Andy Green explains the ‘Dublin Conversation’ and why we need to redefine and rejuvenate PR

Andy Green from Story Starts Here is the driving force behind the ‘Dublin Conversation’, a grassroots initiative focused on transforming how PR and communications can succeed in the 21st century.

Andy chats to me (VIDEO BELOW) about how the practice of PR needs to evolve and change because, as he says, there has never been a more critical time for it to be redefined, revitalised and rejuvenated, along with brand, advertising and comms more broadly.

You can download a copy of the ‘Dublin Conversation’ whitepaper here.


Trevor:   All right. Good day, Andy. How are you?

Andy:      Very well. Good to talk to you, Trevor.

Trevor:   Andy, now a couple of things. Where are you coming to us from?

Andy:       Well, I’m based in Barry Island near Cardiff in Britain. And, this is to say I work around the world trying to get new understanding about this thing called public relations.

Trevor:    Now you describe yourself as a ‘prademic’.

Andy:       Indeed. So I’ve spent both teaching it at university, so I lecture for universities, but still a working practitioner. Run my own brand story consultancy and freelance strategy and creative for agencies across the UK.

Trevor:   Have you got much spare time?

Andy:       I’m sorry?

Trevor:    Have you got much spare time?

Andy:       My wife describes me as a busy fool.

Trevor:    Okay. Okay. Now the reason for our call is to dig a little bit deeper into what public relations really is. It’s a vexed question …

Andy:       Yep.

Trevor:    You had PR professional organisations around the world trying to grapple with this. I know one of the American organisations did in 2012, I think-

Andy:        That’s right.

Trevor:     Try and work out what people were … the theoretical mission of …

Andy:        Yep.

Trevor:     Didn’t really stand much difference than the old one, truth be told. But given that the discipline has changed incredibly over the last five to 10 years, you feel that it needs to … Walk us through what’s called the Dublin conversation, because this is kind of like a white paper and sort of a conversational movement to discuss more about PR and where it fits in the world.

Andy:         Absolutely. An Irish friend of mine tells me, “Only in Dublin is conversation regarded as a competitive sport.” So, what better place to start and inspire a wild, wild discussion?

You mentioned the Public Relations Society of America back in 2012. It declared that it was coming up with a new definition of public relations. And, the big mistake there I feel is that it tried to create a top down approach. So even though it used a crowdsourcing technique, it was still really posing the question of owning the agenda, and therefore as a result, like in your reaction of it, it didn’t really gain acceptance, wide attraction. Really, what we need to encourage is more of a bottom up approach. We believe by sparking as many conversations as possible, that we’ll emerge from this is new insights we require.

So the worst question you can ask anyone is, “Can we redefine PR?” ‘Cos it’s the most tiresome and tedious question going. And people’s eyes glaze, look up heavenwards. The reality is that they’re asking the wrong question.

Trevor:      What’s the question they need to ask?

Andy:          Well we need to recognise is … do you know … that we’ve gone for a revolution? So technology has transformed how we deliver and manage communications with digital technology. But it’s also been a revolution in behavioural science and neuroscience. So for 30-odd years, working in this business, I’ve essentially been blagging it in terms of how people think and understanding and knowing how people think. But now we’ve got greater insight and understanding into the reality of how people think and behave, and what drives those behaviours. So with that new understanding and insight, we’ve got a far better platform to actually say, “What is it we do?”

As a result of the work of people like Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, and also Robert Cialdini, we can now recognise that we live in a world that’s really of social interactions, and governed by five simple rules. If you know those five simple rules, it therefore then provides the map, the stage, on which we operate from.

The five simple rules …

Trevor:   Okay.

Andy:      It’s a brilliant, brilliant technique, this. So anytime any client gives you a brief or you’re looking at any campaign, just use these five simple rules. So the five simple rules provide both a guiding principle, but also a very, very simple and effective tool.

So you think about it, and I’ll challenge any of the viewers here to … Any campaign you do, must do one or more of these things.

Firstly, get known. So we’re more likely to say yes if we know something. So, familiar with a brand. That really covers a traditional area of advertising, PR, and marketing of awareness. So actually now we’ve got a cycle underpinning to that, that actually being known is critical to getting people to say yes more likely, or change their behaviour more likely.

