Tag Archives: PR

Applications to the University of Colgate and the University of Weber Shandwick will close in two decades

Take two imaginary toothpaste brands. Let’s call them Merfect and Perfect (just because Y and X are too boring). The two products have the same ingredients and the same price. You check out their website. The website of Merfect has exclamations like “There is no better toothpaste than Merfect!”, “Our toothpastes are as scientific as spaceships!” and “Merfect will really make your teeth healthy, promise!” Then we have the website of Perfect. It doesn’t have exclamations like that but they have a set of blog posts and downloadable reports about scientific research that they used to produce Perfect. The content tells you what efforts the company has made to make up the perfect toothpaste compound and what kind of research they are working on right now to make it even better. Remember, the two toothpastes are the same and the same research has been done to produce them in their current form. Which toothpaste will you choose? Which toothpaste brand will a journalist ask if they are writing about oral hygiene and they need some quotes from experts? Exactly. Brand Perfect would totally take it all.

PERFECT and merfect

Brand Merfect did not lie. All it said was true – okay, maybe not the spaceship. These exclamations, however, do not really work these days. They stink of promotional. In the past, when adverts started to sneak into newspapers, these exclamations or statements really did work. People instantly believed them, since ‘no one would claim something so publicly if it wasn’t true’.

Instantaneous cure!

Instantaneous cure!

Nowadays, however, we are living in a promotional culture where we are constantly bombarded with promotional messages – everywhere! Try to count the number of promotional messages you face in a day, including TV, radio, newspaper adverts, billboards, ads and marketing posts and ads on social media, taxis, buses, milk bottles etc. You will lose count by 10am! (Unless it’s Sunday. Waking up before 10am on Sundays should be banned anyway.) With the proliferation of consumer products as well as promotional messages, brands face an unprecedented challenge to break through the promotional clutter. This is where PR comes to the picture. PR can make magic and sometimes the magic is called thought-leadership, like in the case of toothpaste Perfect. The website of Perfect is more convincing because it shows evidence that their toothpaste was developed and is being developed based on science. This gives credibility and visibility to the brand and earns trust from consumers as well as journalists (or clients and future employees – the Holmes Report has published a list of best practice thought leadership in PR – it is definitely worth a read!). Thought leadership is an added value and raises the equity of the brand.

Shelley Dunstone, who “helps lawyers have better businesses and more satisfying careers”, summarises well in 3 minutes from where the term thought leadership originates and how someone (or a brand), in any industry, can be a thought leader.

So what does thought-leadership will look like in the future? As there is an increasing need for some kind of thought leadership from brands, there will be a time when it won’t be enough to write a blog or issue reports and white papers as all the brands will be doing it. I think brands will go a step even further and they will not aim to lead thoughts in a specific industry but they will try to own the thoughts. I wouldn’t be surprised, if in a couple of decades our children and grandchildren applied for the University of Colgate, if they wanted to be dentists and for the University of PricewaterhouseCoopers, if they wanted to be actuaries. If they will want to study PR, they will be hesitating between applying to the University of Weber Shandwick and the University of Cohn & Wolfe. They will be able to complete the BA Sustainability degree at the University of Unilever and probably the MA Technological Innovation course at the University of Google will be quite popular.

This is not even that unthinkable concerning there is already a course called The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender and Media at Skidmore College and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University is offering a class called Politicizing Beyonce. Although the twerk queen and Sasha Fierce are used to attract young people to the course, brands will attract attention to their expertise by establishing universities. This will happen or call me Nostradamus!

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Is it possible to build trust through PR?

Today Robert Philips made an important, yet controversial point concerning PR and trust in his article PR is dead: Public leadership is the future in PR Week.

He said the following:

“PR has abused and exhausted trust. The restoration of trust is not a function of PR. Trust is not a message but an outcome. It is complex and fragile. There is no single action, no silver bullet campaign, to resolve the trust deficit. Trust is hard-fought, hard-earned, hard-won every day – by actions, not words. If trust is the desired outcome, then PR is not the appropriate sol-ution. Beware the PR firm that talks and promises otherwise.”

Although there are some brilliant points made here, let me generally disagree. PR is the bridge between an organisation and its stakeholders (or at least it should be). It helps the organisation understand what their stakeholders’ expectations are and how they should behave to be successful. On the other hand, stakeholders can gain valuable information about the organisation through PR providing information and explaining the organisation’s motivations and actions. This is essentially what a lots of PR definitions mean by ’mutual understanding’. And yes, most of the times this process is carried out utilising the written or spoken word. Following on this line of thought, if there was not this bridge (=PR) between organisation and stakeholders, there would be no way to make a connection between them and there would be no way to understand each other. In other words, there would be no way to trust each other.

