Do you smell what “The Rock” has been cooking?

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Source: David Shankbone (Flickr)

When it comes to personal branding, some get it and some don’t. Some are branding masterminds; falling easily into their brand ‘personas’. Some need a team to help them with branding decisions, something which, by the way, is perfectly okay – it’s what we are here to help with after all.

And – so there’s no doubt – when we’re talking about ‘electrifying’ personalities, we’re talking about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – my childhood (and admittedly adulthood) celebrity crush. Successfully transforming himself from a one-time Pro Wrestler to “The Great One”, “The Rock” not only branched out from the esteemed ranks of the WWE elite but, in recent years, has become an undisputed Hollywood heavyweight.

It would be fair to say a big part of what is driving “The Rock”‘s ‘brand’ is his social media presence. After all, what with 49.5 Million Facebook ‘likes’, 16.7 Million Instagram followers, and 8.8 Million Twitter followers; there’s no denying the figures regardless of whether they’re ‘fitness fanatics’, ‘film afficionados’, or one of the Millions AND MILLIONS of fans of the good ol’ “People’s Champ”.

Despite being a late adopter due to his claim of being “a very private

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It’s not just wine that ages well Source: Ifran.nasir05 (Flickr)

person and therefore unsure how to engage”, Dwayne’s approach perfectly encapsulates the concept that “Organisations don’t tweet, people do.”

When he finally took the plunge and opened his Twitter account, he claimed (according to Social Media Expert, Amy Jo Martin) that his biggest goal was “just to be authentic, so that people know that when their tweet alert goes off on their device, that it’s coming directly from my hands.”

It is this – his hands-on approach – that is unmatched in today’s world of celebrity. Nobody speaks on his behalf. Ever. Dwayne’s success is argued by Ms Martin, as being due to his being “fully and personally committed to delivering value to his audience”, by using platforms to “Motivate, Encourage and Entertain”.

By constantly delivering value when, where, and how his fans wanted it, ‘The Rock’ was able to establish a two-way, dynamic relationship which consistently increases his personal reach (generating a larger following) and deepens the loyalty of his existing followers’ (through stimulating greater engagement)—two goals of every business on the planet.

With that in mind, can you smell what ‘The Rock’ is cookin’? Because whatever it is? It’s something we should ALL be getting a taste of.

How an Itsy bitsy teeny (and controversial) bikini can help explain brand integrity

This week in class we were debating if there is ever such a thing as ‘bad publicity’?

Although many were aligned with Phineas T. Barnum’s statement that “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”, I believe this stance can only go so far.

True enough, if someone is seeking notoriety and a scandalous reputation, perhaps this opinion may have some credence. But if publicity is centred on a product or service that has been shown to be physically detrimental to the consumer or the environment ala BP after their latest oil spill, then there is little likelihood that that publicity of the issue is going to increase sales or improve brand awareness in a valuable way for the business.

Our focus led us to looking at Protein World‘s ‘Beach Body Ready!’ OOH campaign which a few days ago was pulled by TFL.

Launched on platforms across the London Underground, the campaign’s bright yellow poster (shown below) is illustrated by the requisite (although allegedly un-photoshopped) woman in a tiny bikini as well as examples of some of their protein-based meal-replacement products. 45775830-2510-465f-a8cb-bda9b5a82951-620x372

Reactions, perhaps surprisingly, were mixed.

Call me cynical but this campaign’s message doesn’t really stand out (neither amongst its competitors, or within the general media). Maybe I’ve become desensitised, who knows…

Others however, have taken a stand against the ad on the principle beachbodydeface2that any ‘body’ which makes it to a beach this summer is a ‘beach body’, and that Protein World – and by extension, Richard Staveley (Head of Marketing) – are adding to the commodification of women’s bodies within society, and are ‘fat-shaming’ those who do not meet their body ideals.

