up qualifications.
It was the same when I was starting out as a journalist and getting experience of doing the job as well as just learning about the workplace is really valuable. You can always opt for further qualifictions like an MA later in your career, which is what I did through the CIPR.

 For PR MA students, does having a non-PR/comms undergrad degree make a difference to your employability?

Not for me. In fact it may give you an advantage depending on where you want to work. A background degree in things like History, English or even something totally different can sometimes give you a bit of an edge.

 With increasing numbers of people completing BAs in PR, and increasing numbers of experienced ex comms/journalists taking a turn into the sector, what advice would you give to PR students in terms of being as employable as possible?

The first thing to say is that it really is tough out there not just because of the lack of jobs, but because the standard is so high. All the students and graduates I’ve met recently are incredibly well qualified so the competition is going to be tough.

I was asked this on twitter recently and this is what I said: for me standard was so high that they need a little something to make them stand out. Thinking a bit wider than just pr/comms is now a must. Knowledge & work experience of key areas such as like politics, culture, events management etc really shone out in some candidates. Also an understanding of audience – don’t just trot out the latest SM platitudes. Don’t overlook internships to build experience quickly. Finally be yourself: personality goes a long way.

Thanks very much to Ross for taking the time to answer these questions. Next time we’ll be hearing from an Account Executive who feels their PR MA was crucial to starting their career in the industry.

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Tevez and the RIP Fergie sign: PR Fail or just a bit of Banter?


Manchester City Football Club was forced to issue an apology to Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson today. This was following the Man City victory parade, that saw City striker Carlos Tevez brandish a sign that read ‘RIP Fergie,’ a reference to the United boss. The sign was apparently handed to him by a fan.

But is this not an overreaction to a simple bit of fun-poking? After all, the sign may have been a reference to a remark made by Ferguson three years ago. When asked if United would ever be underdogs against City, he replied; “Not in my lifetime.”

Man Utd fans on the #ripfergie hashtag certainly didn’t think it was laughing matter, with many berating City as a bunch morons with no class. Other tweeters bemoaned the apparent loss of a popstar. But they had the wrong Fergie.


Given the disgraceful examples of racism we have seen this year from leading footballers, I can’t see what all the fuss is about with this particular incident. Given the endemic homophobia on the terraces, and even from players and management, this sign hardly qualifies as a PR fail of epic proportions.

If football is going to sort out its image problem, it first needs to sort out its priorities.

Posted in crisis, Ethics, prfail, Social Media | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Youtube Strikes Again. This time for Equal Marriage


Once more, an individual has utilised youtube effectively to convey a political story in a personalised way. This emotional video puts the case for equal marriage, using real life tragedy to motivate people to act.

Despite being a simple, almost humble, video it does throw up many questions.

Methodological Questions

– Like the Kony 2012 video, this video is around 10 minutes long. It has had over 1 million views in two days, but how many of those people have watched from beginning to end?

– The video doesn’t employ speech until three minutes in. Does this run the risk of views skipping past important information?

– The video uses stills, footage (including point of view and webcam), text, happiness, sadness, cute animals and children. Are all of these appropriate? Does it get the balance right?

Personally, I think it is simple but very effective. In fact its simple nature makes it more real. The combination of up close web cam footage of a mourning Shane, and silent video camera footage of Shane and Tom as a laughing couple, works well. It highlights the dissonance between being together, and being alone. Between having someone to hold a camera for you, and having to do it yourself. Between the vocalisation of sadness, and the silence of a laughter that no longer has a voice.

Ethical Questions

This video not only points to society having responsibility. It directly exposes Tom’s family as homophobes who are ready to employ intimidation and threats of violence. Given the nature of the debate, I don’t doubt this account for a minute.

However if you abstract the principle of exposing people using social media and youtube from this particular case, therein lie ethical uncertainties.

-Could innocent people become victimised?

-Could people become the targets of hate campaigns, and possibly even violence?

– Is the degree of anonymity provided by social media a barrier to accountability?

I suppose with these questions we come back to one of the oldest debates surrounding the internet. It’s huge potential for good, and it’s huge potential for bad. The internet can drive accountability, and it can facilitate exploitation. Just as social media can mobilise for social change, and can facilitate bullying.

Clearly this video is an example of the former. What is also clear, is that the questions the video has generated, methodologically, and ethically don’t have definitive right or wrong answers, and aren’t going away any time soon.

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Madeleine photo used to advertise Portugal holiday

I can think of few worse PR gaffes for a travel company. To advertise a break in Portugal, using the face of missing toddler Madeleine McCann, is a monumental cock-up. That it was advertising a £20 coupon for said holiday makes it that little bit more crass.

