Friday, 28 March 2008


The beautiful thing about the Internet, as a communications medium of New Media, is that it bridges the gap between people from different countries, permitting them to exchange views and share information. Scholar Cancross (1988) expresses this fast development as "the death of distance"

In the past year, there has been countless examples of the rising influence of new media on public relations. These include (1) the outing of Prince Harry during his brief stint in Afghanistan (2) China's child kidnappings which the country's traditional media refused to explore until a firestorm of net postings forced them to report.

I shall explore the latter in detail. As we all know, talking about politics in China can be dangerous. Critics of the Communist Party are often silenced. However, the blogosphere is changing all this and increasingly Communist leaders are fearing the power of the blog as bloggers are becoming impossible to control - a strange concept for the Chinese government.

Currently, there are over 30 million bloggers in China - a considerably large number for a country where free speech is suppressed so vigorously.

The child kidnaps were originally ignored by members of the traditional press refusing to assist with the search until the parents of the kidnapped children appealed through a written letter to bloggers. After several online attention, the mainstream media eventually decided to investigate the issue. This incident cast a sad light on the Communist party and finally ignored the dominance of the Propaganda department of the party.

It latter turned out after investigations that local police officials were involved in the kidnappings revealing the real reasons why the Department of propaganda had been initially reluctant to give information.

On a general note, I wonder what the rising influence of new media means for our profession. I think it means that practitioners can become more efficient at predicting what could be a potential crisis. Learning what public opinion is can better equip practitioners on all parts of the job from launching a product, developing an effective campaign strategy to dealing efficiently with future public relations crisis.


I think for the next 25 years, debates will continue to surface about the skills required for Public Relations and whether they are - or should be - intellectual or practical. As someone who has worked predominately in developing countries - I will rightly argue that it is about who you know not necessarily how much you know.

In the Western world, it is increasingly obvious that it is more about your academic achievements (I discovered this the hard way whilst trying to apply for jobs in a highly competitive market)

What I will concur is that to be truly distinct in the market, one needs to couple both. If our dear profession will be reckon with, we need to demonstrate passion for it and this can only start when more people show interest in it and are willing to go and gain qualifications to truly demonstrate how serious they are about the profession not just taking in the media's representation of the job as a certificate.


I was shocked to discover that good CSR has only become mainstream in just little over a decade. For years, it was seen as a do-gooding slide show taken on by a few companies.

I was recently at a M&S mega store on Oxford Street sitting in the cafeteria flicking through their in-store magazine when I stumbled upon their CSR campaign "Plan A" which is essentially a set of 100 worthy targets over the next 5 years.

The company detailed explicitly its plans to give 15,000 children in Uganda a better education; save 55,000 tonnes of CO2 in a year; recycle 48m clothes hangers; triple its sales of organic food; convert over 20m garments to fair trade cotton. My initial response was all this sounds very elaborate - how can the company afford to warehouse this vast range of activities under the 'doing-good' umbrella.

I asked myself, is this really necessary and if so for whose benefit? As a PR student, I'm familiar with the CSR boom - the need for big companies to tell the world about their corporate citizenship, the need to push the message through websites, magazines, print press even CEOs are on the act, jumping at opportunities to speak at conferences about their willingness to be more "green".

And why not, after all, in 2006 the government made it law; according to the 2006 Companies Act, it is a requirement for public companies to report on social and environmental matters.

To answer my question on for whose benefit - the companies itself of course. This is essentially an exercise in protecting reputation, enhancing trust in big business, keeping the army of NGOs at bay whilst motivating, attracting and retaining staff.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008


As a man looking to do great things within the PR industry both local and abroad, I find it deeply unsettling this debate that the entire PR industry irrespective of country of practice is increasingly feminised. I must admit, this comes as no surprise to me. This isn't the first time my sexuality has been questioned as a result of my profession of choice. It stated as a joke amongst my male peers but quickly it became a painful blow to me.

This leads to the question, how exactly did this happen?

Today, 79% of the PR employees are women, the remainder are men - the only comforting fact here is that the men fill the board level/ senior management roles in firms and consultancies across the world.

Which asks the question, are women incompetent? Are they less intelligent than their male counterparts?

The first sets of reasons that jump to mind - when thinking women in PR - is the same framework that can apply to any profession and I must confess I find it incredibly hard to tailor this specifically to PR.

Factors such as lesser working hours, maternity leave periods, lower ranking positions in comparison to their male colleagues. The question is this is typical of most industry, why the particular issue in PR?

