Friday, 12 February 2010

Justice at Last?

I am pleased to be writing a follow up post to my previous one regarding US computer hacker, Gary Mckinnon back in November.  Only this time it's on a much happier note. 

Gary McKinnon may stay in Britain after a High Court judge agreed to review a decision by Alan Johnson to extradite him to America to face computer hacking charges.  I was appalled back then in November that our home secretary, Alan Johnson was to allow this breach of human rights, ignoring medical advice that Gary was suicidal.  However after being reviewed by Mr Justice Mitting, it was ruled on Human Rights grounds that the extradition be turned down.

This is brilliant news for Gary, his family, and his many, many supporters.  It shows that Alan Johnson's decision to ignore such vital medical evidence was wrong and to extradite him would breach Britain's 300 year old Bill of Human Rights.  
Now we all must hope that a fair decision will be made by the courts, and for justice to be served.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Valuable Skills.

Having just completed a four week work placement with a PR agency, and with another week to go until my lectures begin at university, and the fact that I sprained my ankle on Saturday night and have been laid up in bed ever since, now is the perfect time for me to reflect on my time working in a PR environment.

Before embarking on an MA in PR in October, I was a complete stranger to this field, other than what I had read on the net, in the papers, seen on the TV etc. It was hard to know what to expect really, would what I had been learning on my course match up to how public relations is really practiced? Well I was pleased to learn that, yes, it was.

So Many times during my work placement I was able to link things that were being practiced back to what I had learnt on my course, like the importance of social media how to use it effectively for each brand, knowing your target audience and refining key messages for different audiences. PR writing, and just how important it is. I was given a few opportunities to write press releases, and copy for brochures or the website. This is probably the area that I would like to improve on most, and I know that I will get better over time, I just need to practice at any opportunity I can. I did find it a struggle if I’m honest, as this is one of my weaker areas and I wasn’t very confident, you also need to know the agency’s style, as each different agency will have their own individual style. It is massively important to know who will be reading the copy you produce too, is it for on-trade, off-trade, intellectuals? I have learnt the importance of tailoring your writing to the specific needs of your target audience.

I would say one of my most valuable learning curves during my work experience was how to manage my time effectively, which is essential in the PR industry. The four weeks that I was there my schedule was always jam-packed, and I was working to very tight deadlines, I quickly learnt that in the world of PR while it is essential to have a schedule, it is almost impossible to stick to it. Tasks run over, things take longer than expected and there are almost certainly tasks that pop up that will take priority over others that you have scheduled in.

I think before my work placement, I thought that time management was one of my strengths, but it soon became clear that this wasn’t the case. I would get stressed and panic when my schedule got out of control and didn’t really know how to cope. By the end of the four weeks, I had done a complete u-turn, I have learmt how to prioritise, to keep calm, not get stressed and set realistic and achievable goals.

This improved skill I now have in time management is already helping me in my day to day life, and especially in my Uni life, and is just one of many new skills I can add to my PR tool-kit. The work I carried out during my work placement was invaluable, and I look forward to the future, to my knowledge and skills in PR developing even more.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

The End is Nigh!

Well it’s nearing the end of my third week of work experience here at Publicasity, and what a week it has been! One thing I have learned about PR, is that it is very tiring, maybe it’s because I’m not used to it, (student and all that.) I would have to say this has been my most challenging of weeks so far. My schedule has been extremely full, which obviously is a good thing, but can also be very stressful. Jobs over-run, people need more tasks doing, and before you know it you are completely swamped. It may seem like I’m moaning, but I’m not, I’m just trying to give a realistic view of my experience of PR.

I’m very grateful to Publicasity for giving me this opportunity and letting me get involved in some really exciting stuff. I have been involved in a wide range of activities such as; writing press releases, writing copy for brochures, I have learnt how to do a digital audit for clients, I even had the privilege of attending The London Boatshow, where I met Stacey and Olly! (They were contestants on the X Factor, for those of you less educated.)

Publicasity is such a fantastic place for anyone who is looking to gain the practical skills that are essential in the PR industry. It is a lively, vibrant, energetic company, with a mix of equally vibrant and energetic people, who have been most welcoming.

