Tuesday, 12 April 2011

CSR – no longer about spin!

Brand reputation is a vital pre - condition for the success of the corporate communications. Corporations that embrace CSR as a part of their activities build up trust amongst their stakeholders which increase considerably their reputation. The pressure from the NGOs, the authorities and the public impel corporations to adopt proactive approach to responsibility in order to comply with the new conditions and requirements.

Nowadays the lack of trust and credibility is a major problem that corporate PR professionals face. CSR requires certain level of transparency in the corporate activities which inevitably brings benefits to the brand’s reputation. As our guest speaker Zoe Arden pointed out when a company is distrusted 57% will believe negative information after hearing it 1-2 times while if it is trusted 25% will believe negative information after hearing it 1-2 times. In the new media age when crises arise more often than ever before and spread within minutes reaching millions of people the importance of trust and transparency is growing.

CSR ensures long – term benefits for the companies as it provides them with the opportunity to develop sustainable policy and activities which increase the company’s competitive advantages. The adoption of environmental friendly practices, for example, not only increases the brand reputation and sales, but it saves great amount of money and benefits the company financially. Ethical behaviour and CSR increase the credibility of the organisation which results in winning the client’s loyalty and trust.

CSR should be embraced by every member of the company and embedded in everyone’s job. Short – term initiatives which aim just to create an illusion of CSR are no longer an option. In order to be able to compete on the market in the near future it is advisable that corporations adopt CSR as an integrated part of all their activities and initiatives.

Business in the Community are the largest and one of the oldest national business-led coalitions dedicated to corporate responsibility. In 2008 the Co-operative Financial Services was named 'Company of the Year' by the organisation.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The secrets of successful political campaigning

The lack of trust in politicians and the electorate’s apathy challenge PR practitioners’ ability to engage the audience and win their support and votes. So what are the factors that affect the elections outcome and what should we keep in mind in order to develop a successful election campaign?

1. Brand building
Creating the politician’s identity is a very important element of the political campaigning which makes him/her stand out from the crowd. The emergence of social media also brings about a change in the way politicians should communicate with the public. In order to reach the hearts and minds of the voters every politician should adopt more personal approach to communication that highlights the human element and develops a personal image that would appeal to the audience.

2. Internal communication
The good communication within the party is vital factor which affects the election turnout. Being off- message can endanger the credibility of the party and lead to a decrease in public trust.

3. Message management
The campaign message should be related to the people’s hopes for a better life in the future. Obama’s slogan ‘Yes we can’ and the campaign posters embracing the idea of peace corresponded to the voters’ need of change. His message was also designed to appeal to the floating voters who have the power to change the election turnout.

4. Community engagement
What was so special and extraordinary about the Barack Obama’s campaign? Social media platforms were used not simply to communicate his message, but to connect the voters with each other and help them organise in local action communities.

5. Information and media management
It is the PR professionals’ job to make sure that the information that gets out is in conformity with the campaign message and the pre – election promises of the party. However, in the new media age it is hard to be in control of the message, but on the other hand engaging with the online communities gives PR practitioners the power to build stronger relationships with the voters and connect directly with them on a more personal level.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Social marketing - a new way to live your life

Marketing principles could be used not only to drive sales up but to deliver social change in important areas of our lives such as health, environment protection, etc. Social marketing aims to achieve behaviour change in order to increase the public welfare. Its main goal is to sell ideas and encourage positive attitude toward a social problem, so the understanding of the audience needs is vital aspect of the social marketing campaign planning.
In order to persuade people to act responsibly 5 Ps of marketing should be considered.

Product – What is the social change we want to achieve?
People – What are the public needs, expectations? What do they care about?
Place – How to introduce this change to the audience?
Price – What are the benefits for the audience if they change their attitude?
Promotion – How do you deliver information to the audience and impel them to act?

The success of social marketing depends on the people’s perceptions and understanding of the problem and that is why the audience is one of the core elements which should be taken in consideration when developing a social marketing campaign. People might not realise that an issue exists until it is communicated by the organisations and institutions responsible for or interested in its tackling. The understanding of the roots of particular behaviour gives information about the tactics which would be most successful for persuading people to change their perceptions and take action. Researching the audience interests and ideas also gives knowledge of which is the most appropriate media choice for a given social marketing campaign.

Important actors and power institutions can either impede or deliver social change, so choosing the right partners and defining the potential opposition should be on the list when developing a social marketing campaign. As most of the campaigns aim to bring significant behavioural change it is important to consider how it will run for a long time and identify the opportunities and threats which might arise. The effectiveness of social marketing depends on the ability to attract the attention of the audience, manage people’s expectations and persuade them that the targeted behaviour change would bring many benefits to their lives.

Here is an example of a successful social marketing campaign:

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Political PR

Political communicators are often accused of serving more to the political interests of smaller groups of people rather than the interest of the general public and civil society. It would be unreasonable to argue that these allegations are completely groundless, but political PR is not only about spin and propaganda.

Political PR professionals are criticized for trying to control the information that gets out and for twisting the message to ensure that the government interests are served. However as they are dealing with confidential information and issues the public is extremely sensitive about, a full disclosure of information may easily provoke crisis. On the one hand PR professionals should strive to meet the public expectations for greater transparency, but on the other hand managing political communications requires careful planning when sensitive issues are concerned. In certain situations when for example the nation’s security is endangered, the public right of information might not be political communicators’ top priority.

