Corporate response in good taste

Being prepared for the unexpected is an asset within every marketing team, but being prepared to have your brand (or your client’s brand) used to express a political position is not something you would expect.

Last week however, that is precisely the challenge presented to Wrigley’s America when Donald Trump Jr. chose to use Skittles to visually demonstrate an analogy about the Syrian refugee crisis.

picture2The tweet and its associated image (which has since been removed) stated bluntly: “If I offered you a bowl of Skittles and told you three were poisoned, would you take a handful?”, garnered nearly 30’000 mentions by that evening. The majority of responses, however, were (thankfully) disgusted by the comparison and poked fun at Trump’s campaign.

In contrast, Denise Young‘s response as Wrigley America’s VP of Corporate Affairs showed the company took the matter seriously, issuing the following statement.

“Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing.”

– Denise Young, VP of Corporate Affairs, Wrigley’s America.

Not only was this thoughtful statement quickly shared by Wrigley’s team, but its humble avoidance of getting caught up in any kind of political drama is a credit to how occasions like these should be handled, and likely increased the public’s trust and respect of the brand.

Props to you Wrigleys. Excuse me whilst I go buy some Skittles.

EDIT:

To reflect the fact that ‘The Donald’ still hasn’t quite learnt his lesson regarding including brand references in his comments, we’ve been graced with this gem from TicTacUSA.

picture1 For all those who haven’t seen the latest video release showing Trump claiming in 2005 that he’s “got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case [I] start kissing her,” (referencing Days of Our Lives actress, Arienne Zucker), continuing to say, “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet.”

Gross.

 

 

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.

stewart

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.

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.

Planning a postgraduate Marketing Communications project

15’000 words.

I repeat. 15’000 words.

It’s a pretty daunting prospect; particularly given that classes finish in May and therefore a large proportion of the project will be done when tutors are off on conferences/well-deserved holidays or when you will equally be trying to complete internships/get that elusive foothold in the industry.

Structured differently to a dissertation, a marketing communications project is built not around the exploration of a specific idea or concept, but around the actions/issues facing a specific brand.

Choosing a topic area and question is easily the hardest aspect of planning a project. This part of the planning process can be made so much easier however when you consider topics or concepts that:

1. You are interested in

gotpassion

Given that you are spending six months planning, researching, writing, and reviewing a paper that will not only cost you a fair chunk in printing let alone the risk grey hairs thanks to stress levels, at least finding the subject of the research interesting is (for me at least) a basic prerequisite.

2. Makes use of your academic/professional skillset

Are you great at content analysis? or interviewing? Are you an uber whizz at social media? Why not use that in your report? (so long as it’s relevant of course for your analysis/subject area)

3. You have a career aspiration to use/work in in the future

In many creative industries, its pretty rare nowadays for people to specialise in one single area. But, saying that, if you really want to work in Media Relations (even just as a starting block to expand from) then knowing how to interview brilliantly (for example) is probably a clear ‘I’m-amazing-with-people’ skill you’re going to want to hone and show off in your work.

Even if you don’t feel confident in any one particular area though, is there a framework or topic you feel could be useful for employers? I’m not talking putting yourself out with statistics if you are clueless with them, but… if you do want to use statistics because Market research is your passion, why not bury yourself in your research now? So long as you have a clear focus and are dedicated in your research, then there really is nothing stopping you from building up skills you feel are important either professionally or even for your own personal growth.

findingwhatworks

It’s not enough to be interested or even passionate about a subject though. That’s just going to make it bearable. To have a project that’s feasible and also is going to get you a great mark you also need to make sure you:

4. Have information available for research/analysis

Breaking new ground can be fascinating, but be realistic here. You cannot base your entire project on primary research alone… Before you start properly planning a focus, do some reading and make sure you have a well of secondary research to delve into and work from – trust me, it will make your life SO much easier.

5. Have an idea that isn’t too broad in focus

Ahhh… tapping too many areas of interest; my personal area of weakness.

Its completely understandable to have a relatively broad area of focus to begin with, after all you are going to be conducting a crazy amount of reading and if you’re anything like me, it can be super easy to fall in love with all the fascinating frameworks and data on offer.

