Tag Archives: CIPR

Riding the diversity tsunami – why a diverse workforce make business sense.

It’s always nice to feel you’re on the side of the angels.

It felt pretty good to hear that we were at the beginnings of a “diversity tsunami” at yesterday’s launch of the CIPR‘s report into diversity in the PR industry. If this piece on the public’s response to the UK advertising landscape is to be believed it may even be true – after all, something’s got to change:

almost two-thirds of people in the UK feel the ad industry does not represent them, and almost two-fifths say advertising characters and messages fail to reflect British society as a whole…. one in six say they are prepared to avoid buying products from companies that fail to take diversity seriously.

It seems, that the public are ahead of the PR and marketing industries on this one.

The CIPR report is sobering reading, highlighting a slow rate of progress in closing the gender pay-gap, welcoming employees with disabilities and – my personal bugbear – focussing so much on the “young and dynamic” that it forgets the insight that experienced (and dynamic) older professionals offer.

Looking for a magic bullet

Many of the speakers yesterday repeated the mantra that “there is no magic bullet” for resolving the unconscious biases which dog recruitment – not just in PR but pretty much everywhere. But there were some great case studies showing how diversity helps business.  I liked the story of the owner of a small PR agency who grew her business by recruiting an ethnically diverse team – confessing with admirable honesty that it was mainly because of the financial support Creative Access offered her to do so. She soon found that her small business was out-competing larger agencies, winning international contracts because they had staff members who could – literally – speak their clients’ language.

My example – told here before – of the agency which couldn’t find a way to talk to an audience of over-50s fits that narrative exactly.  Putting it bluntly, if you don’t understand the UK’s ageing population and you don’t know how to talk to older people, you can’t sell them stuff (and like it or not, we’re the bit of the population that’s still got a disposable income…) Having a workforce that looks like the people it’s trying to communicate with – in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the representation of people with disabilities – isn’t just a nice thing to do, it makes sound commercial sense.

When the audience takes the lead

There was agreement yesterday that the greatest chance for achieving change will come from pressure on companies from their supply chains; which is why that one in six who might change their purchasing behaviour if companies don’t take diversity seriously are so important.

Only two flies in the ointment of the Marketing Week report.  The first is this:

a third of marketers polled in separate research by Marketing Week … believe that a lack of multiculturalism in advertising has no impact on what people buy

As an industry we need to catch up with our customers.

The second is the welcome it gives to the John Lewis ad as an example of older people in advertising.  Readers will know how I feel about this Christmas campaign.  I much prefer the Aldi’s spoof where, instead of a set of binoculars, the man on the moon receives a companion, delivered by balloon to brighten his Christmas.  (The gender politics of describing her as a “special buy” might be slightly problematic, I suppose, but I choose to believe that she willingly strapped herself to the chair – and I wish them both a happy Christmas)

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To MOOC or not to MOOC? What are the training options for the self-employed?

online learning

One of the things that’s hard about being self-employed is staying up to date. Doing the CPD to make sure you’re still relevant in a changing market can be prohibitively expensive when you don’t have an employer to pick up the tab.

I’m a member of a professional association – the CIPR – which offers CPD as part of membership. I’ve done a lot of their free training – sat in front of the webinars, read the pdfs.  They’re pretty good, as far as they go – which tends to be just up to the point where they’ve thoroughly covered the basics and someone with significant practical experience of a subject wants to leap off into new thinking.

The advanced stuff is there – for a price.  The CIPR offers members a discount on their training packages.  If you’re freelancing, paying what seems to be the standard members’ charge of £420 inc VAT for a workshop (not to mention the loss of fee-income for a day) can feel daunting.

Beyond the confines of your own membership association, costs get very steep very quickly.  Want to improve your facilitation skills to boost your management credentials?  A quick google search reveals a two-day training course which costs £880 + VAT. Interested in opening new doors by getting a Masters?  I found one that I’d love to do: £5,225 per year for two years. (In case you were wondering, there are no student loans for post-graduate degrees for students over 30. Oh, and your training is not necessarily tax-deductible).

I don’t doubt that the training on offer in all of those courses is terrific or that it would be a great investment in my career.  I don’t think trainers should give the self-employed training for free out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s just very difficult to find those kinds of sums up-front, out of a freelancer’s income, especially when ROI is hard to quantify and the quality of what you’re buying can’t be assessed until you’re in the room and it’s too late to back out. I would guess that everyone reading this has at one time or another sat through poorly designed, badly delivered training which felt irrelevant to their working life. That’s annoying if it’s taken time out of the day job. It’s heart-breaking if it also cost you, personally, a sizeable chunk of next month’s mortgage. Often it feels like too big a risk to take.

The cheapskate approach to training?

High quality new ideas – preferably free – is what I crave.  So I’m giving thanks to the creators of PR Stack, a crowd-sourced directory of PR tools which looks fantastically useful.  Massive open online courses – MOOCs to their friends – also seem like a possible, cost-effective alternative to the expensive training course.  I’ve just started one being offered by FutureLearn.  I’m doing it as much because I’m curious to see how the experience measures up as in the hope of learning something new.  I’ll post again when the course is over. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from fellow freelancers who’ve cracked the training conundrum: how do you do it?

Because sometimes age beats youth…

There was a flurry of interest earlier this year in the CIPR survey which revealed that although PR is a largely female-dominated industry,  fewer women than men occupy really senior positions.  I’m getting interested in another nugget of information buried in the survey – the age profile of PRs with in-house roles compared to freelancers.

Apparently “by far the greatest percentage (50%) of in-house … members are aged between 25 and 34. Practitioners aged 45-60 significantly dominate the freelance sector, with 51% of freelancers within this age range.” 

