From Russia with “love”

Russian Chocolatiers: Konfael have taken wooing your loved one a step further than most this year by celebrating its ‘Women’s Day’ with confectionery with a particularly ‘political’ flavour, satirically poking fun at Western sanctions against Russia over its armed intervention in Ukraine

_81128842_chocsThe selection boxes – adorned with famous Soviet-era-styled propaganda posters – are stylised to include biting couplets (such as “Don’t mouth off, gentlefolk dear/That Obama’s bound to hear!” blazoned beneath the image of a World War II female factory worker warning against gossip), and patriotic slogans like “For Western currency we have no need/A golden ruble – at full speed!” – used to emphasise the perceived power of Russia’s resource-based economy.

A man who needs no shirt

He is a man who needs no shirt.

One box (my favourite example)  features the verse “To be king, when all are ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’/You need a pair of rock-hard nuts” below a photograph of President Putin in sunglasses. This being the same man whose last presidential campaign featured an advertisement which saw a young Russian female visit a fortune-teller who (after being asked to reveal the girl’s “destiny”) informs the girl that her “first time” will be with the presidential candidate as she turns the card revealing Putin’s image.

Regardless on my distaste for Putin’s presidency (his KGB background is the least of my concerns despite perhaps explaining the mentality behind his foreign policy), its hard not to respect a leader who seems to centre a considerable amount of his party’s PR and advertising around how fabulously ‘manly’ he is.

Anyway, Konfael’s marketing strategy has resulted in a mixed response, appearing to leave the majority of its social media respondents with a bad taste in their mouths. Although a few users commented with their own witty comebacks (like Jonathan Grainger’s: “Confael’s Chocolates trigger Odium / Warning: May Contain Polonium!”), many more were disgusted at the brands politicising, some of whose statements I’ve listed below:

Anna Pavlova: “Konfael – I often took you gifts to kindergarten and school for children and teachers. So, our parent committees now [have to] find other gifts. Think next time [with] your head.”

Tatiana Glezer: “I have no words. Stupid, vulgar and beats all desire to buy your products.”

Andrey Lavrov “Just wondering, have you got a real Putinism-brain on the basis of television propaganda, or are you just such creatures that consciously decided to connect to the propaganda for the sake of an extra penny for your Business?”

It’s clear to see how Konfael has tried to tap into Russia’s internationally-famed nationalism, and, in the face of the country’s current political and economic concerns, it’s a little understandable as to why they’ve taken this approach. However, the brand has clearly not done a vast amount of market research prior to developing this product, and thus its request for feedback on its Facebook page (a platform that actively connects people across the world) was probably the first step in why the range’s launch has backfired so badly.

Politics is known for being a tricky and polarising topic for discussion at the best of times, and Russia’s recent actions have generated an increased level of drama and speculation across the world… Asking for feedback on an internationally open forum and for a product that not only raises issues in the country’s international standing (the version belittling regular Kremlin hate-figure, Jen Psaki (US State Department spokeswoman) is particularly callous) but also issues WITHIN its borders (judging from the numerous references to Soveit-nostalgia for gulags and pickled herring) is therefore probably not the smartest marketing ploy…

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Lobbying for change

Should a political party tell the public what it believes, or should it ask the public what it wants? So goes a beloved dilemma of political theorists and party policy-makers over the years – from long since before the internet came to prominence.

Of course, there is no easy answer to it; particularly when individually each MP (irrespective of party affiliation) may be subject to external influence by PRs or the corporations for whom they are working.

The UKPAC definition of lobbying claims that it means working:

in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the United Kingdom Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within their competence.

In the UK, lobbying plays a significant role in the way that policies and decisions are made at local, regional and national levels, as lobbyists attempt to influence the formulation of legislation in ways that benefit their clients. Most lobbying activity is undertaken by professional public affairs agencies who represent multiple clients and primarily focus on lobbying within the corporate, charity and trade sectors.

Although I believe that working to influence political decisions regarding policy and legislation is a legitimate and moreover a necessary part of the democratic process, I do think that there needs to be a wider and more fair level of engagement in the process, with more transparency as to the dealings between Whitehall and lobbyists.

In 2010, David Cameron said that lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen” and subsequently ‘promised’ to “sort it out”. However last year, the issues within lobbying reached a level where (according to a TI poll) 90% of UK respondents believed that “our government is run by a few big entities acting in their own interest”

A Lobbying Act was implemented in January 2014 in an attempt to rectify the poor reputation of lobbyists that had been steadily growing over the past decade (some of which are shown below).

