Monday, 11 April 2011

CSR: a new business trend (?)

These days if we look at the website of any big company we are very likely to see that they have a section called Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability, Responsibility, Environment and Society, Our Mission or something that tells us what the company is doing for the environment or the community. That is what CSR is all about. 

There are many definitions of what Corporate Social Responsibility is but the main idea is that CSR is the way a company develops its activity by producing a positive impact on society and the environment.

Companies are being aware that by developing CSR activities they will have higher profits in the long-term and that is why now they are incorporating these activities as part of their strategy. CSR is, however, not solely owned by Public Relations, departments such as human resources as well as the business development department may also be involved. 

Some of the benefits of incorporating CSR to the company's business activity can be: 

- Higher appeal for job seekers and also higher engagement by employees through fundraising activities and volunteering. 
- Strong reputation and corporate image among all stakeholders.
- Brand differentiation by showing different ethical values.
- Customer loyalty

However, many people also claim that CSR:

- does not always fit with the nature of the business and that, thus, it is in-congruent to develop these activities.
- is simply a way of green-washing a company's image

Companies are increasingly becoming more social responsible because their stakeholders are more concerned about social and environmental issues. By doing so, it is very important that the company understands the issues that concern its stakeholders and see how the company could do to cooperate with that cause. 

However, just because a company's most important stakeholders believe in that cause does not mean that the company should undertake that activity with the only purpose of satisfying them and ultimately having higher profits. Just when a company behaves ethically, feels represented and represents the cause and it fits into its values and business operation; is CSR going to benefit the company and enhance its reputation. Otherwise, despite the fact of being social responsible, a company can be subject to criticisms that in the end can produce more negative effects.

On the whole, a company should just develop CSR activities that fit into the company's values and just if the whole company feels commited to the cause and has made sure that these activities will benefit society and/or the environment. What is your opinion on CSR?

I found this link to a website where there is information about many company's CSR involvement. PROs can post news about their company's CSR activities to inform its stakeholders.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Google and the cost of free

Back in 1996 Larry Page and Sergey Brin realised the need of creating a service that classified all the information on the Web in a logical way so that it could be searched quickly when needed. This was the start of one of the most used search engine and one of the biggest companies in the world, Google.

Google now forms part of everyone's life, either as a search engine, mail provider, picture and video platform, as a mobile operating system or as any other service form its never ending list. But, do we really know what we are exposed to when we use any of Google's services? 

Sergey Brin and Larry Page
Page and Brin wanted to offer a service that was free for everyone to use. However, they also had to cover costs so finally they decided that the solution was advertising. Nevertheless, they created a different type of advertising, tailored advertising. Depending on one person's search, ads related to that topic will appear on two sides of Google, at the top and on the right hand side. Whenever a user clicks on these ads Google receives money from advertisers and this is how they make their money.

As shown in the BBC series "The Virtual Revolution" by Dr. Aleks Krotoski, Google controls a lot of information about us. As stated before, with every search we do on its search engine, Google knows our interests and problems; by using Google Maps, Google can know where we live, where we go... and that is not everything! Google even scans your emails if you are using its Gmail service so that it can, again, place some ads related to the content of your emails. 

All this arises the question of how far Google is meddling in our personal privacy. If they keep information about our interests and information contained in our mails such as telephone numbers, addresses and names of friends, and this information is leaked and goes public we can be at a high risk if all these data fall into a stranger's hands.

In the episode "The Cost of Free" from The Virtual Revolution, a journalist of the New York Times could put name to a woman just by putting together the information of her search results. In 2006 AOL had released the search results of thousands of users which were just named by a numerical code. The journalist wanted to prove that even though the users were anonymous they could be identified just by its searches.  

We trust Google when we use its services because we believe we do it privately and anonymously, however, the reality seems to be quite different. Despite Google's ethical codes we are still exposed to some risks when we make use of the services they offer. The concept of privacy has changed in the 21st century but we still have to think how far can these companies interfere in our private lives and whether there should be some kind of regulation as fas as the use of private data is concerned. 

I deeply recommend watching the episode "The cost of free" from the BBC series "The Virtual Revolution". It is worth knowing more about how Google works and what it implies for all of us.

Here you find a clip of one of the episodes of "The Virtual Revolution":
A short speech of Google's Director of Communications.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Political campaigns and their risks

The main goal of Political Public Relations is to use the media to communicate a particular party's beliefs in order to achieve public support for political policies. Political PR is as its busiest times during election camapaigns. Since 2008 we have gone through two presidential campaigns in two of the most influencial countries in the world, the United States and Great Britain. 

