Posts Tagged 'public relations'

The Perennial PR Problem: Tone-Deaf Companies, Tone-Deaf Messages, Tone-Deaf Workplaces

The long-standing, and often contentious issue of diversity in the media industries (news, PR, advertising, social media, etc.), was raised anew in a recent spate of events. Of course, diversity in these industries, as well as in tech, has long been an issue close to our hearts. We’ve blogged about it, advocated for it, and been adherents to the practices and principles of diversity for a very long time. Yet, as we are frequently reminded, many of our major companies still apparently don’t subscribe to the importance diversity in key parts of the workplace. A few recent examples come to mind … (Mind you, while we do not know for certain that any of these examples are not the creation of “diverse” work teams, you’ll see why we have our suspicions when you examine the evidence.)

First, probably most spectacularly is the video commercial released by Pepsi, quickly tagged the #PepsiKendall ad, featuring top model Kendall Jenner. As you’ve probably already seen or heard, the commercial, although pulled from circulation almost immediately after its release, featured Jenner, abandoning her high-fashion photo shoot and blonde wig to join a passing multiracial, multicultural street protest conveniently passing by. After some lingering glances at an attractive male within the protest group, she quickly circulates through the crowd joining the front lines, where she ostensibly leads the group until they meet up with a line of waiting police officers who, as Stephen Colbert has described them, look every bit “the world’s least intimidating police force.” Bottom line, Kendall hands the cop a Pepsi, they both smile, he looks at the other cops down the line, then drinks the Pepsi while Kendall leads the other protesters in a rousing round of cheers. We’ll stop the action here, but we hope you see the problem. The Internet certainly did.

Within hours, a storm of protests, mocking and mimicry of the ad broke out on social media, causing such a furor that Pepsi pulled the ad and issued an apology—to Kendall Jenner, that is, for “placing her in that position.” For the rest of humanity who were offended and weren’t a paid part of the ad, Pepsi issued this rationalization:

This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey,” they said in a statement.”

And regarding the creative development of the ad, they added this:

The creative showcases a moment of unity, and a point where multiple storylines converge in the final advert. It depicts various groups of people embracing a spontaneous moment, and showcasing Pepsi’s brand rallying cry to ‘Live For Now,’ in an exploration of what that truly means to live life unbounded, unfiltered and uninhibited.”

Where do we begin to unpack what went wrong here? Let’s start by raising the question we first posted in a tweet immediately after we head of the furor:

For us, this ad immediately raised the question of diversity on the team who created it—not to mention the marketing and other pros who approved it. What is it they missed that the rest of the world found immediate outrage in? This, we think, is the saddest part of this debacle: that highly paid professionals in major corporations and professional services agencies couldn’t see the offensive nature of this ad.

Any team member schooled in media stereotypes and commercial (cultural) appropriation–which should be everyone involved in creative development as well as the marketing of brand images–could have advised Pepsi to steer clear of its approach, for the clear reason it appears to trivialize people’s struggles for social justice and human rights. Certainly, we think, most persons of color involved in the creative development and marketing of corporate and brand messages (but perhaps not all), should have foreseen the trouble with this ad; so, our guess is that none played any major role in the creation of the spot. So instead what we got was among the worst demonstrations of what insular, self-perpetuating kinds of privileged and homogeneous teams produce for the rest of us. The ad looks good and paints a “pretty” multiethnic picture, but is completely devoid of any real sensitivity to the often life and death circumstances, struggles and ideologies that drive people to protest in the streets.

The lack of authenticity in any part of the #PepsiKendall ad is antithetical to the very democratization of media and media messages that social media has been so effective in producing in the US and globally.”

Yet, sadly, this misguided advertisement doesn’t stand alone. Not long before, but to much less, but surely well-deserved furor, the Switzerland-based company Nivea quickly dropped its ad touting “White is Purity” for its skin creams. We’ll just let the Internet make our case from here …

And, ironically, the backdrop for all this uproar over media messages and images was the very real-life ongoing saga at Fox News regarding sexual harassment and gender discrimination against its female employees.