07120215_Liftingthelid_TI_web

On February 10th however, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations revealed its manifesto for the upcoming year which raised seven key areas that the public relations profession wants to see addressed (both in the industry and beyond), namely:

  • Lobbying
  • The future of corporate governance,
  • Independent practitioners and future skills needs,
  • The gender pay gap,
  • Data protection,
  • Internet governance and broadband.

Lobbying

For the last few years, the CIPR has been calling on government to actively support higher levels of accountability and standards within lobbying. Althoguh this did pay off last year in the Lobbying Act, but understandably (as shown in the above infographic), there is still a fair way to go.

CIPR president, Sarah Pinch, says, “The next UK Government should seek to restart the dialogue with stakeholders on the role of lobbying in our democracy, and actively support the development of a highly skilled, qualified and ethically competent group of public affairs professionals that serve the needs of a modern complex democracy. Ensuring that the law that introduced a statutory register of consultant lobbyists genuinely provides the public with more information about how policies and laws are shaped should be considered a priority. Failure to do so will result in lobbying genuinely being the next big scandal waiting to happen.”

The Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is another prominent issue that is regularly discussed in the public relations industry. The CIPR suggests that future governments need to dedicate themselves to strengthening the Equal Pay act, ensuring it is universally applied. The State of the Profession report, due to be revealed sometime this week, will contain up-to-date information on the size of the current income gap, but last year’s study showed that the gap between men and women was as large as £12,390 in senior roles.

Pinch adds, “Looking outside of our traditional areas of influence, some of the really big questions facing our society – internet governance, data protection – have (so far) not figured largely in contemporary political debate, but our future government will need to take a lead on finding answers to them.’

“Most of these issues are not ones for which a government can simply legislate, and most of them do not have a simple, straightforward solution. Rather, they require an open and informed public conversation which will allow us to arrive at a sustainable set of policies and maintain the UK’s world lead in what are critically important areas.”

Social Media: How lowering the partisan filter changed political communication forever

Since the early 2000’s, and the explosive development of social media platforms, the Internet has become a new dimension of the public sphere “to which all citizens should have access”, according to Habermas, 1989, as “a forum for the formation of public opinion.” Part of the attraction of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is arguably that that the ‘average’ person – being someone with little or no advanced computer skills – can be successful using them to generate content.

contentContent – being anything from a 140 character ‘tweet’ on the online social network ‘Twitter’, to a video of puppies uploaded to ‘YouTube’ (a video content distribution forum created in 2005) – can not only be created easily, but can be accessed with something as simple as a smartphone and can be easily linked between different web-pages, making it one of the most efficient and versatile forms of mass communication.

Henry Giroux, an American cultural critic and one of the founding theorists behind the concept of critical pedagogy, best summarised the impact of the development of social media when he said:

The Internet, in all its variety, has effectively re-constituted – especially amongst young people – how social relationships are constructed; and how communication is produced, mediated and received. Under such circumstances, state power becomes more porous and there is less control and regulation as to what is said. Text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the internet have given rise to a reservoir of political energy that poses a new relationship between the new media technologies, politics, and public life.”

Suffice to say that the influence of social media is making huge changes in combating the issue of political apathy by providing new ways to stimulate engagement in politics through allowing politicians and political parties to communicate faster (and in a more targeted manner without the need of mass media) with potential voters, and vice versa.

No longer can it be said that the traditional forms of media communications have “significant influence over voting behaviour at election time” (Joyce, 2010), as the rise in popularity and diversity of social media has allowed what is known as ‘the partisan filter of politics’ to be lowered, thus increasing the range of political parties and ideals available to be disseminated by the public. This changing face of political campaign marketing has been seen on both sides of the Atlantic, but most of all in the 2008 Presidential Election campaign of (now President) Barack Obama, whose use of social media raised over half a billion dollars in online donations, and labelled that year as the first real “social media election”.

Obama’s embracing of social media platforms is largely thought to be a part of his appeal, and his digitally savvy campaign strategy is argued as being one of the key reasons he was able to take his seat in the White House. But, his engagement didn’t just stop once he achieved office. Instead, during his 2012 re-election campaign Obama averaged 29 tweets per day (compared to Mitt Romney’s 1 tweet per day) which, since 2008, has spurred his Twitter following to have grown from approximately 100’000 to 19 million, and his Facebook fanbase from 2 million to 28 million.

obama

Here in the UK, social media has had a similarly profound effect on our political sphere, quickly becoming a vital campaign platform that is re-shaping the way elections are won and lost, how policy is made, and how people get involved in formal and informal politics. Social media strategies by political parties however vary greatly in their approaches, from single-issue campaigns to established political party Facebook accounts with strict control over the content.

