My best bookmarks from the last two years

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I have a very bad habit of bookmarking things and then never getting around to looking at them again.

Over the last two years this has resulted in hundreds of bookmarks and favourites – otherwise known as a big, unorganised mess.

This week I’d had enough and decided to sort them out.

I found some gems – here’s some links I found that I just had to share:

SOCIAL MEDIA:

1. Behind the scenes of 8 social media campaigns:

This post can’t fail to get you excited about the potential of social media. From the talented peeps over at Mashable, it gives 8 examples of innovative and successful social media campaigns which have captured their target audiences’ attention and generated some great results for clients.

2. What the f**k is social media

Does your boss (or you?!) still need convincing of the validity of social media? This no-nonsense slideshow is just what you need. It contains some impressive statistics and examples – though it is two years old now so it might be a bit outdated.

3. Seven deadly sins of social media

I’m a sucker for a list – and I love this one. It gives us the seven ‘deadly sins’ of social media including ‘Deafness’, ‘Phoniness’ and ‘Greed’.

4. Fifty digital resources you might have missed

Another great post from Mashable. This mammoth list gives you 50 resources worth reading including ‘How to make a 3D YouTube video with two cameras and a roll of sticky tape. I can’t wait to try that one!

PUBLIC RELATIONS:

5. Nissan’s online news room

WARNING: This post will make you want to work for Nissan. It talks about the company’s in-house newsroom which creates and develops news for the brand across all platforms, from video to print. In my opinion – all brands should be striving for this, or at least taking elements of it. A great, inspirational read.

6. Big list of free press release sites

I don’t use these sites, but they can be useful as an additional tool when selling in news releases.  This post lists LOADS of sites which you can upload your releases to for free.

7. How and why to write SEO releases, plus where to submit them:

SEO should be a skill which every PR pro is willing to learn – and it should be built into all content you create which may find itself a home online. This article is a great crash course into why SEO is so important, and how to use it for press releases.

8. Times Style Guide

Every newspaper and magazine has its own particular style, and PRs should always try and take note of these. It’s also worth having you own ‘house’ style. If you’re still trying to implement one then this could be a good post to refer to.

PHOTOGRAPHY:

9. Photography challenge:

I have a secret desire to become a photographer. Two things stand in my way; a lack of decent camera and a lack of talent. When I get these things, I will definitely be doing this challenge from the White Peach Photo blog. It gives you a photography challenge every day for 30 days – from ‘Self Portrait’ to ‘Clouds’.

OTHER:

10. Top 16 UK marketing blogs

Looking to expand your blog repertoire? Well, look no further. This post offers up 16 of the UK’s best marketing-focused blogs.

Are there any gems hidden in your bookmarks? If so, share them here.

What can Lady Gaga teach you about PR?

Lady GaGa on stage at the Radio 1 Big Weekend

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Last weekend saw Europe’s largest free ticketed music event take place – Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Carlisle. Alas, I wasn’t lucky enough to be there, but curiosity got the better of me and I couldn’t help but check out online some of Sunday’s headline performance from Lady Gaga.

She is one of the most outlandish mainstream performers the world has seen in a long time – yet the public love her.

Some clients can be afraid of anything which is too ‘out there’. But, whatever your opinion of her, perhaps Lady Gaga is proof that people are a lot more open than we think.

So, with that in mind, here are five things PR pros can learn from her:

1). Be inventive

Lady Gaga appeared on stage in a coffin, wearing a PVC cat suit and a plastic baby bump. Odd, yes. (Although perhaps not a patch on some of her other outfits – meat dress anyone?!). Her approach is certainly creative. And creativity and innovation is something which in PR we should have in abundance. We should be able to come up with inventive, innovative, yet viable, ideas for clients at the drop of a hat. Take the time to regularly brainstorm with your team – come up with ideas which aren’t restrained by budgets or client briefs. Even if you don’t use the ideas they are still useful for keeping that ‘creative on-switch’ working, as well as providing a bank of material when your campaign needs a vital dose of ‘oomph’.

2). Don’t go too far – unless you can handle the repercussions

Usually shrouded by glowing reviews, Lady Gaga’s ‘Alejandro’ video has caused outrage in some circles, with MTV asking ‘Has she gone too far?’ The controversial video features sexual and religious imagery which is a bit too much for some people’s taste. Although creativity is important – it is also important to remember that it’s subjective. Think about your audience – will they find it amusing, exciting or insulting?

