Changing the Narrative–How to Combat Fake News

At any point, an organization can find itself in the crosshairs of rumor, falsehoods, speculation and innuendo. The business mag Fast Company and others have identified combating intentional misinformation and “fake news” as a growing concern for companies and individuals. Jeff Bezos, Joel Osteen and even trusted and popular former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama have had to combat one or a combination of all the above. While these situations usually fall short of a crisis, if left to fester, any one could grow into a full-fledged crisis. It’s often the PR pro’s job–albeit rarely acting alone–to mitigate the situation and change the narrative. So what to do? Here’s some points we’ve learned to follow:

Review the facts. By this time, any number of people have likely weighed in with an opinion on the assumptions, presumptions and possibly ill intents that have taken ahold. Don’t be afraid to counter these with facts.

Stay on the offensive. Don’t let someone else’s alternative facts become your message points or organizational narrative. Organizations needn’t feel responsibility to address widespread speculation, but they should step forward to take control of the narrative with their own clear message and perspective related to the topic.

Avoid the defensive. Your job is not to draw more attention to falsehoods, misinformation, misconceptions, or intentional disinformation. Don’t let yourself or your story be usurped into someone else’s agenda. Stay affirmative.

Truth is your best defense. Organizations can combat rumors and falsehoods with the truth. That being understood, a credible and effective response incorporates facts, insight and perspectives that may not be widely known. An appropriate response doesn’t mean mindlessly attempting to address every speculation that comes up. Your audience expects (and deserves) a structured, coherent message based on relevant facts. Don’t disappoint.

The medium is part of the message. So now that you’re ready, don’t forget delivery is at least half as important as the message. Spokesperson, best method/platform for response, are all questions to be answered. Pick your time and your best audience, but don’t wait forever. We usually recommend a tandem method–in person, with your best spokesperson on the subject–and with immediate follow up on social media. Keep in mind, the goal is to never need to address this situation again.

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Jobs Study in Technology Raises Lots of Questions About Diversity in Tech

Diversity-1

As we’ve written about previously in our blog, there’s a common misperception that most jobs in tech are highly specialized, requiring strong technical skills. A recent study shows there are many non-tech positions within technology companies. While this doesn’t at all surprise us, it does raise once again the nagging issue about the lack of diversity within the technology industry. Not only does this report reinforce already grim news about diversity in technology, but what’s also stunning is the lack of progress on diversity within the industry since these numbers were first reported several years ago. Thanks to this recent report by Glassdoor, the job search and research company, it becomes clear that the barriers to a more diverse workforce in tech –a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-generational, female inclusive workforce– lie within the tech companies themselves, and that still more external pressure and attention needs to be focused on this issue.

Read the full story, as reported here by Geekwire: http://bit.ly/2LwTtcy

 

 

 

 

Law and Criminal Justice Public Relations: Have We Created A No-Win Situation?

With this post, through the courtesy of some guest writers like this one from Leonard Sipes Jr. and Corrections.com, we’ll take a long overdue look at some of the specialties in PR. Today’s post takes a look at public relations in some of the law and criminal justice fields, and asks this provocative question: Have we created a no-win situation for PR pros in these fields? Check out the answer below, and feel free to tell us what you think.

Police-Justice Public Relations Suck
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 05/14/2018
Police lineWe complain that the media and public don’t understand what cops do and why they do it. This lack of understanding makes policing unnecessarily difficult. This applies to all facets of the criminal justice system.

Is the lack of understanding the public’s fault, or ours?

Read more here. …

 

 

Can Starbucks Recover?

It is indeed ironic that Starbucks finds itself the target of complaints about racism, insensitivity and customer service. For much of its history, Starbucks has been a standard-bearer of progressive corporate leadership on a variety of social, cultural, racial, customer service and corporate social responsibility issues—which only goes to point out that no company can afford to overlook the quality of its ongoing relationships with its customers and, in addition, the power of social media to generate a communications crisis within minutes.

First, let us admit that we’ve previously lauded Starbucks on several occasions for forward-thinking, courageous, and even bold stands on a variety of quality-of-life and social justice issues. From the much-despised Race Together initiative to progressive stands on employee relations, equity in leadership and pay, and establishing and setting a high bar on a range of everyday communications issues (digital and social media marketing), we like Starbucks and think they’ve set an example worthy of many corporations taking note. Nonetheless, we’ve also recently become disenchanted with some changes ushered in by Starbucks, which begin to raise the question we asked in some of our earlier social media posts re: Philadelphia, and even before: Has success spoiled Starbucks and caused it to take too much for granted, when it comes to its customers? And will one day of racial sensitivity and customer service training (designated corporate-wide for May 29) change that scenario? Bottom line, apparently had Starbucks started to believe—like too many banks and investment firms before it—that it’s too big to fail, or even immune to a stumble. The past few weeks should’ve changed that picture substantially.