Campaigners claim that the company is “directly targeting individuals, aiming to make them feel physically inferior to the unrealistic body image of the bronzed model in order to sell their product” and have not only taken to social media to express their views, but have also defaced ads across the London Underground and started a (now successful) petition to have the campaign pulled.

As a self-acknowledged chubster, its easy to understand why some women might find these ads offensive, but it was the brand’s response that really threw me for a loop. Instead of apologising and taking a softly-softly approach centred on the ad’s role as a motivational device, they doubled-down and held their own.

The resultant outcry and subsequent media attention has meant that in four days, Protein World has secured 20’000 new customers, over 113 million media views, and has made over 1 MILLION in revenue.

By causing a debate on such a fraught issue as obesity, the brand Picture1has polarised the media and its audiences in a way that (because they are in a niche market) means they can be completely unrepentant in their stance whilst meeting the ideologies and general attitudes of their key consumers – those who are or want to lose weight – even if that causes an awful lot of controversy.

Rightly or wrongly, the campaigns objective was to increase sales and, by creating a newsworthy story that everyone had an opinion on, social justice campaigners didn’t just give the brand a MASSIVE boost in exposure but also meant that those who agreed with their ideology would be more interested in actually making a purchase.

INGENIOUS!!!

Think about it.

They secured free coverage in several key national publications and news outlets as well as even more in women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan. Coverage that would have otherwise cost them thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – to pay for themselves.

All it took was them maintaining their brand’s integrity.

If your brand is consistent in its actions, values, principles and behaviour, then it is seen to have integrity, and as such, will be meaningful to the audience to which it is aimed – however distasteful it might be to the rest of us.

It’s not about trying to be good anymore (though that might be one aspect of your brand) and its not about being ‘nice’ or even looking good in a yellow bikini; it’s trying to be honest, authentic and representative of the people who really matter – if only to your brand.

The ‘Fame’ game

WarholAndy Warhol famously said that ‘In the future, eveybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes’.

Some argue that, in this statement, Warhol was commenting on the power of new media technologies, whereas others believe that it relates to Warhol critiquing the changing nature of ‘celebrity’ within society.

Personally – cynically perhaps – I fall into the latter camp whereby I believe that Andy Warhol’s famous quote predicted the nature of fame within our celebrity-saturated culture.

Love them or detest them though, it’s pretty clear that in modern life, celebrities wield significant power within modern society and, like any entertainment ‘product’, often make a major contribution to our economy. Public Relations can be argued as having had most profoundly influenced the rise of our ‘celebrity culture’ through not only assisting in the curation of individual’s personal brands, but also through cojointly benefiting brands like Nike and Virgin from their association with individual celebrities which share similar associations (or attributes the brand wants to adopt).

Although some may feel that celebrities are the ‘scourge’ of modern life, and admittedly I find it frustrating when I see that Kim Kardashian became famous after the release of a sex tape, or those from Jersey Shore, TOWIE etc gain fame from openly staged ‘reality’ shows. By no means do I feel that they haven’t worked to KEEP that fame (which can account for the increasingly volatile crises they have within their ‘reality’ storylines), but I find it hard to appreciate their ‘celebrity’ status when I have grown up believing that fame stems from an individual’s amazing ability, skill or personal accomplishment.

Saying this however, I believe that it’s far more common for celebrites today play a necessary and beneficial role in modern society by using their Legitimate, Referent and occasionally Expert power (as hypothesised by French & Raven, 1959) to bring people together, bridge divides between communities and cultures, and deliver valid public representations of private concerns that can direct media attention and generate public support for important causes.

British film, television, and stage actor, Sir Patrick Stewart (one of my favourite celebrities of all time and not just because his friendship with Ian McKellen), is an active campaigner against domestic violence for both Refuge and

Amnesty International, as well as an activist for the armed forces charity, Combat StressI love the fact that not only was he AMAZING in Star Trek: The Next Generation AND the X-Men film series, but he also recognises the power that he has as a white, male celebrity, and is using it as a force for positive change.

