About Grant Thoms

A not very buff, film buff, living in central Scotland

Share your experience and earn CPD points!

The 2014/15 CPD cycle opens on 11 March and there’s no better time to think about how you will approach your own CPD than now.

I’ve been listening to what members say about their approach to CPD. For many, they do actively seek out training and learning opportunities, especially those provided by CIPR Scotland. Then there is the updating of MyCPD. For many that is a rush as the annual cycle deadline beckons. How do you approach your CPD?

Well this year, get a head start by sharing your experience with PR students at Edinburgh Napier University.Image There are two PR modules on the Communications, Advertising and Public Relations programme where your insight can prove beneficial to students in their understanding of PR theory, practice and management.

This year, I’m particularly keen to bring in practitioners who can give insight to campaign planning, execution and evaluation. The modules are delivered on Mondays through to 29 April. Usually, guest speakers give a presentation for say 20-30 minutes and then take questions for another 20-30 minutes. We can make it as concise or as comprehensive as you want it to be.

How does that help my  CPD?

Well, making a presentation on a CIPR-recognised degree course will attract up to 10 points on Stream 2 – Supporting Others:

This stream covers activities in which you using your comms and business skills and knowledge to help others or to make a contribution to the development of PR profession.

Stream 2 activities include writing books and papers on PR; lecturing or providing training on communications (unless you are paid to do this); using your communication skills to support a charity or small business; providing mentoring, coaching or work-shadowing; or participating in a communications focused group or committee, with the CIPR or another body.

All it takes is a wee bit of time to think about some examples of work you have undertaken. Students are thirsting for knowledge and understanding about professional practice and you are the best-placed person to provide that. Maybe you’ve been working on a particular communication programme or campaign and can give an overview from start to finish on how it went. Students want to learn about what works and what could be improved. You can use visual aids or just ‘talk the walk’. Why not contact me to find out more.

With a greater focus by the CIPR and employers on CPD, now’s the time to set yourself the goal of becoming an Accredited Practitioner, maintaining that status or reaching for Chartered Practitioner, the gold standard for the PR profession.

I predict that it won’t be long before employers will insist not just on membership of CIPR as prerequisite for a communications role but that you are at the top of your abilities as recognised by Accredited and Chartered status. I for one don’t want to be caught out in the job market of the future, so staying a step ahead of the game is key for me. I hope you think so too.

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Four lessons from lobbying scandals

Recent ‘lobbying scandals’ have been the trigger points for bringing forward legislative measures in the UK and Scottish Parliaments. Frustratingly, I and many colleagues in Scotland get incensed for two reasons: the scandals rarely include professional lobbyists and the legislative proposals rarely hit the mark.

However, we can’t rest our indignation on the laurels of professional practice. For all the time there is a ‘celebrity’ scandal in London, we nod knowingly that it doesn’t happen here. Well, maybe not on the scale that attracts the Bureau of Investigative Journalists, but unethical practice does happen: it fuels the coffee break in many an association meeting.

With more and more comms people recognising that their stakeholder engagement is clearly stretching into influencing policy and actions, lobbying is not just the preserve of full-time public affairs specialists.

So what can we learn from the high profile lessons of recent times? Firstly, from the Fox/Werrity affair: be clear at all times who you represent. If Adam Werrity had an ounce of professional respect, he should have declared to civil servants and Dr Fox at an early stage that he was being paid by a client to represent them in matters related to defence. That would or should have sent alarm bells ringing early on. We can but suppose, he never did.

Secondly, the “taxis for hire” sting on a number of former Labour Cabinet ministers and Tory MPs highlighted how the revolving door of an ‘in and out of office’ politician thinks it’s such an easy ride to lobbying gold. Stephen Byers in particular got into hot bother by stating that he had already lobbied for cash as an MP for National Express and Tesco. Both the ministers for transport and business as well as the companies named, refuted Byers claims that he had acted on their behalf and/or had even met them. If only Byers had brought along a testimonial I hear you say. So, evidence your claims at all times – your word alone may not be good enough.

Similarly, the ‘generals for hire‘ investigation rocked the cosy world of the top brass more accustomed to portraying scandal as something grubby politicos do. Here, la creme de la creme of the retired military were caught making all sorts of promises and suggestions of how to exploit their contacts/networks in the MOD to get commercial contracts. All of them conveniently forgot about the Civil Service Management Code (intended to jam the ‘revolving door’ more than lock it shut). Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway: codes are like an overdraft limit. Freedom to utilise a facility within a pre-arranged agreement. However, the overdraft limit is a boundary not a target. If you have to read Codes in detail before acting, doesn’t that tell you something about your activity in the first place. Just because it is literally within the boundaries of a code, does not necessarily make it acceptable to wider public opinion. Choose your third party advocates wisely.

ImageLastly, the undercover work by the Bureau of Investigative Journalists exposed embarrassing practice and unethical conduct by the largest lobbying firm in the UK, Bell Pottinger Public Affairs. Whilst proficiency in search engine optimisation (or is it pessimisation if acting in reverse?) and bragging about your political contacts is not a crime in itself, suggesting that the Prime Minister is malleable to do your bidding in world trade discussions puts your ‘old pals act’ on to dodgy ground. Blatantly offering to amend Wikipedia to cleanse your client’s (or employer’s for that matter) reputation for commercial advantage is unethical. So what can we learn? When pitching for work, focus on what you know, not who you know. Only promise what you can deliver and always imagine you are being filmed for the next lobbying scandal!

This posting first appeared on the CIPR Scotland Blog in October 2013.

Hanging on the telephone…

I’m in the phone booth, it’s the one across the hall
If you don’t answer, I’ll just ring it off the wall
I know he’s there, but I just had to call
Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone
Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone

Well I won’t leave you hanging on the phone. I’ll sit right by it tonight in every expectation that any friend, family member, work colleague, heck, even an acquaintance, who is living in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, etc., etc., is very welcome to give me a ring and explain to me why I should not vote YES on 18 September this year.

The Prime Minister, in one of his more positive speeches albeit laden in the symbolism of British nationalism masquerading as patriotism, calls on all everyone in the rest of the UK to do the right thing and tell a Scot, “we love ya” and we don’t want you to go. Now, Mr Cameron is not being original. The Canadians not only telephoned, they got off their asses and went to Montreal in Quebec over the weekend before 1995 Referendum to plead with les Qubecois to stick with the Federation. So will copying such tactics – Canada lite – work this time round?

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Welcome to my world

I have for some time, been considering blogging again on a more regular basis than the occasional guest blog for Flag in the Wind or CIPR Scotland. I couldn’t go back to Tartan Hero days, much as I found it entertaining. Instead, I want to focus on sharing my thoughts about professional and political communication.

So from my world of professional practice as a lobbyist. As a lecturer in public relations. From my role as a member, trainer and accredited practitioner of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. As a political activist, candidate and agent, and former local elected member. These and more, provide a wealth of experience and perspectives to comment on. Most of the time, I will attempt to bring it back to understanding the effectiveness, ethics and values of being a professional communicator. Warts and all. Plaudits and mistakes included. I hope you enjoy and comment too.