Finally, as if to show that no contemporary industry is immune to calculated colorblindness and insensitivity, the fashion industry produced this outrage a short time ago. It’s what we called some of the worst kind of commercial/cultural appropriation, as this remnant from international slavery–a face mask forced upon workers in the fields to prevent them from eating corn and other crops they were being forced to harvest—was re-created as “fashion” for adornment on the runway.

One of the PR lessons that all these corporate affronts, miscalculations and misjudgments tells us is that despite the current “zeitgeist” toward diversity, human rights and social justice that many companies are clamoring to tap into, too many of these companies remain bastions of privilege, homogeneity (in regard to race), and social and cultural isolation. One thing many public relations professionals have understood for decades is that sometimes the greatest challenge or threat to good PR isn’t external, it can be internal, exemplified by tone-deaf companies, tone-deaf work environments, and tone-deaf messages—often with toxic results.

Exploring the Evolving World of Media, Technology and PR

Alternately as publicists, communications strategists, social media marketers, and general media advocates—in other words, as Public Relations professionals—we’re highly interested in the evolving world of new media, technology, and new methods and distribution channels for reporting. We understand that these developments are an integral part of what we do, and we’re pleased to be actively involved in some of these spaces. In the past few months we spent time away to examine more closely what’s happening in the fields of journalism, media, technology, and therefore public relations. We’re excited to post our first findings here.

Capping our activities, we participated in Illinois Humanities People-Powered Publishing Conference, subtitled “Innovation, Community, and the Future of Journalism.” As it turned out, this conference gave us a national picture of what’s happening in these areas.

A Changing Sense of Audience

To begin with, perhaps in the future, the whole concept of “audience” will change, or even diminish. Hearken, the company behind its namesake community engagement platform for news organizations, describes the audience as all of us, and the relationships we share with others.

audience-silhouette-black-large-panoramic-view-35594276

 

By this view, the “audience” isn’t consumers, or for PR purposes “publics,” sitting out there waiting to engage with us and what we do; the “audience” is our network of friends, associates and even strangers who we interact and engage with in some way on an ongoing basis. Think of it—as a practicing or aspiring journalist, PR person, social marketer, content developer or thought leader, you view yourself as an integral part of whatever community you’re looking to engage with, and not separate from it. Otherwise, you’re missing the point.

Giving and Receiving Feedback

When you’re in almost any business, especially media, PR, journalism and social networking, how we share information and receive feedback is vitally important. There’s a lot of study, development and, in some cases hand-wringing, going on related to how best to share, then receive and process feedback. In the real media world of today, much of that receiving feedback focuses on comments—how to receive them, what to make of them, and how best, or even whether, to respond them. Here’s a peak at how much actual science is going into how individuals are managing daily, or should be managing, such interactions as comments.

____________________________________________________

Are you thinking about two-way conversation and feedback? Important questions:

1) whether comments are allowed;

2) what are the rules/guidelines for commenting and how are they customer-engagementcommunicated or monitored;
3) are comments curated or moderated, and who’s assigned those duties;
4) when we solicit feedback, especially in social media, are we too limited in our range of choices (e.g., like, share, comment, etc.)

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While we’ve always agreed that it’s not the best judgment to assign digital and social media curation to an intern, as many do, we wondered how much actual forethought organizations are giving to addressing crucial questions like those above, directly tied to audience engagement. It was also exciting to see that one group, the Engaging News Project makes the case for and offers additional feedback tools such as downloadable buttons for Respect, Important, Recommend, etc., for posted content.

Of course, your individual goals, objectives, organizational culture and policies, should guide answers to some of these questions. However, it was great for us as consultants and counsel to re-examine some of these questions to make sure we consider a wider array of options in making recommendations to clients.

