By Steven Shepperson-Smith

CIPR Council Elections – my manifesto

shepperson-smith_s-31_prvI am standing in the CIPR Council elections as the chosen representative of the Greater London Group committee.

Every vote counts and I hope that if you are a CIPR member you will consider giving me your first or second preference vote.

I have  a good understanding of the breadth of work our members do, and the knowledge of the CIPR to help members if elected to Council. I am a Chartered Practitioner and have 18 years’ experience as a CIPR member and volunteer (examples here). I currently work as a Senior Media Relations Manager and have also worked in consultancy roles, including managing a small agency.

I strongly believe in a CIPR that directly represents the needs of its members across every region and sector of the organisation and which provides a return on the cost of our membership subscriptions.

It’s important that the issues of London based members are championed on Council. London is the CIPR’s headquarters, and the place where many members live, work or visit. If elected I will regularly consult member views.

I fully support Jason MacKenzie’s plan for the CIPR, and the visions for professionalism and the fundamental importance of diversity and equality set out by his predecessors. Furthermore, I believe that the CIPR should focus upon:

  • membership value – ensuring that every member gets full value from their subscription, whichever sector they work in and wherever they live e.g. through increased use of webinars and even greater support for regional and sectoral committees;
  • increasing the economic value of CIPR members– selling the benefits of CIPR membership, training, professionalism and measurement to business leaders and recruiters;
  • more training and CPD opportunities – particularly to maximise the opportunities of digital and the Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned model; and
  • recruitment – a lot more members to increase the CIPR’s income and industry share of voice.

My full manifesto (and those of the other candidates) is here.

I can make a strong and energetic contribution to the Council if elected. Please support me, but notwithstanding that, please do take part when voting opens on 12 September.

Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions by either posting below or tweeting me: @SteveShepSmith



Keep the faith: City AM’s heresy won’t help PR

City AM claims it will rip down the “divide between Church and State” by allowing commercial organisations to directly publish onto its website. Should Public Relations (PR) departments support that move?

City AM’s Chief Operating Officer, Charles Yardley, told The Drum that marketers and advertisers will have access to the same content management system as journalists for the first time, turning the commercial model on its head.

downloadThe Financial Times points out that City AM is following in the footsteps of media organisations including Forbes, The Guardian and Buzz Feed by blurring the boundary between editorial and advertising.

Blogger, Michael White is sympathetic about City AM’s need to make money (as am I) and feels that it is a brave, and praiseworthy move, to develop the already close ties journalists have with sourcing news from PR professionals and brands.

On that latter point I disagree. The power of media for those of us working in PR comes from convincing a neutral third party of your point of view.

In The Guardian, Roy Greenslade has already expressed concern that readers may be assaulted by “PR pap.”


PR generated content is, at best, the expert opinion which City AM’s management hopes to attract. Nonetheless, even at its best it will represent a single point of view, which I think is Greenslade’s point.

The co-founder of City AM, Lawson Muncaster told The Drum that they are, “allowing the readership and online traffic to start being the editorial integrity of the newspaper.” 

That is a race to the bottom – clickbait for business. There is nothing wrong with business news delivered with a positive sentiment, but readers (particularly those in the City) aren’t stupid and I suspect they will want and need some editorial oversight in order to trust the content.    

The division between editorial and commercial teams is essential to maintain trust in PR messages and on that basis alone let’s hope this is a short-lived experiment. 



Five surprising implications of The Times redesign

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 22.22.21

The relaunch of The Times and The Sunday Times web site and apps, announced today, raised eyebrows among media commentators.

Alongside a redesign, the newspaper has shifted to a structure of publishing thrice daily, rather than on a rolling basis. That structural change is one of a number of things that I believe have wider implications for the media industry going forward:

1) This does not stop The Times from breaking news (as Digiday, for instance, has suggested). It does though limit the newspaper from breaking stories during slow news periods. I know a journalist at a rival national newspaper who often publishes on Saturday evenings when his stories get a lot of attention because not much else is going on.

