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Network at the National Theatre

At what point do we acknowledge and challenge the function of media and organisational PR strategy models in a democracy? Those who do not have the skills or entry points into journalism or PR questionably will have more problems getting their voice heard, unable to navigate tried and tested structures which conduct the stream of information that confronts us in our homes every day. Increasingly, people who work in media and PR work to reflect each other, and the same tired cliches and formula of the media calendar continue to maintain status quo. And we can only expect more content.

I recently saw two fantastic productions in London based on the origins and power of mainstream media. Ink - a play about the changing fortunes of The Sun after the Murdoch takeover - and Network - a National Theatre production of the 1970s film based on the quest for dominance in public viewing ratings. Both addressed the psychological effects of the media in 'giving the public what they want', however they also questioned what do the public 'need' from the media, and those answers may be poles apart.

Last month I was working for a national charity's annual awareness week, with fairly meaty news to issue to media. However, the week before the story, we became aware of another story in the offing that would be featuring on Panorama on Sunday night - to appear the same day as our announcement - the Paradise Papers. We were competing with a team of journalists who'd probably been working for 18 months to delve into the tax-dodging worlds of the rich and famous - including the alleged "sporting personality" Lewis Hamilton and the Queen - which meant while we did well on the coverage front, there was certain broadcast outlets that were out of our grasp on that day. There was a hit on BBC breakfast as they flicked through the papers, however the Today programme was becoming as likely to be bagged as a trip to Panama (didn't stop a colleague expressing bemused disappointment at being bumped of course.)

This got me thinking - while a very worthy story, the broadcast programmes in question were clearly tied up with what their sister TV network was announcing the night before. Less than a month later, we're celebrating Harry and Meghan's roast-chicken and corgi-fuelled engagement, with the Queen's tax dodging escapades reduced to wrapping paper for fish and chips. Blanket wall-to-wall coverage of the interview, the ring, the Botswana diamonds, the charity work, the acting, the coats, the fact the corgis prefer Meghan, etc, meant that any stories from little old peasants didn't get a look in. Plus - the Government managed to bury some bad news about freezing benefits demonstrating why any related comedy satire is now dead.

How progressive is it for media to adopt impartiality? Only yesterday on the Andrew Marr breakfast programme we saw yet again a platform being given to extremist right wing views with Farage (can someone tell me why he keeps getting air time?) and evil Postman Pat Jacob Rees-Mogg getting on the sofa. Yet, listening vaguely to the dulling insipid BBC Radio Two while typing this (not my choice), I am yet to hear a broadcast news piece about the thousands of Muslims who protested against ISIS for peace in London. So if media insists on impartiality - who decides what gets more weight in the media and public awareness?

While my PR diploma seems a long time ago, I remember reading about organisational structures and the function of PR being at either the heart of an organisation for public transparency and influencing business direction, or on the edges to disseminate information to the public with less opportunity for internal interrogation and less inclination to respond to media. However, I think both of these concepts are rapidly becoming dated.

Following on from my recent charity PR work, I learned about an impressive organisation that works with citizens and leaders in communities to decide long-term campaigns to achieve change, working alongside politicians, media and community leaders. This ensures stories generated in the media aren't just designed to preach to the media bubble to fit their agendas, but are truly investigative and in effect democratise the media. However, while attributing more power to individuals to get media share of voice, there needs to be caution. A tendency of national newspapers to promote stories and agendas shared by troll accounts on social media shows little willingness for accountability in broadening the public sphere of influence in the media, with fake news being directly retweeted by the tangerine candy-floss haired President of the United States. I haven't got time to move onto the monopoly of the tech search engine giants and technologically addictive and human behaviour altering Book of Faces who remain completely unaccountable in the types of content they choose to promote or remove.

What can a PR practitioner take from all of this? We have the knowledge of media agendas, media relations, journalists and writers and media outlets with a responsibility to educate and empower anyone who wants to know more about the changing media landscape to encourage you to agitate and change the way we consume media.

If I can help you "break the fourth wall" of the media in 2018 to get your message across on your own terms, don't hesitate to get in touch to arrange a coffee. I'm also keen to hear new podcasts/news sites/zines so please drop me a tweet to send my way or pop in the comments below.

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It's not always easy telling people who don't work in PR that you work in PR. Sometimes the man or woman on the street assumes that if you were in Hogwarts you'd be in Slytherin, cooking up a cauldron of spells to get the latest chocolate teapot (10% cocoa solids) on the front page of the Financial Times.

Certainly, the reason why I am passionate about working as a public relations practitioner is being the intermediary between an organisation and the media. Being the buffer serves to feedback media opinion to clients and challenges to the organisation and the way it does things, allowing it to change and adapt based on consumer behaviour or market issues, or make relevant contributions to media looking for expert insight and thought leadership.

