In an age of information overload companies should speak with one voice – but that’s not as simple as it may sound. Former BBC reporter turned PR guru, John Morrison says public relations is only a part of the story, you have to cover all the bases ...

Public relations used to be a relatively straightforward business. You sent out press releases, picked up the phone to journalists you knew, and perhaps organised the odd news conference in the hope of catching some TV and radio.

No longer is it – or can it be – that simple. We live in an age of 24-hour news and social media. In just a few seconds, Twitter can become your best friend or your cruellest enemy. Corporate reputation is everything, and it has to be carefully nurtured, developed and protected at every turn.

The old approach to PR has gone for ever. It now has to sit at the heart of a company’s strategy, and that means bringing in professionals who understand the core messages and how to best communicate them.

To do this successfully for a client, an external PR team needs to take a holistic approach and sit close to the business. Only by taking this approach can the communications consultancy fully understand that client’s aims and values and be able to respond quickly and flexibly, says John Morrison, Managing Director of the Glasgow-based agency Morrison Media.

Morrison’s own background is in journalism – before entering the world of media relations he was a high-profile reporter for the BBC in Scotland and beyond – and so he has an intimate personal understanding of corporate communication and how it should work.

“In essence, we provide a number of core services,” he explains. “One of those is public relations, which we conduct at a strategic level. Within that, we also cover crisis communications, which deals with reacting intelligently to negative events that may occur and is really reputation management. 

HeraldScotland:

The Morrison Media team work with their clients' marketing and senior management teams on all aspects of their image, core message and comms

“My colleagues and I work with the client’s marketing and senior management teams on all aspects of their communication. That covers media relations, stakeholder engagement, social media and digital content production including videos. 
“It’s important that everything tells the same story so that the messaging is consistent across all the platforms. There is even still a role for the occasional press release, though I know that when I worked in newsrooms, 95 per cent of them went in the bin.”

The link with marketing is far more important than it used to be, he says. In a changing digital world, it has now merged with PR. “It’s all about building the client brand now.”

With all the challenges of modern communications, belief in the service offered is as important as strategy. “We have had our clients for a long time, and they have come to trust our judgment.

“For instance, we work with the Port of Cromarty Firth. We were brought in originally to deal with a specific issue, but its Managing Director, Bob Buskie, now sees us as an integral part of his team, supporting them when times get tough and guiding them through complex political landscapes.

“Basically, it’s a partnership, and it’s a great example of the importance of trust. If we disagree with the direction the client is going in, we will voice that, and we know it won’t affect the relationship. Their executives will listen, in the same way that they will listen to high level legal or accountancy advice.”

Research has shown that clients see Morrison and his colleagues in the company as problem solvers. “Our people get to the nub of an issue very, very quickly. That’s clearly going a lot further than traditional PR. It’s about being an integral part of their operation.”

Providing a public affairs service is another key part of his offering to clients. In practice, this often means dealing with governments, NGOs, politicians, and parliamentary affairs. “I covered Scottish politics for 20 years, so it’s a familiar landscape to me. 

“I understand how it works and the personalities involved, and that if you’re trying to do something with a government, you have to fit into its way of thinking. It’s about openness and offering a high-end professional service.”
Media training is another part of the portfolio and with his broadcast background, it is an area Morrison is entirely familiar with. “We use a professional freelance cameraman for this. 

“Most of the journalists who are interviewing people have been trained, so it makes absolute sense that the people they are interviewing are trained too. 

“The people in the newsroom can sometimes have a perception that media training can end up producing interviewees who given wooden performances, but I come at that from a completely different direction.

“The way we conduct our courses – using really practical methods such as putting our clients through three real-time recorded interviews and then playing those back to let them see themselves – allows them to develop their skills and makes a night-and-day difference.

“By the end, they know how to present better, how to explain themselves and how to sum things up, whether that’s through a 15-second soundbite or through bringing in an anecdote or example that really makes the interview come to life. It’s about getting the message across succinctly and effectively.”

At the end of the day, Morrison says, it is all about telling the story, whether that be through a necessarily short and snappy tweet or in a longer and more discursive article or conversation.

“Getting the high level messaging right is always going to be critically important, but there’s an awful lot of noise out there that you have to cut through.

“However, people will always look for quality. That means you have to make sure you have a quality story and that you tell it effectively and in a way that will stand out. That’s what we are here to help our clients do.” 

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