Reflections on a Year in PR

Reflections on a Year in PR

SAN FRANCISCO – This time a year ago, I had just finished up my first couple of months in PR after a long career in journalism – a somewhat head-spinning move into writing, editing and strategizing for corporate clients.

This after years of bashing away at a keyboard seven days a week figuring out how to make sense of what’s going on in the world for a very middle American audience at USA TODAY.

I was sure enough about the move to make it: Kelly Boynton here at Access had become a friend, and through my trust and respect for her I got to know others at the agency – all of whom seemed smart, kind, and dedicated.

One of the things that drew me in was how long so many of the senior team had been with the company. I was about to leave my family – Gannett (25+ years) and USA TODAY (14+ years). For all of the turmoil in mainstream media, my colleagues were my brothers and sisters – people I would run into a fire with (or cover a major tech meltdown with). I wasn’t certain that my first move out of journalism would have me finding my new “forever” home, but I sure hoped so. Family is important.

Now I am a year in – with, frankly, too many thoughts about the transition to sort it all out on my own. So I decided to crowdsource a few questions from my terrific young colleagues here at the agency and from my journo and PR friends on Facebook.

Herewith, for the PR-curious in the journalism community, and for anyone interested in the shifting media landscape, is a q-and-a with myself, courtesy of a few folks I know and love:

Do you regret it? Nope! I still do so much of what I love. I am writing and editing and analyzing trends. In a weird way, I am even closer to the source material about how our world is taking shape. I talk to executives every week who are making big bets on where things are headed. What I would have given for this kind of access as a journalist.

Would you go back? Yes! Who’s hiring? Kidding.

Journalism is and ever will be my first love. I left because I, personally, could no longer tolerate the uncertainty of buyouts, layoffs and the overall burn process happening at big outlets that is absolutely essential as news organizations grapple with the huge question of how to make money. I’m in charge of my own future now in a way that no one in news really is these days.

But I believe very deeply in the future of journalism – it is timeless and vital. Anyone remember that pay TV series Rome, with the fellow standing up in the middle of the town square shouting out the news? Journo.

So, what exactly do you do? Umm….lots of stuff.  I work with executives to help them turn their expertise and insights into cool stories that other people want to read. My favorite clients understand that it is a collaboration and a partnership. I’ve also done work on internal company messaging materials and help with media training for various executives (I play the journalist!). I’m also involved in a lot of new business presentations – primarily offering a lense into how a company is perceived currently in the media and what its aim could or should be.

Do you see PR people differently now? In the 10 years I’d been in San Francisco editing USA TODAY’s tech coverage I came to know many folks in the tech PR community. I don’t know if it’s different from the PR-journo relationship in other industries/sectors but in my experience there was a lot of respect on both sides.

Do your reporter acquaintances treat you differently now? Sometimes I feel like Carrie Mathison: No longer in the CIA but always in the CIA. I’m sure some people do but not the folks who know me well.

What if there were no ‘dark side’? I loved the comment from a Facebook friend who asked that rather than create a perception of opposition, what if we were all on the same side of authentic and truthful editorial. I couldn’t agree more.

Is your schedule more defined and more definable, so that, start to finish in given workday, it’s more A to B than A to Who Knows? Definitely. There are still plenty of very long days and sometime weekend work, but I no longer leap out of bed in the morning as if the world is on fire every single day. And I can, mostly, go to sleep without worrying about what I am missing.

What habits have been hardest to break? This is silly, but I still want to put a SAN FRANCISCO dateline on everything I write. For some reason it helps clear the cobwebs. And of course it’s impossible not to immediately shift into “interview” mode when I’m at any tech-ish gathering whatsoever.

Peace of Mind When Talking Mental Health

Peace of Mind When Talking Mental Health

LONDON — Another day, another headline about the worsening state of our mental health in the UK. Demand for services is increasing at the same time funding has been cut, leading to countless reports of bed shortages, people ending up in police cells and stretched community teams. Meanwhile prescriptions for antidepressants rise, suicides are up in recent years after a period of decline, and mental health charities report record levels of calls to helplines.

And when we switch off the news and escape to television, plot lines carry the message forward. Carrie on Homeland has bipolar disorder, while Stacey’s story on EastEnders highlights the condition of pregnancy-induced psychosis (this on the heels of an ongoing plot about her own struggle with bipolar disorder). In fact, EastEnders is working closely with mental health charity Mind to make sure Stacey’s struggle is portrayed accurately and sensitively – a tricky balance for a style of television that thrives on outlandish plots.

Do these stories lift our spirits? Maybe not, but there is good news here. Mental health is taking its rightful place alongside other key issues destigmatised and embraced by popular culture and reflected in our Netflix queue: LGBT acceptance, social justice and sexual freedom, among others.

