Proof that a bit of PR theory can change perceptions

Proof that a bit of PR theory can change perceptions

John Bownas studied his CIPR PR Diploma with us back in 2011.  Here is how in 2015 his studies are helping to change perceptions in Croydon in the South East of England.....

John Bownas, Festival Manager, Croydon Council.

John said:  "Academic coursework typically has a short shelf life.

 Once your thesis or project has been marked and judged as adequate, excellent or wanting its useful days are frequently over.

But it doesn’t have to be this way – as I recently discovered, having found my CIPR Diploma project from 2011 has been given a new audience in 2015.

The subject I chose was, for me, a very real and pressing issue – the negative perception of the town I work in…and the question of what public relations might be able to do to fix that problem. As a press officer for Croydon I was exposed every day to the ‘crap town’ concept – and I wanted to try and do something about it.

Place branding isn’t new. It’s been carried out in many cities and towns for many years as local businesses and politicians strive to gain competitive advantage by boosting their image.

PR didn’t used to be called ‘boosterism’ for nothing.

But I was interested in getting under the skin of the problem to find out whether the snide jokes and easy laughs that Croydon seemed to get more than its fair share of were real or imagined. I also wanted to find out whether there was a particular facet of the town’s personality that was responsible for the malaise.

Because you have to know your enemy to fight him – and I wanted a fair contest if I was going to take on such a potentially big challenge.

As it turned out my conclusion from academic and primary research put the battle on the back burner. It was clear that before the tide could be turned things needed to change in the real world – and at the time that was outside of my control or direct influence.

There’s no point spinning a positive story about a town if the reality people experience when they get off the train doesn’t live up to expectations.

And so, having achieved the necessary grade, my project was tucked away and filed under ‘pass’.

But turn the clock forward four years and things are really starting to change in sleepy Croydon.

Westfield and Boxpark are coming to town and we are becoming known as an emerging ‘Tech City’.

There’s a new administration with ambitious plans for change – and I’ve got a new job staging a major music and arts festival for this summer (it’s aptly called ‘Ambition’ – we’ve got Soul II Soul, Tinariwen and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry playing if you are interested in coming along at the end of July).

Croydon also now has a ‘fairness commission’ who are turning their attention to the town’s flagging reputation.

And having had a long chat to the person leading the commission’s research I volunteered my project as a bit of potentially useful background reading.

Given it was four years old I thought that would be the last I’d hear of it.

However recently I attended a ‘great and the good’ session where the commission’s managers were presenting their current thoughts to leading members of the council and the local community. And I was fascinated to see just how much of my work had found it’s way to the forefront of their findings.

I’m pleased to say I was fully credited for the contribution – but the reason for writing this blog is not to crow. Rather it’s a little note to future CIPR Diploma students.

Think hard about your project subject. Chose something you care about and see if you can create a piece of work that might have practical benefit in the real world.

Not only will this make the project easier – it will also mean that potentially you can use it to put theory into practice and change opinions and perceptions…which is, after all, why you are here."

Thanks John and, for the record, I worked in Croydon for some time and really liked it. Ann