Tuesday, 6 April 2010

MA PR 2010 class

Lovely post from my classmate Divya on her blog. Happy and proud to have had such lovely and amazing classmates! Lots of love to all these awesome girls and guys!
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Thursday, 25 March 2010

They're getting ready for 2012. Are you?



Harrow residents have decided to get ready for the 2012 London Olympics...their own way! They are no longer willing to passively sit around their living rooms watching all the action take place on TV. They want in on the action! So with whatever knowledge they have and with the equipment at their disposal they've started to seriously train for the sporting event of their choice. Whether it's swimming, gymnastics or tennis, members of the Harrow community have taken it upon them to become the most active borough in London and the best prepared for the grand international event of 2012. And we have the video to prove it!


For more information visit:
www.twitter.com/harrowfor2012
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=105233642840533
www.youtube.com/harrowfor2012

P.S. Big thank you to Babusha and Menglu for getting out of bed at an inhuman hour on a Saturday and running in the rain...several times; to Filippo for getting down and dirty in the rain and making friends with the mud...several times; to Sarah and Street for taking time out of their busy life to be awesome; to Menglu for borrowing me her camera, but most importantly..the egg!; and to Jayne for letting me borrow me her amazing kids!! (I'd offer to babysit but I feel like I might need a babysitter of my own to get the job done:P)

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Friday, 19 March 2010

"Social media: as you can see we're learning as we go. Thanks for the comments."



"Need a break? So does the rainforest" is the latest Greenpeace campaign against Nestlé, who they accused of using palm oil in their Kit-Kat recipes, from companies that are 'trashing Indonesian rainforests, threatening the livelihoods of local people and pushing orang-utans towards extinction.' 

The above video went viral almost instantly,with almost 200,000 views on YouTube alone, and it made critics take Nestlé Facebook page by storm, flooding it with complaints and accusations of unethical behaviour.


And that's when the series of bad decisions by Nestlé started, showing off the ugly side of social media and the tremendous repercussions it can have on a brand, accounting for a true PR disaster for the company.

First bad move that they made was asking for the video to be removed, citing copyright claims. If the company is so worried about their image, shouldn't their first priority have been severing ties to the rainforest destruction actions that they are responsible for? Because, let's face it, nothing good can ever come out of trying to hide the trash under the rug.

More even, Nestlé can learn a lesson in social media from Greenpeace who, immediately after the video was taken down from YouTube, posted it on Vimeo and used Twitter and other platforms to spread word about Nestlé's censorships attempts. They eventually got the video re-uploaded on YouTube and the story made every national and local newspaper, whether in print or online.

Administrators of the Nestlé Facebook page didn't really do a good job either of accommodating the influx of negative comments. Among their responses we saw:


"…we welcome your comments, but please don't post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic - they will be deleted.
"Thanks for the lesson in manners. Consider yourself embraced. But it`s our page, we set the rules, it was ever thus." 
"Oh please .. it's like we're censoring everything to allow only positive comments." 

Not even in the face of the disaster that was their Facebook page at the moment could they accept that they had completely lost control over their corporate social media communications. Snapping back at your commentators, trying to impose your rules cause it's your playground they're in, is never the right course of action. And these snarky Facebook comments only succeed in infuriating users further. Nestle's entire social media crisis response strategy was a huge fail, showing off their lack of preparation or planning for such a situation. At the moment the company has over 95,000 fans on their Facebook face, a great number of which joined solely to write their complaints and thoughts surrounding the situation. The final count was of over 120,000 negative comments agains the company's actions.

The first sensible thing posted by Nestlé throughout the entire situation was "Social media: as you can see we're learning as we go. Thanks for the comments." It may, however, have come a bit to late. 

Things got even worse on Twitter, where the company has a whooping 9 followers!(why do they even bother having a Twitter account in the first place when engaging in a conversation with users is definitely not in their intention?) The only response on this social media platform from Nestlé was a link to a statement on their website. They totally missed out on the opportunity of starting a dialogue with their followers, answering their questions and calming down the situation. 

As Ian Duff, a spokesperson for the Greenpeace campaign against Nestlé, correctly observed: "Nestlé have brought this outrage onto themselves." By being completely unprepared and incapable of correctly managing their social media platforms. And the problems were not only brought on by the crisis situation Greenpeace threw them in. The roots ran deeper, into an dreadful social media strategy, which is unacceptable for a corporation of the likes of Nestlé. 

This Nestlé PR disaster should be a lesson for all corporations, big or small, on the power of social media, and how easily it can turn against you. However, the Greenpeace case should also stand out as a best practice case of how to use the power of social media for your cause. Social media doesn't have to be something than companies should fear and avoid. But it should be something treated with all seriousness and any social media strategy should be thoroughly though out, planned and implemented within a clear framework or rules and practices. 


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PR vs. Social Marketing

"Everyone can sell chocolate. Selling getting up, going to the gym and exercising every day takes a real marketing genius." Stephan Dahl

In the 1970s Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman discovered that the same principles that were being used to sell products and services to consumers could be used to 'sell', to the same people, attitudes, ideas and behaviours. Thus a new discipline was born - social marketing - with a background in both social sciences and policy and commercial and public sector marketing.



According to French & Blair-Stevens, social marketing can be defined as "the systematic application of marketing, alongside other concepts and techniques, to achieve specific behavioural goals, for a social cause." It can be differentiated from marketing as its efforts are directed towards a social good and not a financial gain. It has received, however, its fair share of criticism with claims that it is only interested in getting people to change their behaviour but not really caring how they do it.

