Friday, 27 May 2011


Tending to my dissertation - "How important a management function is public relations in Inida: A comparative study between multi-national companies and domestic companies.

Will get back soon.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

CSR or Greenwashing?

Corporate social responsibility does not have a universally accepted definition and thus organisations globally, who practice it, do it differently. CSR has seen a huge take up with companies since 1970s, everything from cars to food is being sold to consumers as 'green' or 'sustainable'.  In some companies, CSR falls to be crucial and genuine but the majority of them use it as a spin to damaging events - a concealer for dark circles. In the UK less than 1% of an organisation's budget is allotted for CSR activities. 

BP Green Fiasco

The baddies like organisations in the oil and gas industry, coal and mines or any sector that directly harms the environment try very hard to sell their products/services as green/sustainable . One example was British Petroleum (BP)'s revamp to Beyond Petroleum, a green project to ensure responsible and sustainable activities of its organisation. While they did invest huge time and money on this project - changing their logo to a green one took up most of the investment. It not only pinched the organisation hard on the waste of investment, it trampled their little existing reputation.

The need for something like CSR arose with varied and increasing environmental issues and increasing number of NGO watchdogs, reduced trust in companies, 'more than just business' attitude of companies and the economic turndown to an extent. With these factors in hand, most companies developed CSR strategies to show their participation in different ways. There has been an observation made by most CSR strategists that CSR plans and strategies have not yet been merged with business objectives and when that happens CSR may not be viewed as such a green sell off. 

Due to media exposure on companies with good and bad CSR initiatives, NGOs cracking the whips on companies to be increasingly sustainable, consumers are highly aware and alert about CSR vs green washing. Websites like greenwashing index equips consumers with a information and tools to spot CSR as green spin offs. 

The Green revolution
Organisations need to recognise the opportunities behind genuine sustainability initiatives as it not only builds their financial performances but also is an excellent way of maintaining high brand value, reputation and trust. For public relations such authentic CSR planning and strategies is a recipe for positive communication for all stakeholders, tailoring CSR strategy planning and free and positive news coverage. The PR department in the baddie organisations, on the other hand, will keep brushing green to mask its damages.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Political Communications

Like public relations, political communications finds it hard to define itself and its remits. A simple way to understand this field is to understand what political communicators do. Political communicators use various paid and free media to communicate messages of their political parties to their audiences, who are the citizens. While this explanation is fairly simple, it remains highly debated and in some sense controversial.

Breaking down the above explanation, three important words can be spotted - media, messages and citizens. Media - the evolution of media has carried with it the evolution of its usage at different periods. Political leaders and preachers, historically,  stood on boxes at market places to reach out to their audiences in a rather personal fashion. While that mode of communication did disappear for a few decades, it's back and so is the 'interpersonal' and 'conversational' medium of communication between politicians and citizens. Citizens more and more want to directly communicate with their leaders and leaders on the other hand have their own agenda behind conversational communication. 

Media bias
The print media, in Britain at least, has been relatively open about their political stance, which again is not fixed. Reporters and reportage on politics is biased, highly opinionated and influential. The people reading the newspapers know it, and the political communicators have a great opportunity to pitch stories with papers that would use it without refining it too much. 'Objectivity' in journalism sounds good in theory rather than in practice. McNair affirms that, "Media biases are of key importance. In democratic political systems media function both as transmitters of political communication which originates outside the media organisation itself, and as senders of political messages constructed by journalists." Another important factor while considering media is the ownership. At the end of the day it all boils down to whose powers outweighs who, defining the agenda-setters and gate keepers of journalistic information.

To get back their personal touch with citizens, politicians worldwide have begun to use the digital space which is argued to be 'two-way' and 'conversational' medium of communication. The Obama campaign is one of the best examples of successful political communications and online election campaign. He was able to touch base with millions of Americans and continues to do so. It ticked all the boxes of the role of a PR professional or communicator. Not only did Obama win the elections, but also proved  to skeptics that strategic usage of the online media can deliver. 

Obama campaign poster

The Obama campaign used all forms of media - advertising, merchandising, online and offline party broadcasts, posters and above all earned media through news coverage. The political messages were simple, clear and extremely effective. The election campaign messages connected with the audience and showed 'un-mashed' resonance. Not only did his campaign churn out 'effective messages', it crafted an image for Obama. This almost 'celebritization' of made him an idol of many Americans and significantly raised trust in him and his policies.

Political communicators today need to not only focus on media management, but need to dive into more creative ways to produce messages and content that remain in the minds of the audiences intact and opens new methods of conversations with their political leaders both on online and offline medias.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Virtual revolution, at what cost?

We had a class on social media, no this time it was not about the greatness of social media and how its going to consume the world! but, it opened a new perspective to this greatness.

Free information?
"The Virtual Revolution" is a series of episodes on the evolution of the internet documented by BBC's Aleks Krotoski. The episode we watched was "The Cost of Free". 

While the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee didn't get a penny one of the greatest inventions in history, Google, with its simple business model is now one of the richest companies in the world. How did Google do it, why should we be concerned and what it is in for the public relations industry?

