Interview with the man behind #bestPRblogs: Richard Bailey

I do like to use this blog as a way of documenting my career. I’m always excited to share my thoughts, experiences and what I’ve learnt so far. I’m even more excited when I can invite other people, who have helped me, to share their insights. Richard Bailey has certainly had a huge impact on my blogging and my career. And with the #bestPRblogs contest launching now on PR Place, I thought it would be a great opportunity to ask him a few questions — on blogging, careers and unknown facts about Richard himself.

Richard is a public relations educator and editor. He started a blog about public relations in 2001 – one of just three in the world at the time – and edited PR student magazine Behind the Spin from 2008 to 2017 — he’s now runs PR Place. PR place is a site exploring public relations and highlighting top content posted by practitioners and students in ‘This week in PR’ series.

He’s a former technology sector public relations consultant, he also has in-house corporate comms experience in science and technology firms. Richard has been a public relations lecturer since 2003. He has now enrolled as a part-time PhD student.

Launching last week #bestPRblogs, aims to highlight some of the marvels from the community of blogging public relations students. I’m really proud that last year, MK was listed amongst finalists of the contest. Without further ado, here’s an interview with Richard.

MK: Blogging is a thankless task, as you’ve said in ‘Share This Too’ (2013). What’s the best way to persevere and not get discouraged from blogging?

RB: The question ‘why’ is always the most important. Why blog? But equally, why learn? Why network? Many successful bloggers do so because they find it useful. Their blog is their reflective learning journal. It serves its own purpose, and any positive response is a bonus, not the sole purpose of the exercise.

Many successful bloggers will tell you that they write to help make sense of the world. That’s often sufficient motivation to keep going. It’s also my job (as an educator) to explain a confusing world to learners, and blogging is one of my chosen means.

What are some of the no-no’s of blogging?

They’re probably the same as the no-no’s of writing. You need to read more than you write. While you can (and often should) break the rules of grammar and punctuation, I still think you need to know the rules you’re breaking – otherwise others may judge that you’re a careless writer. That can be a no-no in public relations where writing is a large part of the job.

But here’s one new no-no (it applies to websites and social media too). It’s not newsworthy to start a blog, any more than it is to create (or redesign) a website. You really shouldn’t shout about your new blog or website, but should instead aim to provide such consistent and compelling content that we (and Google) will be drawn to you.

We all want to be attractive. But no one should have to tell the world how attractive they are. That’s not a good look!

It’s not newsworthy to start a blog, any more than it is to create (or redesign) a website

You’ve been running #bestPRblogs since 2014 — is there anything you’ve not seen yet? How can PR students make an impression?

Perhaps I have seen everything. I edited a PR student magazine called Behind the Spin for a decade. Before I took it over, this magazine had identified Stephen Davies,  when still a PR student in Sunderland, as someone leading change in the industry. I still regularly learn things from Stedavies.com and he’s since built a successful career as a consultant and blogger.

So my enduring hope as an educator is to learn from students. It should be easy. Today’s students are in most cases younger than Google. They’ve grown up with smartphones and social media. They use apps that I don’t and follow ‘influencers’ I’ve never heard of. So there are plenty of opportunities to educate me. There are also opportunities to create podcasts and video blogs (vlogs): I only know of one current PR student with a YouTube channel, but there surely must be others.

The challenge is to move from being a consumer of content to being a creator. To be able to reflect on technology and communication and use this as part of the learning experience.

Perhaps I should have ended #bestPRblogs the year before last. I mean no disrespect to other admirable winners, but it was simply the best contest we’d ever had. That was the year when you (marcelkl.co.uk) provided the best original content of any PR student blog; and when Orlagh Shanks (orlaghclaire.com) revealed her storytelling skills (she’s the best writer I’ve seen). Most amazing of all, neither of you won that year: that honour went to Lucy Hayball (lucyemily.co.uk). (I’ve just noticed that all three of you had registered your own domain names – a good tip for more serious bloggers.)

What I learnt from this is that it’s a contest for driven and talented individuals. Sunderland and Southampton Solent (and latterly Ulster) have been the strongest universities in terms of encouraging a culture of student blogging. But you at Westminster, Orlagh at Liverpool John Moores and Lucy at Bournemouth were driven by your own curiosity and initiative.

You weren’t being assessed for blogging; no one made you do it. You did it because you found the purpose and motivation – and that’s as it should be. But there are colleagues of mine actively discouraging students from sharing on social media because of the potential damage to their own reputations and the potential risk of writing about organisations in ways that might breach confidentiality. So there are risks as well as rewards from blogging.

Let’s talk about your writing. You’re a very prolific blogger and seem to have never-ending stream of inspiration. Where does it come from? Do you ever experience writer’s block?

I’m the tortoise rather than the hare. I’ve been blogging about public relations for a long time (since 2002) and I’ve had my peaks and troughs like everyone else. With PR Place I’m on my fourth attempt at blogging and editing, which suggests I’ve not quite cracked the code yet.

I plod along blogging about public relations – and draw my inspiration from a dynamic world that’s hard to explain to outsiders and to learners. A discipline that covers senior corporate advisers and public affairs practitioners through to people cranking out staff newsletters and media releases takes some explaining. It’s a lively area and I usually find myself blogging to explain this world to myself and others, or to explore obvious inconsistencies and anomalies.

But we don’t all have to be content creators. I’m proud of my role curating content in our weekly #ThisWeekinPR Friday round-up at PR Place. This is my chance to hand pick insightful posts by others that provoked me to think or which taught me something new. I hope that what I find interesting might be worthy of others’ attention.

There’s still so much potential. I think academics could do more to share their research and insights through blogs or other open access sites, though they’re only incentivised to publish in reputable scholarly journals. This requires them to write to impress academic reviewers, not to write to communicate with a wider public. Those journal articles are usually hidden behind a publisher’s paywall and inaccessible to the public. It’s easy to imagine a different and better world, and I think there’s a gap for PR Place in the intersection between practice and academia – though I’d be the first to acknowledge there’s much more we could do in this space.

Academics could do more to share their research and insights through blogs or other open access sites

What’s one fact about Richard Bailey that isn’t widely known?

I had a good – but far from stellar – career in public relations. I long ago realised that I was better at hiring and developing others than I was in putting myself forward, and that’s why I chose to become an educator. It’s probably also why I call myself an editor rather than a writer or blogger.

I met one of my early consultancy hires at a conference in the summer – after a gap of 25 years. She has had a much more brilliant career in public relations that me, and I’m proud of her achievements, as I am of so many of my graduates, or people I may have indirectly been able to encourage like you, Marcel.

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Make sure to follow Richard on Twitter, @PRstudiesMake sure to visit PR Place and follow the site on Twitter.

Author: Marcel Klebba

Account executive at a global communications agency, working across the B2B, fintech, and corporate accounts. Interested in current affairs, tech, and digital.

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