Some have argued that women's natural capabilities quickly ‘box' them into certain stagnant roles within PR firms/agencies. Skills such as writing and creativity make women easy targets for these roles in their job description where their male counterparts fill managerial roles. During my research, what I found to be most absurd is an independent study conducted by the University of Kent on this current situation. A key finding was this notion that women will never occupy key positions because of their inability to network.

We can go on and on for reasons why women are not on the top of the PR industry as they so rightly deserve after all women continue to make huge breakthroughs in every sector. American Democratic presidential candidate is testimony that it is all a matter of time before things change. It would be utterly foolish to out rightly conclude that women will not dominate the world of business or politics.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008


Many journalists assume that public relations is largely propaganda. Many public relations practitioners tend to break-out-in-a-rash at this accusation. I personally don’t, I have long accepted that there will never be a clear distinction between the two; denying that PR practitioners use strategies and campaigns to persuade anyone about anything in my view is preposterous.

The connection between propaganda and public relations (quite frankly I don’t know why academics and scholars have crafted to separate definitions) can be further explored with some of the more definitions out there.

The European Public Relations definition of public relations is ‘the conscious organisation of communication’. It also defines public relations as ‘a management function’ using the Iraqi war and ‘the embedded journalists’ as an n example, isn’t this just a classic example of public relations? Why is this considered largely propaganda?

Propaganda has been described as ‘the deliberate and systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognition and direct behaviour to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist’ (Jowett and O’Donnell 1992)

This emphasises the purposefulness of propaganda, its organisation and the way propaganda seeks to further the sender’s not the receiver’s interests. It also draws further on the point that the propagandist seeks to influence the thoughts and behaviour of the audience. The issue is that it could equally describe a great deal of public relations activity. Edward Bernays (the father of public relations) has famously described public relations as ‘the engineering of consent’.

If PR is about persuading people to consent to the purpose of an organisation – or person, why is it any different from the definitions given above on propaganda? This is all hypocritical in the public relations practitioners path, we all want to be “ethical” and “correct” by labelling the “dutier” aspects of our discipline of looking after reputation.

To go one step further, too many PR scholars focus in its wartime application. I’m still searching for truly convincing civil or corporate examples of propaganda.

I am not convinced that examining the nature of war, the attempt to achieve mutual understanding and to establish a beneficial relationship, between the government and the publics – we can ever achieve PR – it will always be seen as propaganda.

Scholar Taylor (1992) has said we should discard any notions of propaganda being “good” or “bad”, and use those terms merely to describe effective or ineffective propaganda.

He raises a key issue of intent in propaganda, not just who says what to whom, but why (Taylor 2001). I utterly agree with this approach as I believe propaganda should be re-examined rather than demonised in PR texts.

Utterly, the role of PR in political, military and corporate communications is seen as fuelling propaganda.


Effective crisis management protects organisations, their reputation and, at times, can salvage their very existenxe. In the case of this chosen case study, the protests against the Beijing Olympics.

Ineffective crisis management could potentially harm China's hard-won reputation reputation built over recent decades.

It is no rocket science that recent pro-Tibet campaigners are quickly disrupting normal runnings of much anticipated Beijing Olympics - which China has been working incredibly hard for over six years to use as a vehicle to establish it's nation as an economic and political power house.

However, as more and more oppositions and global protests over shadows the Olympic games, creating embarassing headlines as we've seen on the streets of London during the Olympic torch journey through our Capital's streets.

36 people were arrested, two protesters were held for trying to put out the flame which one man ried to grab the torch out of a celebrity carrier's hands. The images splashed across newspapers were one of shock and chaos. I couldn't actually see the flame admist 2,000 police uniforms, China's blue track-suited "guardians of the flame" and hundreds of protest placards.

The question is couldn't the Chinese government have prepared something to combat this embarrasing images which has already casted a shadow over the sporting tradition?

Surely, this crisis could have been identified before it happened hence a better response to the situation could have been applied. Schlors, Heath (1997) supports the argument that managing issues can help prevent a crisi. He states: "
if a organisation is engaged in issues management before, during, and after a crisi, it can mitigate - perhaps prevent - the crisi from becoming an issue by working quickly and responsibly to establish or re-establish the level of control desired by relevant stakeholders

Perhaps, i'm playing naive and expecting the Chinese government to have predicted this outcome. Perhaps, it is impossible to determine how protesters will recruit across the world afterall it is alledged that in China, no protests have been seen during the Olympic rally show on TV.

