Category Archives: PR

Building Communities through PR

One thing that really stood out from the debate we had in class about social media is actually how PR practitioners use social media. Even though we were on opposite sides, both our teams came to agree on the fact that if two-way conversations are far from being the norm right now, it is mainly because practitioners use social media as any other traditional media.

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For my Consumer PR module, I had to produce a social media monitoring report. My brand was Eastpak, a brand that I really like, as I used to own one of their bags when I was younger. Before starting, I really thought their online presence and activity was quite important but surprisingly, I found out that it wasn’t the case. Of course, they have a Facebook and Twitter account, a Youtube channel and an Instagram account but what they do on these accounts do not trigger much engagement from their audience. As a brand who wants to seek stories, share them and create resistance against boredom, I didn’t feel like their social media activity was really reflecting those values. Their competitors (Jansport, Kiplings, The North Face) are actually more active and create real content to gather their audience around their brand story. Eastpak, as many other consumer brands, hasn’t mastered the art of social media yet.

What struck me most is the fact that social media is first and foremost about exchanging and sharing with the community, and most brands do not use social media in that way. They use their accounts to promote their products and gain feedback, almost as an after-sales service would do, when the potential of social media is much bigger than that.

So, I wondered if there were any sectors that actually used social media to its full potential. And I found the answer in my dissertation topic, which is music festival PR. As I started monitoring festivals in France to start my research, I realised that festivals were actually using social media to create a community around their festival. As the music business has changed so much in the past few years, live performances and festivals have become the real players today. Now that people buy less and less CDs, they are really seeking the live performances of their favourite artists and want these experiences to be memorable. Festivals and concert venues have become major players in the music industry and this has led to a real shift in the way they communicate around their event. Their audience has gained power with social media and a real voice. Festival organisers no longer see their audience as mere consumers, they want to involve them in the whole festival experience and this reflects in the way they use social media and other PR tools today. Their goal is to build a community, create two-way conversations and fully engage their audience before, during and after the festival, which is no longer a one-time event but lasts throughout the whole year until the next edition.

So, there are sectors where PR can really be used to build communities and where social media is used to its full potential. The question is : can it be applied to other sectors though ? I think it can, if only practitioners would change the way they perceive and use social media. As to how festivals have made this shift in their communication strategies and if older festivals have made it differently than younger festivals (who have social media in their DNA), you will have to read my dissertation to find out.

Further Reading :

PR and communitiy building

PR and community

http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/crowdsourcing-bonnaroo-how-facebook-and-instagram-may-make-this-the-most-documented-music-festival-ever/#!BWoq8

http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2113714/5-Ways-to-Use-Social-Media-to-Promote-a-Festival

 

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CSR programs : who do they really help ?

If there’s one thing that I really got to learn more about during my MA, it’s CSR programs. First of all, I actually didn’t know what CSR stood for : Corporate Social Responsibility. Sure, but what does that really mean ? CSR programs are implemented by the PR teams of big corporations or organisations to help regulate the organisation’s reputation and image. These programs are supposed to show the public that these corporations are responsible and while making profits, that they are also giving back to the community. CSR programs can be articulated around the environment, the community, charities or any other aspect that relate to the company’s activity.

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We actually come across many of these programs everyday. Starbucks, Coca Cola, McDonald’s, they all have their own program, some of them have been implementing them for many years.

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But my main question concerning these practices was : who does that help more ? The company or the public ?

In theory, scholars and authors have established that PR is supposed to help organisations adapt to their environment, as ‘Every organisation, no matter how large or small, ultimately depends on its reputation for survival and success‘, according to the CIPR. In her book Public Relations: Concepts, Practices and Critique (2009), Jacqui L’Etang explains that the systems theory approach ‘sees the world as a living, interacting organism‘, which suggest that PR is here to help organisations interact with the world and maintain mutual beneficial relationships.

This is where CSR enters. However, is the public that naive ? McDonald’s has implemented CSR programs for many years, creating charities and helping a lot of people but has this helped change the way we see the company and its practices ? PR teams of these big corporations are actually paid to develop strategies that will benefit their organisation’s reputation, this is their first goal. And how could we actually expect them to selflessly help us without having an agenda ? I suppose CSR programs are essential for a company’s credibility, because people will always need to relate to the brand story, but we must not forget that CSR does not do all the work.

The latest program that really triggered my inner cyniscism is Unilever’s Project Sunlight. When our teacher showed us the video in class, the reactions were quite unanimous, maybe because we are directly studying the subject. I personally thought that this touching film would not make me forget about the rest of Unilever’s actions. I actually even thought that they went a bit too far here, that trying to make us cry over the terrible things that are happening in the world would not change our vision of their reputation and current image. Or maybe I am definitely cynical…

Anyway, I think CSR programs, when carefully developed and thought through, can be efficient and beneficial for both the public and the company but PR teams must remember that they cannot turn around the public’s opinion simply by telling touching stories about their organisations’ socially responsible actions.