The second one, which is surprising. So in 30-plus years of working, I’ve never had client brief that says, “Make us more likeable.” So obviously not just Facebook, but likeability. So what Kahneman did, we’re emotionally driven animals. So therefore, likeability, if you like … you’re more likely to say yes, even if you’re rationally … your logic might dictate otherwise. Likeability … so second key rule is that likeability.

The third is trust. So, if you trust something, you’ll go with the flow and say yes and agree to. So again, a critical, critical dimension to my work.

Fourth is front of mind, so a job in terms of visibility, regular … So even though it may be a well known brand, you still need that prompting of front of mind-ness.

And lastly, being talked about social proof. So, if you hear others talking about something it makes it more easy to say yes, ’cause it gives you a social proof about validity. So it’s five simple rules. Apply it to your next campaign: how well are we known? How well are we liked? How well are we trusted? How well are we front of mind? How are we being talked about? That provides a framework for any brief or campaign, I’d suggest. But it also provides the landscape from which we operate in.

So, using that model, emerging from that. Advertising was born out of the need to get known and noticed. Public relations was born out of the need to be trusted. So previously, all the previous definitions of public relations or advertising have tried to define in isolation. Whereas, they’re really smaller parts of a bigger universe, the bigger universe of these five simple rules. So, we cannot define public relations in isolation, neither can we define appetising. It’s a bit like the early astronomers, who tried to define their universe with the earth at its centre, and everything else circulating around it.

We in public relations have been on that for 120 years. Because public relations is, and everything else then circles it. Wrong. We’re part of a bigger universe, of which are framed by these five simple rules.

Trevor:      Yeah, true. We are part of a bigger universe. But this is a universe where there was reasonably clearly defined delineation between them. And, that’s all gone out the window in recent years.

Andy:          Yep.

Trevor:       I suppose I do a fair bit around content. So we take content for example.

Andy:          Yep.

Trevor:      And advertising agencies do it. Digital agencies do it. Social agencies do it. SEO agencies do it. PR agencies do it.

Andy:          Yeah. So …

Trevor:      And then these content agencies do it.  You can understand a client, someone who’s trying to … particularly in a big company, and they’ve got all of these types of agencies coming at them to do work. The lines are so blurred and they’re just trying to work out, “What the heck do I do? Who do I talk do?”

Andy:        That’s an often-heard phrase and reaction, because we’re going for this revolution and we don’t have a good map or signpost to point us toward. So amidst that confusion there are two essential strategies. You can be advertising-led response, which is using the PESO model, paid and earned, shared and owned, or social and owned. And then also there’s a public relations model using OSEP, which is PESO in reverse. We’ve got two strategies there.

So, again, in the UK for example, there’s a big movement to say we need to promote strategic PR. I think again that’s falling into the trap of defining PR as the centre of this universe. Whereas what we should be advocating for is strategic, PR-led integrated comms, PR led comms, where PR is part of the big proposal, but it’s leading the way for the other disciplines and other approaches to fall into place. It gives a structure and a framework.

Trevor:      I mean when PR does help you get known, as well. PR does give you reach in that side of things, but obviously can’t do it to the  necessarily that advertising does. But you’re going back a little bit to the integrated model.

Andy:           Yeah. Well, so the … Coms is different from integrated marketing communications. So, integrated marketing communications … let’s use the analogy of chess. So you’ve got different pieces. You’ve got, say, an advertising piece, a public relations piece, a sales promotion piece, a content piece. And yes, integrated marketing communications is how you manage those different dimensions, different channels, to maximum effect.

Comms, however, not only looks at those different pieces, but it also looks at the behaviour of the chess player. Are they playing the game appropriately? Are they playing within the rules? Are they behaving? So comms is a much bigger picture than integrated marketing communications. That’s why we need a new definition of this new era of comms, from which then flows new definitions of advertising and public relations. So the Coms era is defined by how we have a social purpose within how we get known, liked, trusted, be front of mind, or get others talking about it, of which you then have strategic options of either an advertising-led PESO, integrated. Or a public relations, OSEP-led approach. So it gives a …

Trevor:       Almost a philosophical situation.

