Hello and welcome to George and PR Trends. This blog aims to higlight my thoughts and issues on various contemporary issues of the PR Industry. As a former Masters Degree in Public Relations student at the University of Westminster, the topics mainly emanated from issues discussed in class. The views expressed on this site are my own and do not represent those of the University. Please feel free to follow, leave a comment, share, tweet and contribute in any way you can. Thank you.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A must read for fellow job seekers

It's certainly been quite a long time since I last posted on this blog. Quite a lot has happened after finishing my MA in PR but I guess the silence is gone now and we'll keep in touch as we've always been. Thanks for your patience and always keeping in touch.

Let's begin with this piece was certainly helpful to me and am optimistic it may also help those hunting for jobs. Read on....

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

CSR- Enlightened Self Interest

"In terms of power and influence you can forget about the church, forget politics. There is no more powerful institution in society than business... The business of business should not be about money, it should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed." - Anita Roddick, Business as Usual
Roddick’s view couldn’t be more true, especially considering that there is a general perception that self interest has been too much at the front of executive thinking and action, and that even during a period of strong economic growth the benefits have fallen to only a few. This unfortunate situation has led to experts predicting that this era of “self interest” is changing and has the potential to give way to a new era of “Responsibility”.
I am sure we all wish this could be now so that we clearly see how responsible more companies are.
CSR- Enlightened Self Interest
It is a known fact that those companies that have learnt how to integrate responsible business practices into their core business are all these companies that are integrating CR because of its positive impact on the long term sustainability of the business, not as an afterthought.  They understand responsible business is both financially necessary and socially beneficial.
With this view in mind, today individual members and groups in the community in which an organisation operates are increasingly being recognised as important stakeholders in the long term security and success of large and small enterprises. Building relationships with these community groups is, therefore, an important issue in corporate and communications strategy. This is where Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) comes in as it is an organisation’s defined responsibility to its societies and stakeholders.  
But companies and organisations need to take a step further. They need to demonstrate leadership, live and communicate their values and vision and this can’t be done by publishing statements or group rehearsal of values – this requires action and engagement. They should walk the talk.
In view of the above, evidence shows that good governance of corporate responsibility builds companies’ financial viability and stability.
London City Airport plays a key role in supporting the activity and growth of London’s economy. Located in East London, it is the UK’s leading business airport and it makes a significant contribution to the economy of the local area, providing more than 2,000 jobs through its own operations and the 55 employers based onsite.

In 2009, London City Airport launched the “Take Off into Work” scheme for long-term unemployed Newham residents as part of the Airport’s wider community engagement strategy. Among others, the programme helps the company to reach its aspiration of employing 70% of its staff from within 5 miles of the site, with 35% of these from the Borough of Newham.

In 2009, 62 Newham residents from the programme gained employment (some at the airport and some in other local businesses). 45% of these candidates had been unemployed for a year or longer and 4% had never worked. Through the programme, more than 130 previously unemployed Newham residents have now gained employment and recruitment costs (estimated to be in excess of £1,000 per position) have been significantly reduced. Ultimately, the company has received a number of awards for its work, including the Lord Mayors Dragon Award, and a Business Alliance Annual Volunteers Employment Champion Award. This recognition enhances both community relations and support, and more broadly the reputation of the company.

Thus, the “Take Off into Work” programme works to help local people into employment both within and outside of the company by developing their job skills and confidence, and raising their aspirations. The programme is run five times a year.

Why is this a good example of CSR?
The reason is obvious. The “Take Off into Work” programme provides both business and social benefits – namely it provides the airport and its onsite businesses local and flexible staff, adds to the wellbeing of the local area and provides employment for local people. In doing so, it contributes to the wider sustainability of London City Airport’s operations within East London.

Besides, the company eventually gains the trust and support of the communities and this is in line with the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer which found that business must align profit and purpose for social benefit. Trust is a protective agent and leads to tangible benefits; lack of trust is barrier to change.

Whither Traditional Media?