This will make sense thinking on Schlors Sam Black's breakdown of crisis into the 'known uknown' and the 'unknown unknown'. The latter are events that cannot be predicted and that can come about from unconnected events or circumstances that are unpredictable.

I will not share my personal views on the current situation - Iam neither a politician or a sporting athlete what I will conclude with it is how China communicates about the crisis that will make the real difference. There are tons of evidence that good communication in a crisis situation can support or increase a country's reputation. It is evident that China's lack of effective communication solutions is already having a powerful negative effect on the country and sadly, the Olympics games.

China needs to communicate exactly what it is going to do exactly, in a timely manner to all stakeholders - the Olympics board, sponsors, governments, Tibetians, the press, sporting associations, athletes and many others.


I've always felt there are great benefits to joining accredited associations. I was utterly distraught by the thought that my postgraduate degree was not acknowledged by the CIPR which means upon the completion of the postgraduate, I will not receive an automatic membership into the association. My desire to join one of these associations is because I strongly believe they can often open doors. Surely I'm not the only person that can see this.

Which leads to the question, why are minorities not in these association and why aren't many of them thinking like I am?

According to Shirley Harrison's Public Relations: An Introduction There are approximately 48,000 people in the UK working in Public Realtions in some way, out of this only 6,000 are currently registered with an association.

As it is clearly not a pre-requisite, I strongly urge minorities to join associations for the following reasons –

 Networking
 Professional development
 Accreditation
 Mentoring

I would also like to ask these association for full support. I believe the three greatest barriers why minorirties are not joining the professional organisations include cost of annual membership dues, lack of diversity among membership and insufficient amount of time to participate.

These organisations can help by

1) looking for ways to partner with racially-based PR organisations to provide discounts on professional development and networking opportunities
2) cultivate professional associations with other minority organisations, such as the Urban League, to better understand diversity issues and to help publicize PR opportunities.

Thursday, 21 February 2008


The class lecture on the theories of audiences, publics and stakeholders really allowed me to explore my role in a lot of things around me that affect me.

I find Grunig and Hunt's situational theory of publics incredibly fascinating - the examination of why and when publics are formed and most likely to communicate, how their predicted communication and behaviour can be used to segment publics in order to provide a basis for deciding what strategy is most likely to achieve cognitive, attitudinal and behavioural effects in the publics.

The idea that as a stakeholder of Tesco, I can become a public if I recognise that an issue or problem affecting my family exists which I can see as worth getting involved with the issue or problem.

In recent months, hurdles of young teenagers congregate in front of my neighbourhood Tesco store for hours during and after school hours often harassing by-passers. As you can imagine, in a relatively quiet area this is slightly unusual. I have been puzzled on what to do next however using the Grunig model, I have better understood what type of audience myself and my neighbours are.

I have also learnt further that it is in Tesco's best interest to address this situation whilst its audiences are still latent and aware. If we become active, we could switch to other nearby corner stores.


The role of public relations in political, military and corporate communications, not just for publicity will continue to be seen as fuelling propaganda.

As long as people continue to lose trust for corporate and government institutions, all efforts by their 'propagandist' to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics will always be categorized as propaganda.

I will have to refer to Taylor (1992) alternative description of propaganda as "....a practical process of is an inherently neutral concept. Taylor brilliantly suggests that the industry should discard any notions of propaganda being "good" or "bad" and use those terms merely to describe effective or ineffective propaganda. Taylor further demonstrates that the issue of intent is important in propaganda - not just who says what to whom, but why?

This is a straight response which should be adopted by the PR industry and encourage decision makers to re-examine rather than demonise the term in public relations text.

The reality is as practitioners we are burdened with the negativity of propaganda which has prevailed since the 2nd world war and the power of Nazi propaganda: the use of film to promote anti-Semitism and the horrific consequences of that message.

It is refreshing (at least in the 1st world) to know the industry's reference to fight the pejorative connotations of propaganda on our profession. Things are slightly different in some African countries (particularly West African) where propaganda is hugely debated however it is not frowned upon and most practitioners believe it is vital to formulating public opinions and agendas mostly in government relations.

Personally, I feel the industry spends too much energy on fighting the battle of propaganda; this draws me back to Taylor's definition which clearly states that e should focus on 'effective' not 'ineffective' propaganda. Simply because they are too many similarities with the functions of our profession and the aims of propaganda.

The best the industry can do is ensuring that all other sectors of public relations i.e. financial, technology are charged propaganda-free.