What they have in common though, is the idea of a direct, free and easy involvement (or engagement) with the public via the publication and promotion of regular updates and information as well as the active participation of members. Party leaders and their MPs, for example, now commonly have Twitter accounts, giving them the ability to reach their advocates and the general public within a matter of seconds through regularly posted messages or purchased, promoted advertising.

multistepmodel

Additionally, social media has become a leading aspect in the development of the multi-step model of communications, giving reporters and other social influencers the opportunity and platforms to voice their opinions as often and loudly as they like as they record, disseminate and analyse every detail of the UK political sphere, creating a 24/7 news cycle.

The downside of this however is that it has inadvertently given rise in media coverage and popularity of previously socially frowned upon radical right-wing parties, such as the English Defence League and the UK Independence party, who have employed social media to rapidly grow and create a significant political and social impact over the past few years.

The Oxford Internet Survey shows a very definite shift toward online political activism, with the percentage of people who signed an online petition doubling to 14 % between 2007 and 2011 compared to that of those doing this offline falling from 20% to 18% within the same time-frame. Recent research by Demos into the Facebook groups of radical right-wing parties also showed that members and online supporters of these groups are particularly active in comparison to the average ‘fan’, with around 2/3 voting for that party in the last general election, and 1/4 having been involved in a demonstration or strike within the last year – a figure considerably higher than the national average.

One potential reason for this has been argued that online political participation increases individuals’ political efficacy (the confidence they have in feeling they can influence politics). This is something which has been shown to have a strong correlation within research by the Oxford Internet Institute, which suggests that those with low political efficacy are less likely to participate overall in engaging in politics, and when they do participate, it is entirely offline (10% offline to 0% online). This is compared to 60% of internet users with high political efficacy participating politically online.

Personally, I love the way that social media allows not only better engagement with political parties and politics in general, but also a greater scrutiny (and mockery) of MPs and their views. Twitter for example is a common tool in this with, for example, Conservative MP Karl McCartney being left red-faced last year after being caught ‘favouriting’ an image of a naked and tied-up woman with a pillow over her face by the Labour candidate he was standing against in the next general election.

PoliticalOops

Understandably, Mr McCartney quickly explained the situation: He’d been hacked, as he “doesn’t use the ‘fav[sic] button”… despite having a total of 56 ‘favourited tweets’ in the above screenshot…. Methinks that was some quick (albeit not very logical) thinking.

At your own risk

Just rediscovered this feature I wrote for Communicate Magazine November 2013 issue on the growing importance of Corporate Affairs Directors (and of Corporate Communications in general). I still think it’s appropriate, and it’s still one of my favourite published articles to date.

More use than smoke signals

The 2007 financial crisis caused society’s confidence in business to hit an all time low. Since then, companies have been under increased public scrutiny from many angles. This scrutiny has only been exacerbated by the advent of web 2.0 and the public forums and social media channels it supports.

The growing influence of the corporate affairs function in FSTE 100 companies The growing influence of the corporate affairs function in FSTE 100 companies

The influence of corporate affairs directors however is thought to have grown steadily over the past number of years. However, it has become more and more important for the reputational dimension of strategic and operational decisions to be considered at an early stage.

It was with this in mind, that a study was conducted by executive search consultants, Spencer Stuart. Jonathan Harper, who leads the consultancy’s consumer practice in Europe and partner in the consultancy, says “We thought it would be useful for us to find out and…

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Is necessary for students to have a personal brand, or is demonstrating competencies/qualities better?

In a recent Adweek article, Cheri Eisen, Head of HR at Fusion, raised the point that when hiring new employees, employers don’t think we (by which I mean: students, recent graduates, and even entry-level employees) really need to develop a personal brand for ourselves.

Given the post I published earlier this week outlining my ‘Personal Branding cheat sheet‘, this revelation, I have to admit, was a little annoying,. After all, I did spend a fair amount of time noting all the ways to build and hone our personal brand so that we can get noticed by employers.

Instead, she says, “[we] need to know who [we] are, what [we] want to do, what [our] strengths are, and where [our] passions lie”, as, “depending on how many years [we’ve] been in the marketplace, [we] may still be experimenting with different types of roles.”

It makes sense really when you think about it. Until we’ve truly worked in an agency or in-house role where our work can directly impact on our client(s) bottom-line, how can we possibly know where our skills and approaches fit best?
I’m not talking what sectors or disciplines we’re interested in. Being interested in a sector doesn’t necessarily translate to being effective within it (or vice versa, as a matter of fact). I’m talking whether we fit a particular organisations corporate culture; whether we are capable in a range of roles or better if specialised in just a few.