References :

Public Relations : Concepts, Practices and Critique (2009) Jaquie L’Etang

http://www.cipr.co.uk/content/careers-cpd/careers-pr/what-pr

Further Reading :

http://greenbanana.wordpress.com/2007/10/02/does-csr-help-society-or-just-business/

http://mashable.com/2011/05/27/non-profit-corporate-partners/

http://mashable.com/2011/04/22/csr-company-stages/

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Social media : two-way conversations vs one-way publicity

SocialMediaLandscape

Last week, we had our last debate about current issues in the PR industry, and this time, I was arguing alongside my classmates. The motion was “Social media has helped put the public back into public relations: two way conversations and content sharing have replaced one-way publicity driven communications and media manipulation. ” and I was arguing for.

Based on Grunig and Hunt’s (1984) four models, I found the motion very interesting and at first, I thought “Of course I’m for, social media has definitely helped put the public back into PR.”

As I researched the subject, I found endless statistics about how social media has changed communications and the way people get information and share content. This infographic, created by the website Mylife.com, was particularly eloquent (click on image for full size) :

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My team and I had four main arguments. First of all, social media and the internet in general has transformed and reshaped the way we communicate, and therefore, the way PR practitioners and organisations handle their relationship with their publics. The second point was that social media provides a very useful new tool for PR practitioners and that it has extended their skills set.  Our third argument was about how organisations and the public can now share information, content, opinions without intermediaries, which provides more transparency and better communication. And finally, our last argument was that social media had definitely empowered the audience and has balanced the debate. We thought the rest of the class would be for the motion but surprisingly enough, only two people were for, the rest was mostly against or neutral. And I have to say, as the debate went along, I started to change my mind and by the end I didn’t know what to think anymore.

Our opponents argued that 61% of the world’s population still hasn’t access to the internet, according to the ITU, and that it was difficult to find reliable sources on social media. They also argued that brands used social media as they would use traditional media and we agreed that it was a matter of skills set more than anything.

It is true that there is a huge gap between the potential of social media and what happens in reality but I think that if PR practitioners started to see social media as more than another media but as a proper tool, practices would really benefit from it and two-way conversations would become a reality.

Of course, one could say that social media will always be used by PR as any other media but in the light of my research and what has been said during that debate (and it triggered a lot of reactions !), I think we’re on our way to two-way conversations on social media. Change is definitely happening, even though many organisations still don’t use social media platforms in the right way.

After this debate, I didn’t really know what to think, both our teams had good arguments and evidence. But I choose to have faith that social media will be used to its full potential as the PR industry evolves. Of course, it hasn’t happened yet, social media has only been here for less than a decade but when I see what the Y generation can accomplish on the medium, I think we’re on the right way and PR practitioners should learn from that.

An example of how social media is used by the younger generation :

References :

http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/ICTFactsFigures2013-e.pdf

Grunig and Hunt (1984) Managing Public Relations

Infographic : http://socialmediaslant.com/social-media-infographic/

Further Reading :

Phillips and Young (2009), Online Public Relations, Kogan Page, London.

Potter, H (2010), Integrating Social Media into PR plans – Accessed at <http://xnet.kp.org/newscenter/media/downloads/PRSATheStrategist_Summer%202010_p40.pdf>

FunkyMarketingTV video : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yxuljHX09I

Debate Outline

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New portrayals of PR on screens – Scandal & House of Cards

15_pyeh2     absolutely_fabulous_ednia

PR has been portrayed in the media for many years now. We all have seen or heard of the glamourous adventures of Samantha Jones in Sex and the City or laughed at Absolutely Fabulous’ famous PR agent Edina Monsoon. And it is fair to say that all these portrayals of the PR industry weren’t very flattering and only focusing on specific aspects of the profession without showing how diverse it can be.

However, these TV shows have been over for almost a decade now and the perceptions that people have of the profession have changed a lot since then. First of all, the practitioners depicted are not all women now. And the glamour and partying has been replaced with more serious matters, such as politics, crisis management and so on.

One of the most recent portrayal of PR on TV is Scandal’s heroin Olivia Pope (the very talented Kerry Washington). The former White House Communications Director has left to start her own crisis management firm, Pope and Associates. She dedicates her time to protecting the reputation and public image of the nation’s elite but somehow, her work always drives her back to the White House.

Olivia’s character is partially based on Judy Smith, George W. Bush’s administration press aide, who serves as co-executive producer on the show. Of course, the stories depicted have their fair share of sex, drama and politics (it wouldn’t have lasted that long on TV otherwise, it’s still an american show after all), but for the first time in a long time, PR is put in the spotlight, and in a serious way for once.

The website Ragan.com asked a relevant question though : does Olivia Pope represent the industry well ? The reactions from female practitioners were interesting.