Transparency is key. It's not rocket science that consumer voice and social media add weight and definition to a brand's public perception, and in an age of mass media, getting cut through with key messaging requires creativity and imagination. And guess what, journalists don't always get it right. As I mentioned in my last blog post, there could be signs of some prominent media voices no longer placing informing the public at the heart of its narrative and instead serving the egos and tastes of its critics. This is where the PR's knowledge of a vast and changing media landscape is vital to provide meaningful results that encourage and support both media and client interests with delivering the right message.

As part of this continually evolving process, it's also exciting to observe changes in the media, whether it's the challenge faced by national media to retain revenue, or discovering new outlets. Just today I had an exciting chat with a Theatre Editor at a new arts magazine who informed me of its desire to break down barriers between cultural disciplines which will no doubt expand the narrative around creativity and give emerging artists a voice. PR can help facilitate this and give a voice to the unheard.

With all this in mind, it might seem very obvious but PR strategies must be ethical and uphold moral values. Its outcomes affect and influence the public. And, just when PR seemed to be upholding its reputation, it seems it has taken a hit that will see one of its biggest players in tatters. Bell Pottinger's inflammatory campaign inciting racial divisions in South Africa was dangerously toxic. And according to this recent Guardian account from a former employee, lack of diversity and inclusion of its staff along with a prevailing singular political stand-point limited the contributions of its more ethical employees.

I couldn't quite believe my eyes when watching Lord Bell on Newsnight, who made a complete pig's ear of his interview. I couldn't decide whether I was watching sheer genius tactics, creating so much car crash chaos that the interviewer and audience forget the details of what is being discussed, or, watching someone who's left their media training notes, unread, on the top deck of the 315, currently stuck down the back of a seat in Streatham bus depot.

At a time when Trump fails to condemn fascists on the streets and with White House comms directors coming and going at a rate of 'one in one out' at your local sticky floored nightclub, the Public Relations Communications Agency's decision to expel Bell Pottinger (note: membership is not compulsory and not every PR agency is a member) was swift and welcomed. However, there will undoubtedly be savvy PR industry headhunters and new business scouts sizing up its staff and abandoned clients.

Where do we go from here? There will be some way to go before the PR industry can lick its wounds from this ugly and despicable episode. However, a PR disaster for the PR industry will serve to hold those practitioners who operate immorally to account. Whether they want to be in the news pages or not, it will get harder and harder for such agencies to not 'be the story' themselves.

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Helen Duff performing at Bedtime Stories Variety Night

Having just returned from the Edinburgh Fringe supporting talented up-and-coming comedian Helen Duff, I had the chance to fully immerse myself in the 'comedian trade show' whereby artists are pitched against each other to compete for column inches over the space of a month.

Helen had a fantastic run. Not only did she pull together an entire show 'When the going gets Duff' after getting herself into the Amused Moose New Comic Final which took place in the Scottish capital, she secured three fantastic five and four star reviews from Entertainment Focus, The Skinny and Ed Fest Magazine.

Embedding myself within the arts media and working closely with many acts (I also run a quarterly variety night in London called Bedtime Stories which I took to the fringe for a one night special) it's clear that there seems to be a gap particularly between brilliant emerging artists and the age old dye-in-the-wool review/stars methods of validation. Do we need a new solution?

For a festival that prides itself on championing art in all its forms with a specially introduced 'mental health' award this year, I began to ask myself how, as a PR practitioner, I could support and shield creative artists from what can at times be a cut and thrust 'buy buy sell sell' marketing expo. The worst thing is when it has the capacity to pitch acts against each other.

Journalists are matter of fact and subjective. During my daily media scanning, liaison and networking, I heard and witnessed concerning attitudes from 'short-staffed' journos towards reviewing work, with excuses such as 'it wasn't for me, so I didn't want to write it up' or a tweet from a national comedy journalist of 15 years stating 'why would I want to review an act I didn't like, hadn't heard of, or am unlikely to pay to see again.'

It just beggars belief. This particular journalist may have got away with this sort of apathy for 15 years, but in a fast paced 24 hour media landscape this just doesn't cut the mustard. If you don't like something, write about it, explain why. Why didn't you think you got your money's worth (from the most likely free press ticket?) Journalists owe it to acts to at least justify their views in the first place instead of censoring new artistic voices. How else can the artist learn, or choose to ignore their comments, and gain some brand awareness and audience recognition in the process? The journalist is the gate-keeper, but crucially, must provide an account upon which the reader can form their own opinion.

My advice to new and emerging acts is not to be put off by negative reviews. But, before you pack up and head off to Edinburgh 2018, think now how you can promote yourself over a 12 month period. This is because the first thing national journalists do before booking to review an act is google them. Who has written about you before? Building up buzz through smaller entertainment titles and social media will do more to grab their attention, leaving them no excuse to say they haven't heard of you - even if it is their job to give artists a voice. What was really lovely to see was how artists worked collaboaritvely to support each other every single day - a friendly tweet about each others' shows really does go a long way.

To enquire about support for Edinburgh 2018, please get in touch. Katydaviespr [at]

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