Category Archives: Public Relations

War of the Worlds PR crisis

An old PR crisis has caught my attention and this case illustrates just how powerful credible information sources can be.  Also it brings into question …was this a PR stunt or was this a crisis that coincidentally did good things for some??

The media love a story that will sell and the masses can be irrational thinkers who can believe everything they read and forget to question what is before them. A great example of how audiences can easily be influenced dates back to October 30th   1938. The Mercury Theatre on Air (Orson Welles Producer) broadcast over station WABC and Columbia Broadcasting System’s coast to coast, a play based on the H.G.WellsWar of the Worlds’ causing mass hysteria. Audiences missed vital information at the start of the show, perhaps forgot or didn’t realise this station regularly produced radio plays and there were various other elements affecting the behaviours of its sensitive listeners. The National Geographic says in 1938, with the world on the brink of World War II, audiences were already on razor’s edge. The format used in War of the Worlds, with its shrill news bulletins and breathless commentary, echoed the way in which radio had covered the “Munich crisis”—a meeting of European powers that became the prelude to World War II—a month before.  “Welles and his company managed to closely duplicate the style and the feel of those broadcasts in their own program,” said Elizabeth McLeod, a journalist and broadcast historian in Rockland, Maine, who specializes in 1930s radio. “Some [listeners] heard only that ‘shells were falling’ and assumed they were coming from Hitler.”

According to the New York Times a dramatization of H. G. Wells’ fantasy, “The War of the Worlds,” led thousands to believe that an interplanetary conflict had started with invading Martians spreading wide death and destruction in New Jersey and New York. Throughout New York families left their homes, some to flee to near-by parks. Thousands of persons called the police, newspapers and radio stations here and in other cities of the United States and Canada seeking advice on protective measures against the raids.

According to historian Jennifer Rosenberg the power of radio had fooled the listeners. They had become accustomed to believing everything they heard on the radio, without questioning it. Now they had learned – the hard way.

This hoax caused mass disruption to various services, businesses and lives whilst at the same time propelling the broadcast and Orson Welles into the world of fame. National Geographic says, historians say the hoax worked because the broadcast authentically simulated how radio worked in an emergency.

The Mercury Theatre on the Air was an unsponsored cultural program and research suggests that it was looking to increase its audience. The program ran at the same time as a very popular show called Chase and Sanborn hour and it was in the breaks people tuned into the play and heard the disturbing and true sounding news bulletins with realistic sound effects.

According to the New York Times, Welles expressed profound regret that his dramatic efforts could cause consternation. “I don’t think we will choose anything like this again,” he said. He hesitated about presenting it, Welles said, because “it was our thought that perhaps people might be bored or annoyed at hearing a tale so improbable.”

Information about this story on Wikipedia says that within one month, newspapers had published 12,500 articles about the broadcast and its impact. Hand cites studies by unnamed historians who “calculate[d] that some six million heard the CBS broadcast; 1.7 million believed it to be true, and 1.2 million were ‘genuinely frightened'”. NBC’s audience, by contrast, was an estimated 30 million.[11]

An article on awesome where you can also listen to the archived broadcast says the following day after the event Welles held a press conference during which he insisted his broadcast was just a holiday prank. Twenty years later, however, he admitted to additional motives.  Welles, and his colleagues, were convinced that people would believe whatever they heard from “the box.”

The War of the Worlds broadcast – specifically reworked from the original story to impact Americans – effectively demonstrated the power of radio to manipulate a mass audience in a time of political crisis (awesome  Adolf Hitler cited the panic, as Richard J. Hand writes, as “evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy.”(Wikipedia) In a prescient column, in the New York Tribune, Dorothy Thompson foresaw that the broadcast revealed the way politicians could use the power of mass communications to create theatrical illusions, to manipulate the public (

The notoriety of the broadcast led the Campbell Soup Company to sponsor the show; The Mercury Theatre on the Air was renamed The Campbell Playhouse (Wikipedia).


It’s amazing how an action has so many varied angles, understandings and responses. Was this play promoted enough? Seeing as it was going to be so real, should it have been under serious consideration? It was different to previous plays and therefore the promotional efforts perhaps should have been much more. However imagine if it had been promoted so well that no one reacted?

In addition I learnt an element about what feeds media since papers really picked up on this. Back then it was more of a newspaper vs. radio scenario so this presented opportunities for them and they continued the stories for a few weeks.

The National Geographic states historians also claim that newspaper accounts over the following week greatly exaggerated the hysteria. There are estimates that about 20 percent of those listening believed it was real. That translates to less than a million people.

