All stories, he said, must have a hero and a villain. One of his heroes, ‘Miss Whitby’, showed how celebrity endorsement can go wrong when a presumed local beauty contest winner lined up for a press story actually turned out to be an ear, nose and throat specialist with the same surname as the North Yorkshire town.
Karl raised some interesting facts about the NHS, including how the continuous growth rate of the organisation would mean every 2nd graduate could be working for it by the year 2030.
He also discussed how the NHS is becoming very local, with particular areas of the country now becoming focussed on individual health problems, such as smoking and obesity.
The lecture provided something new for most attendees, especially students who benefited enormously from the general advice given throughout. This included: ‘If you get big-wigs on visits, give them something interesting to do! They’ll make hundreds of these visits so make yours stand out’ and a piece of advice every PR practitioner can use: ‘Leave 20% of your day free for unexpected work, because shit happens!’
Karl is the Director of Communications and PR at the NHS, which he joined in 2007. Prior to this he lectured at Leeds Metropolitan University on undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
What has been your most challenging PR experience?
My most challenging experience has definitely been with the NHS, to sell the idea of death. Our challenge was to communicate to patients to encourage them to express their wishes on where they would prefer to die. At the moment 60% of NHS patients die in hospital, where 65% of patients wish to die at home.
What has been your most enjoyable PR experience?
Generally when I’m able to see a campaign right the way through, from start to finish, is very rewarding. The merger of two companies I worked on, one British and one American was particularly rewarding. When a plan comes together is always the most enjoyable experience.
Which industry has been the most rewarding to work in?
Financially, financial PR was very rewarding! On a day-to-day basis however the NHS has been the most rewarding.
What is your favourite PR book you have read?
A book called ‘The Political Brain’, by Drew Westen is very interesting. Its subtitle is ‘the role of emotion in deciding the fate of the nation’, which can leave a lot to think about.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard for the industry?
Know the power of stories. My lecture is based on stories and how their importance can give a campaign the narrative to emotionally involve people.
Like all stories, there needs to be a beginning, middle and end, but in addition to this there needs to be a hero and villain, often the press is one of the two. There needs to be jeopardy and a worthwhile journey too.