2) The value of multimedia content will increase. If The Times isn’t putting information out fastest it is logical that it might invest more in proprietary photos and video that will act as a pull to the site. If that becomes the case expect more activity on the newspaper’s Instagram and Facebook feeds.

3) Power has shifted to the writers. The video to launch the digital redesign featured Giles Coren, Eleanor Mills, Lord Daniel Finkelstein, Pandora Sykes, Henry Winter and Camilla Long, chosen no doubt as rockstar writers who epitomise the management team’s strategy to get consumers to pay for the newspaper group to”review, analyse and comment”. I’ve long-speculated that pay walls would shift power from media organisations to the journalists they employ and this is the clearest sign that we remain headed in that direction.

4) This is mortal wound for The Sunday Times. The journalists named above were a careful mix of staff from The Times and The Sunday Times. The editorial letter about the changes was signed by both John Witherow & Martin Ivens, editors of the respective newspapers. Despite that, the decision to merge The Times and The Sunday Times websites exposes how archaic the idea of a larger Sunday paper is to most people. Lives have changed and even if we do have more time to read at weekends, the Financial Times’s two-day edition, published on a Saturday, makes much more sense for readers and advertisers. Expect News UK to follow if it can bear to give up the iconic Sunday Times brand.

5) The paywall will go if this doesn’t work. News UK has already dropped The Sun’s paywall and this must be the last chance for its broadsheet newspapers to make content pay. Even if it does work, I suspect that micro-payments will shift the market to a pay-as-you-go model over time. Startups like Blendle show the way that particularly young Europeans want to pay for content.

As always I welcome views on these ideas, particularly any contrary views. Just comment below.

Journalists and PROs should want Twitter to take on Bloomberg rather than Facebook

DorseyInvestors want Twitter to grow active users and ad revenue at the same speed as Facebook, so Jack Dorsey has suggested that Twitter could extend its character limit to 10,000 words. But is Facebook the right business model for it to target?

It was Marshall McLuhan who presciently said that the medium is the message. Twitter is often cited as the ultimate example of that maxim: its limit of 140 characters per tweet gave Twitter its character.

Investors seem to agree. Twitter’s share price dipped (again) in response to the news amid questions as to whether that would alienate existing users.

However, as Twitter’s share price has declined 49% in the past year (9 Jan 2014-9 Jan 2015), so Dorsey must risk a further sell off based on short term uncertainty if it will build long term value.

Good strategy builds from existing strengths. The biggest group of Twitter’s verified users (25%) are journalists. I shudder to think what the ratio of public relations (PR) professionals to journalists is on the site… Anyway, any changes should recognise what makes Twitter the most popular network for news makers.

robin hoodTwitter has appealed to journalists, I feel, because it celebrates good writing, suits the time-poor and has traditionally offered a mine of ill thought out knee-jerk comments that could be used for storiesTwitter’s broader audience have found the same things entertaining.

A business should change its core strategy only when the central assumptions that created it change.

Dorsey argues that Twitter no longer needs to be limited by the boundaries of an SMS (160 characters). More than this though I think it should indeed fear that there are fewer and fewer celebrity exposes and employee slip ups as PR teams (ironically) get better at providing advice about the pitfalls of social media. Twitter executives must also worry about the site’s text based look and feel – as mobile networks get faster people want to share more video and images and, despite buying Periscope, Twitter isn’t great for that.

That said, Twitter is still much better than any other channel as a pure news site, even if it directly generates fewer exposes than in the past.

Much has been made about the threat posed by Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat Discover, but Twitter has a significant differentiator as a news source. Competing news aggregators provide  story feeds curated by editors. Twitter delivers the stories shared by the journalists themselves(more than 37,500), and their comments on them.