I can bet that if you are to ask a business owner where to find people with expertise to help their business, they are likely to trust a recommendation by a friend rather than an ad in the newspaper or on the yellow page listings where everyone claims to be the best. Word of mouth. That’s the best way of getting business nowadays. That’s the term that that, in my opinion, is the main distinction between Social/New Media and Traditional Media.
Time and again it has been said that social media is word of mouth on steroids. An umbrella name pulling together blogs, wikis, online discussion fora or chat rooms and a host of other internet communities, Social Media indeed brings with it the power of community: trusted friends and contacts from whom you would take advice. By merely logging in to any of the internet sites, I can find people I trust (and choose from a broad range of them, depending on the topic).  I can vet them and test what they have to say to see if they meet my criteria for meaning. I can hardly do this with traditional media which stuffs information for me and leaves with virtually no choice.
A hard fact it may sound but in this new digitalized world, monologue has given way to dialog, professionals to amateurs. You can agree with me that nowadays we seem more likely to trust in the words of bloggers than in any 'official information' we receive. Authenticity seems to be the key.

It is little wonder that in 2010, the Internet passed newspapers for the first time as the platform where Americans “regularly” get news, according to survey data from the Pew Research Center. The research further found out that forty-six percent of adults say they go online for news at least three times a week, as opposed to 40 percent who read newspapers that often. Only local television news is a more popular destination, at 50 percent.
This was also followed by a recent survey by Gartner Inc Analysts which said that newspapers are faced with declining circulations, falling offline and online revenue, and competition from digital sources, but are failing to capitalize on their biggest supporters, their readers. Food for thought, huh?
But does the above come as a surprise to you? Not very much to me especially considering the apparent fact that while Traditional Media is still busy pushing content to consumers, Social Media does the opposite as consumers pull the content they want. With an effective social media plan in place and if you provide a product or service that interests people, they will find you; that is if you make yourself available, hence the term “inbound marketing” was coined.
Traditional and Social Media both aim to communicate, do they differ that much?
Definitely yes. Loads of information is available now, especially when it comes to benefits of using of using both traditional and social/new media. But I would like us to further compare and contrast the two by looking at their characteristics and limitations.
A good starting point should be to point out the fact that both have almost the same structure as the goal is to communicate. Both use a channel hence fall under the mass media category; both strive to serve almost the same target audience; both rely on content/source of information and both are influential to various degree.
But make no mistake; Traditional media still remains the king because of its trustworthiness. Recent studies have indicated that about 40% of consumers don’t trust online news, until they see it in traditional media and this is a staggering percentage. But the owners of traditional media can’t sit on their laurels because an emerging study has also indicated that technology giants such as Google, Apple and Microsoft are becoming more trusted than traditional news media. Otherwise traditional media remains informative and educative; it always has rich content and yes, reaches a lot of people, more than social media.
The networking nature of social media
However, the other side of the Traditional Media coin is that it is mostly one way delivery; it has high level of noise; it is expensive to operate and consume and is obviously less engaging than Social Media as it still sticks to its old-fashioned top down approach, mainly because of having numerous gate-keepers.
Social media on the other hand is credited for encouraging participation and having a specific community where it is easier to exchange ideas online. This means that it follows the bottom up approach as the gate-keepers are mostly eliminated and it’s the users who set the agenda, hence it is always said that social media creates opportunities for people and companies to listen to and engage an audience in a two-way conversation.   
It should also be pointed out that much as there is shared content with social media as information can easily go viral, you need to have an authentic voice as part of community, you need to be part of the conversation and you also need to be extremely creative if your product or service is to go viral. But the good thing is that social media is cheap and creates opportunities to communicate in personal, authentic and transparent ways hence others have coined the expression “it allows you to lift up your skirt a little bit.”
In general, the gap between social and traditional media continues to widen, often in favour of the former. Social media engages hence it’s a community of like-minded people that believes that “together, we are smarter, stronger and faster.” It allows collaboration and communication with great people across the country that you likely may not meet. BUT it should always be noted that social media is not an answer to everything. It is just a channel and should be one element of a larger and integrated communication strategy.

