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

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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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Global Village PR

“Good PR is always context and culture specific. The idea of a global PR is anathema” - debate statement

Great debate today revolving around global vs local PR. Is good PR always context and culture specific or can you also practice an efficient and effective international or global PR?

Both teams brought great arguments to support and defend their sides, but at the end I think we all could basically agree that good PR is neither exclusively global, with no regards to cultural aspects, nor just locally oriented.

International PR has become a 'hot topic' within the last decade or so, receiving a lot of attention from all sorts of specialists trying to untangle its complex dimensions. And a lot of these specialists have gone about the process of defining it, but like in the case of the PR field itself, no unanimous consensus has appeared. No mega-definitions such as the one Rex Harlow designed for PR exists, but attempts to capture the domain's essence have been made. In "Public Relations, Strategies and Tactics", Dennis Wilcox suggests that International PR might represent the "planned and systematic efforts of a company, institution or government to establish mutually beneficial relations with other nation's publics." (Wilcox 2003, p. 378)

Its ascent as a distinct sector of PR was stimulated by factors such a global social-economic changes, new media technologies - everything from computer networks, satellite transmissions, e-mail, Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth to blogs, webcasts or RSS feeds - and globalization. But there are also a series of factors that condition international PR's top position, and local expertise is the key one.

Developing and implementing an international PR campaign is not at all an anathema idea, but doing it without a clear understanding and acceptance of local cultures is. International public relations cannot and should not be separated from international cultural relations. And Carl Botan said it best when stating that "International public relations are intercultural public relations" (Botan, Hazleton, 2006)

If international PR specialists don't adapt their messages to the local public's cultural specifications, these messages will never reach their targets properly. And what better example than Chevrolet's failed attempt at launching Chevy Nova in Latin America. Had they done their research properly and taken cultural aspects into consideration while planning their campaign, they would have learned that 'no va' translates to 'it doesn't work' in Spanish. Now, who in their right mind would want to buy a car that *doesn't work*?

Another factor that proves to be essential for the success of international PR is mass-media. Authors such as  Doug Newsom (2003) or J. Hendrix (2007) have made it clear that an efficient international and intercultural communication process is not possible without the help of local, regional and international mass-media. And let's not forget social media, which plays a vital and essential role in global PR and whose merits have been discussed in a previous post.

To sum up, in today's "Global Village", PR efforts and procedures must be based on a mixture of global processes and local understanding, all assimilated under a very culturally aware, yet broad minded practice.

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Monday, 1 February 2010

PR Spam - An Inconvenient Truth

“PR people are doing themselves a disservice when they just treat journalists and bloggers like cattle. Every time I get an email pitch it reminds me that I’m being treated like cattle. Especially when I get together with Arrington and Malik and Lacy and other bloggers and we see that we got the same pitch. Moooooo!” Robert Scoble

An Inconvenient PR Truth from RealWire on Vimeo.

One of the biggest and most common incrimination that journalists have made against PR practitioners over the years has been the massive amount of spamming that some of the latter tend to indulge themselves in. Millions of press releases are sent every year to publications and journalists that have no connection to the subject or target audience in matter.  

Realwire chief executive Adam Parke, with the support of several important names in the industry, has launched a campaign entitled An Inconvenient PR truth, aimed at regulating the way journalists - online and offline - should be approached by PR professionals. The campaign's objective is to reduce what has become a true disease inside the industry -irrelevant and untargeted PR practices, otherwise known as PR spam.

The campaigns' key element is a ‘bill of rights' suggesting exactly the ways in which the dynamics between journalists and PR practitioners wishing to contact them should be conducted. To read its provisions click here

This campaign can turn out be an important step in improving the relationship between PR pros and journalists, which, although it's defined on mutual dependence, it's also a rather conflictual one. And this isn't a secret to anyone mildly related to either industry. It might even lead to some kind of reciprocation, a code of how journalist should use the information they are getting (and using) from those press releases. In a perfect world that is.

And, who knows, if it expands outside its current national UK borders, the campaign could help demystify some of that villain image that PR has been wrapped in for a while now. Might work as a bit of reputation PR on the industry itself.

However, the really big question here is whether this can go even further and become a step towards regulating public relations as a profession. Because at the end of the day, that is really the burning issue that modern PR is facing.

But I guess I'm getting ahead of myself here - the campaign has only been launched yesterday. Still, it does seem like a nice thought to have.

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