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Another celebrity who is using their status to raise awareness and illicit change is acclaimed Indian actress, Mallika Sherawat, who (in the video below) defends her statement that Indian society is regressive towards women. Not only is she fiercely steadfast in raising the issues currently being faced within Indian culture, she is also passionate about the fact that (rather than damaging India’s reputation), in raising these issues, she is improving international awareness and stimulus for cultural change.

Looking at these celebrities and comparing their behaviour/actions to those of their reality-star counterparts has made me realise that the type of celebrity a person becomes is often influenced by the motivations behind their fame and their personal value-set.

This makes things harder for PR professionals as (particularly in the cases of reality stars) the associations and attributes asscribed to their personal brands is influenced by both their PR/Media representation but also their behaviour on the sets of ‘reality’ shows which thrive on fractious interpersonal situations and crises.

Maybe this is what Warhol was alluding to?

If you consider the idea that becoming a celebrity can be as easy as participating in a TV show, then doesn’t their ‘fame’ rely (at least in part) on their continuous presence on the show, or even of the show itself? Unless they learn to evolve the attributes connected to their personal brand beyond the intial pop-culture reference (by for example, using their fame for good or (at the very least) towards new avenues of associations), then once that starring reference falls out of favour, they too will fade.

Its an interesting challenge for PR Execs working on Celebs’ behalfs, and one which (no doubt) is going to be gaining increasing client investment over the next few years.

BBC Radio Leicester Take Two!

deerLast Friday, I made my second foray into the now-less-daunting world of Radio broadcast, which, although I feel I spoke less than during my first panel as there were more participants during the discussion than before, I believe I came across a lot more naturally due to being less like a deer in headlights.

I’m genuinely growing to love these panel discussions; not just because they provide the opportunity for a strong debate on something I am passionate about, but also because they are allowing me to improve my public speaking skills and presentation ability (which despite being areas I am pretty confident in, are always good to practice and keep honed).

If you’re interested in listening to our panel (consisting of myself; Political Lecturer, Alastair Jones; BBC Political Correspondent, Tim Parker; and, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, Katie Ghose) please follow the link (9.40 – 34.22) as we discuss whether there is ever such a thing as a wasted vote?

Do we suffer from too much tech?

I should probably confess that I (like many, I imagine) am unsure I could manage a complete disconnect from technology – much to the frustration of my partner.  However when you think about it, technology seems to permeate almost every aspect of modern life from:

Advances in digital growth (across the board) i.e. the internet….

…to industry or sector-specific advances…

…not to mention, all the manifestations found within social media…

Honestly, without going to the extreme extent of packing up what little non-tech reliant valuables I have (which I honestly think I could count on one hand) and moving to live in a cave in Nepal, I’m not entirely sure how it would be possible in this day and age to cut out modern technology entirely.

But is this such a bad thing?

Does modern society really suffer from too much technology?

This question has increasingly been a subject of debate over the last few years and recently, the issue has become the central feature to the latest animated music video of Stromae (one of the biggest stars in the french-speaking world), which has been beautifully directed by the acclaimed French filmmaker, Sylvain Chomet.

The video, which follows Stromae’s doppelgänger as he falls deeper and deeper into the social media abyss from an innocently taken selfie to a hunger for attention that can never be sated.

Surely though, falling into the social media abyss is dependent completely on the individual’s choice of content/media consumption? How many of us have used Facebook and Twitter to find other, like-minded people? To seek out fellow feminists, for example, or fans of the same music as us? To keep in touch with the people we’ve met in real life who otherwise we might never see again?

Maybe the case is that, if you consume poor quality, biased content and have a personality which is susceptible to craving social interaction and attention, then technology (and social media in particular) is a maze of traps waiting to happen.

What does this mean for PR?