Reputation, a huge part of which is trust, is defined by John Doorley and Fred Garcia in ‘Reputation Management’ (2nd ed., 2011) as

 REPUTATION = SUM OF IMAGES = Performance + Behaviour + Communication

All of the above are “critical components of reputation”, they say.

Accordingly, although it is true that PR in itself will not make an organisation trusted, if the trustworthy behaviour and performance of an organisation is not communicated effectively and clearly towards its stakeholders – using PR and words – trust will never develop or never will be maintained. In a nutshell, if stakeholders do not know about that an organisation is trustworthy, it is not trustworthy.

Indeed, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2014, communicating frequently and honestly on the state of the business and listening to customer needs and feedback are key to build trust. Thus, PR can build trust – if used well.

edelman trust

Finally, watch a thought-provoking video about the importance of trust below.

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Nudge: How behavioural psychology is being increasingly used in PR

One of the main reasons why I like PR is because I love psychology. PR is very much about knowing how people think and feel and anticipating how they will react to different things. Arguably, PR is pure psychology with a scent of creativity.

keep-calm-and-love-psychology-78

So much so that, I was surprised to learn that the UK Cabinet launched a separate government unit in 2010, dedicated to “find innovative ways of changing public behaviour” using insights from behavioural psychology. The Behavioural Insights Team or ‘Nudge Unit’ took its nickname from a 2008 book Nudge by academics Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Using ‘Nudge’, £300m could be saved from the taxpayer money thanks to the positive influence to areas like public health, the government claims.

There are two types of behaviour change. One is cognitive when the choices are rationally considered – this is how public policy has traditionally approached people. The other one is based on the context model where context and environment have a significant effect on choice outcomes and therefore it is less rational and more instinctive, automatic. The nudge method utilises the latter model.

According to a discussion document released by the Nudge unit the most robust effects that impact behaviour is covered by the acronym MINDSPACE.

mindspace acronym

So for example changing the way choices are presented can significantly change the outcome. According to the ‘Default’ effect, people tend to choose the option that is set by default. For example, concerning the low take-up of employer-based pension schemes the Commission pointed out that providing information and generic advice about the options did not really have an impact. They said in 2003 an estimated 4.6 million employees had not joined employer based pension schemes even if they had had access to it – because opting-in was not the default option. Making opting into the pension schemes the default option significantly raised take-up.

pension

Another notable example for that emotional nudges are more efficient than rational ones is OgilvyOne’s Crimestopper campaign. It is based on Loewenstein’s theory that people can be either in ‘hot state’ where they are affected by their emotions or in ‘cold state’ where they are thinking rationally. The theory goes that when we are in any of these states we fail to predict how we would behave in the opposite. So when it comes to pickpocketing, we would be in an emotional state if our smartphone was stolen from our bag. However, most of the campaigns or signs raising awareness of pickpocketers have tried to convince us rationally to take care of our belongings. OgilvyOne put people in an emotional state to be more receptive to their anti-pickpocketing messages. In the frame of the #putpocket campaign, they employed ex-pickpocketers to put wallet or smartphone-shaped cardboards into people’s bags. So when a person realised that something had been put in their pocket, they felt how vulnerable they were to pickpocketers and how easy it is to interfere with their belongings. Watch the fun and thought-provoking video about the campaign!

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A piece of statistics is worth a thousand words

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’, goes the often cited saying but the same can be true for a figure if it is chosen well. I learnt this as during this semester my class held debates about controversial issues in PR. I chose to debate about this motion:

“Social media has helped put the public back into public relations: two-way conversations and content sharing have replaced one-way publicity driven communications and media manipulation.”

The motion is based on Grunig and Hunt’s (1984) four models of PR. They argued that the two-way symmetrical model should be used by all PR practitioners. This has been accepted by the Excellence Theory which is the dominant paradigm in today’s PR world.

As I am always on the look-out for articles and blog posts about PR and social media (just check out my Scoop.it page, where I curate the ones I propose to be the most interesting/useful), I have come across the above notion myriads of times. So my natural instinct was ’Yes, that is probably true’ so I went to support the CONTRA side in the debate. (I know, this sounds illogical – I stepped up on the opposite side because I wanted to perfect my debate skills and the best way to do so is to argue against your beliefs.) I argued so well that by the end of the debate I managed to convince myself that two-way communication has a long way to go until it will become reality.keep-calm-and-debate-on-8

Right now I think that there is a huge gap between reality and the potential of social media for utilising the two-way communication model. The two-way symmetrical model remains, therefore, a normative model as opposed to a positive one. Statistics speak for themselves. I’ll just share two arguments against the motion based on facts.