The National Social Marketing Centre in the UK has produced an 8 point social marketing National Benchmark Criteria that is used to help encourage and promote greater consistency in the use and application of social marketing:

• Clear focus on behaviour and achieving specific behavioural goals
• Centred on understanding the customer using a variety of customer and market research
• Theory-based and informed
• 'Insight' driven
• Uses 'exchange' concept and analysis
• Uses 'competition' concept and analysis
• Has a more developed 'segmentation' approach (going beyond basic targeting)
• Utilizes an 'intervention mix' or 'marketing mix' (rather than relying on single methods)

Used mainly in the public sector and non-profits, social marketing is used for campaigns raging from health issues awareness, reducing smoking or traffic safety.

One of the questions from this week suggested that PR, a field with somewhat questionable ethics, should look and learn from social marketing. Because social marketing is somewhat of the marketing industry's conscience. But isn't that a bit paradoxical? Marketing is used to promote alcohol and cigarettes or cars that run at 200 km/h (and it is perfectly legal to do so), but then public institutions resort to social marketing, which was especially created as a discipline to ask people to stop drinking, smoking or exceeding the speed limit.

This is not to say that social marketing is not efficient or beneficial, because it most definitely is. But it is far from being the ethical high-ground to be used to guide related fields of practice. PR surely has a valuable lesson to learn from activism methods of generating change or social marketing approaches to dealing with the audience while reaching its socially beneficial aim. But in today's world, where boundaries between advertising, marketing and PR tend to get more and more blurred, public relations is probably better off not just learning from social marketing but by engaging and collaborating within change initiatives and campaigns, thus making a commendable contribution.

References:


  • French, J, and Blair Stevens, C. (2005) Social Marketing Pocket guide (1st Edition) National Social Marketing Centre for Excellence, http://www.nsms.org.uk/


  • Kotler, P, Zaltman, G. (1971) Social Marketing: An Approach to Planned Social Change. Journal of Marketing 35:3-12.

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    Thursday, 18 March 2010

    NGO = PR

    "I love a challenge and saving the Planet seems like a good one" - Paul Stamets

    PR plays a major and defining role in the activities of non-governmental organisations - whether we are talking about charities, social welfare, religious organisations or foundations - although people working in the Third Sector are reluctant to admit it; or as our guess speaker from Friends of the Earth said - they would do anything to separate themselves, their work and job titles from anything having to do with public relations. However, at the end of the day, the tasks that they perform and their abilities are exactly those of a PR practitioner.

    What are the key abilities and skills that a third sector practitioner must have? Just to list some of the most commonly mentioned: fundraising skills, persuasive pitching abilities, budget management, research capabilities, relationship and network building skills, media relations skills, organising skills, negotiation and planning skills, documentation and dissemination of information abilities. And what are the key abilities and skills that a PR practitioners should have? I would exactly say the above mentioned.

    The main thing that advocacy groups do is raising awareness, whether it is for an event, an environment cause, a social issue or for them as an organisation. Raising awareness refers to alerting the general public that a certain issue exists and should be approached the way the group desires. And how do you do that if not through PR campaign?

    What did our speaker described himself to be? "The brand destroyer". Because according to him that's what NGOs are in the business of doing: destroying or threatening to destroy the reputation of big brands in order to get their way - impose the cause they are working for. And how could NGOs put that amount of pressure on the likes of Nike, McDonalds or Lukoil if not through well mastered PR skills and techniques?

    All in all, NGOs entire existence as Third Sector organisations is based on their ability to practice good PR, whether it is to raise funds, to describe services to their beneficiaries, to inform the public about their accomplishments, to distinguish themselves from other NGOs, engage in media relations or to promote their causes.


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    Tuesday, 16 March 2010

    Political PR - between blunders and success

    "Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed" - Mao Zedong 

    Our debate this week, which was, in my opinion, one of the best we've had so far, focused on whether “Political PR has undermined public trust in politicians and is the single biggest threat to our democratic health.”
    It's not far-fetched at all for such a negative connotations to exist around political PR, especially since the term if formed by two words that denominate professions with severe image problems. And, as in the case of PR (couldn't really say this about politics as well, but then again that is not my field), a lot of it is due to misconceptions and misperceptions. This is not to say that there isn't any truth in the critics raised to the profession and some of its less ethical practices.

    I'm not going to go into the controversial issues surrounding political PR and the Iraqi of Afghan war for example; certainly bad things happened there, lies were told that were uncovered and made the public lose trust in politicians and PR played a huge role in all of it. There is no denying any of that. But that can't be all that we reduce political PR to.

    Political PR could represent a good starting point for engaging governments into two-way communications with their audiences - the people who elect members of Parliament, Prim-Ministers and Presidents, and ultimately suffer the consequences of those people's decisions, whether good or bad. Voters want to be better informed and to feel more involved in the election process, and political PR can help them better understand the candidates and their messages; this also means that the messages would become much better targeted at the correctly identified audiences.


    Social media is also a factor to be considered in this discussion, as it is view by many as the foundation of a new, extremely transparent two-way communication model; and governments, political parties and candidates have began making use of it, some very well and some not so well, in their dialogue with the voters. The rapid, direct feedback obtained through the use of social media channels can help politicians better understand communities' needs and requirements. And the community members will feel that they are being listened to, not just talked at.

    For me, in the debate, it was the team arguing against the statement that brought stronger and more to the point arguments in their quest to prove the political PR can also prove to be very valuable and useful within the democratic mechanism of a country.

