31 January 2011

Why PR's ♥ Crisises: 5 things to keep in mind when screwing up

Wēijī: Crisis = Danger + Opportunity?
During our last session on contemporary theory and issues in Public Relations we discussed why PR's love a crisis. The lecture started by getting introduced to the Chinese characters of 'crisis', which is supposed to consist of the characters 'danger' and 'opportunity'. Even though this translation of the Chinese script is often misinterpreted and essentially wrong, it allows us to think what opportunities lie within crisises and issues in relation to the Public Relations industry. What happens during a crisis and where does the message go? What to keep in mind during the 'age of transparency'? Is crisis management ethical?

A crisis hits, what now?
The first thing to realize is to what extend something can be described as a crisis or issue. Obviously, a crisis can occur in virtually any area of our lives, whether it is a governmental crisis, a corporate crisis involving a product/service/CSR failure, or a personal crisis. For all these difficult areas, Public Relations practitioners come into play and help with a strong communication strategy, ensuring a controlled and manageable stream of information and messages. But then again, for a personal crisis, please do consult a professional before approaching an agency.

So what exactly happens to the organization's communication during a crisis? OgilvyPR published a great presentation which clearly describes how the message of a crisis spreads through the world of information within 24 hours.

I would still argue whether a crisis hits the search engines and editorials within 24 hours (Google's algorithm to spot news is incredible), but the point here is to understand how fast the message of a disaster spreads throughout the media world and eventually to the company's stakeholder.

So clearly, hiding the secret of a crisis is virtually impossible. Add uncategorized 'media' organizations such as WikiLeaks/OpenLeaks and we quickly see that the transparent human has quietly evolved over the past years. So when transparency is all too common these days, it is essential to handle a crisis very professionally. Some basic thoughts on what to take care of during a crisis:
  1. Communicate immediately: Whether big or small, every single company should be present on social media platforms, in order to immediately communicate to their audiences. The more they wait, the more damage they create for themselves. Act now, not tomorrow.

  2. Handle the media well (obviously): Imagine the media as a hyaena looking for flaws and victims. Together with the Web2.0 community, the media will be the first one actively looking for the damages the organization has done. In order to minimize misunderstandings, be honest to your flaws and most certainly, do not blame the consumer.

  3. Be transparent: Admit the problem, explain how it came so far and suggest a solution. Hiding errors in these times is virtually impossible, so you might as well stand for your trouble and fix it.

  4. Being prepared for a crisis: Let's hope for all organizations that a crisis will not happen, but be prepared for 'just in case'. Buying yourself into media later on or sponsoring cultural events might look good at the beginning but think what you have done and what your potential audience thinks about you engaging in such activities after a crisis hit planet information.

  5. Always comment: Whether you organize a press conference or talk to your 'Tweeps' and 'Friends' on Facebook, give them an answer they can work with. No comment = they really screwed up.
Of course there are virtually unlimited reasons and tips to have a good crisis management strategy, but I believe the five listed above are possibly the most important ones to keep in mind.

An Ethical Issue or Crisis?
When a company, brand or organization screws up, should you (and in the future me) help and steer the message truthfully to the audience that matters most to them? Is is ethically right to help a company that puts people in danger and eventually kills them? Is it OK to support suppressive regimes and put them into a good spotlight for the worldwide audience? Shouldn't all these organizations, including the tobacco and arming industry, have the right to manage their reputation and defend themselves, just as we are entitled to defend ourselves in court?

Clearly this is an ethical dilemma to many people working in the industry and the question can only be answered by the individual himself. This is a question I can't and won't answer, but fact is that in this 'hyper-transparency' environment we communicate in, it is essential to understand the power of new media and put much more focus on these channels than most companies currently do.

Below you will find an excellent presentation from Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, which discusses the role of social media during a crisis.

25 January 2011

Spinning the bottle - When PR(opaganda) goes to War

"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda"

- George W. Bush

During our last session in 'contemporary theory and issues in Public Relations' at the University of Westminster, we discussed the role of the media and governments while being at war. Our first assignment seemed quite simple to execute: create a basic strategy which justifies country 'X' to invade country 'Lalaland'. I sat down and started to think which strategy I should take. I thought about creating a demonized image of 'the enemy', which seemed the easiest way to justify a war with a country. Once I created a strategy that was based on safety concerns, I continued to think about specific tactics that would justify my strategy:

"We received documents from our secret services that indicated that 'Lalaland' is training and supporting terrorist organizations", "Internal documents of 'Lalaland' suggest they are preparing for a nuclear war", "Evidence proves that 'Lalaland' is violating basic human rights and it is our responsibility to change that", "'Lalaland' is in preparation of attacking us!". These were just a few quotes and tactics I spontaneously came up with when thinking about how I would deal with the media and so justify the invasion of 'Lalaland'. After all, safety is the most important concern we all have, right? These simple and obvious tactics promote the basic aspects of propaganda:
  1. Use of selective stories
  2. Demonizing the 'enemy'
  3. Provide facts by 'experts'
  4. and most importantly: repeat, repeat, repeat!
So once I had good reasons to invade 'Lalaland', I thought about how I could continue my strategy without being investigated by the media too much. "Imagine you are at war and all reporters that investigate the issue are all locked up on an island and you provide them with the news you choose", our teacher suggested during the session and asked us if we thought that this scenario would be possible. Obviously, in an age of democracy and transparency, the majority of the class just giggled and said that this hypothetical situation seemed like from some bad Hollywood movie. What we experience next was something none of us expected.

We continued the class by watching the BBC documentary 'War Spin', which explained how the military spun various stories of the war towards the media. The prime example of the documentary was Jessica Lynch, who supposedly got captured by Iraqi soldiors, tortured and almost killed, before the U.S. military rescued her. This fabricated story was then used as a selected story for the public to demonize the enemy even more. What shocked me most was the fact that reporters were locked up in a 'media center', about 500 miles away from the action, being 'fed' with information from the military, who initially started the war. Ok, so now we have these reporters who truly believe in the fundamentals of democracy, the right to report honestly to the public and have a freedom of speech, and all the information they get is from the military? Seems highly unreliable to me to be honest, but this is exactly what happend during the invasion of Iraq.

When I think about how much fabricated/modified gossip goes around my social environment with people being able to find out the truth quite simply (social networks), then I really do not want to know how easy it is to virtually spin any story from a country that is approximately 4700km far away from here, with limited investigation by the media and manipulated reports by the military. The invasion of Iraq was largely based on false statements and wrong reasoning, based upon strong propaganda and limitation of media investigation.

Clearly, this unethical act taught us all something. We need to have less boarders and more access to information. Reporters should be able to investigate in anything they want and make serious issues like war as transparent as possible. There is nothing we can change about what happend and the only thing we can learn from the situation is to be critical of military reports and make stronger use of new media and 'alternative' information sources such as WikiLeaks. Let's hope that the recent strong development in social media allows us to gain information from various sources and that the 'citizen journalist' will gain more power than the military in informing the public.

Learn more about the propaganda used during the Iraq war by watching the video "Control Room - Propaganda of the Iraq War"

22 January 2011

Contemporary theory and issues in Public Relations

Part of my postgraduate studies in public relations includes the core module “contemporary theory and issues in public relations”. This module explores global and current issues related to the public relations industry and allows me to take a look at the industry from an academic perspective.

Over the next few weeks I will take a closer look at current PR issues that may be interesting to some of you. Style and tone will be slightly changed due to its final assessment through the University of Westminster, in comparison to the other blog entries.

To keep you interested and excited about upcoming posts, check out the following topics I will discuss soon:
  • Is PR being left behind by the new media revolution?
  • What does the ‘public’ in Public Relations mean?
  • NGO and the rise of activism
  • Culture and PR
  • Ethics - Is the PR industry worse than any other?
  • Why do PR’s love a crisis?
…and a few more, so stay tuned and check the blog from time to time, connect with me, RSS me or hit 'refresh' on your browser approximately every 5 days for new content.

Besides the blog being a platform for my own expression and as a portfolio of my work, I would love to see some input from your side. Let's leave the office world for 5 minutes and think what social impact our industry actually has. Let's have discussions and see what we can learn from it. Comment, Retweet, post this on your Facebook.

Thank You.

10 January 2011

Your own online brand and identity

I am sorry for the few followers that I already have, but I barley had time to write down some of my ideas in detail due to [enter random excuse here]. You see, because of the [enter random excuse here], I had not enough time to express my views accordingly, but today I managed to sit down and finally start writing my things down. And you know, it’s a lot of fun actually!

So, this first post discusses why you should be engaging in the web and what you should keep in mind when doing so, so here we go:

In an age of financial disasters, fierce competition, and
the fact that everyone is trying to strive for the best possible results for their careers, I believe it is essential to have a strong online portfolio in a way or another. Online engagement within the industry is key, whether you follow PR professionals on Twitter or create blogs like this one here; it develops you as an individual. Essentially, like with most things you engage in actively, you start learning without to necessary hitting the books. It’s a gradual learning curve and soon you will discover why this is important.
So why should you have an online portfolio? Well, the reasons are quite simple:

Creating content – Tadaaaa! Engaging in socia
l networks or posting stuff on blogs allows you to have your owned media channel. Your own platform allows interacting with people and discussing things you may find interesting. Like in this case, BurnYourPRBook tries to be a discussion platform for PR related topics where professional and fellow students may add comments so everyone can learn from it. In this extremely fast paced industry, keeping up with knowledge and especially technology, is key.