Re-Emergence of Civic Journalism

What’s old is new again! Remember back in the 1990s (for those of you old enough to recall) the trend in journalism toward more participatory, collaborative reporting between journalists and community members toward what was considered the greater good. It was called civic journalism, and though the trend fell out of vogue, it never died in some places. With the further decentralizing of the news media, and news reporting capabilities now made possible widely via mobile, social and digital media, there’s a renewed push for more collaborative journalism between news reporters and community members. Be on the watch again for the terms civic journalism and “engaged journalism,” even “public journalism”—all of which speak to what the Democracy Fund, one of the organizations spearheading this media transition, describes as “transforming the relationship between news consumers and news producers.” (Overholser, Democracy Project)

cropped-impact-of-social-media1

Some of the other organizations actively promoting more open and collaborative efforts include The Pew Center for Civic Journalism, which describes itself as “an incubator for civic journalism experiments that enable news organizations  to create and refine better ways of reporting the news to re-engage people in public life”; the Coral Project, dedicated to creating open source tools to further empower news content developers of all sizes; and university-based research centers such as the Engaging News Project, at University of Texas/Austin, mentioned above.

In addition to all of these, there are a number of working models and examples of collaborations between media and community organizations aimed at diversifying news gathering and news content. At People-Powered Publishing, several of those featured included experiments in Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia and Kansas City, to name a few.

Technology

More specifically on the technology front, Mozilla OpenNews, enables peer-to-peer networking and problem-solving by techs, journalists and digital content producers to “help journalism thrive on the open web.” It’s an example of the kind of high-stakes networking, research and development, and collaboration taking place to maximize and support technological developments in the news business.

At behooves all PR pros to at least be aware of these initiatives, and to perhaps look for ways to participate and engage on behalf of their organizations or clients. The news business is changing radically right before our very eyes. It’s important for public relations professionals to be on the cusp of those changes.

PR Or Lobbying? Astroturfing by Another Name

So, we’re back briefly on one of our favorite topics–public relations vs. lobbying. This time, Public Relations (PR) Concept.
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren weighs in on astroturfing, or lobbying under the guise of public relations, via the New York Times video.
“This Is Thinly Disguised Lobbying,” she says. Check it out here: http://nyti.ms/2aGaAYo

When PR Pros Are Required to Register As Lobbyists: A Case Study

business interactions

From Ireland, here’s a case study that shows what happens when PR people aren’t vigilant against legislation that equates public relations activities with lobbying. In sum, PR pros register, others don’t.

Calls to ‘name and shame’ non-compliant lobbyists

PR industry believes legal and other professions have not reported lobbying activities

Legal firms engaged in lobbying activity are not thought to be complying with the legislation to the same extent as public relations professionals.

Organisations that do not comply with lobbying legislation introduced last September should be “named and shamed”, the Public Relations Institute of Ireland (PRII) has suggested. Read the full story from Irish Times here: http://www.irishtimes.com/business/media-and-marketing/calls-to-name-and-shame-non-compliant-lobbyists-1.2653590

Pitch Perfect: So are PR gifts considered ‘bribes?’

Gift GivingWe’re taking a brief hiatus to do some internal restructuring at PRDoctorChicago. But thank goodness, the world is full of meaningful content that can be shared from others through the Internet. To that end, here’s another timely re-post.

We’ve been writing about public relations versus lobbying and this post by Jill Downie for Al Arabiya English on “gifting” journalists comes as a natural extension of that post? Is giving freebies to journalists in return for coverage acceptable, prudent, ethical? If so, when? Under what conditions?

This post got our attention because it addresses one of the everyday dilemmas that PR pros deal with. It’s been our experience that common sense and common courtesy provide simple guidelines for some of the most basic of these issues. However, this post delves into the ethics of situations and practices that might not appear so clear. Hope you’ll read, enjoy and learn. Feel free to let us know below if you have questions.

One of the most debated subjects within the media industry is the grey area of gifting.    To read more, click link below.

Source: Pitch Perfect: So are PR gifts considered ‘bribes?’

