The Dissident Spin Doctor: 10 things I learnt in 2013


by Emma King (@EmmainSA) This time of the year is rife with all the predications of what the ‘trends’ will be this year. But just as helpful is to be reflective and to look back at what’s happened over the past year and to think about what has been learned.

And, sometimes, it’s not a new skill but the insights into human nature and oneself that can be the most useful.

Here are a few, seemingly random and not necessarily deadly serious, things that I learnt in 2013:

Emma King1. Finding employees (or colleagues) that you want to work with is sometimes more important than finding employees (or colleagues) that know the most.

As impressive as someone’s CV and as long as his or her list of achievements are, no one wants to work with a pompous ass, an arrogant sod or a lazy mofo. You spend a good eight hours or so, at least, a day with your colleagues, five days a week — much longer than you probably spend with friends or loved ones. And who wants to spend the majority of their time with someone who makes them miserable?

When I’m looking for people to employ, skill is absolutely paramount — but I’d rather spend time up-skilling someone who is enthusiastic, bright and fun than labouring with a skilled bore.

2. That whole client-being-a-bully thing is still a ‘thing’ and didn’t get left behind in the ’80s.

Who would have thought? Let’s make this ‘trend’ something we left behind in 2013.

3. Some of the young talent coming into the industry is damn good.

After years of bemoaning the general uselessness of the youngsters entering the industry, last year we had to bite our tongues.

We’ve been inundated with young faces in and of our doors since ‘Intern Season’ (declared open each year like ‘Hunting Season’) kicked off several months ago. And some of whom we worked with last year have been damn good.

I’m excited to see the new energy that is entering the industry and I hope that we look after them well and don’t scare them off.

4. Having said that, being able to string a sentence together and understanding grammar are actually covetable skills.

Apparently there is a dearth of copywriters entering the industry, obviously something to do with social media and text speak and all that malarkey.

I’m eternally grateful to my first-year UCT English lecturer who hammered the finer points of proper English grammar into my reluctant skull; and to my parents for allowing me to be a bookish nerd when I was younger. Because at least I know not to split an infinitive and how to format an argument — a skill worryingly scarce in an industry that is supposed to be about communications.

5. The kind of clients whom you want to work with are not those with the most money.

Tempting as it is to chase the dollar signs, these clients are not necessarily the ones whom will build your business. The ones who will are those who treat you like a consultant, rather than an agency; who trust you to fight for their brands; and who push you to be brave.

These clients will make you famous and will make your staff work well for you.

6. There are a lot of people out there pitching themselves as experts. And clients are falling for it and parting with lots of money.

This has been the year of the charlatan. I’ve lost count of the ‘strategic PR’ agencies and ‘social media and content gurus’ whom I have seen clients waste money upon.

The sad reality is that anyone can set themselves up as an expert, and a million one-man-band, fly-by-nights are popping up all over the place. Not that they are all bad; of course not.

But I’m sad to see how many clients — often small brands with small budgets that shy away from bigger, more-established offerings — who are being sucked in by the BS.

7. Just because someone has access to social media or a platform to air their views doesn’t mean that they should.

No explanation needed.

Likewise with brands which think that they need a Facebook page, Twitter handle, Google+ account, Pinterest page, blog from the MD, Instagram feed and daily newsletter — despite their being a combine-harvester manufacturer targeting middle-aged farmers in the Free State.

8. Just because someone has a blog does not make them important. Or an ‘influencer’. In fact, it’s often the opposite, despite what they may think.

Again, no explanation needed.

9. Being unique and true to oneself is the biggest selling point there is.

There was a time when I first started out that I desperately tried to be like all the other cookie-cutter PR chicks out there. The Pink Pashmina Brigade, I called them begrudgingly. Yet there’s a certain peace in realising that people — employers, clients — generally respect and want to work with people who are unique and interesting to work with, who bring something out of the ordinary to the room.

So embrace your inner weirdo. Just take a look around you at who’s being successful — because they are.

10. Learn when to fight your battles. And when to drink wine and have a bloody big laugh about it all.

I believe that, if you are successful, you need to have courage in your convictions and fight for your ideas when you are right. But having said that, one of the things about growing up is knowing when to let go.

Sometimes the client wants that rubbish colour or the big-ass logo and, guess what, it’s not the end of the world. Walk away when it’s not important and keep the fight for when it is. When all else fails, a glass of wine while laughing it off with a bunch of friends does the job.

On that note, cheers to 2014!

Emma King (@EmmainSA) is head of PR at The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town). She contributes the monthly “The Dissindent Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to

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