Monday, 11 January 2010

First week? Done!

And so I begin my four week work placement with London based PR agency, Publicasity. I have been looking forward to this for quite some time and hope it brings exciting new adventures.

Publicasity is a fairly large agency that deals with a range of different clients including; corporate, consumer, trade and B2B.

I was looking forward to seeing public relations in practice. As I am a newcomer to the profession, my knowledge is limited to what I had learned previously during my three months study of PR.

During my time here I hope to put into practice some of the skills that I have learnt on the course. I would like to be writing press releases, copy for websites, blogging, and also to be involved in events. While I have studied all the aforementioned on the PR course, I believe it is essential to implement that knowledge into practice, I just hope I get the chance!

On my first day I was assigned a mentor, which is a really good idea, I would say it helped a lot with the nerves and I didn't feel like I was on my own so much. I had already heard a lot about my mentor from my tutor at University as he was a former student there, he deals with the digital aspect of things, which I'm really happy about as we have dealt with this a lot on our course and I believe it is a very important part on PR today.

At the agency everyone sits down together and reads the papers and magazines, looking out for any stories that could affect or are relevant to their clients. This is also a good way to keep abreast of public affairs, which is a vital part of PR.

I was asked to do a press release on my first day, which I was so worried about, I had only really ever done a couple of practice ones on the course. It probably took me five times as long as it would anyone else in the office but I wanted to do a good job and make a good impression. My writing is an area that I do really want to improve, and I hope I get to do many more.

I've been working on some digital jobs with Aaron, trying to build up a client’s digital side of things. Looking for forums on the internet relating to the products they sold, I remember being worried about the ethical side of things, but was pleased to find out that we would be working transparently.

When we did find someone to write to Aaron stressed that it was important that we engage in a conversation with them, which I related back to Grunig’s two-way symmetrical model. It felt good to relate some of this back to the theory I had learnt.

I helped out with some mail-outs, which is one of the more mundane tasks of PR, sending products out to journalists in the hope that they will feature them in their publication, and also mailing out any prizes when a competition has been held.

Scanning is another one of the not so interesting tasks that is required in this job; any editorial and pictures that are found in print are scanned and saved to show to the client.

I was so happy to learn that I would be assisting some members of the team on Friday to the London Boatshow, who is one of their clients. Friday was press day, and I was basically shadowing the team to see how an event like this is run and handled. It was so interesting to watch it all in action, from the organising of the press, the interviews, to seeing the results on the media's websites at the end of the day.

I really appreciate the opportunity I have been given from Publicasity, and hope I can give them something back. I have thoroughly enjoyed my first week here and look forward to what's coming next!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Crime & Punishment.

It has been reported in the papers this week that Gary McKinnon, a computer whiz kid, who hacked into US military and NASA computers, is on the verge of suicide if extradited to the US to face trial.

McKinnon, 43, from North London, was accused and charged in 2002 of hacking into 97 American military and NASA computers, causing the US government hundreds of thousands of dollars, and was said to be the "Biggest military hack of all time."

McKinnon, who has been described as "vunerable" and "misguided" was not a terrorist, nor did he mean any harm, he was simply obsessed with UFO's and was trying to prove there was indeed extra terrestrial lifeout there, and that the CIA were trying to cover it up.
Gary has never denied the crimes he has committed; he even left messages on the US military computers, from his own email address, telling them that "Their security is crap." So it is not an issue of his guilt, it’s an issue of basic human rights. Gary McKinnon has Asperger's syndrome and is now said to be at serious risk of suicide after the home sectary refuses to prevent his extradition.

The high court, who has already dismissed two claims for judicial review, has now made their decision, after heavy influence from the US, to extradite McKinnon to the US, a country he has never stepped foot into, to face up to 60 years in a "super-max" prison, a sentence, and a prison that is more likely to be associated with terrorists and probably a prison that is not that dissimilar form Guantanamo Bay.

