Monday, 25 October 2010

Five-minute Abchat: Oli Hibberd, Abchurch

As new Account Exec Oli Hibberd, @OHHPR, joins the Abchurch fold, we asked him how he came to be in PR and what he's expecting to see in the industry in the future.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Not unusually, my first ambition was to be a footballer, and the fact that my team, Swindon, aren’t brilliant probably meant this vision was held for a little too long! At the age of thirteen I attended a school known for its hockey, which signified that my football career wasn’t to be.

Then, there were dreams of being in a successful band, especially when it became apparent that spending a lot of time in pubs and bars didn’t harm your chances! Lack of musical ability turned out to be the deal-breaker, so the band idea never really took off.

Finally the idea of being a professional seasonaire always appealed to the skier in me. However the reality, which sometimes meant attaching snow chains to a minibus at 6:45am in -15 ÂșC, caused me to drop that plan after a couple of seasons.

How did you get into Financial PR?
Having spent several years in the professional services PR sector, both in-house and in agency roles, I had an awareness of what was happening in the City but had never experienced working in the heart of it.

After taking a couple of months out, exploring the reality of spending my life on the slopes, I returned to a very different London than the City I’d left six months previously.

The pace at which companies and other organisations had adapted to an increasingly challenging market was very interesting, but I knew it was an environment where I’d really have to hit the ground running. The chance to build on my previous experience, whilst facing new challenges in a swiftly evolving environment was something I was extremely keen to take part in.

If I wasn’t talking to you now, what would you be doing?
Right now, I would be organising a call with a client in the banking sector, to plan the media strategy around an event the Company is holding in November.

What is the most interesting thing about your work?
The opportunity to work on a range of clients in a number of sectors prevents the work from ever getting routine. It is also interesting in understanding the reasoning behind why two contrasting companies can react so differently to what is initially perceived as a similar challenge.

Is there a common misconception about PR?
The most frustrating misconceptions stem from a misunderstanding of the profession. However the number of business scandals played out in, and escalated by the media has demanded a greater understanding of the role PR has to play.

How has the industry changed over the last couple of years?
The credit crunch led to huge consolidation and this is likely to continue. Companies are still cautious with spending and the frivolity of the pre-credit crunch era is now a distant memory. In order to survive, PR agencies have adapted their offering and now a greater level of flexibility is required from every employee.

The press is also very different industry now, publications are not only news services but businesses as well. The recent Times vs. Guardian online paywall debate is evidence that a commercial solution to ensure the viability of the press is still some way off.

What developments do you expect to see in the next twelve months?
As the new government continues to cut spending and introduce new policies, along with the fear of a double dip, most organisations are unlikely to make any radical changes unless absolutely necessary. However, the speed of the downturn surprised everyone, so with the pace of change still so swift it is difficult to bank on anything happening for sure.

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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Chancellor George Osborne’s Spending Review is old news

It was inevitable that this morning’s headlines would be about the spending review. All of the national papers carried the story, from the Sun to the Financial Times. But if the papers haven’t moved the story on, what is the news value of old news this morning?

The Chancellor’s speech, outlining where his axe would fall (with considerable force), took place yesterday at 12.30. By 12.31, social media channels were buzzing with people live tweeting the speech and the BBC had live coverage preceding George Osborne even arriving at the Houses of Parliament. By 13.30, Labour was just about to retaliate and by the early afternoon, as the first copies of the Evening Standard hit the stands, London was awash with headlines despairing at the cuts this country will have to endure.

Last week, we attended a webinar where David M Scott, a well-known social media speaker, was discussing the importance of real-time responses to news issues. The advent of online publishing and social media has not only given the public a voice, but it has made news immediate. For up to the minute – and even up to the second – developments, web publishing has changed the way we consume and react to media. This idea is not new and of course stories on the spending review were run online yesterday, within minutes of Mr Osborne concluding his speech.

Today’s papers had to cover the story, that is not in questions, but almost 24 hours after the story broke there must be more originality and opinion in the national press for it to be fresh and valuable. The Financial Times’s Lex column on the subject is a great example of this.

But seeing this morning’s front page headlines, about a news story our team was discussing over lunch yesterday – with little additional thought or analysis – seems to me, a stark example of how newspapers are becoming out of date before they are even printed.


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Friday, 15 October 2010

FSA rules strain relations between City and press

As the Financial Services Authority (FSA) continues to clamp down on strategic leaks to the media, and journalists lash back at the new proposals, new debates are sparked over the impact these transaction reporting plans could have on market integrity and the overall flow of accurate business information.

A dramatic increase in FSA activity to clamp down on controlling leaks follows recent findings which showed suspicious trades before takeover announcements were not only up on the previous year, but now account for nearly a third of all deals. The FSA’s Market Division has recently issued its “best practice” recommendations, which aim to prevent improper disclosures of inside information contrary to the market abuse regime. Yet, the second recommendation, stating all media enquiries are to be directed to the firm’s media relations team, who will be fully responsible for monitoring all media enquiries, has been met with strong criticism from UK journalists.

This week, editors of four leading national papers wrote a letter of complaint to the FSA to publicly expose their concerns over the potential damage such restrictions could bring to current media handling practices between City firms and journalists.

For the FSA, “Strategic leaks – designed to be advantageous to a party to a transaction – are particularly damaging to market confidence and do not serve shareholders’ or investors’ wider interests.” However, while accepting the need act strongly to deter market abuse, the editors claim “a wilful misunderstanding” in the relationship between the City and the press will be brought about as firms hide behind their media relations personnel, thereby making it easier to distort the flow of reliable information.

Unfortunately, rumours and speculation will invariably affect share prices and damage company profiles. Yet, the online media and the fast pace of our digital environment have changed how information is now conveyed and received. Today, journalists have an extended role to ensure they convey their messages not only to national readers but more increasingly to global audiences in an increasingly timely fashion.

In essence, corporate communication relies on a strong relationship between journalists and the finance market and the recent stir serves to highlight how more constructive engagement and close collaboration between the press and financial regulators will be important to counter future cases of market abuse. We will watch this space!

Click here to read the letter sent by Lionel Barber, Editor, The Financial Times; Alan Rusbridger, Editor-in-Chief, Guardian News & Media; David Schlesinger, Editor-in-Chief, Thomson Reuters and James Harding, Editor, The Times.

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Friday, 1 October 2010

How to stand out: a very clever PR CV

This is one of the most innovative and interesting CV's I've ever come across.  PR Week has a good blog post about the video - how fast PR is moving and how important it is to keep your skills up to date. In an industry as competitive as ours, this is a brilliant way to get noticed. Hats off to Graeme.

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