Firstly, two-way communication on social media has not replaced the one-way model simply because the majority of the people on this planet do not have access to social media. There is a huge digital divide. The number to remember is 61%. For me, it was staggering to learn that 61% of people still do not have access to the Internet, according to ITU. Additionally, of those who have, a lot of people do not have proper social media skills, they do not speak English which is the dominant language on social platforms or simply they just do not care about social media. Brands use Twitter and Facebook the most frequently to interact with their audiences in a two-way manner (if they do at all), yet only 67.66% of Internet users have an active account on Facebook and 43.24% on Twitter, according to GlobalWebIndex. Social media, therefore, is far from being socially inclusive. This is very important to keep in mind when planning a global PR campaign.

Secondly, the basis for two-way symmetrical communication – the one that every PR practitioner should theoretically aim at – is to not only push messages at audiences but to gain feedback and to respond to them so that the interest and preferences of the audiences are served just as well as the organisation’s. A lot of people (if not most of them) are using branded social media as a kind of customer service. They would like to gain information about organisations or they would like to complain about, rarely praise, their services. Yet, based on Socialbakers.com figures response rates from brands on social media platforms are still far from satisfactory – and so the interests of the organisation’s audiences are not served properly. The airline industry is almost there but in the alcohol industry, which is doing the worst, only 32% of posts get a response on Facebook and it is even worse on Twitter.

response rate facebook twitter

So PRs are still far from ace-ing the two-way symmetrical model and it has definitely not replaced the ‘old’ one-way model. This is what organisations need to realise and they should not be satisfied with having social media accounts and posting contents regularly. The devil is in the detail. The devil is in how audiences get heard by organisations on social media.

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Somerset flooding: how it washes away reputations

We have to remember that reputations are won or lost in a crisis”, said once  American Express CEO Ken Chenault. This is also why it is extremely important to react quickly, sparing not even a minute when a crisis breaks. This is one of the most important principles of crisis management, states Doorley and Garcia in their 2011 book Reputation Management.

The now on-going case of unfortunate flooding in England and the Environment Agency might be a great example to show the reputation of an organisation “is determined less by the severity of the crisis – the underlying event – than by the timeliness and quality of its response to the crisis” (Doorley & Garcia, p. 307).

uk flood

Today Lord Smith, Environment Agency chairman, paid visit to the most affected area, the Somerset Levels, first time since the area was slipped under water more than a month ago. He was not welcome. He received harsh criticism that made leading headlines in the British media. Local farmers refused to answer reporters of what they think of Lord Smith because “it would be inappropriate to say in front of the camera”. Local Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger called him a ’coward’ and said: “I will tell him what I bloody well think of him – he should go, he should walk…This little git has never even been on the telephone to me. When I find out where he is, I will give it to him.” Journalists and locals present at the visit suggested he should have resigned for mismanagement of the flooding crisis.

So why is this extremely harsh criticism? From a crisis management perspective, It could be a good move that Lord Smith went to the Somerset Levels to show care and to reassure locals that the situation is in control and to ensure residents everything possible was done to tackle the crisis. However, the problem is clear. He absolutely missed one of the two basic principles: timeliness. And so the incident-driven crisis developed into an issue-driven one.

The Somerset Levels are under water since late last year. Since then local residents and local authorities (including MP Ian Liddell-Grainger) got exhausted by the series of flood surges and had time to identify the Environment Agency and notably its chairman as the scapegoat for the extensive flooding. They feel “let alone” by Lord Smith who worked mainly behind the scenes since floodings started.

Public opinion seems to be that the Environment Agency failed to dredge the rivers and that caused water levels to rise (despite independent experts state that dredging the rivers hadn’t had a considerable effect because we are talking about a too huge amount of water). No proper communications effort was made from the Environment Agency or Lord Smith to stop this view spread. And voila! For now it escalated to a stage that anything Lord Smith says is regarded as wrong by the public and they want him to resign.

My anticipation is that it is unlikely he will be able to turn back time. We have to remember that reputations are won or lost in a crisis…

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PR evaluation is killing PR

On Mondays and Tuesdays I am an ambitious PR intern at Terrence Higgins Trust, Europe biggest HIV and sexual health charity. On a sidenote, they are an extremely nice bunch of people and they are very passionate about their job and that makes them very good at what they are doing.