So where has Starbucks gone wrong? Like many entrepreneurs, we consider ourselves aficionados on this, as we spend a lot of time in Starbucks or running to Starbucks while conducting business. Here are a few problems we’ve noted of late. …

Disappearing Chairs

As we’ve noted in one of our social posts, in the past months, chairs have been noticeably missing from Starbucks changing business model. One of the things that has made Starbucks not only convenient, but indispensable in our informal, shared-workspace economy, is that Starbucks is, generally, an inviting place to conduct business. It’s convenient (practically omnipresent), more invigorating than the average office, and a good place to mix informal mingling with business function. I’ve seen everything from small-group meetings, to tele-conferencing, to actual business social activities held in Starbucks sites.

Losing A Neighborhood Gathering Place

As one journalist recently described it: “Starbucks, a brand that has positioned itself in our national consciousness as not just a restaurant chain or retail operation, but as a ‘third place’ meetup spot for the community.” So, this sudden removal of seats from a growing number of stores (across the Chicago area at least), is something of a slap in the face to loyal customers—business and social users alike–who Starbucks encourages to make repeat visits.

So, perhaps the issue facing Starbucks in the Philadelphia case is about more than race, although its apparent that ugly racism may have strongly influenced the situation. Could it be that Starbucks was already losing touch with the people and the community values that made it a global juggernaut?

Perhaps it was too much to ask that a major corporation combine all the amenities of the local neighborhood café, bookstore, community center and local hotspot. But Starbucks offered an implicit promise to be all that, giving it a special local appeal. And it was diverse, in staff and clientele. But those mom and pop coffee shops and cafes that many of us abandoned for Starbucks are probably now muttering a major “I told you so!”

Can Starbucks pull it all together quickly to stay of damage caused by that shop in Philadelphia and other bad moves. Time will tell. The company has at least announced it’s closing the shop for one day in May to talk about race, and we hope many other customer service issues. Many of us will wait and see, before we make our way to a final exit.

Public Relations Diversity, Advancing Your PR Career, and Tech Social Responsibility

Thus far, March has been ripe with new ways to learn from the public relations paths (sometimes missteps) of others. Here’s our round-up of good reads covering various topics in PR.

How to Create Racially Sensitive Ads

We found this timely article in Entrepreneur, with the idea of helping small businesses avoid the big-budget mistakes of many corporate giants. The article offers practical solutions to what appears to be one of the greatest mysteries of today’s media landscape, in PR, marketing, advertising, digital marketing and public relations, etc.—How to Create Racially Sensitive Communications. See if you agree …

Rising in the PR Ranks

Also, every day some pros find themselves moving from entry or intermediate levels of PR to supervisory or senior management roles. How can you best position yourself for that career change. Laura Slingo offers this sage advice via PRWeek.

Facebook and CSR

Then, on a topic we’ll discuss more later, recent days have cast a long shadow over the Facebook juggernaut, bringing front and center an issue we’ve long advocated—greater social responsibility in the tech industries. This time it’s the issue of privacy and corporate social responsibility; previously it’s been diversity in tech. So, from Bloomberg, here’s a closer look at the making of a CSR issue that now has many people rethinking Facebook usage.

As always, we’d love to hear back from you on these and other PR issues. Let us know what’s going on in your comments below.

Cultural Appropriation and Brand Advertisements: What Could Go Wrong?

See the source image

Image from ethicsalarms.com

For PR folks, the Ford Superbowl LII ad for Dodge pickups raises the issue, if not of diversity, then of extrapolation without context. The ad came under fire almost immediately for using excerpts from one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Drum Major” speeches, under compelling visuals, to promote the pickup brand. While not among the most offensive examples of commercial appropriation, it does raise questions of corporate insensitivity and points to the dangers of perhaps well-intended marketing folks extrapolating information—even for well-intended, though nonetheless brand-promotion purposes—without a full appreciation and context for what’s being used. Let’s examine more closely why this is a good case in point of good intentions backfiring.

Clearly, the focus of the ad is serving—humanity helping humanity at all levels of the human experience. What could be wrong with that? Next point is that the ad was an obvious bow to our nation’s recognition of February as the “official” African-American history month, ergo, the use of Dr. King’s thought-provoking words and speech. The problem with juxtaposing the two ideas into a commercial spot for trucks is more clearly spelled out in this AL.com story originally from the Washington Post. Bottom line, Dr. King goes on in this same speech to talk about the dangersImage result for dr. king public domain of materialism, and particularly uses the purchase of expensive vehicles as an example. The context would surely be a double-edged sword for a commercial message, especially for an automaker.

Many found the ad insensitive, at the least, even without knowing the full context or full speech. The clear lesson for PR, advertising and marketing folks, once again, is before adopting cultural messages and touchstones into brand ads, be sure you understand the full context.

Public Relations and Diversity

Coming into 2018, the perennial question of diversity in media industries–specifically, public relations–continues to be a major issue. When will the talk result in action? And not simply action addressing a “pipeline” for those yet to enter the field, but action opening doors to experienced PR pros now looking for advancement and opportunity within the senior ranks of the field. Some of those questions are answered in this essay on public relations diversity by PR management consultant Rick Gould. On other aspects, we suggest evaluating the evidence by the same standards as PR professionals are typically measured–based on outcomes and results, rather than effort. You can read Gould’s article here.