Commitment – Oh yes, this is probably my favo
rite one. Engaging in the Web 2.0 shows that you are committed. So basically, next time you apply for that awesome job you always wanted and you claim to be a committed person, show them what you have done, what you think about certain topics and what other people think about your ideas. Start a blog, Twitter around, create a LinkedIn profile, have a website, just be out there. There are plenty of other people with huge potential out there but with no backup and representation, so be ahead of them and do your thing now.

Transparency – In these days, transparency is very important. This does not necessary mean that your Facebook account is accessible to everyone and all your ‘Friends’ see what you’ve done last Friday night or what kind of dress you bought recently, but you
can be transparent without worrying too much about your privacy. In my opinion for example, I truly believe that Facebook should be used for private purposes, blogs and broadcast tools as your own media platform, Twitter to send out your message and LinkedIn for your professional purposes. Going back to Facebook, be a fan of Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, I’m not going to judge you, just make sure your personal interests and professional interests are a bit separated. In my own case, I follow brands, DJ’s and PR professionals on Twitter, because they provide me the info I need and want out of them. Facebook is strictly for people I actually know, classmates and old friends. If you want to be professional, why bother with Facebook if you got specific site for professional profiling?

Online Resume – Obviously, as soon as you start creati
ng content you create an online resume where potential employers, fellow students and professionals can get a pretty good idea of who you are and what you think about certain issues. Also, whenever you claim to have 'strong visual and presentation skills', show them. Online services such as SlideShare are excellent platforms to share your presentations online.

Accessibility – I remember when I started getting used to the Internet about 10-12 years ago, and in my own little world, a company or brand that had no website, did not exist for me. Toda
y, this feeling is stronger than ever and if I do research for anything and I can’t find it on the Internet, it just doesn’t exist for me. I know, it may be a totally wrong approach, but anyone not being on the web nowadays, on the most successful and open communication platform every created is planned to fail. Come on.

“So now you got me all excited now. What should I do next?”

To be honest, I am not quite sure what to sugg
est but with my background in media production and management I would assume following things to keep in mind:

Relevant content – Give your followers content they want, something that is
interesting. What upsets me most with the major marketing/PR/ad blogs out there is that most of them repost content over and over again. Of course there are many exceptions (Brian Solis) as well, but if you start following blogs you see that content repeats itself. What does this mean for you? You read stuff over and over again and well, it’s a waste of time. Create relevant content, content that people might find interesting to read and engage with. It may be crappy at the beginning, but eventually, hopefully, please God, it will evolve into something interesting and specific people may find worth following and actually engaging with. Don’t post how awesome your breakfast was or how cute that puppy was you saw yesterday, if you want to be professional, keep content relevant.

Create an identity – Global companies spend millions in their brand identity because they are represented in very different markets and areas all around the world. They want you, most likely being a consumer, to associate a certain color or style with their brand, so why not apply this fundamental theory to your identity as well? Basic marketing and design theories show you clearly how to do this, but to make things easy and simple, I listed a few very basic things to keep in mind:

1. Brand consistency – If you can, try to be consistent with your image. Create an appealing design for your blog that people will associate with you, modify your Twitter page with the same colors, make your YouTube channel the same s
tyle as your other platforms, add the same colors to your signature in your Gmail account. Its all about details and people will see that. Have a unified profile picture, a distinct writing style. Nothing worse than one person with several media channels and completely different styles.

2. The vicious circle - Connect everything you have with everything you have. Have your Twitter, LinkedIn, whatever social media you are using, to your Facebook, to your MySpace account (oh wait a second, does anyone still uses MySpace except artists?), to your FourSquare, even in your e-mail signature. Create vicious circle people cannot get out from, muahahaha.

3. The exception: LinkedIn – With a slightly satirical and very casually written blog like this, I do not want people to think that this is the way I act professionally. By now I hope that most of you realized that this blog is more of a fun project with a, hopefully, relevant content for the world. That is why professional social networks such as LinkedIn are very important. It is where the fun times are over and where you as a professional can post your whole educational and professional life. Be detailed, do not make any mistakes, join groups, network with everyone you meet at networking parties and have a strong ‘Summary’.

Ok, so this was the first post. I hope I provided with some interesting content and perhaps a few of you got inspired to start writing and setting up online identities. And please, write some comments, let me know what was good or bad. I am looking forward for all your comments so we can all learn from this ☺

In the mean time, connect with me if you want. Next post will be hitting this blog soon!