At its best Twitter provides the original source of a story, a link to reports about it, and the background story from the journalist writing it up. That is addictive (see this example about Justine Sacco from Jon Ronson in the New York Times).

Justine Sacco






What Twitter has never been great at is making it easy to find such a thread unless everyone helpfully uses the same hashtag in tweets (which they often don’t).

Happily, its new Moments feature starts to do that and should get more time to succeed before the company does anything as radical as increasing its character limit. One thing Twitter should learn from Facebook and Snapchat is that people are wanting shorter and quicker news bites, not longer reads.

Twitter should embrace its position as the social newswire if it wants to build audience faster.

Bloomberg screens, the wire feed most beloved by traders, cost a fortune for something with the look and feel of a BBC microcomputer. Bloomberg even imports tweets, showing the value of them as a news source.

Twitter could learn more from Bloomberg and provide greater analysis tools (free as a competitive advantage).

It also needs to become better at sharing graphics, photos and video.


I’ve written before how social media should ultimately empower journalists to gain a personal following and, thereafter, greater negotiating power with newspapers over wages. It is in the interests of journalists, and Twitter, to focus on making it the platform that really works for the writer and not the publication.

PR people too should continue to champion Twitter as the best site to build an audience for corporate news and directly reach opinion formers (and indirectly via journalists).

By enabling readers to better personalise their news feed, find and analyse interesting stories – whether told by text, graphic or visual – Twitter can gain greater utility, grow active users and increase dwell time.

I am not wholly against changing Twitter’s character limit, but it is important that its executives alter the site in ways that show it understands what Twitter should be. That analysis is missing from Dorsey’s statements.

Twitter can certainly learn from Facebook about how to build successful advertising formats. But if Facebook is the Parish news, Twitter has the potential to democratise the news organisation in a way no other business has done before. That ought to be celebrated and supported.


PRs love print media and AVEs: 2015 PRCA in-house benchmarking report goes back to the future

downloadWhen Doc Brown travelled to the future he chose to soup up his old DeLorien rather than upgrading to whatever the latest car design was (Tesla model A?, Apple car? who knows now). It is the future now and I’d still drive a DeLorien if given the chance. Some things may be old but they just work.

Which brings me to newspapers. There were mouths agape (or at least slightly ajar) last night as the PRCA revealed the results of its annual survey of the views of senior in-house senior communications professionals.

The most important channel for communications strategy was print media relations (75%) well ahead of online media relations (51%) and online communications (50%). Broadcast media relations only got 35% of the vote.

Was this a fluke statistical anomaly? Well no, probably not. It matched up with a rise in the usage of advertising value equivalency (AVEs) as a way of measuring the value of PR (now used by 40% of the organisations surveyed).

At least the objective of PR is evolving with protecting reputation now the main role of PR teams (96%). It is the first time that reputation management has scored top in the poll.

So has PR lost its way in the age of social media? No, almost certainly not.

Anecdotally, most comms teams I know are spending more of their time on social media and content marketing. That said, we know that traditional media, and the journalists who work for them, still have a much greater audience than most of the people likely to retweet stuff put out by companies.

Furthermore, traditional media, and newspapers in particular, still arguably have more influence in British society, and, let’s face it, on executives in our companies(which is where the AVE measurement comes in).

What the survey says to me is that while PR teams increasingly own reputation we still lack the tools to measure it as effectively as simply sharing coverage volume. To the chagrin of many, AVEs may be around for a while yet.

10 fantastic ways you can say no comment

Since I moved into corporate communications I say no comment a lot. In case you don’t already know, we say no comment to all rumours about mergers and acquisitions. Even the ones that are true.

imagesWhen I worked for Cable & Wireless Communications we sold 22 businesses and bought one. I sounded like a broken record.

So recently, my team was discussing more creative ways we have used, or heard used, to say no comment. Next time a reporter from Bloomberg rings I’m totally going to use number 7.