Although journalists often accuse political communicators for twisting the truth or hiding important facts it is hard to believe that their personal judgment on the political performance is completely impartial. However their role of mediators between the general public and politician is important for maintaining the balance in the political system. During his work as Director of Communications and Strategy for Prime Minister Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell tried to undermine journalists’ ability to influence the government communications by introducing a weekly webcast for direct communication with the audience and by carefully avoiding giving the word to journalists who might ask difficult questions during the press conferences. His actions has seriously damaged political PR’s reputation and contributed to the building of its negative image – view shared by journalists and citizens.

Despite the fact that people perceive Political PR as a form of modern propaganda and manipulation, it could considerably improve the communication process between the government and the public. PR’s goal is to build trust and improve the relationships based on mutual understanding in order to enhance the effectiveness of the political performance which is beneficial for all the citizens.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Have PR and spin undermined trust in politics?

Is PR responsible for the lack of trust in politics? A debate discussing the motion “PR and spin have undermined trust in politics” was held few weeks ago at University of Westminster. Kevin Maguire, political editor of the Daily Mirror, and Sheila Gunn, spokesperson for John Major spoke for the motion while Lance Price, former Labour ‘spin doctor’ and Francis Ingham, Chief Executive of the PRCA were debating against it.

One of the reasons pointed out for the motion was that political PR professionals were in control of the information flow which gave them the power to establish the agenda of political conversations. Spin doctors refused to speak to journalists who asked hard and complex questions or had different opinion about a given subject. As a result the political focus of the news has shifted toward the convenient side stories which aimed to keep the audience engaged without providing it with precise and valuable information about the important issues concerning it. Political PR practitioners were accused for trying to divert the public attention away from the actual problems in the political system and issues concerning the government in power.

Lance Price, speaking against the motion, argued that the power to enhance or destroy politicians’ reputation is in their own hands. Even the most experienced spin doctor would struggle to gain public support for a candidate who is not popular or respected amongst the electorate. Trust in politics is measured by the success of the political activities and the ability of the politicians to keep their pre - election promises. The public perceptions are also affected by the desire of the media to provide its audience with sensational news about the political life in the country and the media rivalry which stem from the emerging of the twenty- four hour coverage.

Many aspects of the political process should be considered in order to understand which factors have played a major role in shaping the public opinion about politics. Political PR professionals have part in the process of losing trust in politics, but they are just the tip of the iceberg of a much more complex social issue.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

What are the differences between traditional and new media

New media is a phenomenon which has changed many aspects of our everyday communication habits. But what is the importance of new media for the business and what advantages or disadvantages does it give to the PR practitioners?

1. Message spread
The potential of new media to reach wider audience in a short time presents a significant advantage to the PR practitioners. The ability to share information on the social media platforms make users endorsers of the message and help PR professionals reach wider audience.

2. Control of the message
Unlike the traditional media where PR practitioners have control of the message, new media gives everybody a voice. The positive side of this is that PR professionals could receive instant feedback from the audience and evaluate its engagement with their activities.

3. Niche publications
New media gives PR professionals the opportunity to reach specific audience which is more likely to be interested in the service or product they want to promote.

4. Space
While traditional media limit the message volume social media provide PR practitioners with the chance to communicate their message on many platforms increasing in this way its reach.

5. Visual representation
New media allow PR professionals to use diverse range of visuals to make the message more appealing to the audience and impel them to share it.

6. The message stays in the public eye for longer
The information could stay forever in the web space. People interested in the company activities could always find information about it which is a major advantage for the PR professional.

7. Time limit
The twenty four hour news coverage is one of the positive sides of new media. PR practitioners could provide the audience with information at any time and keep in touch with it.

8. Accelerate word of mouth
The ability to make a message or a video viral is one of the most appreciated characteristics of new media. In this way the public become one of the most powerful endorsers of our message.

9. Online communities
The characteristics of social media motivate people to connect with other people who have the same interests which strengthen their sense of community and belonging. From PR professionals’ point of view the ability to find and reach these groups facilitate the communication process and allow them to target more specific publics.

10. Reach of the message
If Facebook were a country it would be the fourth biggest country in the world. The readership of the newspapers is steadily declining and the majority of young people don’t even have a television, so in the future new media will have even greater impact on the PR professionals’ job.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Privacy on the web

What is the cost we pay for our online activity? Are the social media platforms we use really free? The false sense of privacy on the web impels us to share our views, thoughts and feelings with the world. But how do corporations and the business make profit from people’s increased social media presence?

When we create our social media profiles we share our details which are then used by the business to send us marketing messages that suit our interests. As social media has become an integrated and important part of our lives these targeted messages are likely to capture our attention and influence our choice of services and products. We no longer need to spend hours searching for books that might be interesting to us - the Amazon recommendation system does this for us. Our social media activity is used to persuade customers to buy the recommended book because people tend to believe that if many users with the same interests liked a product, they are going to like it too. Without our knowledge and consent we become endorses of the message and we help companies sell their products. This is just one of the many examples that could be given.

Social media presents many opportunities to the companies to direct their advertising and marketing messages at a very specific audience. The information about the audience sex, age, area, interests, hobbies and work allow them to promote a product to the right customers which save them a lot of money on advertising in traditional media. That is why Facebook (or any other social media platform) database is priceless for the big corporations.
No matter how useful and fascinating social media is everybody should bear in mind that it has a dark side. We pay a price for our addiction to the social media platforms by voluntary making valuable information about ourselves available to the companies who wish to reach us.