Monday, 7 January 2008


I was watching a great debate last night on CNN's International Correspondents on the rapid growth of new media and its growing supreority over traditional media. Although I understand the fears of cynics who argue that new media has allowed almost everyone to live out their life-long ambition to become a journalist, I must say that I got a sudden buzz over the idea that perhaps new media might help many who are trying to break into the PR industry a platform to voice their frustrations and more importantly competence.

We are all very aware that the PR community has a very strong presence in the world of blogs and podcasts. I honestly believe this might be a great opening for us all.

Saturday, 5 January 2008


On the 8th of September 2006, Trevor Phillips OBE was appointed the Chair of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) by Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

CEHR is a new organisation which inherited the responsibilities of the existing equality commissions: the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission. The new body, became operational in Autumn 2007, providing a powerful, authoritative, single voice on equality and human rights.

In addition to its legal role in enforcing equalities legislation, the body works to ensure that organisations and individuals have access to clear and understandable information in order to foster debate, tackle issues early on and encourage a change of culture within institutions.

Despite his impeccable track record and achievements, Mr Phillips has quickly become the figure of hope for many minorities (especially professionals) and those discriminated against.

Evidence of this lies with one of the aspiring PR practitioners that I have been speaking to whom has recently written a letter to Trevor Phillips about the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the industry.

We await a favourable response.

Friday, 4 January 2008


Although this blog seeks to address the trend of the underrepresentation of minorities in UK PR industry, I thought perhaps it might be interesting to explore how our American counterparts practise diversity.

Upon extensive research, I stumbled upon a National Survey conducted by the PRSA on barriers to diversity. The survey revealed that women-owned/managed firms have a significantly greater commitment to and success in retaining multicultural practitioners, compared to their male counterparts.

This got me thinking, these firms are essentially considered "small-to-medium scale businesses", does this mean that ethnic minorities in America (and perhaps, this could apply in the UK) have a better chance of applying for jobs in smaller and medium scale PR firms? Is the rat race for the top consultancies just too tiring to chase after?

I think it would be fair to say that both countries need to do a lot more to encourage the full integration of minorities into the industry.


To be fair, the entire media industry has recently started to look within to see how the faces that make up the industry might affect its output. For instance, The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising have set up the IPA’s Ethnic Diversity project. It’s co-chair Barrett Cernis says the industry must stop recruiting predominantly from the same narrow talent pool of middle class graduates regardless of race

So far, the Ethnic Diversity project showed that the advertising industry has a 4% ethnic minority representation and 70% of that figure are support staff. What about senior management roles?

Those figures need to be reviewed to get a good balance. As much as I appreciate that this is a step in the right direction, more steps must be taken for the media industry to be successful - we must elevate our programs of specialized development, and take into account a broad range of multiculturalism.

The industry must appreciate that there is a massive potential role for ethnic minorities in enhancing the diversity of the PR work force, which would also create a better cultural understanding. With better understanding comes greater success and quality. A one-size-fits-all “minority program” can no longer be expected to identify the talent required to address the diverse needs and challenges of our clients and companies.


Apart from the goal of attracting more members of the ethnic minorities into the PR industry, I feel it is important to encourage those currently working in the industry. It gives me great pleasure to speak with and since I have started operating this URL I have tried to speak with as many ethnic practitioners as possible. Some have given me some ideas as to how they feel their rarity can be preserved. Below are some recommendations -

1) make diversity recruitment & retention part of the institution’s objectives
2) educate supervisors and employees about fostering good working relationships with everyone in the company, including ethnicl practitioners

I think it is fair to say that their longevity and visibility in the industry can only help reduce this trend of under-representation.


Upon greater reading and research, I have narrowed down some potential ways in which PR associations like CIPR can promote diversity, they include –

 Create a campaign geared toward recruiting minorities practitioners getting the message earlier to youth
 Offer development opportunities to diversity professionals
 Assist businesses with recruiting competitive diverse candidates
 Avoid creating a quota hiring policy for its own sake, but instead foster a corporate culture that values and supports diversity.


To get a true PICTURE of some of the day-to-day challenges faced by practitioners of ethnic origin in today's PR industry, I decided to ask some very basic questions to 4 ethnic practitioners to fully explore this issue of underrepresentation. Our encounter revealed the following challenges -

1) Job satisfaction - our interviews shows that job satisfaction is extremely low. All four are not in the PR sector of their choice.