Across the world, organisations are seeking greater engagement with their key publics, and PR (like many industries) has evolved to meet the changing needs and consumption habits of its target audiences. No longer is it feasible for organisations to operate within their own silos.

This of course poses a challenge for agencies and executives who now are stimulated to seeking new ways to break through the considerable noise and engage increasingly discerning and often cynical consumers.

No longer is it enough to merely use digital and social platforms to amplify and extend the reach of traditional messages, or repeat the same content across traditional and online platforms – however interesting the client may believe that content to be. To engage consumers online, marketers and PR Execs need to create a message which is both engaging, innovative most importantly human to connect.

Taking a back-seat, reactive approach to communications strategy does not grab the reader/viewer, let alone instil trust and brand loyalty. The future therefore is clear and can be defined by four combined approaches.

  • Integration
  • Personalisation
  • Proactive
  • Anticipatory

The question remains, are we brave enough to stop making the same silly mistakes, measure our digital effectiveness and become the profession we so strongly claim we are?

I think so; and what’s more, I think that the more we analyse and improve ourselves as a profession and instil these approaches into the habits and mindsets of those entering the industry, the stronger and more trusted Public relations will become, and the more trust will be shown to the technology which has provided us with these opportunities.

#GE2015. Britain’s ‘Social Media Election’

Sixty years since the 1955 ‘Television election’, 2015 is looking to be the year in which social media platforms will play a decisive role in reaching Britain’s electorate.

Although Marketing Magazine reports that the Conservatives are expected to “outspend Labour 3:1, opting for traditional media”, Labour is putting more emphasis on door-to-door canvassing due to Miliband’s desire to have “4 million face-to-face conversations”. This means that despite less financial spend, Labour is equally more likely to be harnessing the influence and engagement potential of digital and social platforms.

This I think has been perfectly demonstrated during tonight’s Sky/Channel 4 Leader debate between PM David Cameron and Labour leader, Ed Miliband, which generated a considerable amount of simultaneous discussion across Twitter via the amazing – if a tad long – hashtag #Battlefornumber10.

Tweets ranged from the tongue-in-cheek:

To the thoughtfully considered:

To the frustrated outrage in response to the behaviour of Kay Burnley and Jeremy Paxman:

The vital role of social media within politics is becoming ever more widely accepted, and now it is becoming increasingly obvious that whichever party is first to develop and implement a convincing social media strategy will have a distinct advantage this upcoming May. Sites such as Facebook have already been used successfully in the US as a way to engage with – and gather information from – potential voters, and in the UK, 24million people have signed up to the service. This of course gives political parties a pool of voters from which to fish (or more accurately target and engage) on a more personal and responsive level than anything offered via traditional forms.

According to some however, social media is “massively overrated”. Richard Huntington, group chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, argues that “It’s great at preaching to the converted and distributing leaders’ speeches or policy points, but political messaging rarely escapes its bubble, unless it’s very amusing.” Personally I think I’d disagree with this.

Although ‘amusing’ posts and tweets (particularly tongue-in-cheek satire) create increased ‘talkability’ online (thus enhancing a post (and brand’s) potential reach), I think this view doesn’t take into consideration the age old adage that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

I mean, it’s no real coincidence that only 55% of MPs in the safest seats use Twitter compared to nearly 90% of MPs in the most marginal seats. Being in a ‘safe’ seat erases the need for an MP to engage in a two-way conversation with their electorate – which I honestly think is to the detriment of the political sphere as I’m wholeheartedly a supporter of the ways that engagement and communication builds trust and brand loyalty.

Personally, I think a multi-pronged/integrated campaign approach will work best. Combine the power of Ad agencies which deliver strong, strategic messages, with the considerable influence and attention generated by public relations, as well as the personalisation and responsiveness allowed by digital and social platforms, and I think you’re/your brand is in with a winning recipe for increased engagement, trust and loyalty from your audiences.