At the time, newspapers considered radio an upstart rival. Some in the print press, resentful of the superior radio coverage during the Munich crisis, may have sought to prove a point about the irresponsibility of the radio broadcast.

“The exaggeration of the War of the Worlds story can be interpreted as the print media’s revenge for being badly scooped during the previous month,” McLeod said

It’s important to be aware of environments and the potential effects on various publics.

On one hand it looks as though it was deliberate seeing as there was a huge amount of publicity and generated worldwide attention. On the other perhaps the producers really didn’t think about the consequences…still what a break-through for radio back then…to pull off a play and create an illusion to hundreds and thousands of people is pretty impressive. Also frightening to think that’s how audiences can work, obviously today we have access to much more information and can be more prepared. Now though I think there is other creative ways such as using phrases like ‘war on terror’ that hold powers to influence audience behaviours, playing on emotions through a different mean. Could this happen again? Do people know better?

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An insight into Fashion PR, Task PR leads the way

Last Thursday night was my first encounter with London College of Fashion and Task PR a fashion and lifestyle PR agency who are based in central London. Tamara Kretzer and Andre Schlagowski the founders of Task PR led the tutorial and will be for the remaining 6 sessions.

This course is ideal if you have experience of either fashion or non-fashion PR and would like to learn new and creative ways of promoting fashion brands, products and people in an increasingly competitive fashion market.

The course includes:

  • The power of the fashion image
  • Celebrity product placement
  • Exploring the digital landscape and social media
  • How PR works with marketing and advertising

Time flew it was an enjoyable experience as well as informative and insightful. Tamara and Andre were passionate about their work Tamara said ‘I love my work’ and I could tell she meant it. They really believe in providing people with opportunities to break into the fashion industry successfully. They recognise the challenges young people face in getting where they dream of.

The tutorial started off with the basic differences between Public Relations and Advertising so to remind a few of you advertising is expensive yet controllable where as free editorial cover is uncontrollable and so the most important thing here to realise is that relationships are vital.

Interestingly when asked about the definition of PR it was refreshing not to hear the CIPR definition recited but hear a simple business understanding that in fashion PR you are invisible the dark energy that that bridges the gap between the designer and the media.You are responsible for the perception of the brand and communicating with consumers to buy the end product.

So the game of PR…

To maximise  coverage however there are loads of brands competing for editorial space and it should be remembered that there is competition with advertisiers…paying customers!!! Everyone is fighting to get on the front page so in PR one needs to build good relationships with key media figures people who are influential. Relationships are key to succeeding and it’s important that you know exactly who you need to contact,what their role is, what pages they are in charge of or what events and columns they are associated to etc. The number of people contacting jouralists is high….you need to be remembered for impressing them with your knowledge about them by offering them information that is relevant to what they do and will be useful. DO NOT BE THAT PERSON THEY REMEMBER FOR INSULTING THEM IN ANYWAY OR WASTING THEIR TIME!!!

As a little big tip!!! It was suggested that we start up our own contacts list, get a ring binder folder and some plastic wallets cut out the pages in magazines and papers that list the contact details of all involved in producing the publication. Not only will we get to know who is who but in an interview these actions speak loudly you can explain that it’s just a little personal database of contacts that you have been collecting, Tamara said if someone turned up to an interview for a job with that they woud get the job straight away. This is something I would not have thought of myself so thank you.

So what are the 3 ingredients for PR success?

1. Understand the product, target consumer, the price points, competition, brand knowledge etc.

2. Understand the timeline, when do I approach the press, what’s happening in the market place, when do I contact people, the media, consumers, bloggers, work backwards from the key date.

3. Contacts –  networking and building posite relationships is essential in successfully achieving desired results, with no contacts where will you be. As previously implied… be hot on knowing specific people.

We were informed about understanding the market place and where products fit, usng a triangle and breaking it into 4 sections, at the top we have luxury products these are more exclusive items there will be fewer of these and they will be expensive, the next section below is High End  which is still expensive not as exclusive and generally there are more of them and then high street and at the bottom mainstream which is usually that point where the most exclusive items have become trends amongst the mainstream, it has travelled down from the top for example when Juicey Couture brought out their tracksuit, it was a luxury item that became a similar style product located in Primark a mainstream store. The life span of a product crashes due to competition and in using PR it is possible to prolong the life span and avoid the crash.

This Primark tracksuit is currently for sale on Ebay for £3!! Very similar in style to the classic Juicey Couture tracksuit.

So this is it for the moment I hope this may have been useful in some way and I look forward to being able to share more information with you soon.