The stigma, it seems, is lifting.

Now that we’re convinced we’re communicating about mental health, we must ask ourselves, as communicators, if we are helping or hurting the cause.

Apps, like Headspace, help us to be more calm, meditative and ‘mindful’ – a buzzword of 2015. The plight of the lonely – highlighted by retailer John Lewis’s ‘Man on the Moon’ advert – was front and centre, and we responded by using various channels and engaging in communities on loneliness – and a whole panoply of issues – to help people find common ground and connection. In smaller, daily ways, social media is there for us, full of inspirational quotes, Tweets, and cute panda bears frolicking in snow to make us smile and give us perspective.

But the high points have counterpoints. When blogger Essena O’Neill quit social media calling it ‘contrived perfection made to get attention’, it struck a real cord. We were forced to confront whether the very places we go to find connection were making us feel more disconnected with ourselves and the world around us.

As former Eastenders ourselves (we just moved from our Spitalfields birthplace to Bankside), we wondered if Mind could help us, too. We asked Jack Holloway, Mind’s Media Officer, how communications professionals can foster truly healthy communities and apply best practices. Here’s what he said.

If in doubt, ask the experts: Mental health is a vast topic and it can seem easy to put a foot wrong when talking about it. If you are unsure about anything, from symptoms of particular diagnoses, to when to use a trigger warning or how to talk about suicide, help is at hand. Charities like Mind have a wealth of resources online to help you fact check and talk about difficult issues safely.

Put the person first: Using case studies of people’s own experiences brings mental health to life and makes it relatable. Mental health problems aren’t something that only affect ‘other people’ — one in four of us will experience one at some point, so use personal stories alongside statistics to make the topic human.

Avoid stereotypes and sensationalising: Stereotypes around mental health, such as ‘having OCD makes you neat’ or ‘antidepressants are happy pills’, help no one. Mental health is rarely black or white and people’s experiences vary hugely even within the same diagnosis, so think hard before making a sweeping or sensationalised statement.

Be positive: Having a mental health problem can have a huge impact on people’s lives, but it’s more empowering to focus on the positive than dwell on the negative. Think about how your work can bust myths, break down taboos and get people opening up and talking about mental health.

We’d also add that authenticity is a key piece of the comms puzzle — showing real people in real situations and expressing real emotions, not simply posting stock photography of a laughing couple walking on a beach. While there are certain proprieties that we must uphold, we mustn’t pre-judge content and allow social communities to manage themselves. That’s where true connection happens.

Post by Amanda Moulson and William Holloway

Meet our Staff: London GM Amanda Moulson on Culture, Commerce and Transparency

Meet our Staff: London GM Amanda Moulson on Culture, Commerce and Transparency

David Gallagher, Senior Partner /CEO Ketchum Europe, originally published this conversation with Access Emanate London GM Amanda Moulson on LinkedIn.

I don’t remember when I first met Amanda.  It probably involved tacos and bourbon.  Two expats from the American South, thrown into management roles for Omnicom agencies in the scrappy east end of London, we’ve been comparing notes for nearly a decade.  

She runs a creative PR shop, newly rechristened after a merger with another Omnicom agency in the US, and we wave at each other from the two towers at our mega facility at Bankside in south London.  Very happy to have her profile here, among the interesting and inspiring people I’ve met in PR over the years. 

Name: Amanda Moulson

Twitter: @itsmoley

Job: General Manager, Access Emanate Communications (London)

Hometown: I’m itinerant, but I claim NY

Current city: London

Nationality: Just like you, dual US/UK

That’s awesome.  But I don’t think I’ve ever asked, how did you land in London?  You haven’t! As an art history major, my plan was to be a curator — at the Met no less.

So, that didn’t work out.

But having to be precise in my expression led me straight into PR in NYC – starting at Ogilvy and moving through a few agencies – boutique, to large, to mid-size, from NY to Atlanta to the UK – before settling into London life and Access Emanate, a place that I truly believe embodies the best of all worlds — entrepreneurial spirit, strong culture and with ample support and intellectual rigour.

So what’s your main focus now? I started here as a Director of Insight, Strategy and Creativity, and in many ways those areas remain my heartland.  And now as General Manager, I spend a lot of time in new spaces of my brain: the analytical side that looks after the P&L and commercial strategy; the interpersonal side of keeping a strong culture and looking after talent; the tactical nature of office operations; the big picture vision needed to look around corners.

I wear a lot of hats but I guess it’s like kids – you love them all equally, but differently.

And what about the green beans – those just starting out? Be curious. Be open minded about talent – not just that around you, but your own. Aptitude and attitude is everything. This industry has never before benefitted so much from diverse points of view, work styles and experience, and we are in a time where PR needs to innovate. If you have ideas to make change happen, step forward — or listen carefully to someone else who volunteers them.