    This topic also led us to an interesting discussion surrounding the 2008 US elections, which proved to be quite revolutionary in terms of techniques and platforms used, and how they might influence the upcoming 2010 UK elections. Obama has been called the 'Twitter president' and his team's use of web 2.0 strategies during the elections, apart from innovative and revolutionary, have played a huge role in getting him in the position that he holds today. Now, as the British elections tend to follow the American campaigning patters, we were all expecting to see how Cameron & co use the social web. So far I would say they aren't getting very far. Maybe they are not using it properly or the public is not as receptive to it - either way social media hasn't given any of the candidates a clear advantage so far, nor has it been an integral part of their campaigns. My guess is that the first scenario is more likely, as most Twitter activity so far has been focused on making attacks against the opponents and defending themselves from their attacks.


    All in all, UK candidates have not been as successful at implementing social media strategies and it would seem that, for now, the 2008 US elections and Obama's campaign and the tools used to gather votes, in particular, will remain a singular benchmark moment in the history of modern elections.


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    Sunday, 14 March 2010

    White, young, female - perfect for the job

    "All people are equal, but some are more equal than others" (based on George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' - "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal then others")

    Sexism, ageism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia. They are realities of the societies we live in; they are realities that we face on the playground as kids, in school as teenagers, and at the workplace as adults.

    As human begins we tend to be scared of things and people that are different from us and react to that fear accordingly: by discriminating. Diversity is all about learning to identify, recognize, accept and value these differences - they are what make us what we are, what makes us uniquely special, valuable and exceptional.

    Margaret Anderson and Patricia Collins offer a definition of diversity that sums up the main notions that other authors have tackled in regard to the subject: “Diversity is about an awareness of and sensitivity to the intersections of race, class and gender, about seeing linkages to other categories of analysis, including sexuality, age, religion, physical disability, national identity and ethnicity, and about appreciating the disparities of power that produce social inequities (2006, p. 1).

    Accepting differences, leaving prejudices and intolerance aside, is a hard step to take for many; but getting to value and celebrate these differences is what truly matters and where the real challenge appears.

    If there is a field out there that would mostly benefit from embracing differences - building a team around a group of religion, age, gender and ethnically diverse people - that is the communication industry. What profession, other than being a communicator, would benefit more from being able to send out a large array of culturally and ethnically loaded messages? And what other profession than public relations would benefit more from understanding the population dynamics of race and ethnicity? There isn't a bigger influence on building successful relationships with constituent groups than diversity.

    Having an age, gender and ethnically diverse team would benefit a PR company in more than one way: it would attract a larger palette of clients, it would help deliver more complex and target-specific strategies, and it would promote and demonstrate a deeper understanding of the public and audiences.

    There is nothing less constructive than stereotyping people according to race, gender, religion etc; these oversimplified human perceptions oppress individuals and groups, as they are reduced by inaccurate judgments. Judging people according to stereotypes means that they carry a mark, which makes them unable to show off their true, unique, individual capabilities and their creative personalities get lost on the way.  (For a bit of comic relief here's a video that perfectly plays on the stereotypes of men vs women.)

    International public relations practitioners face even greater diversity, operating “across time zones, within different political, economic, and social systems and with varying media constraints” (Wakefield, 2008, p. 141). Global PR professional seek relationships with multinational populations that differ in race, national income, literacy, religion, culture, technology, governance, and language. According to GeoHive, over 60 % of the world population is Asian, 14 % is African, approximately 11% lives in Europe and only about 5 percent lives in North America. According to adherents.com 33% of the world populations is Christian, 21% Islamic, 14% Hindu, 6% Buddhist, 6% Chinese-traditional, 6% primal-indigenous, 2% other and 16% non-religious.

    The traits and attributes that make a PR professional the best in his or her field are flexibility, respect, empathy, having a strong cultural and ethnical self-awareness, mastering conflict resolution, cross-cultural communication and language development skills. And these attributes are best perfected by knowing how to value and embrace differences, while working in diverse environments.

    None of these facts represent a novelty; people in the industry are aware of their bearing and significance. And still PR is dominated by white, middle-class females and run by white middle class men. How can PR pros provide the requisite variety to organizations to help them reach their audiences and objectives, if they are themselves insufficiently diverse?

    PR is an overwhelmingly 'white' profession that offers few, if any, high-profile role models from minority groups. This low visibility of these groups is a big problem for the industry and can become a true cornerstone for the future of public relations. Which means that a vital priority for the profession right now is breaking down entry barriers for all minorities and encouraging diversity, from an ethical, legal, business-oriented, HR and technical perspective.

    A lot of attention has been given to the issue of diversity by the CIPR, who has a special website dedicated to it. Visitors can go there to find out more about what is being done in this matter, to see the diversity policy, download case studies or read testimonials of people from all background who are making a name for themselves in PR.

    References:

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    Saturday, 13 March 2010

    My Wordle

    Here's a word cloud of what this blog looks like so far :)
    Make your own at wordle.net .

    Wordle: MyBlog
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    Friday, 12 March 2010

    Will PR break down the glass ceiling?


    "Because PR is mostly female, the negative impacts associated with being female also impact negatively on PR” - Larissa Grunig


    It is safe to say that over the last decade women have entered PR at a much faster rate than men. Several scholars have published articles on the feminist theory in public relations and gender segregation in the field. According to a 2005 research by the Centre for Economic and Business Research, two thirds of PR practitioners are women. The statistics and figures are all there so, at a first glance, we would be inclined to say that PR is a profession done and managed by women in the grand majority. And the assumption would prove to be correct...up until the management part.