The Obama campaign revolutionised the art of political campaigning. We all know that in the US they spend millions on campaigns and that they always try to do something more spectacular than their election rival. However, the last presidential election in the US exceeded all expectations, not only they spent a lot of money on their campaigns, but the president-to-be, Barack Obama, created a precedent that, as experienced in the UK, will be used in the future.

Apart from the usual trips to different states and cities, appearances on TV, speeches, debates, support clothes, stickers, mugs, etc. Obama incorporated the use of social media in his campaign. He engaged his voters and possible voters through his website, Facebook and Twitter site, Email, Obama TV, mobile phones, MiGente, YouTube and a never ending list of social media platforms. His campaign was successful and  brought him to the White House. The key of his campaign was engaging with his audience, make them part of his campaign and communicate all the time.

Cameron at a conference
His now counterpart, David Cameron, was aware of his success and together with his communication advisors they designed a campaign that many claimed has some similarities with the Obama campaign. Cameron revealed that they had contacted around 500,000 people by email, on Twitter and on his Facebook site introducing a viral campaign much similar to the one of Barack Obama. His messages stressed the idea of hope and change. On one of his first appearances on TV Andrew Neil asked him if the Tories could deliver and Cameron anwered "Yes we can".

During the campaign we saw and heard many similarities to the presidential campaign in the US in 2008. Some of those are shown in the pictures below, as for example when The Sun published a picture of David Cameron emulating one published during the Obama campaign.

Other similarities include the intense use of social media to communicate and engage with voters and the way both candidates appeared in their campaign meetings.
However, not all went well for David Cameron. British politics work differently than politics in the US and in Britain, if you are in the public eye, you are exposed to become an object of ridicule. And this is exactly what happened to David Cameron. The opposition party, the Labour Party, created a poster with Caneron on it and Clifford Singer created a webpage where spoof posters of David Cameron's official poster were posted. The original poster was controversial as it seemed that the Tory leader had been airbrushed and the creative director used this as an excuse to continue ´retouching´ Cameron's posters.
There are some risks when you engage with your public and allow converstation. Then you can expect bad comments, criticisms and become part of everybody's jokes. However, that is the risk that David Cameron and his communications team took and, despite his not-so-successful use of social media, he managed to get away with it and win the elections.

What are your thoughts on the use of social media for political public relations? Do you think politics are using it unaware of the consequences?

- For visuals about Obama's presidential campaign refer to the following website:

- To see the whole range of spoof posters on David Cameron's campaign visit:

Friday, 11 March 2011

Social marketing: The 'good' marketing

Social marketing uses marketing techniques to achieve a change of behaviour on a specific cause. The main goal of social marketing is reaching social good and this differs from the prime objective of commercial marketing which is financial.  

Social marketing was recognised as a formal discipline in 1971, after Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman published "Social Marketing: An Approach to Planned Social Change" in the Journal of Marketing. They arrived to the conclusion that the principles used in marketing with the intention to sell products could also be used to "sell" ideas and change attitudes and behaviour

The objectives of social marketing are long-term behavioural changes and they normally are related to health and environmental issues. Thus, its main clients are non-profit organisations, health services and government. 

When intending a behavioural change it is essential to target the right audiences and segment them into different groups. Depending on the group we are looking at, we will approach them in one or another way. 

Having realistic expectations and testing the tactics is also very important. As the results of a social marketing campaign will just be seen in the long-term, sometimes even as long as 5 years, knowing that the tactics used are the right ones for the audience we pretend to target becomes critical.        

Of course, monitoring throughout the campaign is also very important in order to react properly if there is a hint that some of our tactics may not have the result we are expecting.   

If you want to know more about social marketing, do visit the following link:

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Spin-doctors, PR and politics

The word 'spin-doctor' seems to have originated in the United States and probably comes from baseball. However, the first definition of 'spin-doctor' as how we know it currently dates back to 1977 and appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary as "a person who provides a favourable slant to an item of news, potentially unpopular policy etcetera, especially on behalf of a political personality or party".

The term 'spin-doctor' started to be used in Britain in the 90s and was associated with the rise of public appearance of Peter Mandelson and other New Labour media experts, with Alastair Campbell as its main figure.  Alastair Campbell was the Director of Communications and Strategy for Tony Blair between 1997 and 2003 and was considered to be one of the greatest 'spin-doctors' in British politics. 