Check the following link and video for more:

Monday, 11 April 2011

Iraq war and the juggling of PR and propaganda

Looking back at the first day of the Contemporary PR Issues class, I can’t stop thinking about BBC’s video documentary called “War Spin: The Correspondent” and subtitled “The war you don’t see”.  This documentary is generally about how the USA and UK governments used PR strategies and the media to justify why they waged war against Iraq as well as to get positive coverage of the same.   
And one thing has sunk in my mind. Granted, the war might have been won and Saddam Hussein was ousted but the skepticism behind the invasion will hardly be erased in many people’s minds as the propaganda used will leave a more lasting impact than the “peace-keeping mission” everybody was meant to believe was the intention of the war.
It also just interests me to note how embedded” reporters travelling with Coalition forces were managed and how sometimes they highlighted in television reports that they were under strict control and unable to say some things as well. Maybe such control was an understandable and even desirable aspect from a military perspective. It is even more interesting to note that many embedded journalists developed a sympathetic viewpoint for the Coalition perspective by being with them so much, which, as the documentary also suggested, was what the Coalition would want.

It is an open secret that military control of information and other techniques have often been employed in times of war to help present a certain picture as part of a propaganda battle and certainly the Iraq war was one such example.
One just can’t fathom how about 100 cameras were embedded across the field; how the world opinion was shaped; how sticking issues were kept off; how a message would be owned and the practitioners would stick to it and how they would simply cope with bad news- certain rules of spinning.

One of the embedded journalists
It was therefore of little surprise that the following were noted in the documentary:
·         Embedded journalists allowed the military to maximize imagery while providing minimal insight into real issues;
·         Central command (where all military press briefings were held) was the main center from which to: 
·         -Filter manage and drip-feed journalists with what they wanted to provide;
·         -Gloss over set-backs while dwelling on successes;
·         -Limit the facts and context;
·         Even feed lies to journalists
·         -Use spin in various ways, such as making it seems as though reports are coming from troops on the ground, which Central Command can then confirm, so as to appeal real
·         -Carefully plan the range of topics that could be discussed with reporters, and what to avoid

As to justify the existence of propaganda, at the same central command, during media briefings, many things were not tolerated such as follow-ups on difficult issues. One journalist even claimed to be threatened by some of the official media managers there to stop asking certain questions, with the threat of not being able to attend. Eventually, this began to frustrate journalists as they were just given little information, perhaps suggesting that you can only control the media, spin information and use propaganda to an extent.

Tracing propaganda and its relation to PR and war

Propaganda can be loosely defined as a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda. Harold Laswell (1971) defined propaganda as "the control of opinion by significant symbols, or, so to speak, more concretely and less accurately by stories, rumours, reports, pictures, and other forms of social communication. There is a need for a word which means the making of a deliberately one-sided statement to a mass audience. Edward Bernays (1928) defined modern propaganda as "a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea, or group. He also defined public relations as "the attempt by information, persuasion and adjustment, to engineer public support for an activity, cause, movement, or institution". It's easy to see how both of Bernays' definitions convey a similar theme.
It is therefore clear that the relationship of these terms revolves around issues of spinning; calls for debates about ethical standards; and there is evident control of messages. The strategy remains to initiate the individual from information recipient to information seeker through reinforcement, and then from information seeker to opinion leader through indoctrination.
From the definitions, it is also evident that both are used as effective communication tools - PR and propaganda are supposed to position themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum. However, in recent past, governments have aggressively used PR techniques to reach the same results that propaganda achieved during the First and Second World War. The Iraq War and the Jessica Lynch's story are only two of many such examples.

The Private Jessica Lynch story
Jessica Lynch rescued

The US media splashed this story [about the “rescue” of Private Jessica Lynch] in April. Lynch was one of a group of 10 US soldiers captured by Iraqi troops. According to the approved narrative, she had been ambushed on 23 March and captured after firing at the Iraqis until her ammunition ran out. She had been hit by a bullet, stabbed, tied up, and taken to a hospital in Nasiriyah where she was beaten by an Iraqi officer. A week later US Special Forces freed her in a surprise operation: despite resistance from her guards, they broke into the hospital, rescued her and flew her by helicopter to Kuwait.