    Taking a closer look at the numbers, we actually see that entry and middle level positions are indeed dominated by women, while managerial positions, fewer in number but much more likely to stand out in the public sphere, are dominated by men. For example, if we look at lists of people in key management positions from big international PR agencies - like Hill & Knowlton, Bell Pottinger Group or Weber Shandwick - we notice that around three quarters of those mentioned are men.

     The so called fathers of PR are supposed to be Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee. Who is the mother of PR then? Pop culture would have us believe that it's Samantha Jones, with the skimpy skirts, see-through blouses, luxurious parties and outrageous lifestyle. Whereas the true PR professionals are represented by the men like Alastair Campbell, in their Armani suits and high end public positions.

    The cynical and common view on the issue of women in PR is that they are more complacent with what they have, that they show no ambitions to climb the corporate ladder, don't have the motivation or skills to achieve higher goals or that once they reach their 30s they are eager to give it all up so they can stay home, have babies and cater to their families' needs. The sad part is that a lot of times these assumptions and perspectives comes from and are promoted by women themselves. And, of course, there is the view that the ones that do go after PR careers are the Sam Jones equivalents, whose only real skills are organising parties and looking pretty while doing it.

    PR isn't half as glamorous as the creators of Kim Cattrall's character would like us to think it is, but this doesn't necessarily mean that women shouldn't look fabulous while doing a great job. There is no reason why women in PR shouldn't be able to rock a pair of Jimmy Choos, accompanied by a Birkin Bag, while still being a respected practitioner.

    What I find to be a more plausible explanation for the low number of women in CEO positions is that, generally, the representatives of this gender have been more willing to take the back seat and not as eager to be in the spotlight. Which is what PR is really all about: running things from behind the stage, while promoting front figures into the public eye. A lot of men let their egos get the best of them, making it more likely for them to want and need to be in the limelight. To get there they aim at being appointed in key managerial positions. But what actually happens is they stop being PR practitioners; they become managers, with manager like qualities, skills and responsibilities. While the real practice of PR is left up to the women in the industry.

    However, what I think will happen is that the tables will start to turn: there has been a too big of an inflow of women into the industry over the past decade for the trends not to change. Moreover, more and more women are developing career focused ambitions, which is proven, for one, by the large number of (mostly female) candidates applying for MAs in PR in the last few years.

    Women today are more than up for the challenge and they are already starting to break through in managerial positions, especially where it comes to the agency and corporate sector. In Romania, for example, PR is very young and feminine and most of the top PR agencies are run and staffed by women. This fact was also noticed by Richard Linning, IPRA president, in November 2009 when he awarded the Golden World Awards during the IPRA gala in Bucharest.

    Women will lead the PR industry sooner than we might think. Sure, there is the Mommy track issue, but thanks to new technologies and innovations the incompatibility between a having family life and a CEO position is starting to slowly fade away. And, let's not forget, like my classmate Gaye said in class: kids grow up, they don't stay babies forever! Women are no longer avoiding the responsibilities that come with a managerial position; they are increasingly going after them. Moreover, the new generation of women in PR, as busy as they might be making their clients look good, they will take the time out to promote themselves and surely leave a notable mark onto the industry in years to come.





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    Sunday, 7 March 2010

    IQ PR ANNOUNCES LAUNCH OF REVOLUTIONARY SOCIAL MEDIA WEBCAST

    More than a fad, social media has become a strategy for success in today's business environment

    03.07.2010 – IQ PR has launched today a revolutionary webcast about social media aimed at helping organisations and individuals better understand and more efficiently use it within their business or daily activities. The webcast was produced by Roxana Tintea, Client Social Media Strategies within the agency, and is designed to clarify all the changes that the digital age, and especially social media, has brought to the business environment.

    Social Media Revealed

    The 10 minute webcast takes the viewers through:

    • what social media is - perspectives
    • why it is called social media and the relevance of social sciences
    • what the main sociological and cultural concepts behind social media are and their connection to public relations
    • how IQ PR is using social media for its clients - from SEO services to PR strategies
    • what the benefits of using social media for businesses are - from consumer engagement to identifying your audience's needs
    • what some of the downsides to social media are and how they could be countered.
    Even with the existing downsides, having a social media strategy has become a must for business in every field. Why? Because conversations about your brand or business are taking place with or without you. Organisations need to take part in these conversations to be able to give the consumers the right answers, provide them with the correct information and avoid potential crises.

    Ignoring the existence of social media has become a strategy for failure. Engaging with customers and sharing in the dialogue shows the company is transparent, it listens, it responds and it cares.

    The webcast can be found on the agency's blog, its YouTube channel or through Digg and the agency's Twitter feed.

    Online voices

    Roxana Tintea, creator of webcast and Social Media Strategist: "I wanted people to get a better sense of what social media really is and what it can do for them as individuals or for their business. I think that this webcast sheds a lot of light on some the issues that have been raised about social media lately and could prove to be useful not only to our clients, but to the entire PR industry and the social media community."

    IQ PR executive manager, Julie Renee Davis: "This webcast provides our clients, and not only, with the answers to every question about social media that they've ever been faced with. We are very excited to be able to share this unique resource with the PR and social media industry and wish to continue this initiative with a series of webcast on related topics."

    Thomas Venon, social media expert at SocialMediaToday: "I am delighted to see that IQ PR identified the need of such a material within the industry and managed to do such a great job in creating it. The webcast provides valuable insight in social media matters and it's a must see for everyone in the industry."

