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Stay the interview course – nothing is ‘off limits’

by ballou_admin | 19th October, 2018 | Uncategorized

There’s nothing that gets everyone talking (and sharing), quite like a good ‘walk off camera’ story. The drama of the escalating conflict, the anticipation of ‘the moment’, the post walk-off analysis.. it’s all very entertaining, particularly if it’s a celebrity or CEO with skeletons in the closet.

For person doing the walking off, however, the situation is far from fun.

Today Persimmon boss Jeff Fairburn became the latest high-profile business person to find himself in this position during a BBC interview – not so much walking off (although this is how the BBC billed it), but refusing to go on when asked about his £75m bonus, on the advice of his off-camera PR adviser.

The serious question for the PR industry is why?  Why was Persimmon’s PR team not prepared for such an obvious media ambush?  And why, instead of trying to enforce what is, at best, a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ (that the BBC journalist not ask about the CEO’s controversial bonus), did they not simply brief him on how to answer, or at least handle, the question in an authentic way.

By instead trying to micro manage a broadcast interview and stepping in to enforce ‘off limits’ subjects they’ve simply embarrassed their CEO and drawn greater attention to the issue. It’s now a more prominent story for all the wrong reasons.

What brands can learn from the tech stock fall

by ballou_admin | 11th October, 2018 | Tech Industry

As news of the sharpest fall in global tech stocks in seven years broke on Thursday morning, commentators weren’t short of potential reasons why. Leading the charge, the Financial Times summarised it as a Wall Street reaction, dumping stock over fears concerning the US-China trade war and lack of cheap money.  Tech stocks led this selling frenzy.

At the time of writing there are already signs that markets are correcting and this may just be a cyclical blip. Indeed, the FT and others have pointed out that investors had been paying a premium for certain stocks, so the sell-off itself may have been part of that correction.

But equally, there could be something else going on. There were some high-profile casualties – Amazon’s stock dropped 6.2% and Netflix’s fell 8.4%. Not all of this can be put down to market jitters.  Twitter and Intel both posted disappointing earnings and there are signs that the technology industry may have an image problem.

A series of recent high-profile hacks and data misuse scandals have rocked consumer confidence in technology companies. This was bound to have a knock-on effect somewhere. This coupled with the previously warned about over-valuation of certain stocks, particularly the group known as FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple Netflix and Google), has created a perfect storm.

The extent to which concerns over data privacy and security have contributed to the latest fall in share prices may be debatable. These signs, however, should not be ignored. Increased public awareness of privacy and security issues after major scandals such as the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica one is not going unnoticed by shareholders and should act as a wake-up call to the industry.

Silicon Valley is notoriously resilient and while this may well be business as usual on the stock exchanges, brands can still learn the lessons from it. Companies making mistakes with data and who fail to deal with the PR fallout quickly and efficiently will be punished by their customers and shareholders. Markets may recover quickly; brands and reputations are not so easily fixed.

Getting women to the top of the PR industry

by ballou_admin | 30th August, 2018 | PR

PR is often thought of as a female profession. This is true up to a point. Research from Global Women in PR showed that while two thirds of the global PR industry as a whole is female, only 22% of CEOs in the top PR agencies around the world are women [World PR report 2017].

What this means in practice is that while roles on the lower and middle rungs of the PR industry  are filled by women, those at the top, on the executive board, are overwhelmingly made up of men.

Why, when there are so many educated, enthusiastic and qualified women in the PR industry, are the boardrooms so dominated by men? And how do we change this?

Back in 2014, The Atlantic interviewed several women who worked in PR to try and answer why the industry was so female-dominated. The answer is complicated, but a number of the qualities inherent to PR, such as collaboration, communication and working behind the scenes, are also often associated with women. Women have been socialised to be better at these skills – so it’s no surprise that they are attracted to a career that allows them to utilise them.

But why, when many women are both attracted to and often well-suited to PR, don’t they make it all the way to the top? It’s not uncommon to see an agency that is almost entirely made of us women, led by a man. What happens?

In part, this is the same issue that almost every industry is currently grappling with. There is an enormous network of reasons why women don’t end up in the C-suite, ranging from a structural bias, to a lack of confidence in women to ask for promotions, to the pressure or desire to start a family.

What’s more, the skills that make a good flack can’t necessarily be translated to leadership positions. Once you make it to the top of the PR profession, you’re not actually doing that much PR. Rather, you’re making strategic decisions for the company and the team you lead.

But these aren’t excuses. We need to make sure that the diversity of the world we live in is reflected by the people making the decisions. Not only is it fair: it also makes good business sense. A study by McKinsey showed that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially.  A 2011 government review showed that for every woman added to a board the business’ chance of bankruptcy is reduced by 20%.

The benefits are clear. And when, in PR, we’re lucky enough to have an enormous pool of exceptionally talented women, we have no excuse for not making the most of them. PR firms should boost opportunities for women right from the start, providing sensible careers advice and training and implementing mentoring schemes, such as those created by Women in PR.

We need to be setting an example by ensuring that inspiring women are visible right at the top. At Ballou PR, we’re lucky enough to be led by a fantastic and accomplished woman who built an international PR agency up from the ground. We’re proud that our board is 75% female. Other female PR leaders include Tanya Ridd, Snapchat’s director of communications EMEA, and Ali Jeremy, director of communications at the NSPCC. Being able to look up to these inspiring women goes a long way.