Blurred Lines: When Marketing, PR, and Content Overlap

Worth repeating … we ran across this article a short time ago and thought it caught the essence of what it’s like for PR pros and marketers in this new world order of content development and social media. So we’re re-blogging it here to share ideas on how you can competitively maximize the potential of a truly integrated marketing effort. We’re sure you’ll enjoy reading, and perhaps learn some new ideas too! Be sure to let us know below.

Blurred Lines: When Marketing, PR, and Content Overlap

by Aly Saxe  |

March 17, 2016   |  4,165 views

From social selling to new opportunities with mobile advertising, every marketing organization now has a cornucopia of channels through which to work its magic.

Yet, different channels and opportunities demand different skills, and the effort needed to coordinate all the necessary components and team members is immense. It can be confusing at best, unproductive at worst.

Let’s take a simple example: an infographic.

You’ve compiled the information and applied beautiful design. Now what? You probably have 10 different channels to send it through. Should one person own every channel and strategy for promotion? I mean, it’s just a simple infographic, right?

The answer is “no,” and here’s why.

Read more: http://www.marketingprofs.com/articles/2016/29554/blurred-lines-when-marketing-pr-and-content-strategy-overlap#



 

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More noteworthy news: If you’re a regular, or even occasional reader of the PRDoctorChicago blog, you know that a subject near and dear to us is the difference between public relations and lobbying. We frequently write about and advocate for a better understanding of the differences between the two communications disciplines. To that end, we express kudos to major PR organizations and firms who stepped up in March to challenge the New York State Ethics Commission ruling equating public relations communications with lobbying. This is a significant step, and one that bears watching, as the industry moves forward to challenge the efforts of those outside of PR to define what the industry is. In case you missed, simply click this link for an overview of event.

It’s Public Relations, Not Lobbying!

Despite arguments to the contrary, New York State’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics has ruled to expand the definition of lobbying to include PR professionals–a prospect we called chilling, and now actually alarming.

To help make our case against this ruling, we call forth this missive from the nation’s “community organizer in chief.”

“To my mind, there’s a difference between a corporate lobby whose clout is based on money alone, and a group of like-minded individuals–whether they be textile workers, gun aficionados, veterans or family farmers–coming together to promote their interests; between those who use their economic power to magnify their political influence far beyond what their numbers might justify and those who are simply seeking to pool their votes to sway their representatives. The former subvert the very idea of democracy. The latter are its essence.”

-Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope

Barack Obama campaigning on street

Public Relations vs. Lobbying-Part II

business interactions

By far, one of our most popular posts was on the topic of Public Relations and Lobbying, published back in 2012. Since that time the post has been continuously circulating. With proposals potentially impacting public relations now being reviewed in the legislatures of several states, the circumstances call for a timely update.

The most well-known of those bills now being considered is in New York, which follows the pattern of similarly controversial proposals in Massachusetts and Los Angeles. These bills range from proposals requiring public relations professionals to register as lobbyists to those that would restrict lobbying efforts by nonprofits. As we said before, such proposals would seem to us to have a chilling effect on the public relations profession, but to also raise the alarming spectre of infringements on free speech and social justice.

The blurring line between public relations and numerous other disciplines, including lobbying, calls for PR people to be alert and vigilant on understanding the differences between these professions.

As we said in our previous posts, citizens have a long history of organizing and petitioning our government for redress and for actions on behalf of the common good. We liken such grassroots movements to the Federalist Papers, which helped establish the basis of governing in our democratic society. And yes, while we are aware and watchful of many disguised special interests who have, and continue to hijack or simulate grassroots movements to achieve self-serving ends—a disingenuous practice known as astroturfing—we, nonetheless, think the right of citizens to organize and to use legitimate public relations practice to raise awareness and advance their causes is a protected right. Such is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It is the tenets of the profession—not occasional overlapping methods—that we believe favorably distinguishes public relations from similar activities and pursuits.

Public relations

does not seek

negative

outcomes.