3). Support what you believe in  

Lady Gaga is mostly seen in the press for her weird and wacky dress sense, and for hit single after hit single – but she’s also been in and out of the papers for her charity work. Charity partnerships are a great way for any brand to raise awareness of itself, get in the public eye, and build compassion. Lady Gaga’s charity work includes quitting Facebook for the Keep a Child Alive charity, designing a charity bracelet for the Japanese earthquake appeal, and performing at a benefit concert for the Robin Hood Foundation.

4). Be current

Splashed across the press after her appearance last weekend was Lady Gaga’s homage to the royal couple, Kate and William. The singer dedicated a cover of Nat King Cole’s classic jazz tune, Orange Coloured Sky to the couple and admitted that she wished she’d been part of their big day. Linking into the news agenda and ‘piggy-backing’ onto the hype surrounding current affairs is a great way to gain more coverage for your clients, and something all good PR pros should be able to do.

5). Always exceed expectations   

Lady Gaga was half an hour late to the stage – leaving many fans wondering where the loyalty was. Always strive your utmost to meet client expectations – and where possible exceed them. This should be across all aspects of your campaigns; great ideas and amazing content count for nothing if you’re always late or never keep promises.

What makes a great press photo?

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Earlier this month I attended a free photography workshop hosted by TNR Communications, part of the Press Association.

The workshop set out to “give a real insight into how to get national picture desks to run your PR photographs.”

I’d highly recommend the workshop – it was a great insight into one of the UK’s busiest news and picture agencies – and they illustrated the presentation with some really strong picture examples, as well as offering valuable insight into the day-to-day workings of a picture desk.

Here are some top tips from the day, to help make sure you get that perfect press shot – and the coverage it deserves:

1). Track record is important

Make sure that the photographer you use has a strong track record in securing national coverage for their photos – even if you have to pay more for it. They should have an intuitive eye and know what a national paper is looking for and how to get it. They should also know how to distribute photos – if you have no connections it can be hard to get your photo seen by the right people. Make sure they also offer solid insight and knowledge into the best times to send photos and the best resolution, file size and photo captions.

2). Know what picture editors want

When pitching photo stories, picture editors are your audience not newsrooms – you need to understand them. You need to know what they’re looking for and how they operate. Avoid clichéd photos (smiling business men holding big cheques are most definitely a no-no!) And remember that news is about people – the photos needs to reflect this.

3). Be more creative

Picture editors at national newspapers are inundated with photos – over 20,000 per day, and this is climbing everyday thanks to the rise in digital photography and citizen journalism. For a PR story to gain coverage this way it needs to be imaginative and eye-catching. Think of the wider story, and come up with creative ways of capturing it. If the story allows it try and be fun and humorous. And remember – a picture editor only sees thumbnails on screen – and hundreds of them at that. Your photo needs to be pretty special to stand out.

4). Try and sum up the story

An ideal photo for national press will sum up the story in one go. Even if you need to stage a shot which does this, then it could well be worth it. Often, strong photos aren’t run with a full story – just a photo caption. Make sure that your picture tells the story you want it to.

5). Manage branding

From a PR’s perspective getting branding into a photograph in the nationals is the holy grail of success. From a picture editors perspective it’s a nightmare. Try and find a happy medium – you can get away with branding but only if it looks natural within the setting of the photo. Don’t go overboard, and don’t try and make your branding the focus. Doing that will simply result in your photo not being used – or your branding being cut out.

6). Planning is vital

If you are planning a photoshoot or a photocall you must plan before hand. If it’s in a public place visit the site first; how busy is it? Is it too crowded? Can you get the right angles? Think about the environment and the background. What will be in your frame? If possible take your photographer with you – if not, take a digital camera and take a few snaps. You want your photoshoot to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible so planning is vital. You don’t want people hanging around on the day while you look for the perfect spot, or try to avoid the crowds.

7). Be aware of the news agenda

Pay close attention to the news agenda and time your photos well. Royal weddings, holidays, Wimbledon, hottest day of the year – all of these things can offer you hooks to get that perfect photo. BUT, it’s also worth sometimes going against the news agenda. For example election time, when picture editors are bombarded with man-in-suit after man-it-suit, it could well be worth doing something dramatically different to offer some light refreshment.

8). Move quickly

Once your photo has been taken get it re-sized, captioned and sent ASAP. But make sure that you pay attention to timings. Don’t send it on a Friday, and avoid afternoons if possible. The best time is around 10am in the morning. It’s also worth trying a Sunday morning – papers are often lacking content for Monday’s paper.

For some examples of great press photos check out TNR’s gallery.

Photo by graur razvan ionut

Churnalism.com – churning out what we know already?

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The website Churnalism.com was launched last week by the Media Standards Trust, and allows people to paste press releases onto the site and compare the copy with articles published by national newspaper websites.

I’ve found the site interesting, and had a bit of fun playing around on it, but I’m not really sure what the point of it is.

If Churnalism’s purpose is to highlight the fact that press releases are used in newspapers – then it will of course succeed. But the fact that press releases are copied by journalists will come as no surprise to anyone in the industry and is hardly front page news (excuse the pun!).

Nor do I think it’s a bad thing if press releases are copied – after all if a story is good (and accurate) then it shouldn’t matter where it comes from.

As a PR practitioner I feel a bit insulted by the site – as though it is suggesting that all press releases are crap which should never make it to print.

The other thing I’m not clear about is who exactly Churnalism is aimed at?

I expect PRs will love having a go – a fun, free way of tracking coverage anyone? Plus, if you find your release has been copied in its entirety then that is a PR score surely, and a sign you’ve produced something newsworthy?

I can’t imagine journalists wanting to check – after all if they’ve copied and pasted a press release do they really want to be called out on it?

Churnalism describes itself as ‘an independent, non-profit website to help the public distinguish between original journalism and ‘churnalism’. But do the public care (and how would they even have access to most press releases in the first place?).

I decided to find out, and as such did an impromptu survey with friends – specifically asking for people who didn’t work in the PR or media industries.

I asked the question ‘As someone not involved in journalism or PR – do you care?!’ Admittedly getting the answers from 20 friends on Facebook isn’t going to give in-depth analysis but it was interesting to see that actually, only half really gave a shit.

 

Churnalism - do you care?

Some of the ‘other’ comments also gave food for thought:

It depends on the press release. Every area of work allows for using work already done. If it is a large percentage of copied work it seems wrong that they should be allowed to do this, is it that hard to re-write something to say it another way? Isn’t that their job?”

I love this comment (and I must stress this was an anonymous survey – though I’m sure my friends will tell me who they are when they read this post!)

It’s a very good point – writing and researching is what journalists are paid for. But then on the flip side, it’s also what PRs are paid for – to create newsworthy material for their clients.

The issues surrounding the Churnalism website, and the reasons behind it, are age old – the love/hate relationship between journalists and PRs (many journos say they hate PRs but would then struggle to fill pages without them) and also the ‘purpose’ of a press release.

Is a press release a fully formed story, or a taster of a subject which the journalist should then embellish and build upon?

And if a journalist runs a press release word for word does that make them bad at their job, or does it make the PR good at theirs?

Or perhaps it doesn’t mean any such thing – perhaps it means that the PR/journo relationship is working.

Churnalism will clearly help demonstrate lazyness in the media (and indeed unimaginative PR) but it also makes it look as though every story comes from a press release. What would be a fair representation would be seeing how many original news stories there were on a day – COMPARED to those that came from a press release.

With regards to the effect the site will have I’m not sure – as I don’t think it’s doing anything that people didn’t know already.

It’s fair enough if they want to raise awareness to the public that this happens – but they should also make it clear that many press releases are well written, accurate and have a place within the news agenda.

What do you think of Churnalism.com?

Communication tips from a 5 year old

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I’m not really a girly girl. I don’t like the colour pink, fluffy dogs or babies.

But there are two things in my life that can make me go ‘ah’ and that’s my nieces, who are 4 and 5 years old.

Unfortunately, I don’t get to see them as often as I would like as they live a few hours away. But last weekend I had the pleasure of looking after them.

Between the reading, painting, Disney Princess snap, Dora the Explorer computer games and splashing through rivers in the forest, I realised that actually, as communicators, we could learn a lot from the younger (well, much younger) generation, and their way of viewing the world.

1). Don’t lie

Shame on me, but I might have told a couple of white lies over the weekend. ‘Yes, I’ll play Disney snap with you after dinner’, and then not following through because I had to go out. And there is nothing quite like a 5 year old to make you feel guilty!

Honesty should be a core trait for any communicator. Despite the reputation that the PR industry sometimes has as spin doctors, what we do, and the messages we send out should always be truthful. This should be the essence for everyone you deal with, from clients – telling them truthfully what results they can expect – to journalists. In fact, especially journalists. If you don’t know something, say so. If you can’t make a deadline, say so. It’s much better to be honest, and then try and rectify the situation, than it is to lie and be caught out when you don’t deliver.

2). Put your foot down

My nieces putting their foot down may have transpired into tantrums! But, they might well be onto something with their belief in what they were standing up for. Often clients ask us to do something which we know isn’t going to work. If you go ahead, simply to please your client, then you risk damaging your reputation with third parties (for example spamming newsdesks with crap, non-newsworthy press releases), and also the client, who will eventually wonder why your outputs aren’t getting results. We’re consultants, and should act as such.

3). Be creative

The weekend was full of reading, drawing and painting. Things I actually used to love to do but never make the time for anymore. Being creative is a core part of communication; no one wants the same tired approach over and over again. Make time for creative brainstorming with your team, and to read publications relevant to your clients for inspiration.

4). Pay attention to detail

It’s amazing what a 5 year old can notice. One of my favourite comments ever said by my youngest niece was ‘Your earrings don’t match your dress’. She was 3 at the time. Now, I personally believe that they matched fine, but this attention to detail can often be overlooked in a busy working environment. Always double or triple check everything you do – from ensuring you’ve got the right people CC’d into emails, making sure you’ve brought biscuits for that important meeting, and of course right the way down to written copy. This attention to details is what sets apart a great communicator from a good one.

5). Don’t give up

My eldest niece is an amazing reader, and when she got stuck at a word she stopped, took a long look at it and broke it into sounds. Nine out of ten times she got the word right. Seeing the attention paid to the task, and how determined she was to succeed was really inspiring. I know myself I often dread making certain calls, or doing certain things – that follow up call to a journalist, or that final chase to a client for approval – but it is important not to give up. The results are worth it in the end!

10 reasons NOT to be on Twitter

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Now, don’t shoot me but I’ve been feeling a bit ‘social media outed’ (yes I know that’s not a real word) over the last few days. It seems as though it’s ‘social media, social media, social media’ constantly – with Twitter being the Holy Grail for many. Or at least many who suddenly feel it’s the time to join the Twitter masses.

Yes, Twitter has its good points – and I’m enjoying starting to learn more about it and increase my own activity. But just because everyone’s talking about it doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

With that in mind here are ten reasons NOT to tweet.

1). You don’t have the time

One tweet a week is going to achieve nothing – it needs consistency, not complacency. If you don’t have the time yourself then create a team of ‘tweeters’ who can help create and post content. Vodafone does this particularly well –and signs off with initials which is a nice touch.

2). You have nothing to say

No one cares that you can’t get the kids to sleep or that you’re off to buy a chocolate bar (unless you’re planning on buying them one too). Think about what you’re saying – does it give value? The odd personal or sales tweet is fine but you also need to source third-party articles, and multi media – videos, SlideShare presentations, and podcasts. Build up a bank of websites suitable to your sector which you can draw on for content – useful for when you have nothing to say yourself that day!

3). Your customers aren’t there

If you sell microwaves would you go to a networking event for baby clothes retailers? No – because your audience isn’t there. You know your industry well enough (or should do) to know if your clients and customers are on social media. If not, why bother?

4). You don’t bother listening

You want to tweet but you don’t want to listen. Not good. Run searches for your brand and industry and respond where you can.

5). You ignore everyone

I’ve seen some classics of this the last few days. It’s basically like someone saying hello and you, at best, ignoring them and, at worst, saying ‘p*ss off’. Check your DMs and @ messages everyday and reply! RTs you can get away with although I always think it’s nice to say thanks if you can.

6). You’re not ready to let go of the approval process

If you’re going to outsource your tweeting or leave it to the marketing department you HAVE GOT TO LET GO OF APPROVAL!!! Twitter should be about instant engagement and speaking to real people – not track changes and streams of amendments. A good approach is to set out a social media policy stipulating tone and content. If there are any tricky situations – that’s where approval becomes necessary.

7). You aren’t going to evaluate

There’s still lots of talk about ROI in social media – but as a minimum at least track the rise in followers, RTs, @ mentions and DMs, as well as clicks on the links you’ve posted (check out Hootsuite which creates some great graphs).

8). You’re doing it because you feel you should

If you’re only on Twitter because everyone else is then is it really worth it? Because the likelihood is that you’ll certainly not be spending the time and effort on it that it needs to work.

9). You’re not willing to wait

It takes time. Loooots of time. Not seen a return in three months? It’s really not surprising – it’s those who persevere who will see results.

10). You can’t take anyone seriously who speaks the Twitter language

If you hear someone saying the words ‘Twitter’ ‘Tweet’ ‘Tweeters’ etc, and you instantly think the word ‘tw*t’ then the whole thing probably isn’t for you! In fact I’ve had a fair few conversations with people where part of the reason they aren’t on Twitter is because it ‘sounds ridiculous’. Which, you can’t argue – it really does.

Quality or quantity when it comes to social media accounts?

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I had an interesting discussion with a fellow creative earlier this week, about whether a brand should be utilising all of the social media channels available to them, or focusing on a chosen few.

His thoughts were that as marketers we should utilise every channel available for our clients – even if they don’t seem relevant to their product or service. That way you can continue to engage with the target audience on one or two main platforms, but you also have a presence on others in case they happen to look for you on there.

I suppose there is some truth in what he is saying – after all social networking sites are increasingly being used as search engines – but should this shift in the way networking sites are being used mean that you should compromise a brand’s identity?

For example, should a serious technical brand really have a Facebook or Flickr profile – and does a fashion brand really need a presence on LinkedIn?

I was, and still am, of the stance that you should choose a few key platforms, which reflect the brand’s personality and aims, and do them well. It’s important to explore new trends as they emerge – but these should be analysed to see if they fit into a brand or organisation’s overall marketing strategy.

You shouldn’t just jump on the bandwagon – which would surely result in a poor presence across a whole host of sites instead of a sustained, focused, coherent presence, with quality content, on just a couple.

What do you think is better?  Not having a presence on every platform, and potentially missing engagement if someone only uses that platform? Or using social channels which aren’t quite right for your purposes or brand and which don’t get as much content TLC as others?

Here are some pros and cons of each strategy – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’m on every social media site going and its great because:

  • I can be found everywhere
  • I have maximum exposure
  • I can have all of the pretty icons on my website – which makes me look active and current

It sucks because:

  • I find it hard to update all of the sites with fresh content regularly
  • Not all of the platforms suit my brand messages
  • I find it hard to create meaningful connections across all platforms

I am selective with my social media sites and it’s great because:

  • I have a very strong presence on the ones I use
  • My time is spent well – I’m not spread thinly across lots of social networks
  • I am able to build up real repertoire with peers and customers

It sucks because:

  • I may miss customers on other sites
  • I may be too far behind on other platforms when they really gain popularity
  • I am not fully aware of other site’s capabilities and often worry I may be missing out – even if I think on the surface they aren’t suitable, or that I wouldn’t have the right content

5 communication ‘dont’s’ for 2011

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As it’s the start of a brand new year, most people are busy making positive predictions and resolutions for 2011.

But, as I’m a complete pessimist at heart, here’s my list of things you SHOULDN’T be doing in public relations this year.

1. Don’t be ‘on’ social media:

It has been said by many that 2010 was the year that social media really took off. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr – 2010 was the year that you HAD to be seen to be using these channels, and many more besides. But simply being ‘on’ these channels – and by that I mean you’ve set up a profile page with a nice bit of blurb about you or your business, a flattering profile picture and the odd sales tweet/post/video – isn’t enough. If you’ve set these channels up but aren’t utilising them for customer or peer interaction – ala Tesco’s Twitter feed – then they really aren’t worth having at all. Work out what you want to achieve (higher brand profile, a communication channel for customer queries), look at what your competitors are doing, listen to your customers and then spend time on putting together a plan – and investing the time – to make these channels work for you.

2. Don’t give up on traditional media:

Yes, traditional paper and magazine circulations are dwindling rapidly. But I for one firmly believe that they are, and always will be, here to stay. And although social media and online publicity is definitely where communications is headed, there is a lot to be said about the power of a really strong piece of coverage in the correct publication. Local newspapers seem more receptive than ever to targeted content, and there are also many niche trade publications, catering for sectors across the board, which have strong and loyal readers. Also, if you target traditional press you’re usually killing two birds with one stone, with most print coverage appearing online too.

3. Don’t cut your marketing budget (too much):

I hate to use the dreaded ‘R’ word – but even a couple of years since it first hit, the recession is still biting many companies hard. And with the public sector cuts happening this year, and the knock on effect that will have on the private sector companies which supply them, it looks like this year may be one of the hardest yet. One of the first departments to be hit is usually the marketing department and all that falls under that banner – PR, advertising, online, internal comms. Cuts need to be made but it is often companies which are investing in their marketing departments – and therefore their reputation – which reap the benefits.

4. Don’t get stuck in a rut:

It’s very easy to continue your marketing and communications strategy as you always have done. But is it really working? It is important to evaluate last year. What worked and what didn’t? Do you need to invest more (or less) time and/or money in particular areas? There are new communication channels opening up every day – why not explore these and see if they fit into your strategy for 2011? For example – perhaps you’ve always focused on magazine advertorials and haven’t yet branched into blogs or online forums? Consult experts for their opinions but also consult your staff (across the company – not just the marketing team). What do they think of the firm’s communications strategy? What reactions do they get from the people they deal with on a day to day basis? Where do people hear about you?  Use this feedback to structure your comms plan for the year ahead – ensuring you’re investing in the areas which will give you the most return. 

5. Don’t think communications is quick, or easy:

In 2010 there was a lot of talk about the return on investment for both traditional PR and also social media. But unfortunately it’s not always a simple equation which can be tracked to the bottom line. People don’t always ‘like’ your Facebook page, read your news article or visit your website and then instantly purchase your products or services. I hate to use the cliché but sometimes ‘background noise’ is important. It takes time, and consistent and quality material, to build up a reputation online and in the press.

New blog resolution

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This year has been my first foray into social media and blogging.

It has been fairly successful – my Twitter followers have grown steadily, as have the conversations I’ve had with peers, I’ve become a contributor for PR Daily Europe – which means I have an excuse to consume far more social media and PR news each day than should be deemed necessary – and my blog has started to slowly attract more readers with each post.

Of course, it’s nothing in the realms of some of the master bloggers who we all look to for inspiration everyday – but they’re achievements nonetheless.

2011 is the year I want to step it up a gear.

But I know that in order to be truly successful I require one thing above all else – dedication.

Having just completed a 30 week blogging programme for a client, where I helped him draft a weekly blog, I know how hard it is to get the inspiration – and perhaps above all else – the time, to dedicate to creating regular (and high-quality) content. Especially when you’re busy with your ‘day job’.

But I also know that if you form the habit then it’s hard to break.

Next year will be the year that I make the time – after all, I help clients everyday with their social media strategies – and it’s a bit contradictory if I’m not practicing what I preach.

But I think that’s something that many PR practitioners are guilty of. How many times have you come across a company or individual that claims to be able to help you with public relations, social media or marketing and yet they are using none of these channels to promote themselves?

To this end, I have given this blog a bit of a makeover, hopefully making it easier to understand and digest.

Along with the new look is a new Facebook fan page. And there’s also a new domain name on its way www.prtips.co.uk

I’ve created a content schedule packed with ideas along the same line as my more successful advice-led articles and aim to update this blog at least once a week – more if I can.

My only problem is I don’t exactly have the greatest record when it comes to keeping new year’s resolutions.

Last year I was supposed to spend no more than £25 per month on clothes (that so didn’t happen!) and the year before that I was supposed to learn Spanish.

Let’s just say ‘no hablo español’ two years later!

But, I have a feeling this one might just be different. I’m passionate about communications, and the great thing about the industry at the moment is that there is something new to learn every day.

What about you? What are your new year’s resolutions?