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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About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://eventualities.blog.co.uk/2006/07/07/hit_the_north~942055 Eventualities

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  • http://www.belfastmetalheadsreunited.blogspot.com Jonathan Traynor

    Hey Stuart! have to agree with your comments on Julia's presentation. Although I do agree with her that new dynamics exist with journalists in 21st Century media/pr, the idea that a business can be created by cooking up some type of contact bureau seems falacious at best and disingenious at best. I am sure that Julia has honourable business intentions, but her presentation was patronising and filled with the useless ill-informed jargon that both insults pratitioners and creates a poor impression of professional PR. I'm sorry but if any PR uses 'truthiness' in my presence they are liable to be given a rather large mouthful!

    I also noted that she failed to answer any of the questions directly, apart from my question on whether we as PRs need journalists in the cominng decade. Journalists will always be there (hell I get £100 a month of beer tokens from a column I write!) but as PRs we need to reach our target audiences efficiently, and in a cost-effective effort to create mutual understanding, not sway some pampered Islington columnist with little or no sense and less knowledge. And in case Julia hasn't noticed newspaper sales are declining, new media use, development and content are soaring. I recommend to her the book The World is Flat, which has daft American writing, but a premise that should wake up the late adopters!

  • http://simoncollister.typepad.com Simon Collister

    Stuart, fair points about Julia – although I do think it spiced up proceedings a bit!

    My concerns are also centred on the fact if we are talking about PR and best practice etc, Julia's conception of the trade through ei (and dare I say in the past) is simply putting PROs/CEOs etc in front of important people. I had hoped the industry had moved on from this. Where's the research, needs-analysis or evaluation? It's all very much a case of: "Oh, you run an important firm, I can get you to dinner with a Times columnist." I thought we had left all that behind – at least in theory!

  • http://www.pr-consultant.co.uk Stephen Newton

    Given how easy it is to track business name mentions in blogs, it's telling that more than a week after this post EI has yet to respond.

    That said, I don't entirely agree that Simon Jenkins writing about parking is completely irrelevant. It's interesting to see how the piece plays with the audience, which is why comments ate great. Some people just read him as a stand-up comic, others are annoyed at the London bias, some fact check him…

    There are actually other areas of the UK outside of London. In these places that are "not London" the parking terror is not as acute

    This had me chortling like a loon at my desk.

    Time's up Simon, Jeremy Clarkson wants his act back.

    Don't break the law and then you wouldn't get a fine.**** Go and whinge somewhere else

    An interesting article investigating the source of the "500 extra deaths claimed by ambulance service" claim. Simon should do a bit more research – it took me 2 minutes to find this.

    You'd have to be an idiot to leave your car unlocked with your laptop in it, especially if you live near Kentish Town.

    Goodness, commenters are fickle aren't they?
    Only two days ago Jenkins was being hailed as the lonely voice of sanity at the Grauniad for his comments on the Forest Gate raid!

    Simon you’re just whining because your laptop was stolen and the warden didn’t give a toss.