Speaker in the spotlight: BBC's Julian Payne at Social PR Strategies

Julian Payne is a former Director of Communications for the BBC. He will be speaking at the Social PR Strategies conference on 5 February and joins a line up of top professionals in PR and comms to discuss how to get the best out of social media.

Julian Payne: "Get your tone of voice right, be a human being not an autobot."
Julian Payne: "Get your tone of voice right, be a human being not an autobot."

Payne was responsible for devising the communications strategy to rebuild the BBC's reputation following the Jimmy Savile crisis of 2012. He was also responsible for managing the arrival of the BBC's latest Director-General Lord Hall earlier this year.

How do you define PR today?

PR today has evolved into a much more sophisticated operation than when I started out in the late nineties.The days of making a few encouraging phone calls, sending out your press release and then crossing your fingers and hoping for a good result have long gone.

There are conversations happening about your brands all the time.  This has always been the case of course but the crucial difference is that now they are in public and they are rich pickings for the media who will use them for good and bad reasons.  PR is about being a part of that conversation, wherever it takes place.  

How has social media rewritten the ways you do PR and interact with the media?

In the days before social media, the news cycle was much more clearly defined and the things that could influence it were more limited.  Broadcasters and newspapers tended to break the stories and then the public would start to talk about them.  Now just as often it is the public who are breaking and then shaping so much of what we see and hear in the media.

That can be intentionally with citizen journalism where a person on the ground can give a first hand account of a massive news moment.  But it can just as easily be the story of one person whose everyday experience of a product or brand strikes a chord and before you know it a massive debate has begun - and they aren't always positive.  

All this means that means you have to keep a very close eye on what people are saying about your clients all day, every day.  Social media is at its busiest in the evenings and the weekends which means when something breaks it is probably not going to be when you are sat at your desk with all the right people and information around you.  Nevertheless if it happens and you haven’t engaged within an hour or so, the first news cycle will have started and it could very well be too late for you to catch up.

If you had one recommendation for those looking to set up social media in their PR, what would it be?

Get your tone of voice right and really think about what you are about to say. Brilliant brands can do real damage to their reputation when they start talking directly to their customers without thinking about what they should say and how they need to say it which amazes me because we all spend so much time agonising over every marketing message and every quote we issue.

Yet when it comes to social media so much of that careful thought seems to get left behind. Vodafone did it brilliantly earlier this year when their network went down, they spoke openly honestly and with a sense of humour to those people who were really letting rip about them and it did a massive amount to limit the damage the technological hiccup did to their reputation, for some people they actually thought better of them afterwards. 

What would your top three tips on engaging and interacting with your audience be?

Get your tone of voice right, be a human being not an autobot. Be honest, if you don’t have the answer right away then say so. Just make sure you tell people what is going on.

Think about your customers and give them something they want. Most people will not be half as interested in your latest corporate announcement as you and your MD are but if you create content that appeals to them that links back to your brand - however tangentially - they will like you a little bit more

What session, other than your own, are you most looking forward to at Social PR Strategies?

The session on what makes for Winning Content. Social Media remains such a nascent form of communication that we still haven’t figured out exactly how to get the best out of it yet. I think this debate will be a great chance to explore the opportunities a little further.

Find out more about the Social PR Strategies conference, featuring speakers from the Wall Street Journal, Nokia, Gumtree, Action for Children the Guardian, and many more.

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