The more practical skills you have when job hunting can of course lead to a higher chance of getting your foot in the door for an interview.
But, saying that, when it comes to scoring an internship, or even a job after graduation, it seems to me that the key to getting your foot past the door and into the role isn’t to reel off a list of skills as long as your arm, but to be authentic in the qualities/competencies you claim to demonstrate (and humble in your willingness to learn/work your butt off).

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d use the rest of this post to outline (in draft form) a couple of the qualities I feel I can offer an employer.

1) Authentic
What you see with me is what you get, and I don’t believe in hiding myself behind lots of jargon and marketing artifice (my advertising copy maybe, but not myself). I believe in honesty, integrity and creativity, rooted in getting work done both on-time and to a high standard.

2) Committed
I’m secure not only in my abilities but also in my willingness to learn. I know that my academic studies and professional experiences have provided/are providing me with the theoretical frameworks and competencies that can be applied to a range of roles, and I have dedicated myself to advancing not only my awareness of the marketplace in a range of sectors, but also to my own professional development through my memberships with the PRCA and CIPR.

3) Confident
This commitment and willingness to learn has resulted in my being confident in both my current abilities/competencies, and my ability to successfully build on areas which I need to improve. I am part of the ‘three screen generation’ which allows me to quickly learn and become proficient in new software, and I actively enjoy presenting and engaging in discussions which (I like to think) is an aspect of my friendly disposition.

These qualities, in addition to my ‘professionalism’, ‘energy’ and ‘talent’ have been recognised by past employers such as, Simone Kidner, Managing Director of PAPER CIC, who said:

“Ashley is a very talented young lady with a lot of energy for work. She is incredibly professional and confidently applies herself to every project that she is given. She’ll be a fantastic asset to any company and a joy to work with. I wish her all the best.”

From soy sauce to bullet trains, the man whose designs shaped modern Japan

You’d know his work even though you might not know his name, but on Sunday, the famed Japanese industrial designer, Kenji Ekuan, died aged 85 from heart failure after spending the past few months in a Tokyo hospital.IMG_0101

His career, which is widely thought to have shaped the products that now define modern Japan, was inspired by the devastation he witnessed after an atomic bomb destroyed Hiroshima, his hometown, during world war 2. The blast, which killed first his younger sister, was also responsible for the death of his father a year later from a radiation-related illness.

In an interview for an exhibition in the city last year, he said the debris had spoken to him and expressed regret that they had not been used for longer. “Faced with that brutal nothingness, I felt a great nostalgia for human culture,’ he said, ‘I needed something to touch, to look at. Right then, I decided to be a maker of things.

‘The existence of tangible things is important; it’s evidence that we’re here as human beings.”

This belief stimulated Ekuan to start designing things, including the lean, long-nosed ‘Komachi’ bullet train used as part of the Shinkansen high-speed rail network, and the instantly recognisable red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce bottle which became one of the country’s most well known post-war exports.

ekuandesignThe dispenser – a product which took Ekuan’s company ‘GK Industrial Design Associates’ three years to make – struck a particular cord in me due not only to my love of sushi, but also its simplified and easy-to-use design being the solution to a traditional Japanese issue.

Inspired by watching the difficulty his mother had in lifting and pouring the large cans of soy sauce that were common prior to the 1950’s, Ekuan’s design of a smaller bottle for Kikkoman was aimed at being easy to stock but also acceptable on the dining table. Thanks to the prevalence and popularity of sushi in its native country, it was incidentally a design that proved to be instrumental in the development of packaging design in Japan.

To me, however, what resonates most about Kenji Ekuan was his simple philosophy and approach to design. He stated this philosophy best, I think, when he said, “Design to me has always meant making people happy. Happy in the sense of creating items that provide comfort, convenience, function, aesthetics and ethics.”

Rest in peace, Ekuan-San. Though the general public may not know your name, the impact of your work not only shaped Japanese society, but also brought happiness to the world.

Advertising done right

When done right and based on the right insights, advertising doesn’t bog down the creative concept with marketing artifice. Sometimes it’s about just stepping back and letting your subjects say what they really feel. The 2008 NHS Smokefree Generation was one of the first to get out of the way of its subject’s personal appeals to their parents, but this year’s #PutYourHeartToPaper Valentine’s Day campaign by Hallmark, to me, goes one better in bringing a couple together who’ve been married 56 years, and asking them to describe their feelings for each other without using the word “love”.