That evening, President Bush, from the White House, announced her rescue to the nation. Eight days later the Pentagon supplied the media with a video made during the mission, with scenes up to the standards of the best action movies….After the war ended on 9 April, journalists — particularly from The New York Times, the Toronto Star, El Pais and the BBC — went to Nasiriyah to find the truth. They were surprised by what they found. According to their interviews with Iraqi doctors who had looked after Lynch (and confirmed by US doctors who had later examined her), her wounds, a fractured arm and leg and a dislocated ankle, were not due to bullets but to an accident in the lorry in which she had travelled. She had not been maltreated. On the contrary, the Iraqi doctors had done everything possible to look after her.
Dr Anmar Uday told the BBC’s John Kampfner: “It was like in a Hollywood film. There were no Iraqi soldiers, but the American Special Forces were using their weapons. They fired at random and we heard explosions. They were shouting Go! Go! Go! The attack on the hospital was a kind of show, or an action film with Sylvester Stallone…

Funny it may sound but my opinion is certainly the US government would have done better to salvage this flawed story.

The following video shows life in Iraq after the war.

Anup Shah, Iraq War Media Reporting, Journalism and Propaganda, Global Issues, Updated: August 01, 2007

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Political PR: Networking is the real deal and not just internet

Political communication in general has been touted to be information-model-driven, meaning that the information is spin-free, it has purity and in most cases the facts by far outwit opinions. This is particularly true with government communications where practitioners deem themselves to be giving the society the information it needs and boast to be churning out legitimate top-down information.

Then there comes a thin line between political and government PR activities. Thin line because not only is this difference subtle but this also varies from one country to the other. The same is true for the media. Much as it is not a secret that the press in UK is partisan, the same would be called unprofessional in other countries. However, when it comes to PR activities, four main activities stand out namely:

·         Media management (controlling messages)
·         Image management (protecting an identity or brand, relationship building etc)
·         Internal communication (engaging people within say the party and controlling opinionated messages)
·         Information management (gate-keeping)

It is the second and third activities that I will zero in on while looking at none other than the Barak Obama campaign that led to his triumphal entry to the White House in 2008.

Lessons from the Obama campaign

It can hardly be argued that this was one of the most successful political campaigns in history.
It gave the term political campaign a new meaning, especially with its use of online media. This was a campaign which the Obama brand established its existence from the onset.

The Obama brand was at virtually every social media tool you can name, especially if that tool existed before 2008. This was a campaign which realised how best to reach out to the floating and “up-for-grabs-voters”. And it got hold of them. Importantly, this was a campaign which used the internet in timely ways to recruit, engage, mobilise, record data and deliver the tools to use the data.

However, the ultimate goal was about mobilising people face-to-face not online. The Internet only helped reach out to potential and existing supporters. On this point, I should hasten to concur with one Duane Raymond by stating that it was not the use of the Internet that helped make the campaign successful. Rather, it was the building and mobilisation of a network. The argument behind this is that if you think it was the Internet that made a big difference, then you could use the Internet without ever using networking.

The practitioners behind the campaign realised that the real power is in the network of people and the Internet can help networking by helping to connect to people; connect people with each other and allow people to connect with the campaign. They realised the importance of using campaigning as networking then planned to use the right tool for the right task and made Internet part of that. Eventually as Duane also argued, it was because of the Obama Campaign's networking that they were able to raise 650 million USD and it was because of the networking that they didn't have to spend it on hiring 'local canvassers' as the McCain campaign did, but could instead spend it on offices, ads, staff, etc.

Can countries like the UK practice the same?


