Archive for September, 2012

Exxon: Let’s Solve This

We never want to give praise to oil companies too quickly for fear we’ll be just as readily contradicted (like $5/gallon regular gasoline prices, offshore drilling, et al.). Yet, we have to say we’re impressed with Exxon’s advertising and “Let’s Solve This”  campaign to improve education, particularly US math and science education (STEM).

What grabbed our attention recently were the timely Exxon2and attractive national ads in support of teachers and educational improvement. Not only was the advertising dead-on timely, coming as it did about a week after the nationally-watched teachers’ strike that delayed the start of school in Chicago [and a few other places], but it also didn’t hurt that it coincided with a widely circulated New York Times’ story on teachers’ unions—once Democratic stalwarts—now cultivating strategic relationships with key Republicans across the country. While we’re not taking political sides on these issues, we acknowledge wholeheartedly our previous PR work on behalf of schools and school reform causes. In this instance, though, our aim is to acknowledge a company for its smart and committed corporate support on behalf issues critical to their corporate mission and for the betterment of society.

We’re always impressed when companies show they “get it” by not only taking up, but taking the lead on these kinds of issues. So, we took a look at the “Let’s Solve This” and found out some things you might want to know. Exxon/Mobil has been sponsoring this cause since 2009, with the National Math and Science Initiative, to promote teacher training and student preparation in so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). Without question, this is a critical issue for Exxon/Mobil and other corporations that depend on US ingenuity in these fields; but, of course, it’s also a critical issue for our society, in general, as Americans have been slipping further and further down in academic achievement in these areas. We like the fact the Exxon not only supports these issues behind the scene, but has shown a willingness to shine a light onto larger related issues (like the quality of education overall), even when such issues reach the point of contention.

So we’re hoping that “Let’s Solve This” does indeed make crucial headway on the series of vexing issues related to STEM. In doing so, perhaps they can provide a model for how corporate social responsibility, in general, can work on a variety of other issues.

What Disaster Services Can Teach Us About Public Relations

For nearly a year, I volunteered with the American Red Cross’ Disaster Services Team, responding to calls in the middle of the night for all kinds of emergencies, but most likely to be fires. The experience taught me some indelible lessons about managing expectations, which can be applied to the triage situations PR professionals may at any point encounter on behalf of clients:

1)      Like disaster survivors, clients in distress want to be “made whole” immediately. Keep in mind, and keep reminding them, that regaining equilibrium, and then momentum, won’t come in a night; it’s at least a two- step process. Your goal, to try remedy the present crisis, begins with an initial step toward stabilization, then must proceed to and incorporate a follow-up plan for longer-term action.

2)      Emotions must not overrule good judgment or utilization of resources. By definition, disaster services situations can be truly riveting: from loss of property, or worse, to loss of life, and the concomitant anguish that accompanies both. In PR, hopefully, circumstances rarely achieve this scale; yet, even in overwhelming circumstances, PR practitioners, like volunteers, must keep cool heads and exercise prudent judgment about how best to address emotional needs and utilize finite resources. In other words, PR people must acquire highly developed instincts for discernment and become a quick, but thoughtful study in assessing and applying the most strategic response.

3)      The human cost of disaster is never fully realized at the scene of the situation. The toll and bleak reality of such perilous circumstances often only become evident in the days following the crisis event. It is only through scrupulous follow-up that we can plan and act appropriately to mitigate and manage the fallout that naturally occurs.

4)      Be prepared, pain is ongoing. Little things count. In our role as PR people, we must continuously seek to stay ahead of emerging needs by constantly monitoring the situation and challenging ourselves as to what more can be done to anticipate and relieve suffering and emotional distress. For example, as disaster volunteers, we not only arrive on scene with resources to secure food, clothing and shelter for clients, but we’re also equipped with small touches, like Kleenex, bottled water, comfort kits (toiletries for first nights stay) and Teddy Bears that can serve as a diversion for young children. Moreover, using resources at our disposal, we can help survivors secure in short order replacement medications, eyeglasses, or any number of other necessities that may be needed to give a sense of stability. These little touches reinforce the humanity of the person-to-person engagement as we go about our required documentation.

This approach also often entails listening more than speaking; providing encouragement and hopefulness, in both verbal and nonverbal ways, where needed.

5)      Use technology to full effect. Increasingly, data shows that more and more people turn to social, mobile and digital media for help and information during a crisis. Your crisis plan, as a part of your overall PR, should proactively address these channels in the ways that parallel the way that people use them.

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