I think there are similarities and differences in Olivia Pope’s practice and today’s PR practice. Pope & Associates is willing to go to any lengths, even hiding bodies and cleaning crime scenes, to preserve a client’s image. I don’t know of many PR practitioners willing to go that far (let’s hope they wouldn’t).” Laurent Gray, Finn Partners

However, while the show may be extremely exaggerated, I think Olivia does reflect aspects that we want represented in our industry. She is smart, savvy and invests everything she has in helping her clients succeed. She understands the importance of building a team that she can trust and rely on in any given situation. I also think she illustrates attributes that are needed in this profession, from being calm and level-headed in a stressful situation to providing strategic counsel that helps address an issue and solves a problem, even though it may be hard for the client to hear.” Heather Cmiel, Bellmont Partners

It is true that the show depicts a very exaggerated version of the profession, but wouldn’t we expect it from a TV show ? Exaggeration aside, I really like the way the show has put a strong PR woman in the spotlight and the public finally gets to see a whole other side of PR, far from Samantha Jones’ restaurants launches and cocktail parties.

Another side of PR is portrayed in Netflix’s last sensation, House of Cards, about a ruthless American congressman who slowly makes his way up to the highest ranks of the White House. Kevin Spacey, accompanied by the very talented Robin Wright as his wife, plays Frank Underwood and portrays the ambitious politician. The show revolves around how Underwood plays with each person he wants to see gone or on his side and how he manipulates his way into the White House. Other characters also include a lobbyist and Underwood’s communications director, providing a good overview of how PR is practiced in political circles. Of course, let’s not forget it is still a TV show, although amazingly well-written and quite accurate. But for once, the public gets to see a whole new side of PR and the profession is finally portrayed as more serious and diverse as it used to be in previous shows. Final point, in House of Cards, major PR characters are all men !

As the industry is expanding and the profession is gaining more recognition, show business and Hollywood surely is getting more interested in telling the stories of people who can make or unmake reputations and careers. Even though, let’s be honest, it is still quite far from the truth…

Bonus : A new show focusing on an advertising agency (starring Robin Williams) premiered last September, and I think it’s fair to say, as funny and witty as it is, real ad agencies are very far from that…!

References :

http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/Does_Olivia_Pope_of_Scandal_represent_the_PR_indus_47824.aspx

Further Reading :

Girls on screen (journal article)

http://practicalissues.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/scandal-is-it-good-for-public-relations-education/

http://dittopublicaffairs.com/2014/02/what-pr-people-can-learn-from-netflixs-house-of-cards/

http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/7_things_PR_pros_can_learn_from_House_of_Cards_15145.aspx

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Ethics and PR, the endless debate

PRRoadsign

Ethics in PR has always been one of the main issues discussed among the profession. If we go back to the origins of public relations, it is clear that the profession wasn’t the most ethical one. Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, was in favour of manipulating society and public opinions and he helped creating opinion-shaping methods.

As public relations grew as a profession and a real industry, authors and scholars never stopped questionning the ethical dimension of PR practices. In fact, as a PR student myself, that was the topic of our first essay this year, and 2000 words are not enough to cover the subject, but it’s a beginning.

The dominant paradigm in Public Relations today is Grunig and Hunt’s four models that are as follow :

Model Name Type of communication Characteristics
Press agent/Publicity One-way communication Uses persuasion and manipulation to influence audiences to behave as the organisation desires
Public Information Model One-way communication Uses press releases and other one-way comm techniques to distribute organisational information. The PR practitioner is often reffered as the in-house journalist.
Two-way asymmetrical model Two-way communication (imbalanced) Uses persuasion and manipulation to influence audiences to behave as the organisation desires. Does not use research to find out how stakeholders feel about the organisation.
Two-way symmetrical model Two-way communication Uses communication to negotiate with the public, resolve conflict and promote mutual understanding and respect between the organisation and its stakeholders.

However, the ethical dimension of each of these models can be discussed and questionned. Is there a better way to do PR ? Can PR practices ever be ethical ? Many people think that PR, just as advertising or marketing, is just manipulation, propaganda, a way for organisations to shape the public opinion.  It is true that in-house PR teams are here to help their organisations convey the best message and project a good image of their business. But how do you that without ever hiding anything ? Heather Yaxley also asks another interesting question : “An interesting question is how communications theories and ethics apply when the public relations function of an organisation uses lobbying to prevent information being available.  The approach may well have been a persuasive one in respect of government relations – but it is a total denial of communications to the wider public.

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Is there one way to do ethical PR ? One would think yes, for NGOs or charities for example. But is it any different ? It is unlikely that doing PR for a “good cause” will change anything to the way we practice PR. Working for Greenpeace may be seen as a great thing, however, does Greenpeace always conduct ethical actions ? In fact, they sometimes use PR techniques to make their points.

There may be no perfect way to do ethical PR as it is in itself a profession that has to convey a message and sometimes bends the truth to its benefit but it is clear that the debate will never be over. And who knows, with hard work and more ethical practitioners, one day, PR will stop being linked to manipulation or propaganda.

References :

http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/08/16/specials/bernays-obit.html

http://greenbanana.wordpress.com/?s=ethics&submit=Search

Grunig and Hunt, Managing PR (1984)

Further Reading : 

http://www.prconversations.com/index.php/2008/01/ethics-culture-and-public-relations/

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2009/may/09/marks-spencer-bra-apology

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/mar/09/public-relations-liars-blog-ethics

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