  1. I have nothing for you on that.
  2. It’s sub judice.
  3. We will not dignify that with a comment.
  4. I probably won’t get back to you on that.
  5. Can you ring back in five minutes (so another press officer can pick up).
  6. The person you need to speak with is away/busy.
  7. On the topic we are perpetually silent.
  8. I’m not going to elaborate on that.
  9. I only wish we could provide more details to the media.
  10. You may very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

10 things you must know from the CIPR Corp & Fin Group social media breakfast

Picture1In the last four years that I have organised the CIPR Corporate & Financial Group Social media breakfast we have been on a journey. Four years ago our question to the panel was basically, should corporate communications be done on social media? Four years later and the 2015 debate was about both best practice and the ethics of using social media (in support of CIPR Ethics Month).

Here are 10 things we learned based on my observations and shares on the #CFGSM2015

  1. Panellist Sue Winston from Aviva revealed that sharing photos with tweets and enabling auto-play of videos greatly increases engagement.
  2. To get volume for a global comms campaign you need early buy in from your operating markets, Amanda Andrews from Vodafone said.
  3. Amanda was also “spot on” to say that social stories ought to be focused around key dates according to Adam Sunman (@SocialSunman).
  4. Both Amanda and Sue said that staff from their businesses help share campaigns, such as those who helped Vodafone do a Thunderclap for its #BeStrong campaign. Sue warned that you can’t force people to share though – again, you need to engage them.
  5. Both Telegraph journalist, Ashley Armstrong and Amanda argued that good stories will work on any channel, a point picked up by Annette Spencer (@annettekspencer).
  6. Mary Whenman (@MaryWhenman) shared Ashley’s view that journalists don’t want infographics, they want the raw data to create them.
  7. Journalists also want unbranded videos, Ashley said. However, she added, some corporate video interviews are like the new press release and so will be scrutinised by media in the same way.
  8. Catherine Hastings (@CathHastings) tweeted Jericho Chambers founder, Robert Philips’ comment that we should stop measuring social media ROI via financial metrics and think about human metrics & accountability.
  9. Charlotte Sansom (@CESansom) wrote that Robert was forward-thinking in arguing that modern organisations need to look less like a hierarchy and more like a social movement.
  10. Christine Richardson (@Chrissiemr) and Kathryn Sutton (@KathrynSutton) liked Robert’s view that trust can’t be owned and needs to be earned every day.

No, comms people aren’t marketers, but we are coming for their budgets

Oscar Wilde used a story called the Canterville Ghost to contrast his impressions of the differences between US and UK culture. It was that story in which it was first said, “We really have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.”

I have been thinking about that in terms of the divide between marketers and communications professionals.

One of the candidates in the forthcoming CIPR election for 2017 President, Andy Green, has warned of a tidal wave of change about to swallow our industry with competitors moving in to our traditional ‘earned’ channels and likely to “cut budgets”, leading to “less power and less respect”.

downloadI would like to challenge both the definition of the problem, and the solution.

It is true that marketers and PR people increasingly share a common language. That though goes both ways. PR campaigns are increasingly using paid channels to give volume to our stories (MSL Group’s #AlwaysLikeAGirl, which won Best Use of Social Media at this year’s CIPR Excellence Awards, for example). Given marketing traditionally has more budget and PR people are better storytellers, I am not convinced it is we who should be worried!

That aside, Andy’s solution is that PR needs a new definition for the 21st Century, what he calls New School PR.

To call for a change of definition suggests that PR’s purpose is now indistinct. Yet we still have a different job to marketers. Marketing is about establishing the brand promise that will sell products and services. Public relations makes sure that promise can be authentically delivered, leading to our role defending corporate reputation.

While I agree with Andy that practitioners need a broader set of skills, I do not see that the case has been made for a change of definition. We would be running from a battlefield despite there being no army to fight.

Like Andy’s challenger, Jason MacKenzie I feel that the greatest challenge our Institute faces is its lack of voice in the industry.

