Last night I attended my first Coca-Cola NI Media Awards at The Mac Theatre in Belfast. Obviously I am not hungover, despite an abundance of complimentary alcoholic beverages, so I am fit to type this. I learned a lot last night and I thought a summary here would make a great blog post. And keep my hands busy to stop me eating leftover pizza.
So here are 10 things I learned at the NI Media Awards 2014:
1. The PR “luvvies” reputation is alive and well
As much as it pains me to admit it, being the rebel that I am, there is a certain amount of bad press lumped on our industry that isn’t entirely unfounded. I may not agree that we are “vomits” like some kind of champagne-swilling homogenous group, but there remains an air of arrogance, borderline rudeness and sometimes fakeness about some of the local PR folk. I don’t say this as a personality attack, my understanding is that it comes from the needs of the job - you talk to those who can help you meet your ends, you hunt them down in a crowd, you woo them with air kisses and compliments and you ignore the plebs because you simply don’t have time for them. I hope to be involved in changing that, not least because I hate feeling like an outsider among my own people.
2. Never judge a book by its cover
We all do it, never moreso than in the PR set where an event labelled “smart-casual” turned into a masterclass in glamour (in which I sadly could not partake due to a leg wax disaster earlier in the day!) I like to think I don’t judge people on their looks, but when I started chatting to a young man with a rather squiffy quiff, I thought there’s some banter to be had here. He’s just another high-fashion PR dude… Nope. He was a highly comended photographer and I was barely worthy of his presence let alone his time if you compare the danger levels endured for his job versus mine. Note to self, hair doth not maketh the man!
3. The devil is in the detail
Event management is part of the PR world, but I hate it and have never been more grateful to work somewhere that can afford to dedicate resources to an events professional (kudos @CallumClarkNI). Sitting on the CIPR NI Committee I have some idea of the work Rumour Mill PR put into this event and Sam Livingstone did a great job. The food, the drink, venue, timings, and most of the IT (which is a law unto itself let’s be honest!) OK, there were a few hitches, and I really struggled without a wifi connection in the auditorium. But it’s funny how it is often the smallest things that hurt the most. Our poor Callum Clark and UTV’s Paul Clark know this only too well, as two lone rangers battling a world intent on adding an extra letter to their surnames!
4. A good speaker is worth the money
By far the question I got asked most as a Committee member was “how much did ya’s pay aul Eamon?” The honest answer was I didn’t know. I’m guessing it was a fair bit, considering he’s one of the most well known NI faces in the UK. More importantly than that though, is the fact that he was really very good. He handled technical hitches, script errors and a rogue pop-up explosion with ease. He was genuinely, off-the-cuff funny and he made a night that showcased no less than 26 different award categories go in quickly and joyfully. I have been to many events like this and a guest compere can make or break it. If he eats up half your budget, it’s probably worth it.
5. Know your elevator pitch
We’re all well-practiced in the art of introducing ourselves, explaining what we do and what our organisation does. However, having been seated in the great company of local comedian and writer Tim McGarry (who was nominated, and subsequently robbed I’ve been instructed to add), I wasn’t prepared for the CIPR elevator pitch. “What is the CIPR then? What’s it for?” Err, I know this, I know it, give me a minute, err… I don’t think I did the Institute justice and it was definately a lesson to me - don’t assume that everyone associated with the PR industry knows the little details of it and be prepared to inform them adequately, even after a drink or two!
6. The “Spin” reputation of PR isn’t as bad as we think
One thing that really gave me hope, after I’d recovered from my inability to explain my industry standard body, was the feedback that the Spin Doctor PR reputation was waning. People outside the profession don’t really believe that anymore, they’re better informed, more understanding, less likely to stereotype. Perhaps when we’re in the throws of what feels like an industry crossroads or a crisis, we should talk to people outside the bubble and get a real feel for what we’re dealing with. If nothing else, it will stop us stressing unnecessarily. That only leads to more drink.
7. Journalism and PR are in mediation
The love-hate relationship between the two worlds was the butt of many jokes during the evening. And no doubt there are those of a cynical nature who would see such awards as nothing more than a way for Public Relations to woo their media counterparts. However, a lot of talk centred around the more positive sides of the working relationships, how bridges are being built and the emergence of genuine mutual respect for each side of the communications divide.
8. Face-to-face networking needs a comeback
This topic of conversation came about when my day-job boss found herself seated beside a Sunday Life journalist (he too, was robbed). He explained that he missed the days when in-house PR folk would take journalists for lunch, introduce themselves, get a feel for the charity’s work and also what issues the journalist was interesed in pursuing. They both agreed the loss of this activity, albeit replaced to some extent by social networking, is a real shame and should return. I wholeheartedly agree (and not just for the promise of free lunches). One of the main reasons we attended the awards was for the networking opportunity. We email journalists all the time, they ring us on a weekly basis, and we get lots of media coverage. But could I pick these people out in a line-up? Regrettably not.
9. PR is “the sunnier side” of writing for the public
Arguably one of the stand-out moments of the night was the CIPR Chair Award to Deric Henderson. One of the few special winners to take to the microphone he regailed us with his life on the front line of NI reporting and editorship before joking that he was now moving to “the sunnier side” as a Media Consultant. I have to say I wholeheartedly agree. I have never worked in journalism but I think I know enough people who do to appreciate that I couldn’t do it. I knew in my youth that I wanted to write for a living but I wasn’t cut out for the danger, the long hours, the forward personality required to get the information needed and I definately only had a face for radio!
10. Don’t take yourself too seriously
Everytime I attend an event like this I turn into a total fangirl. I stare at these faces that enter my house through the television, radio and newspapers each day, and you’d think I was standing in front of Channing Tatum (no, actually, because I’d be passed out on the floor at that point). What I love is how these well-known personalities are so friendly, approachable and self-depricating. The large egos will more often than not come from the nobodies who think they are somebodies. I will take a leaf from the book of those who could be divas but don’t and next time I have a wardrobe disaster, instead of panicking and threatening to cancel, I’ll say “feck it, stop your snivelling and put on your big girl pants because nobody cares!”