That feels perfectly understandable.  PR is a discipline that suits freelancing brilliantly.  Armed with a laptop, a broadband connection and a mobile you can work when and where you want – a  boon for women juggling work and childcare.  I’m starting to think that there may be a more sinister element to this, though I could just be paranoid.

There have always been rumours that recruitment consultancies don’t take candidates in their 40s seriously.  My experience and that of friends and contemporaries certainly seems to  bear that out at the moment.  I apply for the occasional interim job to mix it up with the freelancing.  Rather than being proud of the 20+ years on my CV and the huge range of experience that I can offer an employer, I’m starting to wonder what I can cut so that I don’t end up on the she’s-older-than-God pile before I have  chance to talk to them.  Are there so many freelancers  over 40  because we can’t get anything more permanent?

Ironically, being 40+ should be an advantage these days.  As the population ages communicators need to reach a mature and media-savvy audience which won’t accept being patronised or pigeonholed.  I’m doing some work at the moment for a client who’s putting together a health campaign aimed at people over 55.  They have smart campaigning ideas, a track record in generating fantastic creative work and great technical expertise in delivery, but they’re planning a campaign that risks turning off a sizeable chunk of its target audience because they don’t understand it.

I fondly remember being  27, single and childless.   I had no possible idea what it might be like to be  middle-aged, coping with children, job and mortgage, occasionally waving at my similarly harassed husband as we pass on the stairs, one to make dinner, the other to pick up a child from cubs.   I certainly had no idea  how it might feel to face getting older.     Those are increasingly common experiences.  Understanding them should be a huge advantage.  One of my industry heroines, Jilly Forster , has been stressing this point for years.  I’m watching the progress of Forster’s AGEncy with interest –  and it already seems to be paying dividends for them.  Others please note!

How do you prove you’re resilient? Work in the public sector

A depressing entry in the Guardian’s cutsblog suggests that the image of public sector workers as plodding, risk-averse jobsworths will count against them when it comes to taking some of the  2 million jobs that the private sector is poised to deliver any day now.

Enough recruitment consultants have been quoted in PR Week saying that public sector-ites will be at a disadvantage in the jobs market to have spooked me into attending a CIPR/VMA event looking at how hard it might be to move from public to private sector.   Inevitably the hardest thing to prove when you’ve worked in the public sector is that you have the commercial acumen to make it in private business.  Otherwise, it seems  the skills that employers are looking for are, encouragingly, the ones that you develop as a means of survival in the public sector –  resilience,  managing change, leading teams, influencing stakeholders,  a willingness to push back against difficult managers (Lord, have I got some stories to tell…)

Transferable communications skills

Having worked in comms in both sectors, I’d say that the skills you need to succeed are pretty much the same for either.  My starter list would include  a continuous focus on the audience, a sound understanding of the market you’re working in,  imagination, flexibility, tenacity, a sharp eye for managing budgets and people, an understanding of strategy (and how it differs from tactics),  a willingness to get stuck into delivery (and the practical know-how), a healthy respect for deadlines,  the political nous to navigate  layers of management, good writing skills and an eye for detail.  I see no reason why having the skills to work in one should somehow bar you from working in the other.

The importance of social networks

I was struck by how few people at the event said they felt confident  using social media as part of their job-hunting armoury.  Sadly, opting out isn’t an option.  Research suggests that 100% of recruitment consultants use LinkedIn as a tool to identify (and weed out) candidates for posts, and that the size of your network is important.  Something like 85% of them use Twitter for the same reason.  Not having an online presence suggests that you haven’t updated your skills in a decade and aren’t really playing the game – not having a LinkedIn account now is like not having an email address was ten years ago.

Barbara Gibson – our social media guru – recorded this  on her phone at the event I went to, demonstrating a neat way of gathering content for a blog or website at the same time as cementing a link with a potential contact – wouldn’t you be flattered if she asked to interview you?  And wouldn’t you put the link on your site too and link back to her?  Genius!

Communication isn’t the same as spin

Pop quiz: what do these   stories have in common?

The answer is, of course, they are united by rushed policy-making, an airy attitude to making announcements without expecting to be questioned about the details, and  spectacularly bad communications.

Ironically,the thing I like about this government  ( the only one) is its sense of urgency and its refusal to accept that there are any sacred cows that can’t be slaughtered.  I wish the last lot had been so bold.  But change on this scale needs to be based on sound evidence and detailed policy work, else it has a tendency to blow up in your face; and if you can’t explain what you’re trying to do, you can’t build the support you need to get it done.

The comms thing really pains me: poor briefing, confused messages, over-promising what cannot be delivered, insensitivity to the needs of important stakeholders,  confusion about key areas of policy.  They  need  good communications support and the need will get more acute as policy starts to be implemented.  Some optimists think that they are going to start realising this quite soon.  Regular readers will know, however,  that I am not  by nature a glass half full kind of a girl.  Government communication is firmly linked to spin and smears (Cameron said it again in his  leader’s speech yesterday).  The notions of PR, lobbying and campaigning are such an anathema to Ministers that they are effectively forbidding people to do it (even though an estimated 15% of new Tory MPs have a background in lobbying).  CIPR are trying to raise the issue of the value of public sector comms, but I doubt that will be enough.  They need comms help – how do we convince them?

Update:  I’ve just re-read this.  It worries me that it looks as though I think comms can or should be used as a cover for bad policy. It can’t and shouldn’t. My point is that if the government has a coherent strategy  that is driving what’s being done,  they have no chance of letting us know what it might be without a marked improvement in their comms.  The fact that it looks increasingly  as though no such coherence exists is worrying on many levels…