PR and Marketing, a complicated love story…

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PR, marketing, marketing PR (MPR), communications. You would think all of these words describe the same thing and you wouldn’t be too far from the truth. In theory, Public Relations, marketing, communications are three different things. In practice, the boundary between these three disciplines is getting more blurred by the day, especially since the rise of new media, the Internet and the ever-present social media platforms that shape our everyday lives. The famous PR pactitioner and blogger Mark Borkowski says that ‘The PR and marketing landscape has forever changed, thanks to the ever-present giant that is the internet – never was this more obvious than when I looked at my audience at the SearchLove conference, which consisted of a plethora of technophiles looking lovingly at their laptops.‘ (Nov, 1st 2013). He couldn’t be more right. You just have to look at the people on the tube, and realise that we are stuck to our screens all day long, reading, watching, sharing content that, for the most part, is produced by PR and marketing.

Viral videos and stunts are the perfect example that new technologies and the ability to put your content online so quickly has made the relationship between PR and marketing blurrier than ever. Is PR part of marketing ? I’d like to think not but many scholars and authoritative sources seem to think that PR is actually one marketing technique. Kevin Moloney, in his book Rethinking Public Relations (2006), declares that PR and marketing should work alongside now and not see themselves as arch-enemies : ‘Put together PR and marketing disciplines and they are better able to handle multifaceted propositions. […] PR and marketing techniques together offer the marketeer a wide-ranging variety of expressive modes (words, photographs, visuals, sounds) and a multiplicity of message distribution channels (e.g. editorial, paid advertisements, logos, competitions) to communicate the complexity in a persuasive way.‘ (p135)

And it is true that if you type ‘PR and marketing’ in the searchbar of Mashable, you end up with a long list of various articles about PR, marketing, advertising and so on. Everything gets blurred and the disciplines are starting to blend into a giant profession of ‘PR-marketing-communication-advertising-brand-journalism’. If you look at job offers, it is clear that today, PR practitioners need to be able to juggle many different tasks borrowed from marketing, PR, advertising and sometimes journalism.

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It is clear that the Internet and social media have forever changed the perception that we have of PR and marketing, and it has definitely changed the practices but are the two disciplines going to merge or will they find a way to exist alongside and work together ? I hope for the latter, even though I know it will always be more difficult than ever to define and explain my profession to my family and friends. As if it weren’t complicated enough…

Sources :

http://www.markborkowski.co.uk/dont-destroy-a-good-story-with-fact-it-gets-in-the-way-of-the-truth/

K. Moloney, Rethinking Public Relations (2006)

Further Reading :

http://greenbanana.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/pr-propaganda-marketing-publicity-communication-is-differentiation-important/

J. L’Etang,  Public Relations, concepts, practice and critique (2008) – Chapters 2,3,7 and 8

http://publicsphere.typepad.com/mediations/2013/02/where-next-for-pr.html

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Nudge – Giving a little PR push

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Last week, I learned a new word and expanded my vocabulary : nudge. In fact, without having the right translation, I knew what the word implied and meant. Literally, a nudge is a small push given to somebody to do something. The same way you would gently push your shy friend who can’t seem to be able to go talk to that boy.

What I didn’t know, more precisely what I didn’t want to acknowledge, is that this technique is used by PR agencies topush people to change their behaviours, either towards alcohol, cigarettes or the environment for example. So, is nudge becoming the new technique that could change the PR world ? After all, the PR industry has always aimed at changing the public’s opinions and behaviours, especially on social and environmental matters and it seems that talking and rational discourse is not enough anymore.

The car manufacturer Volkswagen has actually had a brilliant idea when they initiated the website ‘The Fun Theory’, a website dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better’.

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The Fun Theory website

Brilliant PR move indeed, especially from an automobile brand that will always have to counterbalance their production of polluting products with ‘good deeds’ or socially responsible initiatives.

The interesting idea about the Fun Theory is how you can easily change people’s behaviours with funny and playful PRtactics. And Volkswagen’s Piano Staircase for example proves that talking is overrated.

The brand has even created the Fun Theory Awards to push people to take part in making the world better with funny ideas and it worked as they received a lot of very creative things.

So, is nudge the future of PR campaigns ? Will it become the essential tool that PR people need to include in their programs ?

It seems to be working well for now and it is quite understandable : in a society where anything and everything is judged by the public opinion and where you have to be careful about any moral implication when you do something, the rational discourse can be seen as moralistic and aiming at making you feel guilty. Adding a little fun to social PR campaigns won’t hurt anyone, on the contrary.

Source :

http://www.thefuntheory.com

Further Reading :

Nudge : improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness, Thaler and Sunstein (2009)

http://blog.marketing-soc.org.uk/2012/05/beyond-nudge-by-crawford-hollingworth/

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PR is everywhere – how PR has made its way into our lives

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‘If only for a second’ campaign

One of the main issue that remains today in Public Relations is the role of PR practitioners within their organisation. Many things have been said about PR practices and many words have been used to describe it : spin, propaganda,persuasion, and so on.