How this has happened is not clear. Genuine mistake? Sick joke? Hacking? Whatever the reason it has prompted an angry response from the McCann family, who have branded it offensive and a disgrace.

I’m inclined to agree.

Low Cost Holidays, who own the trip, have denied any working relationship with the discount company VoucherDigg, who advertised the coupon. VoucherDigg themselves have declined to comment. One has to assume their crisis comms people are going into overdrive.

One word: #fail.

Posted in crisis, Ethics, prfail | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Digital Nativism vs Digital Development (3/3)

The concept of digital natives and digital immigrants is a controversial one. Is age a good enough predictor of digital proficiency?  Or do other variables play just as important a role? This is the final part of a series of three entries that look into what factors affect our digital development, concentrating on social media. Read part one here, and part two here.

The Great Baby Boomer Catch Up

Younger people do appear to be more likely to use social media. Figures from Pew show that 86% of millenials in the USA use social media. However, rate of engagement with the social web amongst baby boomers and veterans, has been increasing at a faster pace. According to Deloitte, the number of baby boomers maintaining a social media profile increased from 15% in 2008 to 47% in 2009. The Pew study shows that the number of veterans using social media doubled between 2009 and 2010.

Shaping the social web

These figures show that those outside the millennial generation can learn to use social media. Indeed, they can do more than that. The average age of a linkedin user is 44 for example. This is not surprising considering the professional nature of the platform. What it shows, is that baby boomers and those in generation X, are not just passively using social media, they are shaping platforms relevant to their lifestyles. If they can do this for themselves, they can also do it for employers, and with these skills, they can also being years of experience.

This isn’t to say that baby boomers and those in generation X have an advantage over millenials. Indeed millenials can often be at the cutting edge of new media, and can play a vital part in building the digital proficiency of a consultancy or organisation (and as a millenial myself, I’d like to stress this point!).

Embrace Change

It is not a lack of ability to ‘become digital’ that has held some people back, it is a conservative and cynical attitude towards change, particularly in regard to social media. Luckily, this attitude appears to be diminishing. Rather than obsessing about age, the emphasis should be on embracing change, and striving to learn new skills on the job.

Because with a fast moving field like PR and digital comms, staying still IS moving backwards.

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Digital Nativism vs Digital Globalisation (2/3)

The concept of digital natives and digital immigrants is a controversial one. Is age a good enough predictor of digital proficiency?  Or do other variables play just as important a role? This is part two of a series of three entries that look into what factors affect our digital development. Read part one here.

From multinational corporations, to charities, organisations have increasingly transnational stakeholder relationships. This fact is particularly important for organisations who are communicating with large and diverse publics abroad. The Digital Development of populations in different countries will be very different to that of the UK.

Most obviously, internet usage is varies globally. For example in India, while over 100 000 000 use the internet, penetration levels stand at around 11% of the population. A PR strategy that assumes everyone born after ‘the’ digital revolution will be able to take on board messages delivered digitally will fail. Indeed, a much more diverse range of tactics may need to be used. The key lesson here is gaining local knowledge. A first step towards this is leaving behind preconceived concepts that may be partially applicable to western societies.

Another key issue in terms of global reach is censorship. Many emerging markets are in countries that have different, and sometimes stricter, censorship laws to the UK. For example twitter has been blocked in China since 2009. The blocking of various social media platforms could well influence the digital development of people, though this is hard to measure. Could these people be less likely to understand social media platforms and therefore be less likely to engage with social media campaigns?

Could these people be more likely to understand social media platforms as they have to spend more time circumventing government filters? Young internet users in Iran, for example, have developed a reputation for being ‘tech savvy’ after years of developing ways to beat censorship. Indeed Persian is the second most used language in the blogosphere, despite not being in the top 20 most spoken languages of the world. Would it be better for organisations in the UK to see young migrant workers from such countries as having more honed skills? Digital warriors as well as digital natives perhaps.

These issues throw up many questions. The fact that so many questions are generated suggests that using generalised predictors of digital savviness, e.g. age, nationality or class is far from fool proof. Rather, each individual’s digital development is shaped and influenced by a multitude of factors. And different countries require informed approaches relevant to their own pattern of digital development.

Posted in Digital Nativism, Social Media | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Pinterest Develops Vimeo Integration


Pinterest, one of the most current social media platforms, has facilitated the integration of vimeo content. This comes hot on the heels of youtube integration, which opened up the platform to the largest video sharing site on the Web.

What is interesting about this latest integration, is the nature of vimeo as opposed to youtube. While the technical functions of vimeo and youtube are very similar, the nature of the content hosted on the two sites can be very different. Vimeo is known for hosting high quality content, often produced by professionals for companies, or organisations. This is opposed to a greater focus on amateur, user-generated content on youtube.