Overall I think tonight has given me a lot to think about…

I was planning on dedicating a considerable part of my dissertation this year to analysing @Nick_Clegg’s Twitter use in the month prior to the election using a range of frameworks, but I have to say that tonight’s debate raises a new potential focus…

Do I continue looking at the influence of (and need for) trust within political (ie. the Liberal Democrats) brands, or….

do I look at the role of and way that social media is being used in the run up to the election….

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…

Introducing 500 word ‘fixes’: Subject 1 – Interflora

We use flowers to mark every occasion. They decorate weddings and holidays, mark births and deaths, and say ‘Thank you’ or ‘Get well soon’. Interflora: the largest and most experienced flower delivery network in the world, has been helping its customers’ “Say it with flowers” for nearly a century. Its reputation for excellence, based on the work of its award-winning florists, is centred on three specific brand values; ‘trusted’, ‘personal touch’, and ‘WOW! Factor’.

However, Interflora’s customers are invariably middle aged men and women. If you ask young adults where they would go to buy gifts for their loved ones, flowers has fallen down the ranks; even asking them where they would go to specifically buy flowers will rarely spark recognition of the Interflora brand. Instead, they’ll think of supermarkets, whose focus is on convenience and low prices, leading to supermarket’s market share rising so that over 70% of the UK’s £2.25 billion flower sales are now bought there.

I propose that to increase brand awareness within young people and regain market share, Interflora needs to tap into the mind-sets and consumption habits of young people so as to raise the profile of buying premium hand-delivered florist-made bouquets as opposed to a cheaper supermarket alternative.

Praised for their delicate beauty and heady aroma, flowers are often given to loved ones such as parents and grandparents, so I propose a digitally-led integrated campaign which focuses on them as the recipients. However, rather than using the standard sentiment of “I love you” for these recipients, I believe that saying “Thanks” holds more creative potential. Our parents and grandparents after all, are often those who’ve most actively shaped our childhoods and therefore the adults that we become. Centring a campaign around this fact can therefore have universal appeal, tapping into the gratitude of young people, the nostalgia of the elderly, and the sentimentality of all.

The campaign would consist of an initial series of short videos on Facebook showing, for example, how a grandmother’s role in teaching her granddaughter to bake sparked a passion for cookery, resulting in the granddaughter getting a job in a top kitchen. Simultaneously, under the hashtag #minetaughtme, a Twitter campaign can be used to tap into real people’s memories of growing up and how those experiences have shaped their lives, with the results being used to reward lucky users with a discounted bouquet delivery to their loved ones as well as to create additional videos which can be aired both on and off-line for maximum reach

I would also seek celebrity endorsement, as gaining their stories on how their parents’ and grandparents’ actions during their childhood influenced their success as adults would, without doubt, boost the campaign’s appeal and recognition amongst its target audience. I would also utilise their inclusion by hosting Interflora-sponsored events in shopping areas across the country to celebrate and reward particular parents/grandparents with a surprise bouquet whilst they’re shopping with their loved ones.

Despite its sparkle, do parts of this campaign fall a little flat?

Without doubt, the Christmas period is a competitive time for advertisers, particularly those managing big brand clients. The campaigns they’ve been polishing for the best part of the year are all now published and visible for the world – and its myriads of consumers – to see.

Why then is it that the launch of this year’s M&S TV advert (created by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R), with its somewhat charmingly stylised ‘#FollowTheFairies‘ twitter campaign and ‘Christmas is better with magic and sparkle’ strapline, feels somewhat… contrived?

As you can see above, the two fairies named ‘Magic’ and ‘Sparkle’ zip across rooftops whilst painting their nails and rescuing cats, spreading joy and kindness (and examples of some of the brand’s Christmas clothing line) across the UK. The ad, which now has more than 3 million views on Youtube, has been hailed by the Independent as “one of the best Christmas campaigns for 2014” but, despite it being viral, and charming, and beautifully put-together, I’m not sure I’m sold.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, Executive Director of Marketing and International at M&S said: “The magic of Christmas is how it brings out that little part in all of us that wants to believe in the extraordinary. It’s a moment to escape the realities of every day and give in to the joyfulness of the festive spirit.