In his book ‘Rethinking PR’, Kevin Moloney (2000) even says of PR that it is ‘such a pervasive activity in our society today that it is impossible for a citizen or consumer to avoid‘. Indeed, PR has made its way through almost any activity, from finance to entertainment and it is now almost impossible to launch a business or conduct an activity without taking into account promotional issues and the importance of PR.

As a PR student myself, I realise that I now see PR everywhere (hazard of the profession ?). Every time I come accross a video on social media or an article, I can’t help but ask myself ‘What is the point of that video ? Is it driven or created by PR professionals ?’.

That’s precisely what happened when I stumbled upon the following video.

 

My brain immediately told me that it was not so innocent and after a quick research, I found out that the Mimi Foundation was the initiator of the project. Their mission is ‘to  contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of people affected by cancer, more specifically during the entire period of their chemotherapy/radiotherapy treatment.’ They created a dedicated website for the project and which includes, of course, a press kit with the inevitable press release.

The video was created by the agency Leo Burnett France and a book was published with the pictures taken on the day. The video has become viral and has reached more than 15m views on Youtube. And of course, it is a great project and makes you smile when you watch it. But would it be as powerful if it had not been planned and created by PR professionals ? Of course, for the random person, this type of video is another viral video that you share with your friends because you like the message. For someone who knows the whole process behind it, it just shows that PR is at the center of every single type of activity nowadays. In fact, Cutlip and Center (2013, 11th ed.) go even further when saying that ‘One of the few generalizations in Public Relations is that an organization’s public reputation derives in substantial part from the behaviorof its senior officials. […] Thus, public relations is inescapably tied, by nature and by necessity, to top management, with public relations staff providing counsel and communication support.’

Which basically means that no organisation today can survive without PR practitioners. But is it really happening in real life ? And more importantly, what exact role do PR professionals hold within their organisation ? It seems to me that the importance of their profession and their influence upon the decision-making process is increasing by the day, and that people do not apprehend the major role that PR has in our society today.

References :

Cutlip and Center (2013), Effective Public Relations, 11th ed.

Moloney, K (2006), Rethinking Public Relations, 2nd ed.

 http://www.mimi-foundation.org/en/ifonlyforasecond.html

If only for a second Press Kit :

Press Release

BOOK

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Scarlett Johansson should have thought twice before endorsing Sodastream

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When we hear Scarlett Johansson, we think cinema, blonde, sexy, maybe latest Marvel movie as well. But lately, Scarlett Johansson’s name has been associated with a much serious matter after she chose to appear in a Sodastream ad that will air during the Super Bowl in the USA.

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Factory in the West Bank

The Israeli company manufactures home carbonation systems that allow consumers to produce their own sodas at home. Their message has always been the eco-friendly part of their business but what has been left unsaid for some time is that they maintain a large factory in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, a territory captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by Palestinians. Recently, pro-palestinian activists have tried to draw the attention of the media and the public opinion on that matter, with some success, as many people have started boycotting the brand.

When Scarlett Johansson was revealed as the new brand ambassador though, it became a problem for Oxfam, a charity she has been an ambassador for since 2005. Indeed, Oxfam International opposes ‘all trade’ from Israeli settlements, saying they are illegal and deny Palestinian rights (source : telegraph.co.uk).

Scarlett Johansson has then decided to resign as an ambassador for the group, citing a ‘fundamental difference of opinion’. Following criticism, she released a statement on the Huffington Post’s blog (full statement here), saying that I believe in conscious consumerism and transparency and I trust that the consumer will make their own educated choice that is right for them. I stand behind the SodaStream product and am proud of the work that I have accomplished at Oxfam as an Ambassador for over 8 years. Even though it is a side effect of representing SodaStream, I am happy that light is being shed on this issue in hopes that a greater number of voices will contribute to the conversation of a peaceful two state solution in the near future.’

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The controversial Sodastream ad

Should Scarlett Johansson have thought twice before endorsing Sodastream while knowingly supporting Oxfam ? Probably, or she should have sought advice from a good PR practitioner beforehand. The power activists have today over organisations and their management decisions is not to be taken lightly. In their article Fringe public relations: How activism moves critical pr toward the mainstream’, Coombs and Holladay declare that ‘the activists act as the antithesis to the organization’s thesis. Synthesis occurs when the organization considers the needs of the activists.’ In that case, that’s exactly what happened to poor Scarlett, when Oxfam decided to push her towards the exit after activists’ criticism became louder and louder. However, instead of apologising, Scarlett Johansson chose to stand by her choice, resisting to the pressure. Bold move ? Certainly, but from a PR point of view, Miss Johansson should be careful when show business gets mixed with politics, as her reputation might take a big hit from this controversy, especially at a time when Israel and Palestine are conducting US-backed peace talks.