Where’s the business going?  I won’t lie, there was a time when I wasn’t that excited about PR. The days felt a little same-y. Draft release. Sell-in release. Draft plan. Revise plan. Repeat.

But those days are long gone.

The way we communicate is changing before our eyes and, as above, PR needs to innovate to carve out a lasting role for itself. I’m excited about how many products are services we can invent to help change behaviours and attitudes in the comms space we’re living in. Oddly, I also think PR is going to start standing for — wait for it — transparency. With so many media outlets getting savvy about monetising branded content, I often wonder if it’s our industry that is going to set the standard for disclosure and pave the way for more authentic interactions and communities.

Anything else? Nope – just a repeat. Be curious. As an Access Emanate team, we watch films together; we attend lectures (shameless plug for Intelligence Squared); we have regular meetings to predict and discuss trends (whilst guzzling wine and eating chocolate). We debate current affairs like a family at a dinner table. We use all of our holiday days to experience the world. All of these things are as important as ‘traditional’ training, if not more so. There are good ideas everywhere, so long as we are open to receive them.

Thanks, Amanda- see you on the sky terrace.  Oh, you definitely will.

From Peer Heroes to Nail Polish That Uncracks: 6 Consumer Trends for 2016

From Peer Heroes to Nail Polish That Uncracks: 6 Consumer Trends for 2016

At Access Emanate Communications, we’ve been busy looking into our crystal balls and tapping into our psychic powers…and just being super observant about the world around us. Here’s our take on next six trends we’ll see in 2016 and beyond.

Peer Heroes – Gen Z is changing the game on who they view as heroes. Gone might be the days of Kardashian Queens and Kings. Tomorrow’s icons will be those that are real, authentic peers of this group (note the rise of the YouTube Influencer, Malala Yousafzai, Jazz Jennings, among others).

Big Emotions – We’re more in touch with our emotions than ever before (“Inside Out,” journaling apps and even something called “sound healing”). We’re also more in touch with big data than ever before. Enter the rise of Big Emotions – where we advance our psychological selves through cognitive technology. Things like Hello Barbie and Cognitoys are the early players.

New Languages of Organization – We’re a words culture. Until now. Info is shape shifting and will see a huge push towards visualization and new mediums we can’t even interpret today. Early examples are the (not so) new language of emojis – and on the further end of the spectrum – new ways companies are thinking about how information is searched and sorted – think spatial structures vs linear lists.

Gender Neutrality – A conscientious effort to not associate by typical female or male stereotypes has led to the normalizing of gender neutrality. Sweden uses the word “hen” as a way to describe he/she. Moppa has become a new word in pop culture. Bathrooms, products and retail identification are becoming more open and interpretive to the consumer.

Proliferation of VR – It’s not news that VR is here to stay. Only that it has and will continue to infiltrate not just the entertainment parts of our lives but the functional as well. Holographic health and predictive climate change will be the new frontier of VR moving from theater to solving the world’s problems.

An Errorless Society – Will today’s smart technology lead to a world without human error? While extreme, “self healing” products like nail polish that “uncracks” to airplane wings that “unbreak,” we’re seeing a new wave of technology that goes well beyond the smart, connected devices of our lives.

Sources: TrendWatching, Iconoculture, Mintel, J. Walter Thompson Intelligence

Hello in There! Beware the Echo Chamber

Hello in There! Beware the Echo Chamber

Let’s get something straight: I like to hear what I like to hear. I like to say what I like to say. And I like for everyone else to agree with me. I’m not asking for much…

As free-thinking and open-minded as I like to believe I am (and I am…really!), I can be as attached to my cozy echo chamber as the next person. Who doesn’t occasionally wish they were three years old again, the center of the universe, and oblivious to the needs of others?! Seems like Sharper Image would have solved this by now by offering us one-size-fits-all, wearable echo chambers (easy to accessorize with chrome trim and hand-held remote control!).

The term “Echo Chamber” typically refers to communications constructs (created organically by broader culture and/or conscious or unconscious design within organizations) in which people 1) surround themselves with the information they want to hear and 2) shut out anything that feels like dissent or does not fit with their worldview, support their agenda, or cater to their psychological comfort. (re-read Orwell’s 1984 if you need an extreme, dystopian refresher course).

Conversation, interaction and information exchange without friction is a very attractive notion. But without that friction very little (if any) meaningful progress gets made. This is true for family units, peer groups, Little League teams, PTAs and, yes, large organizations as well. Even countries, and nations states, and geo-political regions…you get the idea.

In fact, recent studies regarding the impact of echo chambers on public policy have mapped, quantified, pinpointed, and proven out the role that this missing friction can play when really big decisions are being made.