    Notes for editors

    • The webcast's transcript is available for download on the agency's blog .
    • For a downloadable version of the webcast please contact the press officer at socialmedia_pr@yahoo.com.
    • For more information please see the SMPR at PitchEngine.com
     
    Contact
    IQ PR
    21, Flower Road, London, SW7
    Phone: 020 8009001, Fax: 020 9008009

    Roxana Tintea, Client Social Media Strategist
    Phone: 020 7895674, Mobile: 0735 4567890
    E-mail: roxanatintea@yahoo.com
    Blog: http://www.contemporarypr.blogspot.com/
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    Crisis management in the digital age

    Over the past few years, social media has had an impact, whether bigger or smaller, on people, communities and businesses and has brought certain undeniable changes with it. Even if its revolutionary and groundbreaking effects have been exaggerated by some, one thing that social media has definitely transformed is the way in which we communicate with each other. Which means that the way we discover information and share it is also transforming.


    Today's social channels are more influential and powerful than their predecessors and they insure the rapid diffusion on public opinion. In this new digital age, news of a negative event or incident has the potential to spread faster that any crisis experienced by previous generations has. All of these things lead to organisations modifying not only the way they are handling, planning and implementing crisis management, but also the way they perceive and understand what a crisis is.

    One of the first things that companies need to figure out is what they define as being a crisis on the web; what is the tipping point when an online event triggers or develops into a crisis for that organisation? Once that is cleared up they can start thinking about planning, both proactive and reactive, for the appropriate crisis management solutions.


    Two years ago, Brian Solis talked about reinventing crisis communications for the social web and suggested that "many, if not a majority of potential crises are now avoidable through proactive listening, engagement, response, conversation, humbleness, and transparency." The crisis management model he put forward is based on listening, observation and conversation:


    This model is a proactive one that aims at reducing the need for reactive responses and crisis communications programmes.

    Monitoring becomes absolutely essential in the social web and companies must be sure to set up 'digital listening posts' on all relevant platforms. It is essential to have social media channels set up and the more credible they are (number of followers or friends, quality of information), the better the company will be able to make use of them in a crisis situation or for the prevention of such an event.

    Timothy Coombs said that "the rapid evolution of new media often results in the practice of public relations getting ahead of research." This applies to crisis management where the relevant literature in the field has been slow in catching up with the challenges that social media is imposing on it. This gap is mostly filled by bloggers who look at the latest ongoing case-studies (such as Toyota or Domino's Pizza) to draw conclusions and develop or adapt rules and theory.

    PR companies and professionals have also had to adapt to these new realities and incorporate digital services in their crisis management offers. According to Eddie Bensilum (who was a guest speaker in the course's Corporate PR module) from Regester Larkin, all the main principles of crisis management have stayed the same, but some of the rules, especially when it comes to credibility, are different.

    Social media can be either a trigger for a crisis or it can work as an escalating factor for an already existing one. Due to its unstructured nature it can severely complicate the activities and actions of crisis management. Social media creates new structures and circles of trust and it requires up-skilling and different resources to be used in the crisis management process. However, it can also be an asset for the organisation; social media can help identify potential crises sooner and, thus, prevent them from escalating further, or it can take an incipient issue for the organisation and transform it into an opportunity to shine in front of the stakeholders.

    Social media adds a new dimension to crisis management, as there are now larger groups involved and a lot less time to act. News, especially negative ones, travels much faster than through traditional channels and it has a much wider reach. If before a company could buy some time while the reporters researched the story, the facts were checked, the copy edited, the newspapers printed and delivered to the public, now all it has are the 30 seconds it takes to write a 140 character message on Twitter or the 30 minutes it takes to compose a blog post. And the reach that potential blog post or Twitter message could have can go beyond what traditional media can achieve.

    It has become the job of the crisis communicator today to take notice of all these things, course correct the rules, strategies, tactics and tools to be used, while still following the same management principles that have paved the way to success in the past.


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    Communication - the key of managing any crisis

    "When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters -- one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity" - John F. Kennedy
    Communication, the key element of human existence, represents the basis of any activity and of any system, playing a vital role within the complexity of our contemporary societies. These societies' structures, dominated and influenced by mass media communication, generate a favourable setting for the appearance and evolution of an unlimited number of different types of crises. This is why crises have become common phenomena in the field of activity of all types of corporations or NGOs.



    For organisations to truly exist in the public sphere they need to be in the attention of public opinion; to raise the interest of public opinion, organisations have to be visible; to be visible, they have to communicate. But, more than this, organisations have to know how and what to communicate to gain the public's trust and sympathy. Open, honest and constant dialogue, with all categories of public, is the vital formula which insures organisations' success in their activities and helps them avoid or better manage crisis situations.

    Crises are complex phenomenon, dysfunctions that can affect, at a macro level the entire society, or at a micro level various areas of the social system (economic, political, cultural, financial etc.) That is why they have been defined and analysed by representatives of vast scientific domains, like economy, sociology, psychology, politics, history and last, but not least, public relations (Robert Ulmer, Timothy Sellnow& Matthew Seeger, Charles Hermann, Thierry Pauchant, Ian Mitroff, Laurence Barton, Kathleen Fearn-Banks).