Andy:           Wrong, because …

Trevor:        Whatever your philosophy is, that you’ve PR first or advertising first.

Andy:            Yeah. Well the challenge at the moment is very much an ad hoc response. So one of our parts of our conversation will be elaborate and find out actually, rather than it be PR or whether it’s advertising-led or PR-led, primarily dictated by history and legacy and habit. Let’s have some analysis where there will be some situations where you need a PESO-led approach, and other situations where you need an OSEP-led approach.  The reality we face is because advertising is typically far bigger budgets. Also, it’s been traditionally more data and also visual-led, the danger is that public relations has been marginalised, been moved down the food chain, is in danger of getting the crumbs in terms of activity and resource.

What we need is new thinking to provide a better springboard and map to re-energize, rejuvenate, and repurpose public relations that recognises there’s opportunities … for PR-led integrated comms, using the OSEP model as a way forward. And at the heart of what our work … people say, “Is public relations a discipline, a profession?” Actually say it’s a simple idea, that being born out of the need to earn trust, a simple idea is that public relations, anything you do, has got to maintain or earn trust in some way.

Trevor:        I mean, like my theory, too, is that public relations will make everything else work harder. So PR today can be ongoing. It’s not a campaign. It’s ongoing, 365 days of the year. Keep rolling it out. Because there’s a lot of activities you can be doing, all the time. Social media and content as a part. Then some earned media and all sorts of stuff.

Advertising, despite the fact that it’s a lot less effective today, and no one’s going to argue that. But, take that out of the picture. Advertising is still campaign-driven. So you’ll go … six week bursts and then nothing, six week burst and whatever. What happens in between? And I guess if you’re known, liked, trusted, you’ve … people are talking positively about you, top of mind because of the different feed of PR building again and again and again and again, when the ads do hit … when your sponsorship does hit, when your promotion does come out, or when your call centre is ringing people. At least people might have heard of who you are, what you stand for, and what you’re all about.

So, PR is that bedrock. If you look at it as that pyramid, it’s the base. You’ve got … earned and social, and then earned, working all the time. So it’s not either/or, it just powers the engine, so the advertising’s going to work a lot more effectively when its campaign work comes in.

Andy:           I agree, in the principle that you say public relations has a much more potential power. In fact, what we’re doing really is reconnection 2,000 years to Aristotle. Actually in order to gain influence, it’s who you are, your character, that … as much as your rational and emotional arguments you use. And so, that’s … going forward, I would maybe challenge about the pyramid because I think we’ve gotta look at it as a canvas of these five dimensions of known, liked, trusted, front of mind … From which within grow foundation stones for action. Where I said, it’s a dynamic.

So the way … as I say. We’ve got a brilliant, brilliant opportunity in public relations to reconnect with principles like I’m saying of Aristotle, that … If we are the champions. And again, we don’t own trust. We are the champions for anybody, any organisation, any brand, how they manage their social purpose, as I say using an OSEP approach on the canvas of being known, liked, trusted, front of mind, being talked about.

Trevor:         So that’s the backdrop.

Andy:            Well it’s a backdrop … it’s the backdrop atmosphere, no it’s the ecosystem we operate within.

Trevor:        Now we talk a lot about owned media. That’s the media you can own today.

Andy:            Yeah.

Trevor:         A website, blog, podcast, the videos you create, all that sort of stuff.

Andy:            Yeah.

Trevor:         Great to be your own media channel today. Coming from a background where you had to go through gatekeepers, that is just exciting for our industry. It gives us another way of … Doesn’t mean you don’t go through gatekeepers, or influencers, or journalists. It just means you can do the pincer hit, as well.

That said, you have another version of earned. You think that owned mean … you call it owned media instead of earned. Can you tell us about that, about your behaviours and what you … other things over and above just the media.

Andy:           So the PESO model, paid, earned, shared or social, and owned, grew out of the emergence of digital convergence. We now need to further evolve it so that the O not only needs to stand for your own channels. Also your own behaviours, attitudes, relationships, and also I suggest partnerships. So, by reframing the O, it takes it away again from an advertising-led perspective of seeing it as just mere channels, to the much more holistic view of owned behaviours. Ultimately, your own actions are the most profound form of communication.