“We wanted to capture that feeling and bring Magic and Sparkle to life in a fun and light-hearted way that spreads a little cheer.”

Don’t misunderstand me; tapping into what is lovingly referred to as “The most wonderful time of year” (to quote the Andy Williams classic) is very understandable… but also pretty… well.. boring, if I’m honest; if that was the SMP, particularly for what is supposed to be the most important campaign of the year, it just seems a bit obvious.

Saying all that however, there are aspects of this campaign that I do genuinely love.

Unity PR’s contribution of a mysterious Twitter account called @TheTwoFairies which trailed the ad’s release, spread the “magic” of Christmas via the hashtag #FollowTheFairies, and have been spotted in Birmingham, Newcastle, London, Glasgow and Manchester delivering surprise gifts of cakes, tea and make-up to people across the UK who had posted wishes on Twitter.

It’s most ‘magical’ gift (so far at least) has been to surprise the pupils of Britain’s most southerly school (Landewednack Primary in Cornwall) by covering the building in “snow”. With a lot of experience assisting in Primary classes growing up (Mum’s a Headteacher), I’m a sucker for happy children, and I’d argue its hard to find a child who does not get excited at even the mere hint of snow, so this particular ‘gift’, I find, really touching.

That combined with all sales proceeds of the ad’s accompanying single track (Gregory Porter and Julie London’s “Fly me to the moon”) going to the UK’s ‘Make a Wish’ charity, and it becomes hard to slate.

Advertising-wise, I don’t believe this is one of M&S’s best Christmas attempts, but its definitely hard to say “Bah Humbug” when the accompanying PR and CSR aspects are so sugar-plum sweet. Even if the concept itself isn’t something that I feel has particular consumer insight, I have to admit, there is something ‘magical’ about what M&S has tried to accomplish this year.

Embedded Journalists: “Propaganda Merchants”, or providers of a much-needed human perspective?

Since its use during the 2003 media coverage of the Iraq War, ‘Embedded Journalism’ has become a form now easily recognisable to the general public. In contrast to being an independent or affiliated “war correspondent” (whose role is to deliberately go to the most conflict-ridden areas and provide written or photographic accounts of the events there), an “embedded” journalists instead attach themselves to, and thus travel with, a unit of the armed forces, recording and reporting on the activity of the soldiers in question as well as their own experiences of living amongst them.

This position could be argued as being quite a controversial practice due to widespread criticism in some circles by those who claim that embedded journalists’ main purpose is to act as a part of a generalised propaganda campaign, or that it is only being utilised in an effort to control the portrayal of the events of said conflict. Journalist, Gay Talese, for example; summarised this opinion best, stating “Those correspondents who drive around in tanks and armoured personnel carriers, who are spoon-fed what the military gives them and become mascots for the military”. I intend to explore how far his statement might be true, in addition to analysing the benefits of ‘embedding’ with the intent of establishing the true purpose and effectiveness of journalists acting in this role.

The new position for some journalists to become embedded in a military unit, can be explained in a 2003 report by the US Department of Defence which states that; “Commanders and Public Affairs Officers must work together to balance the need for media access and the need for operational security” due to their belief that, “the media coverage of any future operation will, to some extent, shape public perception of the national security environment.”

It can be said that it was this ‘need’ by governments, amongst other factors, which meant that conflict media representatives, such as embedded journalists for example, now face reporting on a broad range of situations – from conventional warfare to acts of extremism – which are arguably as confusing as they are complex. The very nature of their work means that they’re required to be at the forefront of unfolding events in the region, whether that means their covering of the unveiling of a new government programme, or the eruption of fresh hostilities between two opposing factions. It is this level of responsibility that makes solving, or at the very least understanding, the controversy over the use of embedded journalists in the military so important.