Alastair Campbell
He is said to have manipulated the press during his time working for Downing Street and to have used journalists to communicate the news he wanted to. However, he also revolutionised political communications in the UK. He managed that tabloids supported the Labour Party and also kept lobby journalists informed more than his predecesors; he established two daily briefings, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Campbell resigned after the death of civil servant Dr Kelly who appeared death after it was leaked that it was him who talked to the BBC and told them that no weapons of mass destruction were to be found in Iraq and that the government had inserted false intelligence into the dossier presented to defend the reasons for the war. Many believed that it was Campbell who had rewritten the dossier but it was never proved. 

On 1 March the University of Westminster held a debate around the motion: Have PR and spin undermined trust in politics? Kevin Maguire, political journalist of the Daily Mirror, and Sheila Gunn, fomer political journalist and spokesperson for John Mayor, argued that Public Relations and spin had undermined trust in politics and that they had seen it with their own eyes. On the contrary, Francis Ingham, CEO of the PRCA, and Lance Price one of the former 'spin-doctors' on Downing street, claimed that it was not PR practitioners the ones to blame but journalists and even politicians, as Ingham pointed out, the ones responsible for the lack of trust in politics.

After the debate the motion was put to the vote and finally it was agreed that Public Relations had not undermined the trust in politics in the UK with 78 votes.There were 61 people who voted for the motion. Do you agree with the result?

For further information on spin and Alastair Campbell refer to:
- Richards, P., (2005). Be your own spin doctor: a practical guide to using the media. London: Politico's
- Oborne, P. and Walters, S., (2004). Alastair Campbell. London: Aurum Press

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The use of social media for PR purposes

These days everybody is talking about social media and its effect on society. It seems that everything we do now is linked to social media and this is, in a way, true. Social media is affecting our daily life and decisions in a manner that has exceeded all predictions. 

Businesses have also become aware of the importance of social media and have now incorporated it to its communication channels and Public Relations plays an important role as far as the use of social media in a company is concerned. 

The use of social media by corporates started mainly with a marketing purpose in mind but now, they have realised that the use of social media with public relations purposes can benefit the company in an incredible way. 

Public Relations has a huge amount of social media tools at its disposal. These tools can be used to build and promote brand reputation, raise awareness, target a wider audience, interact with them and enable a two-way communication, communicate specific messages to desired stakeholders and receive suggestions from them. These are just some examples of the benefits of social media for a corporate communications use.  

With platforms such as Facebook companies can create fan pages with which they can form a community and interact with it. This way they can inform their audiences more directly as well as listen to their personal opinions. The same happens with Twitter, although it offers the advantage that the message is spread quicker to a wider audience. With YouTube, for instance, the CEO can communicate a message to the company's stakeholders or viral videos can be posted with the purpose of raising awareness; and Linkedin, for example, can help companies to find new employees. 

Letting the message outside and allowing interaction also implies the possibility of receiving criticisms. When this happens, it is essential to answer positively and quickly so that these critics do not get viral and start flooding the company's social media sites. For this reason, it is vital that Public Relations constantly monitor what is been said in social media about the organisations they are working for. 

The following webcast goes through these and oher issues concerning social media and its relation to PR. I hope you enjoy it!

This video is part of an assignment and has an educational purpose. Images have been taken from different sources on the Internet.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

NGOs, threat or opportunity?

There is a little bit of controverse when deciding if NGOs and activists represent a threat for corporates or if they can actually be an opportunity for the organisation to show the community that the company also collaborates with good causes.

Corporates sometimes fear NGOs and activist groups because they can affect the company negatively when the cause they defend does not fit with the way the company operates. Then they use tactics such as mass events, stunts, Non-violent Direct Action (NVDA), surveys and reports, controversies via different channels, and rogue websites to attract traditional and online media, stimulate public debate and press the organisation to change their behaviour or activity.

Members of UkUncut at a shop
When these situations happen, the PR department of the company should try to listen to the demands of the NGO and try to reach agreements so that the matter does not go public and affects the company's image and reputation. Some NGOs have an insider approach which tends to be less radical and allows conversations with the company in order to negociate changes which are positive for both parties.

Nonetheless, NGOs can also benefit corporations. With CSR activities, companies collaborate with NGOs or support community causes. This way they are doing something good for the community and at the same time they are reflecting a good image of their company.  As everything in life, NGOs and activist groups have positive as well as negative effects for a business. The challenge is on finding a balance. Companies should engage into conversation with pressure groups and try to arrive to agreements beneficial for the company as well as for the community or the environment.