Last year, Yale researchers published “Media ‘Echo Chambers’ and Climate Change” in the Journal of Communication. The writers asked themselves if the steady rise of partisan news allows Americans to insulate themselves in echo chambers where they are only exposed to content that is consistent with their opinions – while simultaneously shielding them from dissenting views. I’ll save you the effort of trying to get your head around their application of a “reinforcing spirals framework”: the answer to their question was “yes.”

Then, just last month, researchers from the University of Maryland went a step further. They were able to demonstrate that the climate change debate (“contentious” on a good day) is fueled, at least in part, by how information flows through policy networks as well (not just media networks). In other words, our elected officials are people, too. People that consume media just like the rest of us, while also having direct access to other voices (some scientifically legit, others not so much) in the climate change debate.

To put it bluntly, the lead researcher tells us the “research shows how the echo chamber can block progress toward a political resolution on climate change. Individuals who get their information from the same sources with the same perspective may be under the impression that theirs is the dominant perspective, regardless of what the science says.”

The report is packed with plenty of depressing findings about who our leaders listen to and who they block out, but, in the end it underscores how important it is “for people on both sides of the climate debate to be careful about where they get their information. If their sources are limited to those that repeat and amplify a single perspective, they can’t be certain about the reliability or objectivity of their information.”

First we have to admit we have a problem. Don’t deny that you live in an echo chamber (at least one!). Accept its likelihood and be willing to exercise your listening, speaking, and messaging in new ways.

So let’s leave the big picture (national climate policy) and start bringing it closer to home (and by home, I mean work). Ask yourself if there are echo chambers within the field of Communications, Public Relations, your clients’ organizations, your agency, your team, etc. I’ll wait. OK, like the Yale study, your answer here is “yes.”

What can we do to escape the fate of our legislators? First we have to admit we have a problem. Don’t deny that you live in an echo chamber (at least one!). Accept its likelihood and be willing to exercise your listening, speaking, and messaging in new ways.

Here are some Echo Chamber Busters to consider:

1. Fix the Mix

The best remedies start at home. Begin by mixing up the channels from which you get information. Read outside your silo. Watch something so far off your radar it frightens you a little. Get your teams to do the same. Skip a few weeks of Electronics Minutiae Today and replace it with Puppetry International – I guarantee you’ll see things differently, which leads to discussing different things differently, which staves off and mutes the echo chamber (FYI – only one of these publications actually exists. Google them for the answer.).

2. Disrupt the Signal

In Public Relations we constantly complain about how difficult it is to penetrate the shell and culture of our clients’ worlds. Now that you know how their information intake cycles can impact them, change up your care-and-feeding routine a bit. Consider implementing a section at the bottom of your weekly coverage recap called “Outside Reading” and throw in a new, random article each week from somewhere way outside their category. They may not read it every week, but eventually your tech client will click on that link about the hydrothermal vent eelpout fish and they’ll be hooked (like said fish) – steering your relationship down the road to more reception and less echo.

3. Get Micro

The previous two tips are really basic, kick-starters for changing daily practice, disrupting your information rhythm, and impacting habitus. This one is really about changing the way we do what we do in 2015 and beyond. It’s about implementing strategies that can shake up and infiltrate echo chambers when you activate a campaign or launch a new product. By engaging in fixing the mix and disrupting the signal, your mind will be more open to getting micro with your actual work…

One of the conclusions the Yale team reached from their research was a proposal that “the development of communication campaigns focused on specific media outlets and audiences that align climate change and energy insecurity solutions with conservative ideals of limited government” could be the way forward out of gridlock. At Emanate we practice Relevance Marketing, which is certainly a very close cousin to what the researchers are proposing here, but I think they’re talking about a kind of uber-targeting and message alignment that we could all stand to do even more of each day.

Imagine not only targeting media outlets by specific audiences to which they cater, but further customizing pitches that align your messaging with very specific solutions and ideals that are proven hot topics with a group of people conditioned by a particular type of echo chamber. Based on budgets, we often cannot afford to get that far into the weeds when making news, but I’d argue that we also can’t afford to “boil the ocean” in the same way anymore and expect to get traction with – and certainly not infiltrate – the target groups deeply rooted in particular beliefs and cultures.

Yelling loud makes great echoes, but if you’re seeking to break reception patterns in a target group it might be better to talk softly and cater much more closely to what they want to hear.

One ongoing question in our own Public Relations echo chamber is “What the hell do we have to do to break through the clutter?” Now, through the magic of scientific study, we know we’ve got our work cut out for us in the echo chamber department – and blunt force won’t cut it anymore (if it ever did).

Yelling loud makes great echoes, but if you’re seeking to break reception patterns in a target group it might be better to talk softly and cater much more closely to what they want to hear. If you get it right, chances are good that they’ll start repeating your message for you.