We need more members willing to support the CIPR’s professional values of continuous professional development and strong ethics. The examples of #Sweatygate and the faking of case studies in a Department for Work and Pensions booklet in the last few weeks show that battle has still only just begun.

The story of the Canterville Ghost concludes when one of the characters finally engages with the ghost. Building reputation and creating understanding based on engagement is something that has been PR’s sole raison d’être for decades. It is still a job that is much valued and needed.

Voting in the 2017 CIPR election takes place from 28 September to 12 October. I urge you to #VoteJasonCIPR.

Your digital stories raise a host of ethical dilemmas

Unilever staff celebrate the company getting to 1.6m followers on LinkedIn.
Unilever staff celebrate the company getting to 1.6m followers on LinkedIn.

In 2003, when I was studying at the London School of Economics, the then Guardian Editor, Alan Rusbridger came to speak about digital media. He had recently visited one of the major US newspapers to learn about digital strategy so he could export best practice back to the UK. He was unimpressed to learn that the newspaper’s digital team was one person copying in stories from a newswire feed!

Rusbridger was right about the direction of travel though and his was the first UK national to announce a digital first strategy in 2011.

Nowadays most media have converged in terms of output – sharing text, video, audio and pictures via their web sites.

As a result, corporate communicators need to tell stories using a much wider range of digital assets.

Journalists and media are still defining the rules for what will get used. In terms of video for example, media are now publishing corporate films which are far more polished than B-roll.

For example, as Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson explained in a Financial Times article, when Microsoft introduced Satya Nadella as its new CEO in February 2014 journalists received an ‘asset pack’ that included a biography, images and a series of corporate videos. The New York Times report on the appointment linked to both Nadella’s statement and a video endorsement by Bill Gates.

Indeed, 163 senior communications professionals recently surveyed by the Brunswick Group suggested that they expected video to increase as a communication channel by 41 percentage points in the next five years.

As companies share these same assets via social media channels there is also a question as to what extent this will compare in importance to traditional media channels.

Media audiences still dwarf company audiences in most cases. However, the list below shows how some major corporations are developing significant numbers of followers through direct channels.

  Company/ CEO Followers Media Readers/ viewers
1 Wallmart 32m likes on Facebook Huffington Post 100m unique visitors Jan 2015
2 Burberry 17m likes on Facebook Buzzfeed 78m unique visitors Jan 2015
3 Volkswagen 1.8m likes on Facebook Daily Mail 23.5 m readers in print and online (2014 average)
4 Unilever 1.6m followers on  LinkedIn Daily Telegraph/The Guardian 16.3m readers in print and online (2014 average)
5 John Legere, CEO, T-Mobile USA 1.61m followers – Twitter BBC ten o’clock news 4.91m viewers (19 August 2015)

The appeal of ‘digital storytelling’ is obvious –companies are controlling their narrative ever more tightly and so it is an easier sell to executives.

While this is a positive thing, there are potential ethical issues based on The Chartered Institute of Public Relations Code of Conduct:

  • Integrity and honesty – with reduced scrutiny it is ever more important that the PR industry self-regulates the authenticity of material it publishes. This was highlighted by the recent ‘Sweaty-gate’ and Department for Work & Pensions scandals in the UK.
  • Transparency – increasingly it may be hard to identify which party is responsible for creating a piece of communication. That will ultimately erode trust both in the media itself and also organisations. There is real benefit from a trust and reputation perspective that companies continue to allow their activities and executives to be fully scrutinised by independent journalists.

The shift from traditional to digital and social media has changed the roles of both news organisations and corporate communications teams. That has created many new opportunities, but also the need for the PR industry to understand how to responsibly use this new power.

If you are interested in further discussion about the issues raised in this post, please come to the CIPR Corporate & Financial Group social media breakfast on 25 September – You are the media: the new core skills for corporate communications:  

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