My New Year's resolutions for comms pros

From perennial good-practice tips to (hopefully) new ideas to improve how you work, here are a few New Year's resolutions that I reckon PRWeek readers might want to adopt, or reflect upon.

Pick up the phone, and be more flexible with where you work (┬ęThinkstockPhotos)
Pick up the phone, and be more flexible with where you work (┬ęThinkstockPhotos)

1) Have a catch-up with whoever runs your clients' Twitter accounts

Are social media accounts at your business run by marketing or customer services people, rather than comms pros? If so, have a word...

Tesco got caught out by a lack of comms savvy in October, when a customer services staffer grasped the wrong end of the caber and irked proud Scots. It appears that several of the brands, Paperchase among them, who 'apologised' for partnering with right-leaning newspapers last year following Stop Funding Hate pressure, did so as a knee-jerk reaction to people claiming to have taken offence, rather than it being indicative of company policy. PureGym also got a bit of a kicking last week for a Twitter insensitivity, while Virgin Trains has been the first big brand this year to fall foul of a very poor bit of judgment in response to a customer complaint.

These might all be storms in teacups to some degree, but the inevitable spate of online articles churned out on the back of them is a pain in the neck. So many of them could be avoided with a few wise words from the PR team.

2) Develop your 'alumni relations'

We all know that in PR, your network is invaluable. While many in the industry have made an art of networking, I don't know of any agencies with formal processes for tracking and keeping in touch with old colleagues, who can often be future clients, colleagues, partners and more.

Universities and fee-paying schools have huge programmes doing this, obviously with donations in mind, so might PR firms want to copy that on a smaller scale? I must credit Arlo Brady, Freuds' new CEO, who says he wants to develop the firm's alumni relations, for this idea.

"We are proud of what many of them [agency leavers] have gone on to achieve and want to continue the relationship long after they have walked out of our office," he told PRWeek. "It’s not only about maintaining friendships... but also about finding other ways to collaborate and advance the relationship, perhaps even to return at some point for a more senior role with valuable external experience. I’m committed to finding more ways for our alumni to participate in the future of the agency, long into the future."

3) Take diversity seriously

If you're bored of PRWeek and others banging on about diversity, more fool you. The industry is increasingly wising up to the fact that diversity isn't just a bit of right-on, fluffy CSR. Good practitioners understand that embracing and studying diversity in all its forms allows you to recruit and retain better talent, and produce better work - and be less likely to fall into the aforementioned trap of ill-judged social media activity.

On that note, here's a plug for two free initiatives PRWeek runs (I'd argue these are merely 'plugs', not 'cynical plugs', on the grounds of them being free): our mentoring scheme for women, which has been run alongside Women in PR since 2013, and today's new launch, a BME Mentoring Project.

4) Talk more, email less

I am by no means the first person to suggest this as a New Year's resolution, but I'm including it because I'm (intending on) doing it this year.

Yes, I know that we're all busy, and I'm sure I'll be guilty plenty of times this year of firing off quick emails because I'm feeling too busy (or self-important) to pick up the phone. But a talking is often far more rewarding for all parties than those interminable email chains in which at various points your colleagues, suppliers, partners, pets and in-laws get cc'd in for reasons nobody can quite remember.

Be it pitching to journalists or discussing an idea with colleagues, why not pick up the phone rather than provide a rushed half-answer? (And yes, I know that some journalists don't like to be called and that PR folk shy away, but as we've said before, please don't assume that to be a universal truth.)

5) Get flexible

Gone are the days when the phrase "I'm working from home tomorrow" automatically illicited a nod and a wink from your colleague, because they knew that meant you would be catching up on your laundry and occasionally checking work emails in between Hollyoaks re-runs.

Last year was something of a watershed for flexible, virtual and remote working in PR. The industry (and wider world) is increasingly realising the monetary, diversity, happiness and quality of service benefits that can be reaped from moving away from the traditional 9-to-5, desk-based model. Ask yourself, do your staff really need to be in the office? Do they really want to be? Does it really help get the job done?

6) Stop with the fake enthusiasm

There are plenty of pieces of content by journalists berating PRs, and I'm (somewhat) loath to add another to the list. Nonetheless, here is perhaps my biggest bugbear when being pitched; people having a blatant lack of enthusiasm for their client, but trying (and failing) to tell you that their client's news is "really exciting".

I understand that not every client is [insert name of your dream client here], and that the dreary task of ringing up rushed hacks like myself (I don't envy you) can be draining. But if you regularly find yourself affecting enthusiasm, it might be worth considering whether it could backfire if you come across as phony with journalists. Might a more straightforward, route one approach work better? 

7) Keep an eye on UGC plans

I'm assuming that a good few readers will have thought 'I already do that' to a couple of the things on this list - congratulations if you're one of those. Here's one that nobody in PR has any excuses for not having cottoned on to last year - taking caution on UGC-based campaigns.

In case you missed it, here are the two horrific (or hilarious, if you're that way inclined) examples of how this can go badly, badly wrong; May's #WalkersWave, which saw Gary Lineker snapped with Harold Shipman and Rolf Harris, and August's sequel from the National Lottery, which gave British athletes a similar opportunity.

And a bonus: 8) Get fit (by joining the PRWeek Running Club)

Here's another non-cynical plug - I'm setting up a running group for the industry, which should be a bit of fun. The first outing is next Thursday, 11 January. WE Communications has kindly offered its Covent Garden offices as a place to put bags and will provide refreshments after the run. Next dates at other agencies are 8 February and 15 March. All levels are welcome. Email me for details.

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