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Traditional PR Vs Modern PR

PR 1.0 vs PR 2.0 debate

Leading on from in-house vs consultancy findings brought into question the technological environment and its effect on public relations. A study of Britain’s 100 leading PR agencies, carried out in 2008 by internet marketing agency Bigmouthmedia, revealed that 79% of those surveyed had yet to develop online and social media services, while only 21% included online PR as part of their service.

According to Ben Locker and Associates an online copy writing agency wise companies want modern public relations, and only a very few agencies are able to offer a full-service package that includes effective online strategy – indeed, a significant number are themselves almost impossible to find in search engines, which is the greatest warning sign of all. Even so, full-service PR agencies are becoming increasingly irrelevant as they lose their status as the gatekeepers to effective publicity and promotion – greater democracy online means that many companies can safely bring elements of their PR work in-house, and mix-and-match complementary services from outside providers.

Online PR is the process of generating content about your business i.e. online news stories, blog entries, and comments on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. It is similar to traditional PR only the forms of communication are different, information will appear in offline media such as newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. It could be said that online media is easier to manage and monitor in terms of ROI, numbers of visitors can be traced, pay per click offers valuable figures and with quality analysis of conversations products and services can be developed better along with the ability to target audiences more efficiently.

Organisations such as Radian6 a platform that listens and engages with online communities and Industry Today an online press release, distribution, publication, optimisation service  are available to offer expertise and aid companies to target their audience more effectively and can offer a range figures and information from analysis.

Facebook has over 500 million users, 50% of whom log in on a daily basis, users interact with around 900 million objects such as pages and groups, two thirds of comScores US top 100 websites and half of its global top 100 sites have integrated with Facebook and interestingly people spend over 700 billion minutes per month on this site (Admin, 2010). According to statistics found on the Internet World Stats site nearly 2 billion out of our estimated population of just below 7 billion have access to the internet, back in 2000 there were an estimated 370 million users an increase of 448%, imagine how these figures maybe in 10 years and what this means for public relations, becoming digital is inevitable.

JetBlue a successful domestic US American airline thought to be one of the most social media savvy and customer friendly companies out there (Brian Skepys, 2010) and Nestle have both been on the receiving end of the Facebook backlash. Greenpeace a successful pressure group launched an aggressive Facebook and YouTube campaign against the use of Nestle Palm Oil due to its links to loss of rainforests, species, inhabitants and green house emissions. The grim ‘killer-Kat’ campaign was launched, it received over 1.5 million viewings, over 200,000 emails were sent, hundreds of phone calls and countless Facebook comments were made, in response to this Nestle attempted to get the video banned and requested that fans did not use false logo’s as their profile badge, comments were removed and clearly Nestlé’s online pr team showed a lack of skills in how to deal with crisis management.

On a slightly more entertaining note flight attendant Steven Slater a now self made online celebrity hero who resigned from JetBlue after he lost his cool, grabbed a beer, slid down plane’s emergency chute and launched himself into Facebook stardom (David gardner, 2010) has highlighted a problem with crisis management as the company release just one comment on its blog referring to Steven Slater as ‘a little story about one of our flight attendants’ the post also indicates that no more comments will be made due to investigations and privacy of the individual. The company known for communicating with its 1.6 million Twitter followers and over 300,000 Facebook fans has nothing to say to all the conversations taking place surrounding this issue. Analysis revealed a 9% drop from 79% in positive conversations about JetBlue. This could be an opportunity to take advantage of this situation as it brings into question the flight attendant environment, this is a prime opportunity to show compassion, raise awareness and show support to real things going on behind the closed doors of aeroplanes??

Quite clearly pr 2.0 is very powerful, social media is an additional tool that requires patience diplomacy, forward thinking and crisis management. It is easy to be carried away with phenomenal figures but with the internet being the best form of virus around it is important to be able to deal with the consequences of actions. Much depends upon on which side of the fence you’re on as each argument presents us with fabulous pros and dangerous cons.

The CIPR define what PR is: ’Public relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.’

PR 1.0 is not dying and it is the core frame of Public Relations, today everything is still based on these items only we have alternate or extra ways to communicate, it is important that PRO’s are knowledgeable and have essential experience of modern PR but it doesn’t survive without going back to basics in order to understand how it works, combined PR will be more powerful than it was yesterday and I firmly believe that traditional agencies incorporating online activities will increase especially as younger people join the industry having grown up surrounded by gadgets such as the ipad, social networking sites and more. Perhaps those in favour of modern public relations who own a business specialising in online activities will suffer in the long run as they put all their eggs in one basket, better to tread carefully.