I am finding this very hard to believe that no one is intervening here, I feel once again let down by our justice system and government. Not during the time leading up to the war on Iraq, nor now, does anyone dare to stand up to America. I thought perhaps that some lessons may have been learnt after the backlash of our then prime minister, Tony Blair, and George Bush, declaring their allinence together on the war on Iraq, and the criticism that followed.

England was seen as weak, and just following America's lead instead of making our own decisions and having some backbone. Well unfortunately it seems there were no lessons learnt. McKinnon's mother, Janis Sharp has said, "This government is terrified of speaking up to America, and now they are allowing vulnerable people to be pursued for non-violent crime when they should be going after terrorists."

Once again Alan Johnson's, name is in the headlines for making a somewhat questionable decision that will make 43 year old Gary McKinnon's death "virtually certain" has stated by his lawyers. There has been medical evidence that McKinnon's condition has deteriorated dramatically and extraditing him is violation his right to live and his lawyers genuinely do believe that a mans life is at stake.

Is it right to send a man who suffers Aspreger's syndrome and depressive illnesses to a "super-max" jail?  The simple answer is no, because it would undoubtedly cause him mental harm and that is a breach of his human rights.

Geoffrey Robertson QC, one of Britain's most eminent human rights lawyers, told the Guardian:

"To send a British citizen to the US, without any right to bail, to face 10 years in prison for a crime for which he would be unlikely to receive any custodial sentence if tried here amounts to 'cruel and unusual' punishment' in breach of our 1689 Bill of Rights. The home secretary should not hide behind the weasel words of the European Convention when he should be following the law laid down by our own historic bill of rights."

Is anyone else worried that these breaches in the US military and Pentagon security systems was done by a 43 year old man, on his own, sat at his computer in his North London flat? Isn't the USA one of the richest countries in the world? And one lone IT worker from London was able to hack into Pentagon, US Navy, US military and NASA computer systems, oh the embarrassment they must be feeling. Is that why they are set out to "fry" him or could it be something more sinister? A cover-up maybe? Maybe they're worried about what information Gary stumbled across. It has been reported that he had tried to download a grainy picture of what looked to be a UFO, which would back up his allegations of a CIA cover-up, but I'm sure there's a lot more secret info on there for them to be worried about.

McKinnon's mother Janis Sharp has said:

"I will not give up this fight until the government intervenes to protect my vulnerable son. When considering the extradition of Abu Hamza, the then home secretary said 'Had we evidence in this country of a crime committed here then of course the police and the attorney general would have taken action'. Well, if that's the approach for a convicted terrorist, why not for a gentle, misguided Asperger's sufferer like Gary?"

Janis Sharp, has rightly felt let down, by the judicial system, by our government, and by the US government, and has said:

"We thought with Obama it would be different. Now the first person in the world to be extradited to the US for computer misuse is going to be a guy with Asperger's."

I hope that it is not too late for Gary and his mother to change the outcome of his life, or sadly his death.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

PR's Bad Name

Since my studies in public relations began a couple of months ago I have found it a sad but true irony that we are constantly trying to build a positive image for the field we will hopefully one day work in, as well as the organisations we will one day represent.

With its history submerged in propaganda, advertising and spin, it is an ongoing struggle to separate public relations from the stigma that it has developed over the years. In a time when the scandals of government spin doctors have become increasingly prominent in the news, the post Sept 11th debates on the legitimacy of swaying pubic opinion to agree to the war in Iraq, and negative misrepresentation from the media, it is a struggle that I personally don't think can be won.

Evidence over the years has shown one of the major problems that could be preventing public relations becoming a legitimate profession is the lack of a coherent definition. Many key practitioners over the years have offered up definitions of public relations yet we remain without one universal definition.

In order to justify public relations we must be able to explain what it does, after all definitions are what will shape a persons perception of it. Failing to define itself could leave the profession wide open to definitions that are inaccurate or outdated, therefore, some believe it needs to define itself, to protect itself.

The inability to define public relations and its purpose will only invite more scrutiny. However, it could be argued that it is simply unrealistic to set in stone one definition for a field that is so multifaceted, ever changing and evolving. Public relations in the UK emerged from politics and the economy, and so it is only natural that the industry will constantly evolve taking this into account along with societal and technological changes.