At the moment I have two main regular tasks. One is doing internal communications. Every morning (or afternoon – depending on how it gets ready) an internal email goes out to employers including the day’s main news relevant to the charity , THT’s coverage in the media and internal news. A big part of this involves me sitting there for hours reading national newspapers and looking for relevant content and compressing each story into a sentence for the email – when my fingers are completely black of ink, I know I am ready. I actually really enjoy it! My tutors at Westminster Uni keep saying that we will have to bring the world into the company, so we really have to know what’s going on . By skimming through the papers for relevant content, you get an idea that what’s going on and then you read more closely what might be relevant so you are also fully informed of that. Then you bring all that into the company, by sending out an extract of the world. It works! This is not the point of my blog post by the way; I just wrote it down because before my internship I remember asking one of my teachers how PR people monitor the press. I couldn’t believe that there is someone actually sitting there going through all the papers. Well, there is.

My second main task is to help with media evaluations. By media evaluation I mean evaluating the amount of coverage of THT in any media every day. They have to do daily reports of in what medium (+type of medium: platform as well as topic), how many mentions of THT had, what the mention was about and whether it contained a quote from someone from THT. They have to keep track of each little mention in two separate documents in different categories of whether the coverage was proactive or reactive. Then they also have to report the reach of each mention – how many people could have read/seen/heard it if all the consumers of the medium would have recognised the mention. Then there are monthly reports of how many mentions could reach how many people and so on, as written above, and then do graphics. And then they have to report reach and participation of social media. On the bright side, thanks to all this I started to make friends with my old enemy, Excel.

What is all this administration good for? Is it good for anything?
As far as I am concerned, they really do not show a real picture of the impact of the Press office’s work. By counting mentions, we get no idea about the quality of reach. Starting with who knows how many people have really seen it/heard it, continuing with who knows whether it made any impact provided someone realised it, finishing with who knows whether those people are the right people (the target audience). It just does not make sense to equal a whole page Guardian article about Terrence Higgins Trust with a line “you can get help from THT” having a type size of 6 on the bottom of a niche magazine. So why is it important to count the mentions then?

It’s probably because board rooms are still sceptical about the value of PR and practitioners have to prove them somehow that it has a game-changer impact of what they are doing. PR still hasn’t got the taken-for-granted legacy from company leaders. So practioners are obliged to produce fancy charts and tables that show growth and that how many million people could hear about the company that month, even if it doesn’t make too much sense and my former TOK teachers would probably kill themselves seeing it (TOK = Theory of Knowledge, a core subject in the International Baccalaureate program I attended and it’s all about questioning and critical thinking; one of the biggest lessons is not to believe to statistics because they can be manipulated endlessly).

The point is: if I have spent all those hours with, say, thinking up a stunt that really surpises commuters on the way home from work, would have probably make a much bigger impact than counting mentions. Of course, it is important to monitor coverage, but maybe it is not neccesary to translate it into numbers? This is something those in the right position should give a thought to.

Beautiful statistics

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It all starts with a man who is bald

I have to be honest with you. I don’t like bald men. Where I am coming from (Hungary), bald men are associated with having sports cars, finger-wide gold necklaces, blond Barbie girlfriends and they are all empty-headed jerks. This is utterly prejudicial but frequently true.

So when Colin Byrne, CEO of Weber Shandwick, made his way onto the podium at the University of Westminster to lecture budding PR students (including me) on how diversity and challenging the status quo is/should be/will be in the heart of PR, my self whispered an *ouch!* inside reflecting on the shining boldness.

In 3 minutes I was drinking his words, I wanted to be him and I wanted to touch him in the hope of getting some PR genius-ity landed on my hands. Okay, maybe I didn’t want to touch him, but you get how I felt. He is everything what you would not expect from a bald man. He is cool. He makes PR cool. He makes baldness cool. He makes me cool studying PR. Maybe I go bald.

Seriously, I needed this. Previously I studied Film & Media with Journalism at the University of Stirling and I had brilliant teachers who planted in me the seeds of praising the Fourth Estate. I won’t bore you too much what that is; in a nutshell journalists operate as watchdogs over the powerful/rich to prevent them exploiting their position. It’s the journalists’ responsibility to get rid of bullshit and let people know about the truth. And so, in many of my journalist lecturers’ interpretation PR equals bullshit. PR has the power to manipulate and influence, so journalists have to guard society from those mean PR practitioners. This is of course a very bald account of the idea and it’s arguable (A LOT). Anyway, based on this sentiment which was deeply planted in me in Stirling, I was struggling to justify to myself morally why on earth I am attending a postgraduate course in PR.

Colin Byrne answered my question. PR is not necessarily about writing press releases, emailing and making calls to journalists in the hope of being able to suck up to them effectively enough to get your message across (or it shouldn’t be). It can also be about being creative, going insane in your head, brainstorming like you are completely out of your mind and so challenge the status quo. Instead of sitting down in front of your screen and type a release, go and place 2000 sunflowers in the City and put lights on the London Eye reflecting the mood of the nation. And that’s not arguable: that’s baldly cool.

sunflowers

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