Admin. (2010). Facebook Statistics. Available: Last accessed

Admin. (2010). Removing links ‘helps search engine marketing’. Available: Last accessed September 2010.

Brian Skepys. (2010). Steven Slater: and Why traditional PR crisis won’t cut it . Available: Last accessed September 2010.

David Gardner. (2010). World discovers a new hero. Available: Last accessed September 2010.

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In House PR Vs PR Consultancy

There are pros and cons to internal and external public relations, it could be said that much depends upon the size of an organisation, the business it’s in, available resources and the environments surrounding it.

The cost of hiring a PR agency will vary according to its experience, how long it has been established for and the level of service that one requires. Marks and Spencer felt pressures of the economy and had to slash their £144 million marketing budget by 20% in 2008 (Marketing News Admin, 2008), more than enough to put smaller business 6 feet under!

Consultancy fees can start off at £200 rising to thousands per month so some of the best PR doesn’t come cheap, however there are well known benefits in outsourcing, “outside firms can allow the company to benefit from the relationships of the agency, including relationships that involve other PR agencies. The level of experience the organization can gain by using an outside firm can be unlimited” (Scott Young, 2009). External bodies are often located in central areas being close to printers, graphic designers and are well connected with journalists. A consultancy may have a broader range of communication skills but will they have same expertise as an in house PRO?

In house public relations allow for better lines of communication, close proximity can mean efficiency in terms of access to information and decision makers. Jaelithe Milich, marketing communications specialist at clothing company Exofficio, said that her company brought its PR in-house not only for traditional elements but for better collaboration overall.

“We brought PR in-house because we wanted quicker and more efficient interaction with ExOfficio product development and customer service,” she said. “This allows us to react to customer needs, communicate quickly and authentically and accomplish bigger objectives.” (Jennifer Leggio, 2010).

“You must be inside our doors, in the thick of our culture, living and breathing our core values to communicate effectively,” says Leslie Yeransian, creative writer and media coordinator, Rising Medical Solutions.

On the flip side of these benefits a public relations consultancy is able to offer unbiased advice, it is removed from the organisation and will be able to see issues more objectively helping to develop solutions that perhaps an organisation is blinded or biased to.

A consultancy will often have varied experience, the longer it has been established the more expertise and knowledge it has to offer, this experience is greater than that of an individual client. ‘Through interaction with a diverse range of businesses, issues and people, you will learn a lot about the world and you will, without even trying, be presented with a range of opportunities – PR/work-related and personal. You just need to be sensitive to these opportunities and not sleep walk through life’ (Craig Pearce, 2010).

Consultancies are likely to have staff who have received training possessing qualifications and experience, in house could mean an existing executive or manager being promoted to a public relations role without the correct experience. Bombarding journalists with poorly written press releases could form a negative effect, especially if the content seems like one mighty advertisement. Public relations create understanding rather than advertising that generally has the aim of increasing sales.

With in- house PR you can be sure that the job is full time and receiving 100% attention without additional costs, a consultancy will be paid and their time will not extend to anything more than what it is paid for. A client will pay for what they get so a low fee job is likely to receive a less experienced person, though still an in house PRO may have limited experience having worked within a narrow industry whilst the less experienced individual may well have dabbled with a wider variety of communications.

Craig Pearce an award winning PR pro believes that working in a PR agency is one of the most exciting, valuable and positive experiences any PR professional can have particularly in the early years of your career. ‘Agency employees are often perceived as experts; it presents a range of professional and life opportunities; and you are surrounded by peers who understand the discipline and provide excellent support. After having worked in PR for 16 years, both in-house and ‘in-agency’, I believe working in-house is clearly where one can make a more significant difference to an organisation and its stakeholders, as well as being a more rewarding environment in which to work’.

Overall in house seems to be more cost effective; more secure and according to figures on the CIPR website offers higher salaries.

Average annual salaries by role:

In-house      Consultancy

PR/account executive   22154        19417

PR/account manager    37273        29237

PR/account director      61727         53776

Managing director/CEO 57069     70356

Research reflects that being part of an agency can be less lonely and present far more opportunities for personal development. We should consider our technological environment has changed and is continuing to do so at a rapid rate affecting how public relations and what public relations is today. A study of Britain’s 100 leading PR agencies, carried out in 2008 by internet marketing agency Bigmouthmedia, revealed that 79% of those surveyed had yet to develop online and social media services, while only 21% included online PR as part of their service.


To find out about the top 150 consultanvies click here

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