    INSIDE CRISIS COMMS

    It is essential for any organisation to know how to identify a crisis, what its characteristics and typologies are, and how it can be attenuated or even eradicated by communication. Crisis communication has become, more and more, the art of re-establishing reputation and rebuilding public image; and this art can be mastered through the willingness to learn from ones mistakes, through the accumulation of practical experience and receptivity to the public's feedback, needs and desires.

    At the basis of any successful crisis management process we encounter an efficient communication strategy. Crisis communication stands out as one of the most innovative, complicated and provocative communication practices and a key crisis management component. An efficient crisis communication strategy has the capacity to barricade negative reactions from the stakeholders and to attenuate the potential harmful impact on the organisation.

    Crisis communication, according to Kathleen Fearn-Banks (2007), is "the communication between the organisation and its audiences before, during and after the negative events. This communication is designed to reduce the dangerous elements that might affect the organisation's image." It contains strategy, message, time and distribution channels management activities for an efficient communication with the press, the employees, customers, communities and other decision factors.

    Social media is transforming the way we communicate with each other, how we discover information and how we share it. Moreover, social media's impact has modified, to some extent, what we see today as a crisis and how we handle crisis communication. But I will come back to this in more detail is a future post.


    Coming back to the traditional views on crisis communication, according to Newsom, VanSlyke Turk & Kruckeberg (2009), there are three key elements that insure its success: the existence of a communication plan, the existence of a crisis team and the use of a sole spokesperson throughout the crisis. Some of these principles may not apply anymore to the digital environment, as they were designed for dealing with mainstream media and “offline crises” For example, it becomes unrealistic and even unproductive to say that you can only use one spokesperson: communication during an online crisis needs to come from every direction, from every platform, from every channel, from every medium – in order to cover the increasing flow of negative content generated. On the other hand, it is realistic to say that any crisis should be managed by a crisis team, which Timothy Coombs (2007, p. 66) defined as “a functional group that contains those persons in the organisation designated to deal with the crisis.”

    This team should be as small as possible and its members must be given the necessary authority to make important, on the spot, decisions. The team’s roles and functions, as identified by Coombs, involve designing the crisis management plan, applying it – both in simulated situations and real-life crises – and dealing with any additional problems that might appear during the crisis, that are not covered by the initial plan. The team members must be chosen from different departments, depending on the nature of the crisis, and they should give up performing their daily tasks during the events of the crisis.

    According to David Guth and Charles Marsh (2000), crisis communication involves four types of activities: evaluating the risks, planning the crisis communication (drafting the plan), responding (applying the plan) and rebuilding the organisation. The crisis communication plan must be drafted in a flexible manner, so that it can easily apply to any type of crisis that might arise for the organisation.

    Kathleen Fearn-Banks (2007) identifies some of the main elements of the plan as being: the cover-sheet, the introduction, the objectives and goals, the members of the crisis team, the press releases, a list of different types of stakeholders and audiences that might be affected, the channels used to communicate and inform the stakeholders, the name of the main spokesperson, the location of the crisis control centre, databases and files with key messages.

    James Grunig (2001) and Ulmer, Sellnow & Seeger (2007) offer some of the main crisis communication principles and rules. They are meant for "traditional" crises and need to be adapted in order to work in the online environment. The most well-known and used crisis communication strategies are those formulated by William Benoit (1995, pp 63-71) and Timothy Coombs (1995). Benoit’s Image Restoration Strategies include: denial, evasion of responsibility, reduce offensiveness, corrective action and mortification. Coombs’ Reputation Repair Strategies are: attack the accuser, denial, scapegoat, excuse (which includes: provocation, defeasibility, accidental, good intentions), justification, reminder, ingratiation, compensation and apology. However, the strategies must been seen and used in a flexible manner as they only represent a starting point in tackling a crisis and should be adapted to the features and particular evolution of each crisis



    FROM CRISIS TO OPPORTUNITY

    Communication represents not only an indispensable activity for the human kind, but also the key element in managing any crisis, on which all other factors depend and which permanently orients the publics' attitudes and reactions towards the negative events. Two-way communication with the public should not end as soon as the crisis is resolved. It must become a continuous and permanent process, which will help avoid future similar situations. A good crisis communication strategy can make the difference between the next market leader and the organisation on the verge of bankruptcy. What is more, it is essential to remember that any threat, such as a crisis, can represent an opportunity for the organisation to reposition itself as caring, socially responsible and ethical, turning a bad event into a beneficial situation.

    References:

    • William L. Benoit, Accounts, Excuses and Apologies: A theory of Image Restoration Strategies, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1995
    • W. Timothy Coombs, Ongoing Crisis Communication, Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications, California, 2007
    • W. Timothy Coombs, Choosing the Right Words: the Development of Guidelines for the Selection of the Apropiate Crisis-Response Strategies, in „Management Communication Quarterly”, no. 4, 1995
    • Kathleen Fearn-Banks, Crisis Communication, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Publ, 2007Robert Ulmer, Timothy Sellnow, Matthew Seeger, Effective Crisis Communication. Moving from Crisis to Opportunity, Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications, 2007
    • David Guth, Charles Marsh, Public Relation: A Value-Driven Approach, Boston, Allyn and Bacon Publ., 2000
    • Charles F. Herman, Crisis in Joel Krieger (ed.), The Oxford Companion Politics in the World, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1993
    • Doug Newsom, Judy VanSlyke Turk, Dean Kruckeberg, This is PR: The Realities of Public Relations, Wadsworth Publishing, 2009
    • Thierry Pauchant, Ian Mitroff, Transforming the Crisis-Prone Organizations. Preventing Individual, Organizational and Environmental Tragedies, San Francisco, Jossey- Bass, 1992
    • Robert Ulmer, Timothy Sellnow, Matthew Seeger, Effective Crisis Communication. Moving from crisis to opportunity, Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications, 2007


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    Saturday, 6 March 2010

    CSR - modern business strategy or just the latest lobbying tool?