So, by expanding and redefining the O, that embraces what those traditional areas of public relations activity. And going back to my analogy of chess, it embraces the behaviours of the chess player, as much as the individuals that are marketing channels of the chess pieces. So, critical to gaining a new insight is recognising we operate within this ecosystem, this canvas, of being known, like, trusted, front, and that you’ve got the choice of a PESO, OSEP approach, but critically the O needs to be expanded to this much wider and broader definition. So that it encompasses, as you like to say. So it’s the bedrock for 365 days of living, breathing, being your brand.

Trevor:          So the Dublin Conversation. Where are you up to with that? It’s 100 conversations in 100 days. How many have you done?

Andy:             Probably about … certainly more than 100. The joy is that every conversation, so previous conversation before this interview. Every conversation illuminates. We’re very driven by a concept called humble inquiry. So humble inquiry is that you recognise there’s always someone cleverer than you, and everyone has a contribution to give. So in terms of where we’re at, we launched it back in May as a conversation in Dublin. We had about 25 people in the room from academia, from practice. We’re looking now to launch a new LinkedIn site.

Also, unlike other initiatives, I say we’re trying to facilitate a bottom up approach. So we’re developing free roots. One is developing a body of theory. So previous initiatives, I mean I’ve been involved in initiatives where we said, “We need new theory. We need … ” Well, we’ve now got something on the table that’s of substance, of great, really profound insight. And therefore it’s not about beginning a conversation with a blank canvas. We’ve got a considerable body of insight.

Secondly, we’re developing a behaviour change model. So we call it ’14 steps to Dublin’. So we enable people to move from the existing worldview to a potential new worldview, embracing the thinking of the Dublin Conversation, Dublin definitions. And thirdly, we’re looking to grow a tribe of changemakers. So it’s not just putting something out there and seeing what happens. So, we’re looking to … launch shortly with the LinkedIn site. Have these conversations, nurture and grow our tribe, to … listen, take on board new insights, new information. So that we can … from an emergent, bottom-up approach, to new thinking. So rather than an organisation saying, declaring, ‘We’ve come up with a new definition of public relations,’ what we are hoping to achieve is a new reality, that this new thinking is all around us. It’s ours for the embracing, and consolidate it. Rather than someone from above saying: “This is the way forward.”

So pretty new things. A body of knowledge, a change model too, and a growing tribe of change makers. We’re … as I say we’re getting off the ground as we speak.

Trevor:          Excellent.

Andy:             Well as I say, within that same … really the whole difference is, that for whatever years, I’ve been on the … this quest for about seven year, and for six years now I’ve been asking the wrong question. So really what we’re looking at is the definition of comms … if you Google comms it comes out with integrated marketing communications, which … is wrong. That’s only part of the picture. So we need a new definition of this Coms area, from which as I say, new definitions of public relations and advertising, and brand, and social purpose, and more. As I say, every new conversation brings a new insight.

So I mentioned here that someone in London runs a social agency, behaviour change agency. And he said, “Andy, I’ve got a campaign that doesn’t fall within your five roles.” I said, “Jim … ” it was a behaviour change campaign using nudge theory, where he looked to change people’s behaviours by changing their environment. In this case it was a literacy campaign among poorer young families. And it involved putting bookcases in and so on. I said, “What you’re doing is front of mindedness.” But what you’ve helped there is you’ve helped there provide an insight that we need to evolve the PESO model even further, to accommodate environment. That by changing your environment is a means.

So, every conversation deepens. Even people who come up to us and say, “I disagree with anything you say.” We then reflect in what ways do we need, then, to accommodate, overcome, why didn’t that … so it’s not a thing of saying we’re right, you’re wrong. Every conversation has something to give.

Trevor:            Sounds good. Well we’ll keep an eye on that. The LinkedIn group will be called the Dublin Conversation. Will it?

Andy:                Indeed, yes sir … And our task is getting known, like, trusted, be front of mind, and getting others talking about us.

Trevor:            Gotta live by those rules. Very great. Very good. All right, thanks very much Andy. Great to hear your dulcet tones

Andy:                Thank you very much, and likewise. Likewise. Maybe one day we’ll have a coffee again in Melbourne.

Trevor:             Indeed. See you later, mate.

Andy:                 Take care. God bless.


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