Paying attention to networking is certainly unparalleled. Networking is the real deal because it is about not only establishing a relationship with supporters, but also about sustaining it, developing it; extending it and helping supporters do the same. This is typically what happened with the Obama campaign, especially with its use of social media to enhance networking. In the UK, the three live debates that attracted massive 10million viewers will always stand out but the main campaign last year when David Cameron was voted as Prime minister did not engage the social media as did the Obama campaign. Still, some traits in the Obama campaign can still be traced in the UK, especially when it comes to protecting a brand (as shown in the picture).

However, it is the use of the media as political influencers that makes it different from other countries. All in all, this does not erode the fact that networking is the real deal.

The following tips from the Obama campaign further establish our case:

My fight hunger viral video

In one of the modules called New Media, we were given an assignment to create and propose an online Viral Video Campaign using social media. Thus, we were to put together a detailed proposal for an online video viral campaign that incorporates social media. We were given freedom to choose the company, the product, the service or the initiative for our campaign to be based around. Among others, we were to produce and deliver:
·         A viral video
·         Creation of social media elements as part of your campaign
·         A written strategic and creative proposal

I chose to do a campaign for ActionAid and here is a viral video I produced.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

When consumers become consumed, watched and traded

Does the above photo mean anything to you? What about the column on the right hand?
Oftentimes we communicate on the internet for free, consume videos, music, articles etc for free and most importantly give our information for free. But in spite of this entire not-tricky-puzzle, have you figured out why Google is the richest browser if not one of the most profit making companies in the world and yet they give “free services”?
BBC’s Dr Aleks Krotoski and her video The Virtual Revolution: The cost of free is certainly a good exposure.
Believe it or not we give up for free our all for convenient online space but this has enriched browsers like Google and numerous companies (advertisers) just at our mere click on any key word on the browsers. A mere search to a word or topic on say Google makes a massive business between the browser and numerous companies and hence every time we “google” we help them make money.
The funny thing is that about Google’s business is that it sells something that doesn’t really exit as opposed to others who sell tangible products. In simple terms, Google gets massively paid for simply sending traffic to other websites.
Ads by Google. That catchy phrase you often see on Google page and that’s how the browser is making its money. You should have noticed that every time you do a search on Google, there is a section called “Sponsored Links”. Every time you click on one of those links, Google charges a certain amount of money to the website for the click. And when you go on a website you’ll notice advertising from Google too. Virtually every word. So when you click a word say football, several websites of football advertisers pop up on the sides and Google charge a certain amount of money to the website you clicked on and part of that money is given to the webmaster publishing the ads. And I can hardly talk of the power adverts have on our lives. A mere look at it increases our impulse to go for it. Eventually, the product online is not content but your eyeballs looking at the content. This is called AdSense and is an enormous source of income for Google.

As of how advertisers feel the pinch, albeit temporarily because they still make profits from such adverts, a bidding system is used. Yes, bidding because lot’s of companies realises the gold in this business hence the scramble for space. So when you want to advertise with Google, you select keywords you are targeting. Let’s say I do parcel deliveries as above and I want to bring potential customers to my website. I’m going to bid on the keywords “parcels” and “deliver parcels” for example. The price I’m going to pay will depend if there is other companies bidding for that keyword. The more companies are fighting for a keyword, the more I’m going to pay for a single click to my website. So the mathematics involved is Product/Space=Bidder x Quality. So you can envisage that for highly competitive keywords like finance and health it can cost quite a lot of money for a company to advertise with Google.

It therefore does not come as a surprise that Google seems to be everywhere now: They have to show substantial growth to their stakeholders and to do that they have to drive more and more traffic to provide more and more advertisement.

The main cause of concern however, is that this all happens at the expense of our privacy. As we give in almost our every detail on line with the coming of social media as the driver, Google looks at contents of our mails, wishes and likes and links some keywords to some ads that appear on the sides. In other words, every time we read something, a cookie tracking device which gives out information about our range of interests is planted on our computer, allowing Google to customise the adverts it gives us. So our privacy is at stake, and more so when we spend a lot of time online.
So, much as it is hard to dispute the view that the internet is the next Industrial revolution, the main issue is that the product online is not content but your eyeballs looking at the content. Here you can find more information about the Google philosophy and how Google makes money.