    One thing that a lot of times gets regarded with even more cynicism than PR is corporate social responsibility. More so since lately an increasing number of companies have integrated CSR into their PR departments and have defined the practice of CSR as a PR function. CSR falls under the remit of public relations practitioners in their 'boundary spanning role' (described by systems theory - Grunig and Hunt, 1984).



    Much debate has arisen around this topic, and our two teams in class this week didn't fail to bring a spark into their heated discussion while trying to decide whether: 
    "Attempts to align companies or brands with good causes are mere window dressing and companies should stick to the business of making money."

    One of the main factors that lead to the rise of CSR is globalization. With the new knowledge-based economy emerging in the early 1990s appeared human rights, environmental and labour abuses which led to the anti-globalization demonstrations at the end of the 20th century. The result was that companies from all sectors and industries had to implement new policies and reform their business following the new social responsibility trend.

    Whether it is viewed as superficial window dressing or as a genuine, new ethical approach of conducting activities, CSR is a reality of today's business environment and more and more organisations are embracing it. It is hard to tell whether 'caring' and 'responsible are just the latest must haves for brand image or a true shift in attitude has occurred. My guess is that both are true depending at the organisation we look at.

     This could be the reasons why the value of CSR programmes and initiatives in terms of public recognition varies from company to company. And it could also be why in a lot of cases they do not provide returns to match the inputs. Certain corporations, although successful in their field, will never inspire credibility in their CSR initiatives. This might be due, for one, to the overall 'dullness' effect that CSR programmes tend to have embedded within them. Secondly, cynical reactions, based on past experiences with companies, are a big problem for CSR initiatives and severely undermine the value of these efforts. These programmes will barely receive any recognition, while other campaigns, equally worthy, capture the attention of the media and other stakeholders, making the investment worthwhile.

     It all comes down to how well the PR department has managed to build and maintain the corporations' reputation and how well they managed to promote, raise awareness and attract attention to said CSR initiatives.
    The truth about CSR, like with most contemporary PR issues discussed in this class, falls somewhere in the middle. A lot of companies use CSR programs as a lobbying tool, a fashion statement or a means of winning favours with government. This doesn't mean that there aren't just as many organisations who truly embrace responsibility for the impact that their activities have on the environment, employees, communities, and all other members of the public sphere. This is why I cannot agree with the debate's proposition - although it might be true for certain companies who are unwilling or incapable (due to their field of activity) of associating themselves with good causes, there are a lot of organisations who've truly embraced these initiatives and communities everywhere have profited from them. And if more corporations would fall under the previous category then employees, consumers and entire communities would be happier, more loyal and ultimately more productive and beneficial for the organisation.

     References:
    J. Grunig, T. Hunt, Managing Public Relations, Thompson Learning, 1984
    Michael Regester, Judy Larkin, Risk Issues and Crisis Management, Kogan Page, 4th edition, 2008


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    Wednesday, 24 February 2010

    Ethical PR - a reality for the entire industry?

    “The only way to practice ethical PR is to work in the NGO or voluntary sector, all the rest is corporate propaganda or spin

    Today's debate, which I was a part of, brought forward the ever burning question of ethics in public relations: is ethics in PR an oxymoron? Is ethical behaviour the goal that the entire industry is in pursuit of or is it just a reality in certain sectors?

    The debate's statement was based on an assumption that is, in my opinion, unrealistic and over generalised: if the only way to practice ethical PR is to work in NGO's, then all for profit organisations or corporations practicing PR are fundamentally unethical in their activity.

    There is no sustainable evidence to support such an assumption, unless we consider that making money is an unethical act. And in that case, why would we even bother with matters of ethics in PR is the entire global economy was a ramp for unethical behaviours?

    The ability to engage in ethical reasoning in public relations is growing in demand, in importance and in responsibility. Academic research, university education, and professional practice are all paying attention more than ever to matters of ethics. Careful and consistent ethical analyses facilitate trust, which enhances the building and maintenance of relationships – which is the ultimate purpose of the public relations function.


    First thing to look at in such a debate is the fact that ethics varies with culture: we can't compare western standards of ethics with, for example eastern ones. We can't compare eastern business practices with western ones and pass judgement on their morality. What may constitute an unethical behaviour in a Western Europe country - presenting your business partner with an expensive gift - can represents a standard practice in an Eastern culture like China. So before we can even start to judge a practice as being ethical or not, we need to consider the underlying cultural traditions and beliefs of the particular society in which it occurred.

    This further extends to sectors of PR: what may constitute a faulty PR practice in the Third Sector could be a perfectible acceptable strategy in the, let's say, fashion sector.

    Like in absolutely every industry or profession, there are examples of unethical practices in public relations. They exists, are well known, and no one is denying them. However, they exist in every sector, this including NGO and voluntary. To emphasise that NGOs can be very unethical just take a look at cases such as Greenpeace, Brest Cancer NGOs worldwide, Haiti relief NGOs or Amnesty International. They have all faced accusations of money laundering, hiding information of public interest, harassing for-profit companies and so on.

    Another example to emphasise the point above is CharityComms. This is a professional organisation for people working in communication in the NGO sector. This organisation does not have, until today, a code of ethics, thus being incapable of offering a minimum ethical guideline for its members to follow.