And merely days later, writer Aarti Shah provides additional insights into the slow progress toward diverse staffing in PR and marketing industries. Read it in Forbes.

The industry has grappled for more than a decade with diversity initiatives that have made, at best, modest dents on a longstanding problem.”

Public Relations: 2018

  • Image result for new year's

 

The cusp of a new year is a traditional time for reflecting on the past year and anticipating what lies ahead. We found this short article, which we think provides PR pros an excellent guide to public relations in 2018. Here’s a sampling:

All PR is tech PR
As media continues to digitize, it’ll be adopting emerging technologies into its day-to-day content production. The rise of emerging tech—virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence—affects and informs media’s push for digital. It’s a new content sandbox for publishers and their advertisers to operate in creatively, free of print’s two-dimensional limitations.

Enjoy, and get ready! Read more here. And, be sure to let us know how you see public relations in the coming year.

 

 

When PR is Bad, Sometimes Nothing is Worse

Image via Ph Communications

When public relations advice is bad, sometimes nothing could be worse. Such was apparently the case with Bell Pottinger, a British PR firm that last week was booted out of the UK’s professional body for bad practices. This was more than a case of conduct unbecoming. In fact, the Public Relations and Communications Association invoked its harshest penalty ever by expelling Bell Pottinger for inciting racial divisions during elections in South Africa. A toxic development for a country already fraught with racial divisions of historical proportions.

Truly, when public relations is bad, almost nothing is worse. It’s instructive for all business professionals, but particularly public relations folks, as well as the public at-large to understand the slippery slope of what went wrong at Bell Pottinger. Read a full report, including the statement from the PRCA, here.

Breaking News Development:  Since we posted this story. Bell Pottinger’s demise reported imminent for its public relations misdeeds.  Read it here. 

MORE BREAKING DEVELOPMENTS: (9/15/17) Things get worse for Bell Pottinger. Latest reports say they’ve earned this moniker: “Worst Ethical Breach In History.” Story here.

Tech Diversity Includes More Than Gender

Let’s not limit the #GoogleMemo debate and tech diversity issue simply to gender. While Google engineer James Damore ignited a firestorm around the already simmering gender diversity in tech issue, gender isn’t the only area where tech companies are lacking accountability.

The tech industry has a lot to answer for in terms of racial, ethnic, age as well as gender diversity. Yet, it’s pace to address those issues has been almost glacial.

Flashback to 2014

This issue first burst into public consciousness around 2014, with the public release of diversity data (i.e., racial, ethnic and gender breakdowns of tech workers—note age data was not included.) For an industry so ubiquitous in contemporary society, the results were both shocking and shameful. Those results looked something like this, as we reported in a previous post.

USA Today reported that one percent of Google’s tech staff are African-American, while two percent are Hispanic. Yet, these groups comprise 12 percent and 16 percent, respectively, of the total population. Asians, who comprise 12 percent of the US population, represent 34 percent of the company’s tech workers. Similarly, 83 percent of Google’s tech workers internationally are reported to be male. When non-tech positions are included, male workers still dominate, at 52 percent

In the same year, a Tech Times story described Apple’s workforce as composed of 70 percent men, 30 percent women. It also described the ethnic make-up as 55 percent White, 15 percent Asian, 11 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Black, 2 percent Mixed Race, and 9 percent undeclared.  *These figures were said to include employees of their retail stores.

Back then, we noted that Fortune magazine offered the most extensive review of tech companies and diversity.

Fast Forward to the Present

Since then, both the EEOC and the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as Rev. Jesse Jackson,  have drawn attention to and prompted some action on this issue. Yet, except for some high profile hirings at companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Intel, etc., the overall diversity profile of major tech companies remains largely unchanged.

Yes, the leaders of these companies—sensitive to optics and wary of regulation—have taken some steps aimed at diversity. These include sponsoring tech boot camps, hosting gender and diversity meetings, and even developing some campus partnerships with universities serving largely underrepresented groups, especially African-American and Latino students. (Not to mention the high-profile hirings mentioned above). Yet, very little has happened operationally in these companies—except apparently to make even the discussion of diversity more contentious among insiders.

Diversity Doesn’t End with Gender

The truth is due to the size and impact of tech companies on American and global cultures, diversity in tech is effectively the civil rights issue of our era. African-American, Latinos, and non-native tech adults (read, older) cannot afford to relent on this issue. It has been shown time and again that diversity in tech isn’t simply a “pipeline” issue that will be resolved with more STEM classes for young people, more boot camps, or more  diversity meetings—all of which are overall helpful. What will move the needle and change the daily picture in these companies is more diverse hiring—including African-Americans, Latinos, Baby Boomers, etc.—individuals already educated, trained and with valuable work experience in the fields needed throughout the tech sector—in both tech and non-tech positions. Only then can we expect to see the kind of dynamic culture shift that a diverse world demands and that an industry that prides itself on “disruption” should wholeheartedly embrace.

P.S. Over the past few years, we’ve written a lot on diversity in technology and public relations. Please be sure to check out our earlier posts.


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