In more than 30 years of public relations practice, our mantra has always been: Public relations does not seek negative outcomes. In other words, PR doesn’t seek to tear down something else; we use it to constructively demonstrate the positive attributes or reasonings behind our cause—in other words, building something up: an idea, a cause, a product, a service, a solution, etc. And we do so with persuasion as our principal tool. It’s the honest value, true belief in and understanding of the benefits of our client’s position that fuels our work.

So, despite a popular belief, especially during this political season, that “going negative” in method, outreach or advertising works, we firmly believe that going negative in outcome, approach, message, methodology, etc., will never achieve big-picture goals and the objectives needed to anchor public relations. On those rare occasions when we make comparisons, the differentiations are based on real differences, and not on the cynical notion of winning by making the other side lose.

Watchwords for PR: Be Brave

Courage-CS-Lewis
Over the course of a PR career, you’ll have many opportunities to stand up–or stand down, as it were–as a professional. The choices you make will define your life and your career. Looking back, our enduring words of advice for PR folk is “Be brave.”

We sat down to reflect on different experiences we’ve had along our public relations paths that may be fairly comparable to what any pro may face over the course of a lengthy career. We share a few of them here, not specifically as a how-to guide, but with the hope you’ll view them as “opportunities” to learn to be brave and handle some adversities you may encounter as a PR pro. Ultimately, isn’t this is our raison d’etre within an organization?

Internal Conflict/Office Politics

This simple adversity, may be one of the hardest. Why? Because, at worst, it can be toxic and demoralizing to a vibrant and productive organizational culture. One of our colleagues here once worked in a supervisory position where one of her reports had set her sights on our colleague’s position as a supervisor. It was a messy situation, characterized by dishonesty, subversion of work and intentions, and lack of accountability on the part of the report. How to deal with it? Protect your flank: 1) document instructions, expectations, and policy/processes; 2) challenge threats, attacks and subversions directly, using accumulated documentation. Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations. Be prudent, be thoughtful, never speak in anger. Take a walk, if needed, before or after hard conversations. But don’t hesitate to cast down negative aspersions. Also, if you have the authority, don’t be afraid to realign responsibilities to ensure more accountability. If you don’t have the authority, make sure you create an open line of communication with someone who does.

External Disinformation Campaigns

As PR people, we’re always looking to build greater awareness of and loyalty to our product, service, cause or organization. Occasionally in a career, you may run across an intentional effort by others outside your organization to damage your brand, reputation or cause. You’d be wise not to ignore it, but be prudent in your response. Don’t overreact: match the resources expended to the degree of threat. On a few occasions while doing grassroots coalition building and field work for public policy or civic causes, a couple of us have encountered these intentional efforts to mislead. Frequently, these astroturfing efforts–as they are known–are disguised as another grassroots effort, but most often they’re backed by special interests with a particular business stake in a public policy issue. It’s during these occasions that we’ve found your networks, partnerships and collaborations to be invaluable. Creating feedback loops among these partners can be an effective early warning system to dangers in the environment; moreover, their ability to quickly reach their respective constituencies via owned, social or other media can be crucial.

A Life-Threatening Situation or Life-and-Death Crisis

This involves situations, although not on a mass scale, where people have been (or can be) hurt or injured, sometimes fatally. While we hope no one has to deal with this kind of crisis, given the times we live in, the possibility always exists. With that in mind, here are some of the situations we’ve experienced and what we’ve learned.

Tragically, on more than once occasion, a couple of us have been involved in communications related to loss of life. The circumstances vary quite a bit. In one situation, an employee was found dead (presumably killed) while performing his job responsibilities. We know of another where a client was accidentally drowned while swimming in a pool. In yet another, a client was hurt in an attack by another on-site visitor. In situations such as this, what you can say will be limited, initially, due to unfolding circumstances, police or other law enforcement investigations, and sensibilities to family, friends, fellow employees, even legal considerations. Recognize that at some point—preferably sooner rather than later—you’ll have to say something. You’ll have to explain, give account, reassure. You’ll need to balance fact, with empathy, compassion, and noting appropriate safeguards. Choose words carefully, demeanor cautiously, and perhaps most importantly, the company should speak with a human voice.