But, despite that, pretty soon you’re going to need to refine and re-refine that idea down to a workable, beautiful and practical topic question, which takes me onto my final point.

filter

6. Have an idea that is realistically practical to conduct and execute

Realistically look at the time you have, your word count (I know 15’000 words looks like a mountain you’re expected to climb in slippers and a onesie (which in all honesty may be how you intend on tackling your dissertation/project – no judgement here)), and your research idea.

Don’t just look though, but look critically. Finding out now that the idea you have means you’re going to have to conduct the bulk of your primary research in May (like me) means you can plan your assignments, your extracurriculars, and the rest of your life in all honesty, around that fact.

It also means you can warn your loved ones when you’re going to be a grumpy stress-head so they can throw chocolate and coffee at you to make you feel better.

belief

Most importantly though, don’t stress.

You have people who care about you and who want you to succeed. Family, friends, your supervisor; they’re all there to bounce ideas off, to help you (but not bottle feed you), to push you when you need it, and to give you a pep-talk when you feel swamped.

Plus, when you break it down, 15’000 words isn’t so much. Especially if, like me, you’ve got an awful lot to say.

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…

View original post 935 more words

“Everyone communicates”: The growing role of corporate communications and stakeholder relations

It is said that a business’ reputation is all that stands between its profit and its ruin, and in the past decade, I believe that this has never been more true. Since the advent and growth of Web2.0, organisations have come under increasing levels of scrutiny from both the general public and their competitors, who would no doubt seize upon and exploit any negative press so as to advance their own corporate strategy.

According to Dahlen, “Everything and everyone communicates” (2010), with advances in technology meaning that we all now have the ability to communicate and share our opinions publicly. Social media is not only a key example of this (through websites such as Facebook, Twitter and WordPress), but in particular, has become a medium through which we can visibly see the ways we shape the content of our online personas to reflect varying aspects of our identities. In Communications, be it the marketing, advertising or public relations industry, this is an even more apparent phenomenon as we increasingly tailor our words towards different groups, altering what we say on behalf of our clients’ brands and the ways in which we say it depending on our relationship with (and knowledge of) the recipients. This can be a double-edged challenge for businesses who are expected to not only utilise digital platforms as an outlet for external communications, but also to directly communicate and have conversations with their stakeholders, particularly their customers.

In seeing the vast opportunities opened by online platforms and social media, businesses are now capitalising on and engaging more and more with social media – a recent survey found 79% have used or planned to use social media. However a 2013 study by Fishburn Hedges and Jigsaw Research exploring the changing nature of corporate narratives, found that businesses’ self-portrayals were still not sufficiently engaging to their audiences, with 20% of the general public surveyed stating that they don’t believe brand ‘stories’ at all and 52% claiming to not believe brand stories if they are conveyed through advertising and communications.

From corporate social responsibility to crisis management, effective communications between companies and their stakeholders is becoming an increasingly vital element for a successful business practice. The CIPR defines public relations as being “about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its public.”

rep

This is corroborated by Simon Matthews, Chief Executive of Fishburn Hedges, who said: “Audiences can see right through business messages that don’t correlate with corporate behaviour. Corporate communications has an opportunity to help unify different organisational voices and bridge the gap between them to be a force for cultural good within the business.”

It’s no longer enough to shout about how amazing you are on social media, the public (particularly young people) are becoming increasingly savvy in spotting companies whose behaviour doesn’t live up to its advertising. McDonald’s for example, is currently spiralling into a long-predicted reputational crisis where its recurrent US labour law violations and unappetising news reports on food content and quality has led to significantly sagging sales. To quote Jim Hightower, “You know your business has what image consultants call “quality perception issues” when you have to launch a PR initiative that publicly addresses such questions as: “Does McDonald’s beef contain worms?”

McDonald’s is paying the price for its lack of corporate and communicational consistency, and is left on the defensive in trying to mitigate some of the negative publicity it now faces. If they had instead taken a proactive approach in identifying and approaching their stakeholders, they would have been able to categorise them based on either Mendelow’s Power and Influence Matrix or Mitchell, Agle and Wood’s Salience Model, and establish, not only their motivations and areas of concern, but also the best ways in which to manage or engage. Instead the brand is left scrambling to distract from its poor media coverage through a new ad campaign centred on linking its Golden Arches to the healing power of ‘love’.

Without changing to more fair and equal corporate practices though, I’m hesitant in thinking that anyone will be Lovin’ this brand’s attempts to regain it’s reputation.