The implications of this are significant. Brands that rely on visual communications to sell their products or communicate their messages, can combine photographic and video content in a simple yet effective way. Designers, caterers, artists, venues, and more, should take an interest in Pinterest. Now enriched with vimeo integration, it is a great platform to deliver a visual message. Whether it’s someone looking for a wedding dress, or an organisation seeking a venue for a conference, pictures speak a thousand words. And videos speak thousands more.

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Digital Nativism vs Digital Poverty (1/3)

The concept of digital natives and digital immigrants is a controversial one. Is age a good enough predictor of digital proficiency?  Or do other variables play just as important a role? This is part one of a series of three entries that look into what factors affect our digital development.

According to the Internet Access Quarterly Update 2011 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) there is a correlation between poverty and internet use. Of those adults who have gross pay of less than £200 per week, 9.2% had never used the internet. This is compared to there being no internet non-users amongst those earning £1000 per week or more. This will impact on the digital development of any children in the household, and will be only partially offset by unevenly resourced schools.

Similar statistics can be found in regard to smartphone use, highlighing two key correlations. First of all, is the correlation between smartphone ownership and income. In every age bracket, those on lower incomes are less likely to own smartphones than those earning more. For example, 55% of 18-24 year olds earning less than £15 000 per year own a smartphone, compared to 70% of those earning between 50 and 75 thousand pounds per year. The number of high earners owning smartphones between the ages of 18-24 and 35-44 is also very similar. This further suggests that income is as important as age in determining technology usage and, by extension, proficiency.

What is also interesting is that after the age of 44, the rate of smartphone ownership falls faster, including for high earners. This suggests that there is a really-existing generational cleavage, but renders the concept of digital natives as people born before 1980, as arbitrary. What the statistics do show is the complex intersectionality of income and age, demonstrating clear, but not mutually exclusive correlations.

The Consequences


– People who are part of the ‘digital immigrant’ generation should not be written off as incapable of learning new skills.


– Campaigns aimed at younger publics must take into account class when deciding on what role newer digital technology (e.g. smartphone apps) plays in that campaign


The CIPR, as part of its, Diversity Strategy, has committed itself to tackling glass ceilings within the sector. What may be needed is a focus on digital poverty. Demanding cheaper access to the internet, and smartphones for the underprivileged, is outside of the remit of the CIPR. However the principle of equal access to communications technology is one that the sector should begin to advocate.

Posted in Digital Nativism, Ethics, Social Media | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Employers Request Social Media Passwords

We all know that our online footprint is important. What you tweet from the comfort of your bedroom can potentially be viewed from every bedroom in the world. It has not been uncommon in the last few years to hear of people being sacked from their jobs, or even arrested due to content they have posted on social media platforms. But imagine being asked for your twitter or facebook password by potential employers. Is that not a step to far?

Rising unemployment and redundancies have meant that employers can afford to be more picky about who they recruit. Researching personal lives through social media can be one way of differentiating between a group of level pegging candidates. Googling people, looking at their tweets, even adding them on facebook are not, relatively speaking, new ways of carrying out such research. But to ask for social media passwords crosses the ethical line and compromises privacy to an unacceptable degree.

Applying for jobs is something we all have to do, but it can also be increase pressure on people in increasingly insecure times. First time applicants desperate to land their first job in a sea of people with years of experience. Experienced professionals made redundant, worrying about their mortgage and children’s university fees. Are these type of applicants going to feel pressured to hand over passwords in order to secure an income? I think that’s more than likely.

Social media platforms are not the same. People expect their LinkdIn profile to be read. People expect to have their twitter timeline examined. But should we be expected to allow potential employers the opportunity to look at our political affiliations, or that embarrassing album from your best mates hen night?

I think that’s a step to far.

Posted in Ethics, Social Media | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Internet or Sex. What would you choose?!

A survey by the Boston Consulting Group has revealed that 25% of Britons would rather give up sex than the internet. The rather startling figure was accompanied by the equally shocking statistic that 65% of people would choose the internet over alcohol. And they say we are a nation of binge drinkers! Perhaps even more worrying is the information that 17% would give up showers for the internet, and the same amount again would cease exercising.   The technology of the 21st Century taking us back to the personal hygiene levels of the 16th?

The rise of social media has been credited by some for the responses, with expert Graham Holliday, claiming the figures as ‘evidence people want to connect.’ Indeed survey results indicate that young people, aged between 25-34, would require a £450 annual pay out to give up facebook and twitter.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I would need A LOT more than that to give up facebook and twitter. And in terms of what I would swap it for… it’s socially acceptable to wash your whole body in hand sanitiser. Isn’t it?

Posted in Social Media | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments