CIPR Nothern Conference – Julia Hobsbawm

By far and away the best speaker at Thursday’s CIPR Northern Conference was Rob Skinner, chief press officer of First Direct who gave delegates a practical down-to-earth view on how media relations is changing and what we need to do to operate successfully. Incidentally Rob also has his own personal blog.

The worst speaker was Julia Hobsbawm, CEO of Editorial Intelligence. Her speech was a bit of a plug for her business. Actually it was just a plug for her business. If I was one of the commercial sponsors that had put hard cash and resources into the conference then I’d not have been too impressed that she used her 30 minutes to plug herself.

It’s very hard to convey what Julia Hobsbawm was trying to say, because unlike every other speaker she didn’t really strike a chord with me. The gist of it was that PR people need to understand the power and influence of newspaper columnists or the “Commentariat” and they can only do so by “joining” her company which appears to offer a combination of a database of columnists and “networking opportunities”.

The best contribution to her session came from independent PR consultant Nigel Keenlyside who asked what I was thinking. Nigel asked if the “commentariat” really had the influence that Julia suggested or if it was merely of interest to the chattering classes in Hampstead and Islington rather than the hot topic of conversation in Wakefield or Wetherby.

Julia’s answer pretty much confirmed what Nigel had said as she used some example about Simon Jenkins writing about parking in Camden. I’m sorry Julia but I didn’t know that Simon had written about parking in Camden – although a quick Google search reminds me I did skim an article a couple of weeks ago but dismissed it as irrelevant nonsense. I’m totally puzzled as to why Julia thinks Simon writing about parking is relevant to anything. The idea that this can set or shape the tone of debate about parking enforcement is nonsense. If the article does anything it merely reflects what people are already talking about down the pub or in the post office. Any local councillor, MP or community activist could tell you that parking is a hot topic and has been for years.

The delegate pack contained an example of the data held on Yasmin Alibhai-Brown which doesn’t provide much (any?) information that you couldn’t find in two or three minutes using MSN Search or Google or even her own website – all for a lot less than the £5,000 it costs to join Editorial Intelligence. Also if I’m paying good money for a database that has “15,000 hours of research” then I expect the content to have at least been proofread – the sample data sheet managed to list euthanasia as one of her key topics – twice in just four lines!

Julia would probably respond by saying that you also get “networking opportunities” and receive e.i’s journals and briefings. The problem is that if you really want to it’s not that hard to meet a lot of these people. Think tank events, charity bashes and political conferences all provide a good opportunity. They all cost a lot less and you get all the other benefits of attending as well.

During her contribution Julia ran a competition to win a half-price membership of Editorial Intelligence. Luckily nobody answered all her questions so didn’t have to win it and suffer paying £2,500 to receive their prize.

Perhaps I’ve misunderstood what EI is all about, so I’d be interested in Julia or one of her colleagues commenting to explain what they are trying to do.

Finally as Simon Collister says I ran a well attended workshop on blogs and apart from providing my contact details on the last slide (which I don’t think I showed) didn’t plug my services. I also attended an excellent session on crisis management run by Michael Bland and he didn’t overtly plug his services either. So here’s a couple of overt plugs. If you need an outstanding crisis management practitioner to run training workshops, plan, rehearse, or as a speaker then give Michael a call. If you want someone to do the same for blogs, PR 2.0 or social media (all awful words, which I will tear to shreds during the workshop but are an ugly but convenient short-hand) then give me a call. I’m happy to work with other PR firms, as well as directly with companies and organisations.

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