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PR experts 'must harness networks'

12/06/2013

The best way for PR firms and communications experts to engage with people and change the narrative of a problematic situation is to make use of networks, both on and offline, according to former head of communications at Brighton & Hove City Council John Shewell.

Mr Shewell - who went on to found innovation-focused communications agency CoLab - argued that simply looking to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter overlooks the potentially transformative power inherent in networking of all kinds.

Writing in PR Week, the industry expert suggested that the current austerity crisis and the pressure being placed on some organisations by the media has led to many PR workers simply playing it safe in order to avoid problems or confrontation.

However, he warned that this is a self-defeating approach that can prevent companies from delivering initiatives successfully or leave local public services hamstrung and unable to carry out their role.

"The starting position is identifying people with shared interests and connecting with them on their terms. But the process requires effort, time and skill in identifying, designing and delivering a successful campaign," declared Mr Shewell.

He pointed to Seth Godin's book Tribes as an inspiration, explaining that the basic thesis of the works is that many organisations waste their time by marketing to the crowd when instead they should be focusing on the 'tribe' - a loosely defined group of people with converging interests and aims.

Focusing on these can ensure that cash is spent effectively and also help create a brand-loyal or supportive group of people for the company in question who can be leveraged to create further advantages.

"Carefully constructed behaviour change campaigns can save money while improving social outcomes; and these are the sorts of outcomes that make a significant and measurable contribution to public services," concluded Mr Shewell.