The first main benefit which can be taken from embedded journalists’ work is their ability to secure first-hand access of the events as they unfold. This means that the speed in which events can be reported back to a news agency or organisation is vastly improved, allowing for media outlets in journalists’ home countries to be able to regularly access numerous reports and information on a large number of events from a wide variety of sources. Journalist, Susan Stephenson, quoted in Berman (2003), concisely highlighted this benefit when she said that, it is “the sense of immediacy and humanity that made our stories very real today”. Her opinion on the matter is also supported in Getler (2003) where she states that “many news organisations now have a cadre of journalists who have some real knowledge and understanding of the military”, which of course is essential to prevent misunderstanding and miscommunication with the public that might otherwise discredit their role and thus damage their believability.

The second benefit: ‘Believability’, is vitally important in media as it forms the basis for the public’s opinion of any journalist or News organisation, therefore directly affecting shaping its readership in addition to its standing amongst its competitors. Appearing to be believable and engaging is something that embedded journalists aim to achieve in their articles and broadcasts which seek to counteract the growing levels of public distrust for official reports delivered by the military which are being more and more commonly dismissed as propaganda aimed at supporting a government’s ‘agenda’.

The number of journalists present in an area, in addition to the range of personnel within the units with whom they’re placed, forms a third ‘benefit’ of using embedded reporters because it allows for an increased number of ‘believable’ and ‘human’ angles due to embedded journalists’ ability to access multiple sources and hear different perspectives directly from the source. Alongside this ease of access to a variety of personal experiences, embedded journalists also are able to act as metaphorical ‘watchdogs’, holding the military to account through observing military activity and ensuring that legal and ethical standards are being upheld during combat.

Living amongst military personnel as a member of said unit allows almost free and open access to the journalist to cover and broadcast on a wide variety of stories from the horrifying coverage of an explosion, to the mundane coverage of the living conditions, or day-to-day lives of those they live amongst.

As said by General Buford Blout the Third, in Synovitz (2003); “The embedding process is an attempt to get reporters to tell the ‘army story’ more actively, by allowing them to share the experience and rank of soldiers in the field”, whereas Lieutenant Commander Jeff Davis recognises the value of “having independent journalists say in an unbiased way what the truth is”…… “It is something people will benefit from by having a true understanding of what is going on” (McClintock, 2003). However it can be said that the role of a journalist who is embedded in a military unit is most easily summarised by journalist, Dan Suwyn, in Bartholomew (2003a) where he simply states that “all we can do [as journalists] is to try and make a local connection with a war halfway across the world.”

Overall it could be said that, all of these benefits allow for a more improved and streamlined relationship between the government, its military, and the media representatives tasked with reporting on conflicts. The inevitable regular, close contact between military and the media could be said to potentially lead to the development of mutual trust between the two, ideally leading to the increased connections that facilitate the flow of information between the armed forces, government and members of the public and subsequently increasing military transparency – a goal touted by the majority of critics as being a big step in “the right direction.”

However, some argue that there’s not been a step at all.

Prior to joining a military unit, journalists are required to sign a contract that aims to restrict when and what they are able to report on. In addition to this, the unit’s commander is able to declare a “blackout” for security reasons, whereby the journalist is unable to report at all via satellite connection as this may be traced by the ‘enemy’ so as to secure the unit’s location. Although written and signed with good intentions, critics argue that by signing such a contract, journalists are constricted into reporting primarily from a single, narrow viewpoint; namely that of the military.

Journalist, Jack Lawrence, appears to have summarised the difficulty of being in a position of knowledge yet unable to share it when he says, “The challenge of knowing so much and being able to say only in general terms what you do know in a live or nearly live broadcast is extraordinarily difficult. I am holding in my head all the information whilst at the same time as I am centring myself and ad-libbing to a host who is asking questions that I could so easily answer and give away information that would break the ground rules” (Jensen, 2003).