    Furthermore, there is no proof that PR organisations - such as the CIPR or PRSA - have more members from the voluntary sector or that more of these practitioners abide by the codes of ethics of these societies.

    The idea of unethical PR has been fuelled by journalists as part of a decades' long feud between the professions. Cases such as those of Enron (Bowen & Heath, 2005) or Hill & Knowlton (among other things they represented 'Citizens for a Free Kuwait' who created false testimony delivered to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus) stand out because they keep getting cited with every opportunity and because negative examples always attract more attention and are long lasting. But the truth is that cases of corporate propaganda or spin are only a handful. They just are more memorable, as their happenings get repeated to the public with every occasion. However, we must keep in mind that the cases of ethical PR behaviours - such as those promoted by The Body Shop, Lush, New Look or Sainsbury's, are truly the ones at a majority and they define practices within all sectors of PR.

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    Thursday, 18 February 2010

    Social Media Webcast

    Social media is not a fad. Nor will it pass by you and your company.

    This webcast will take you through what social media is and why we call it that, what some of the sociological and cultural concepts behind it are and their connection to public relations. You will also find out how  IQ PR uses social media and what the benefits and downsides might be for your business.



    Feel free to leave a comments, tweet, send to Facebook, bookmark and share this webcast within your online communities. If you would like a downloadable version of this webcast please e-mail us at socialmedia_pr@yahoo.com.

    To download a transcript of this webcast click here. You can also watch this video on Youtube or subscribe to our webcasts in iTunes.

    Thank you for watching and stay tuned for more!
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    Saturday, 6 February 2010

    Home culture vs. Host culture

    "Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group from another" - Geert Hofstede
    Great feature on Geert Hosftede's website that allows you to compare your home culture with your host culture. By identifying and understanding the differences and common grounds with your own culture you can better and faster adapt to the host culture. Same principles apply for PR in global environments. 

    Here's Romania compared to the UK. 


    Pretty different, huh? :)
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    Thursday, 4 February 2010

    Global PR and cultural dimensions

    "Culture hides more than it reveals and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from it’s own participants. Years of study have convinced me that the real job is not to understand foreign culture but to understand our own" - Edward T. Hall

    Our class discussion today about global/ international PR led us to Edward Hall's concepts of high and low context cultures from his 1976 'Beyond culture' and to Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions.



     

    Going through them was meant to make us understand why sometimes we *don't understand* each other all that well. And by 'we' I mean everyone from PR professionals working in multinationals to the incredibly culturally diverse group that is our class.

    It got me thinking about some of the issues that came up in the group work that we've done the past semester. It was strange, at the time, seeing how dissimilar we all approached the same assignment and how differently we interacted with each other. But putting everything through Hall's and Hofstede's perspective, things started to make sense.

    So in the interest of getting people to understand me better and getting myself to understand the outside world better in future similar situations, I started mapping out some of my cultural dimensions, according to Hofstede's research and the way this study attributes them to the Romanian culture.

    According to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions and estimations, Romania tends to be a culture that has a low uncertainty avoidance ranking, which indicates that “the society accepts more rapidly change and takes more and greater risks”, and is less rule-oriented. It also has a short-term orientation, as long-term traditions and commitments are not impediments to changes. Other indicators are: high power distance index reflecting presence of inequality of power and health within society and deference to authority figures, low individualism which expresses the collectivistic nature of society with close tights between individuals, and high masculinity pointing out a high degree of gender differentiation. (Source)

    Summing up this study's findings (study developed by 3 Romanian researchers in the field of cross-cultural communication), Romanian culture has:

    - A high Power Distance Index, corresponding to an efficient mechanism for preservation and distinguishing status differences; the index is mainly characterized through arbitrary leadership and an inclination towards indiscipline.

    - A very low Individualism Index => it's a culture characterized by collectivism, which means that, within it, it's normal to expect help from the community. There also is a certain lack of initiative, a contra productive view of private property and group interests always take precedence.

    - Medium Masculinity, with a slight tendency towards femininity. There is, however, a lack of homogeneity within this dimension: the Romanian culture has both extremely masculine tendencies (such as acute differences between male and female behaviours) and pronounced feminine ones (like egalitarianism, a negative view of wealthy people, attraction towards convenience etc.)

    - An above average Uncertainty Avoidance Index, dimension characterized by the presence of opposed tendencies: on the one hand there are strong avoidance elements - related to the social impact of religion or the authorities' need for control - and on the other hand, uncertainty acceptance elements, such as casualness, indifference or lack of strictness , are not uncommon.

    - Medium values for long term orientation, a consequence of the existing traditionalism and of the ease of change at the superficial level.

    The results of the study vary in certain areas from those estimated by Hofstede.

    Taking a look at Edward Hall's theory on low and high context cultures, I would immediately classify Romanian as the latter.   

    In a high context culture, such as mine, many things are left unsaid, letting the culture itself explain them. Words and word choice become very important in higher context communication: a few words can communicate a complex message very effectively to an in-group. But, at the same time, they do it much less effectively outside that group. This differs from lower context cultures, such as German, American or Scandinavian ones, the communicator needs to be much more explicit and the value of a single word is less important.



    Knowing and being aware of your cultural dimensions is the first step of practicing PR in a global environment. After assimilating this, the next step is becoming aware and understanding the dimensions that apply to the people you work with and for. If you are able to successfully and open-mindedly go through these steps, your work as an international PR practitioner has just been way simplified.

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