2) Work related racism - all say they have experienced incidences of racism in their career. The most common problem is the notion of been more qualified for positions than their white counterparts. They also feel ethnic practitioners are put on slow moving career tracks and are often relegated to menial tasks.

3) Mentoring – there is a huge need for mentoring, although all agree that they have been mentored by one or more PR practitioners they would like to be mentored by another minority who has become successful in their own right.

Thank you to all that provided us with their information. Your participation is priceless.


On the first day of my postgraduate degree, I was overwhelmed by the number of ethnic minorities on the course.

The class is testimony that the current PR industry does not reflect the true state of the profession. The class is a combine of many ethnic background and origins – Asians, Indians, Africans and Americans. Even more worrying is the fact that the few minorities tell me they likely won’t be joining the profession.

The main objection to practising in this field lies in the 'perceived' low-employment rate. Many will be moving back to their respective countries to pursue jobs sometimes unrelated to their training in public relations.

My fellow classmates embody attributes we all hope are being espoused at the training grounds for PR’s next generation – awareness, focus, and positive direction. So I ask the question, why aren’t the minorities in PR’s classrooms reflected in the UK industry? Why are ethnic students convinced their isn't a job for them in the UK? How can the public relations profession lead, or even remain relevant, if its practitioners do not adequately represent a ethnic society that is a significant % in the U.K?

I’d like to hear from you.

Thursday, 3 January 2008


In order to truly establish the current status of minority employment within the UK PR industry, I have been speaking extensively with Mr Papa Lawson (an African who currently works with a Top 20 PR agency). I found some of his views very interesting and informing.

"Somehow I don't quite believe that there aren't enough qualified ethnic candidates in the applicant pool, everyone talks a good game about diversity and multiculturalism but in the end it's about commitment. In order to increase the number of minorities in PR, we need to recruit, hire, mentor and promote all people with equal tenacity. It's that simple. In light of our nation's changing demographics, our field must accurately reflect the diversity of thought in the population if we want to remain vital, strategic partners for our clients".

It can be argued that individual success in some fields is less dependent on merit as it on personal connections and aesthetics. Public Relations has always maintained a certain air of exclusivity but at what cost? How can we legitimately represent a diverse range of businesses and consumer brands (with diverse target audiences) if our employee base remains so homogeneous?

The UK currently has a ethnic minority population of 4635296 (Source: ONS, 2003). Go figure!

I want to hear from you.


I’m often deeply saddened by the media's portrayal of the average minority youth especially teenage boys aged between 14 and 19 or should I refer to them as the 'ASBO' generation.

The thought that this is often the image portrayed by comedic sketches such as The Caterine Tate Show burns me as I’m proud to say I’m a produce of hard-working parents who have managed to send all my siblings to prestigious independent schools across the United Kingdom and we have developed a sound mind from our exposures and experiences which we have indirectly brought to our respective professions.

I have similar friends whom we have shared similiar life experiences and we all share the same view that in our industries we often find that instead of trading ideas, we spend most of our career years trying to convince people that even though we have different colour skin, we are exactly the same as them – we speak the same way, eat the same things, watch the same movies, listen to the same music and have similar aspirations.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008


To set the records straight, it would be false on my path to say that the underrepresentation of minorities in the PR industry is not partly the community's fault.

As an African and I have a few Asian friends whom have all shared similar expectations with me. When I was growing up, my parents knew that they wanted all their children to have specific job descriptions, these descriptions didn’t stretch beyond the conventional doctor, lawyer or if you were lucky, an accountant.

They were very clear that they wanted me to be a doctor - this is not just a stereotypical anecdote that people hear about - it's true! All first generation 'ethnic' parents wanted their kids to have a good solid profession - after all that is why they flock out thousands of pounds in overseas fees - to make a better life for their children. So, like the good dutiful son that I was, I followed the right path to become a doctor. I studied sciences at school, got the necessary preparations by subscribing to all medical soaps – with my personal favourite been Channel 4's ER.

However after my A’ Level results it was apparent to both my parents and I, that my career path had to embark on a diversion. It took a poor exam result for my parents to reconsider.

The moral of the story is tradition has it that many ethnic minorities, particularly Asians and Africans, are obliged to pursue a doctor-lawyer vocation route because they are perceived to be of a high status and financially rewarding backing.

This we must accept plays a part in interested kids to fully explore their passion if it be Public Relations, Journalism or Marketing from an early age. The only way in which we can hopefully change our parents mindset is if increasing numbers of ethnics show interest in these fields and the successful ones in the industry become more visible.

Or maybe I'll just keep dreaming!