The tech sector, where only 17% of employees are female, can learn from PR when it comes to hiring women in junior and middle management roles. But both our industries have a long way to go when it comes to attracting, accommodating and retaining women at the very top. We need to take a serious look at why this is the case, make sure that we have some outstanding role models, and nurture talented women in order to show them that they can also be leaders.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) in PR & business – friend or foe?

by ballou_admin | 23rd May, 2018 | Tech Industry

By Maria Loupa, Account Director Ballou PR; MCIPR; # AIinPR panel 

With the fourth industrial revolution upon us, there is no doubt that AI will create significant business opportunities and will have a tremendous societal and economic impact on our lives. However, ethical dilemmas keep being raised by new advancements in the field – from IBM’s Watson AI to Google’s new Duplex system or its AI programme AlphaGo, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go.

Gaining traction 

In April 2018, the European Commission called for an increase of at least €20 billion for investments in AI research and innovation in the EU, highlighting the potential opportunities but also the measures that need to be considered ahead of widespread adoption. According to the European Commission, ‘Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to systems that show intelligent behaviour: by analysing their environment they can perform various tasks with some degree of autonomy to achieve specific goals.’

Essentially, we already use AI, even if we don’t fully realise it. The technology is being implemented across our mobile phones and e-commerce tools to customise the consumer’s experience via leveraging data insights from a range of platforms – be that chatbots, virtual personal assistants like Siri or Cortana, or smart home devices. 

AI applications 

AI’s outcomes are as diverse as the potential applications – it is already being used to prevent cyber-security attacks, across banking for fraud checks, retail for customer support, marketing and advertising for effective targeting; it’s being used to transform public transport and urban mobility, as well as healthcare.

As Theresa May highlighted this week, AI can revolutionise the NHS, by preventing over 20,000 cancer-related deaths each year by 2033. And this scenario is not that far out – according to ‘The Future of the Professions’ by Richard and Daniel Susskind, IBM’s separate project with the Baylor College of Medicine has developed a system that scans existing literature to generate new hypotheses for particular research problems. Interestingly, this scanning process would take a researcher up to 38 years to digest 70,000 medical articles.

In recent years we have also witnessed gradual AI implementation across the media spectrum. From Reuter’s News Tracer, using AI to determine whether trending topics are newsworthy and truthful to their launch of launch of Lynx Insight, a tool capable of writing sentences and pitching stories, to similar attempts from The Washington Post and the Press Association, among others.

Across the board, it seems that AI is primarily being used to optimise processes and facilitate workflows, while human input remains the most valuable asset in the news process.

AI in PR: CIPR leading the way

Similarly, in PR we have seen attempts towards AI implementation, but these have been sparse with no concrete outputs. A deeper analysis of AI’s impact on our profession has not been examined on a large scale; with this in mind, the CIPR’s Artificial Intelligence panel was formed. In fact, we have published today a new research revealing the impact of technology, and specifically AI, on the public relations practice. The pioneering research – led by Jean Valin Hon FCIPR – is the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of AI on public relations skills now and in five years.

The discussion paper uses a simplified version of the Global Alliance Global Body of Knowledge (GBOK) framework, which describes more than 50 capabilities in public relations, to visually represent the skills that AI is most likely to replace. Tools were benchmarked against the GBOK framework by an international group of practitioners.

The report found that 12% of a public relations practitioner’s total skills could be complemented or replaced by AI today, with a prediction that this could climb to 38% within five years. According to the findings, fundamental human traits such as empathy, trust, humour and relationship building can’t be automated. However, technology is impacting other areas of practice including the simplification of tasks; listening and monitoring; and automation.

Nature vs nurture

Although the level of sophistication is evolving quite rapidly, with a number of tasks being automated or assisted by AI across PR and other professions, humans are still needed. Soft skills like adaptivity, creativity, emotional intelligence and relationship-building will become increasingly desirable. By shifting our workforce towards a mentality of life-long learning and using technology to tackle mundane tasks, we will all be hopefully able to carry out more meaningful forms of work and achieve superior life quality.

Over time, this new focus may impact how we define professions within our societies as a whole, but in the meantime, we need to ensure we are preparing for socioeconomic changes by setting an appropriate ethical and legal framework.

While at this stage AI is focused primarily around driving efficiencies – quantitative not qualitative – and help us deal with the upscaling of online communications we have been experiencing over the past decade, it is bound to evolve further. We need to set aside our existential fears and survival instincts against upcoming changes, keeping in mind that technology itself isn’t inherently bad or good; its applications are merely a reflection of our morals. With proper regulation, gradual implementation and training, we can reach humanity’s full potential – these are the main aspects we need to be focusing on right now.

You can join the conversation about AI in PR via the #AIinPR hashtag on Twitter.

Image courtesy of maxpixel

*Blog first published on CIPR’s Influence magazine here.

Building out our financial PR practice

by ballou_admin | 18th January, 2018 | PR

We are proud to have worked on a number of high-profile tech company transactions, notably having advised both trivago and Box on their respective NASDAQ IPOs. Our goal is to support our clients at every stage of their growth – from series A to IPO and beyond. To that end, we have just added another experienced financial PR consultant to our London team. Harry Ashcroft joins us from the Corporate and Capital Markets team at Instinctif Partners, having previously worked as a tech analyst at Megabuyte. We’re excited to have him on board to support the team in providing market leading financial communications advice to our clients.

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