Even past US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld stated that “What we are seeing is not the war in Iraq; what we’re seeing are slices of the war in Iraq” (op cit), cautioning that being so close to the action does not necessarily mean the portrayal is complete.

“We’re seeing that particular perspective that that reporter, or that commentator or that television camera, happens to be able to see at that moment, and it is not what’s taking place. What you see is taking place, to be sure, but it’s one slice, and it is the totality of that which is what this war is about” (Ibid).

The second key issue raised in embedding journalists is the media’s dependency on advertisers “looking to appeal to an audience determined by the stories and journalists chosen by the owners and investors” (Tuosto, 2008). It is arguably this issue which holds sway over all others, namely: the potential for sensationalism, the potential for media or personal bias, and the risk for the ‘human’ perspective outweighing the much-needed critical analysis of events.

I have come to the conclusion that, in a general sense at least, the benefits of embedding journalists far outweigh the issues they create. It is only when embedding becomes the primary method of reporting on conflict that it creates a skewed image of events due to the journalists’ confinement to a small segment of the battlefield with only restricted movements outside it. This is because, although it allows them to gain a deep understanding of the lives of military personnel and the locals that they are surrounded by, it restricts them into seeing enemy combatants from the purely a one-sided perspective, rarely giving the public the opportunities to see things from an opposing viewpoint outside of ‘official’ reports. It is this fact, I believe, which leads to the potential for media bias and sensationalism. As explained by The Independent’s Opinion Correspondent, Ian Burrell; “War reporting is easy to do, but difficult to do well. Wars rouse such passions that editors and senior producers in home offices seldom retain healthy journalistic scepticism” (Burrell, 2010).

It is with this in mind that has shaped my view that, although embedding journalists in military units is an important step in providing the public with a deeper understanding of the military whilst also allowing for effective reporting of localised events; it is only when they, i.e. embedded journalists, are balanced alongside a variety of other media representatives whose roles fill in the informational and perspective ‘gaps’, that an accurate and fair representation of conflicts will be possible, and scepticism regarding whether embedded journalists are purely propaganda merchants will be silenced. Until then, it will be continued to be argued that “whilst viewers might be seeing more of the war than ever before, they may actually be learning less, albeit in a more spectacular way” (Hoon, 2003a).

References:

Bartholomew, R., (2003a) “Embeds from smaller papers take different approach”. Available at: http://editorandpublisher.com/edtiorpublisher/headlines/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=186026a

Berman, A., (2003) “So far, editors pleased with embedded reporters”. Available at: http://www.editorandpublisher.p…/cpt?action=cpt&expire=&url1ID=5764107&fb=Y&partnerID=6

Burrell, I., (2010) “Embedded Journalism: a distorted view of war”. The Independent. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/opinion/embedded-journalism-a-distorted-view-of-war-2141072.html

Getler, M., (2003) “Close up and vivid reporting”. Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com

Hoon, G., (2003a) “No lense is wide enough to show the big picture”. Available at: http://www.Times_online.co.uk

Jensen, E., (2003) “Veteren reporters go to war”. Available at: http://www.latimes.com

McClintock, P., (2003) “Embedded journalists draw fire”. Available at: http://www.xtramsn.co.nz/entertainment/0,,3911-2224949,00.html

Synovitz, R., (2003) “Iraq: Pentagon starts embedding reporters with troops in an effort to tell ‘army story’”. Available at: http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/03/11032003184830.asp.

Tuosto, K., (2008) “The ‘Grunt Truth’ of Embedded Journalism: The new media/military relationship”.  Stanford Journal of International Relations, Vol 10, No. 1, Fall/Winter 2008. Available at: http://www.stanford.edu/group/sjir/pdf/journalism_real_final_v2.pdf

US Department of Defence. (2003) “Public affairs guidance on embedding media during possible future operations”. Available at: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Feb2003/d20030228pag.pdf