Again, our purpose isn’t to claim expertise in dealing with crises; PR crises are all different, but we have been through a few. We also aren’t looking to provide a how-to guide for coping with or managing a crisis. That’s well beyond the scope of what we’d do in this post. Yet, one continuity running through all of these situations is the requirement to be brave. That, in turn, means being level-headed, informed and in control of emotions, which will help in taking control of events. Our mission here has been to describe a few of the most difficult PR situations you might encounter, which demand knowledge, grace and empathy. Most of all, they require the PR professional to summon up the courage to respond insightfully in these situations.

Be sure to let us know below what you think, and difficult PR experiences you’re aware of.

PR In a Box?

Can good PR come in a box?Open_cardboard_box

In other words, can effective public relations be done so pre-planned and packaged that it literally can be delivered in a box? Before you respond viscerally and suggest a resounding no, recognize that we’re not the only ones pondering this question

Our 30 years of experience in PR tells us that effective public relations can come in a box. We’ve done it, to much good effect, and we know others have too.  So this post is about how, and under what circumstances, pre-packaged public relations can be accomplished.

Several years ago we worked under contract with a government agency that was opening numerous satellite offices almost simultaneously. Two things quickly became clear: Local staff were too new and too busy (after all, they were opening an office and gearing up for local operations from the ground up—think logistics, hiring, training, etc.) to handle additional preparations required for an office opening event; also, there wasn’t sufficient PR staff or budget to dispatch an on-site pro to handle every satellite event. What to do?

Here’s where our experience kicked in. We realized that when you have multiple events/activities, so similar in purpose, nature, format, goals, etc., and they are occurring repeatedly or quick succession, the process almost begs for a formulaic or template approach that borrows from previous experience. In fact, truth be told, most PR people would readily admit that success in one aspect of PR automatically provides a kind of template or reference sheet for handling a similar activity in the future. That’s the benefit of experience. Nonetheless, we clearly want to make the point that pre-packaged PR is clearly not all that’s needed for success. Implementation, and what happens on the ground, is still the key. What’s done by those charged with delivering on the pre-packaged plan is still crucial to overall success. So, these are the things that we think can be pre-planned, or created from a distance, and delivered in a box by thoughtful pros attuned to the local situation:

  1. Strategy: What is the situation on the ground and what role will this activity play in addressing the situation? What is the purpose of the activity? Its goals and expected outcomes? Who needs to be involved, and how should the event be orchestrated? The answer to these questions will constitute a plan and checklist.
  2. Messaging: What are the messages that need to be communicated during this event and who’s most effective in delivering those messages? The answer to these can be the beginning of a script.
  3. Project Deliverables: The culmination of the strategy and messaging as copywriting in final formats to be used on site, e.g., news announcements; suggested invitees and invitations; correspondence (letters of invitation and confirmation) event programs; event scripts (as needed); informational collateral as well as posted decorations or videos for on-site exhibition ; suggestions, advice or implementation tips, based on previous experience; scripted remarks for opening, transitions and closing. In some cases we know where suggestions have even been offered for food and menu selections.
  4. Methods of Evaluation: As always, it’s important that evaluation be part of prior planning. What will success look like and how will you know if you’ve achieved it? Benchmarks and methods of evaluation should be included—e.g., participant surveys, subscriptions or sign-up quotas; referrals; media participation and coverage, etc.

In our case, after disseminating these materials and following up with several teleconferences to discuss further planning, implementation and technical support needed, we paved the way for each office to have a successful event that met all organizational benchmarks, with a decidedly local look and feel.

So yes, we’ve learned that public relations in a box and be accomplished and achieve its objectives, if it’s well thought out, fits the existing situation, and is well coordinated on the ground for proper execution.

That’s an example of our experience. We’d love to hear yours. Send us your comments about PR in a box!

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