Bonus :

A recent video where Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe demolishes Scarlett Johansson’s support for Sodastream. Quite funny.

Source :

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/10597690/Scarlett-Johansson-defends-SodaStream-deal.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scarlett-johansson/sodastream_b_4661895.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2548557/Scarlett-Johansson-ends-relationship-Oxfam-SodaStream-endorsement.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-25958176

Coombs+Holladay-crtiitcalpr+excellencemodel

Further Reading :

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/brendanoneill2/100257423/three-cheers-for-scarlett-johanssons-stand-against-the-ugly-illiberal-boycott-israel-movement/

http://www.markborkowski.co.uk/scarlett-oxfam-sodastream/

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Amazon.com : are they done ?

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One of Amazon’s warehouses

After the recent accusations Amazon faced concerning their working conditions, it has been very surprising not to hear them comment more on the matter. In fact, they are even trying to shift the attention of the media on their other recent achievements and innovations. Good PR strategy ?

As a great fan of cinema, music and literature, I have always been eager to find retailers that have the best offer. When Amazon.com was launched and soon became the number one online retailer for almost every sort of item, from CDs and DVDs to clothes and computer accessories, people discovered a new way to shop. Fast, easy and cheap.

Born in 1995, almost twenty years ago, the Internet giant had one of the fastest growth in Internet’s history, reaching $2,8bn of revenues within 5 years. Amazon has 51,300 employees, 13 times more than Facebook and they have an annual revenue of $48bn, 27% more than Google, to mention a few figures that undoubtedly prove that Amazon has become one of Internet’s biggest corporation (source : smartinsights.com).
Amazon describes the vision of their business as to : “Relentlessly focus on customer experience by offering our customers low prices, convenience, and a wide selection of merchandise.” Their vision is to offer “Earth’s biggest selection and to be Earth’s most customer-centric company.”

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As for customer’s loyalty, there is no doubt that Amazon has achieved that and that it is the key to their worldwide success. But recently, the innovative business has been strongly criticised in several countries, including the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

The first time I heard about the working conditions at Amazon was during the interview of a French journalist, Jean-Baptiste Malet, in the talk show ‘Le Grand Journal’, who was talking about his experience as an Amazon employee. He wrote a book documenting his experience and how Amazon treat their employees and it is not a pretty image. Not long after that, Amazon workers went on strike in Germany, focusing on the issues of on-the-job injuries and mistreatment. Surprisingly enough, Amazon Germany executives then laid off hundreds of employees two days before Christmas. In the United Kingdom, unionshave criticised Amazon’s working conditions, claiming that the giant treats its employees like ‘robots with no say’ (source : heraldscotland.com). The BBC even secretly videotaped one of Amazon’s UK-based warehouse and found that the working conditions are so bad that a stress expert said it could cause ‘mental and physical illness’ (source : bbc.co.uk).

But the question here is : what does Amazon have to say about all those accusations ?
Well, as for now, not much. After the BBC broadcast its Panorama documentary called ‘Amazon: The Truth Behind the Click’, a spokesperson insisted that the company sought expert advice to make sure the shifts ‘comply with all legal requirement’, adding that ‘together we’re working hard to make sure we’re better tomorrow than we were today” and insisting on their employees’ well-being as their number one priority.

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Screenshot of results on Mashable for Amazon

I’m not sure that this statement convinced many people after journalists from many countries (France, the UK, Germany and even the US) all agreed on the poor working conditions at Amazon’s warehouses, having experienced it themselves on the field. Today, it doesn’t seem like Amazon is really worried about its reputation as they still hit the headlines with their new innovative shipping techniques and other drone-controlled fantasy deliveries.

Or is it actually their PR strategy to try and shape the news to their advantage in order to make people forget about the scandals that are hitting them ?

It may seem like an effective strategy for now, but in the long run, people will start questioning Amazon’s practices again and there will come a time when they will have to give real answers and even start changing their behaviour. They’d better start looking for a good PR agency right now.

Sources :

http://www.pslweb.org/liberationnews/news/amazon-workers-strike-in.html
http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/amazon-working-conditions-criticised-by-union.23146894
http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/amazon-hits-back-over-panorama-6337773
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25034598
http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/amazon-working-conditions-criticised-by-union.23146894

Further Reading :

Malet, JB (2013) En Amazonie. Infiltré dans le meilleur des mondes. Ed Fayard, Paris.

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/dec/01/week-amazon-insider-feature-treatment-employees-work

http://www.thebookseller.com/news/living-wage-petition-heads-amazons-office.html

http://www.nasdaq.com/article/amazon-workers-strike-to-continue-analyst-blog-cm313885

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/13/amazon-vs-walmart_n_4589724.html

http://mashable.com/search/?t=stories&q=amazon

http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2013/11/MALET/49762

http://www.boursier.com/indices/actualites/news/pre-ouverture-wall-street-amazon-et-mastercard-plongent-wal-mart-alerte-google-resiste-564567.html

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