Another area public relations needs to address in order to gain legitimacy as a profession it seems would be education. What separates public relations from professions such as law and accountancy is the formal requirements of education, or training to call yourself a public relations practitioner, whereas in other professions education is a necessary requirement. As it stands, anyone can call themselves a public relations practioner regardless of qualifications, skill and integrity, traits that a true professional would possess.

Public relations plays a vital role in today’s democratic society and good democratic decisions can only be made when the public is well informed. Public relations is a powerful and influential industry and must be treated responsibly, this will require taking education extremely seriously, as with other professions.

Shouldn't there be a system put into place where there are educational standards and requirements set to call oneself a professional in the field of public relations. Some type of distinction between those who have chose to study and undertake ongoing research into the field, to better themselves as a professional, and those who lack the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out their work at a professional level.

There is potentially a real harm to society with incompetent people out there calling themselves public relations practioners who could be misusing there power and communication skills to mislead the public.

Ethics and professionalism are bound together; you can't have one without the other. Ethical training should be embodied in the educational training of public relations. Public relations practitioners who lack formal education in the field have had any formal training in ethics either. There needs to be a clear ethical framework for practitioners and codes of ethics that can be enforced.

These are just a few of the issues that require addressing when considering public relations as a legitimate profession. Even if all these issues were addressed and resolved, which is very unlikely, then there will still remain a great deal of sceptical people out there. We cannot go back and rewrite history, and we cannot force people to change their opinions, we just have to accept that Woking in the field of public relations we are inevitably going to have to deal with the cynics, but as long as we practice ethically, professionally and transparently then we shouldn't loose any sleep over it.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Re-instate Professor David Nutt

At the weekend I came across an article that grabbed my attention in the Guardian. I learned that Alan Johnson, the home secutary, had sacked Professor David Nutt, chief drug advisor to the government, due to his stance on cannabis reclassification.

Nutt who was appointed by the government, and is unpaid I might add, has excellent scientific credentials and is very well respected in his field. Nutt was a part of the ACMD - (Independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs) which brings together independent experts from fields such as medicine, narcotics, psychology, policing and social work, who's reports are based on the evidence on how to minimise the harm that drugs cause, taking into account, societal harm, crime, addiction and personal health to mame a few, so I would hazard a guess at saying they know their stuff, I don't think the same could be said of the government.

Based on scientific research, which Gordon Brown chose to ignore, Nutt argues that cannabis should remain a Class C drug and not be reclassified to Class B.

Brown's government is the first to ignore the ACMD's advice and it is the first time an ACMD chairman has been sacked, which I believe speaks volumes about the government which is leading our country today.

In my opinion Brown has chose to ignore scientists that he himself appointed and even to go as far as to sack someone who dared to hold an opposing view to that of his own, to show him in a more favourable light to the public and even the media. At a time when Brown is heavily featured in the press and media in a negative light and with public opinion off him much the same, it seems to me he has used this 'stunt' to win some of that favour back that he once might of held. (Might being the operative word here.)

Are these really the actions of a democratic government when they will only listen to advice that matches their political goals. The government cannot ignore impartial scientific advice from an independent body because it doesn't match their political agenda.

I hope that the resignations of other members of the ACMD in protest for the sacking of Nutt's will force the government to re-assess how they handled this issue, (although I won't hold my breath).

Since when did having an opinion become a sackable offence? Ok so they didn't like what he said or agree with his views, but no need to sack the poor guy, just don't take his advice this time.

And now the issue has become yet another 'media snowball effect' along the lines of the Jan Moir incident, the government are defending themselves, well trying, by saying that Nutt was speaking out against government policy. All he was doing was defending his research and speaking out against when they chose to ignore it.

It seems this a pattern within government, to sack anyone who dares to speak out against them. Read this article that shows others who have had the same treatment as Professor Nutts.

I urge people reading this to make a stand to do whatever you can to get Professor David Nutt re-instated. Please join  facebook and join the group Re-instate Professor David Nutt and invite all your friends, and voice your opinions on Twitter.

It looks like this issue won't be disappearing anytime soon.