Google's link counting algorithm made Google the number one search engine and provided search results to users for free. Really? Google devised a model that monopolised online advertising and the usage of the world wide web. They knew that no user would be willing to pay and also that the principle behing the invention of the internet was to provide users free and unlimited access. Google's money making minds linked the concept of online advertising and search results. So now when a user searches for free, he/she often gets a list of advertisements related to the search terms on the right hand corner. This is how they made money and provided users free information. 

Ads based on search terms

As the internet fire is catching up, and with the introduction of social media and exciting application, advertisers have access to personal and professional information of users hence providing tailored and targeted messages and advertisements. Emails are scanned, browsing habits can be tracked leading to filtered and behaviour advertising. 

Users unknowingly and knowingly pass on private/professional information but at what cost and is it really worth it?

Media has always been prime to public relations practitioners. Online media has gained an integral status and for public relations practitioners it has become challenging to address these online audiences. Till the mid 90s, public relations practitioners just needed to call journalists and brief them, but since then, the job of a public relations person has become difficult as the content creation needs to be creative and appealing for audiences to chose to view it. Gone are the days when information and messages needed to be pushed to gain public attention, in today's social media age, users have the discretion to view or discard information.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Agenda setters: PR or Media?

Spin - Good, Bad?
In a pluralist society, a market place of voices, one voice tries hard to be louder than the other and seek attention, each voice has it's own agenda, so what the agenda of PR and the media, and who spins the most.

Public relations has long been associated with spin, propaganda and persuasion. Arguably, this may be true, the principles of spin have altered in today's time. Call it lazy journalism or 24X7 global news requirements, 54% of the news is PR material.

Spun and Spinnig

So who owns the news-Journalists or PR professionals? A look at the Number 10 news on BBC gives a uncovers a new angle to spin. In this broadcast, Alastair Campbell, press secretary to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his relationship with Westminster's lobby journalists provide give an insider view to the world of politics, PR, spin and media. The telecast shows a how Campbell, categorically drip-feeds information to journalists that is favourable and often shunning those are of controversial in nature. He chooses his journalists, looks out for the "good" angle in stories and publicises them. On the other hand the media is seen to ask Campbell to provide packaged information and also agreeing to publication of certain information.

After giving this broadcast a thought, the questions that arise are - Who does a layman or a concerned citizen believe? Is news still ethical and reliable? For all the code of ethics, the reasons to be transparent, the debate in the PR industry about control and the trust in politics,  this broadcast answers the questions and to a wide extent.

With the power of social media, can spin still survive or is surviving? Will the media take their share of agreement of spin, or will PR spin their accusation on spinning on the media?

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Top 10 social marketing tips revealed!

We had a guest lecture on Social Marketing by Sean Kidney, here is an encapsulated version of it.

Social Change
Social Marketing?
Social marketing is the systematic application of marketing, along with other communication concepts to achieve specific behavioural goals  by designing "change campaigns" for social good. According to Kidney, "It is the technology about achieving social change."In social marketing, individuals directly or indirectly act as "personal social agents". Marketing is an exchange for mutual benefit, similarly, social marketing bridges constraints between two factors - you sell your "story" to achieve social good - mutual benefit relationship.  

The Change
According to Kidney, social marketing aims at behavioural change and attitudinal change. "Compulsion change" - bringing about changes in law and regulation through lobbying, insider and outsider approaches, helps activist organisations achieve their main outcome - social change by tactically targeting powerful people.  It aims at mainly using the structural change approach with an element of individual behaviour change as an "engagement strategy".

Four P's of social marketing camapigns
Top 10 social marketing campaign tips:

  1. In-depth research of the problem
  2. Ascertain target audience
  3. Establish key advocates, influencers and decision makers
  4. Plan, prepare and frame messages
  5. Tell stories, not just facts
  6. Chalk out collective, realistic, measurable solutions
  7. Build coalitions
  8. Neutralise your opponents
  9. Test your campaign
  10. Than go public!

Friday, 11 March 2011

NGO, Activism and Public relations

Perceptions of the sectors
Greenpeace - David vs Goliath
NGO, non-profits and activists have often been categorised under "third sector" or "the fifth estate". This sector mushroomed in the 90's and since then have been the new watchdogs for the public. The perception of corporates by activists and NGOs was - "capitalist structures with exploitative relationships with communities" - and corporates in turn viewed activists as potential "threats". When corporates acknowledged the power of NGOs/activists and their increasing trust among the public, they were grouped as "active publics" that need to be managed. As an anti-activism strategy, corporates undertook "astroturfing" and "greenwashing" to paint a rather clean picture of their activities and practices.

The issue
Demetrious (2006) raises an important issue, "Activists have ignored the constructive practices of the PR industry and the PR industry has ignored the constructive practices of activists." But gladly these views have changed, Tench and Yeomans (2006) have asserted that, "Activists are regarded as a challenge to PR practitioners working for corporations but it should be borne in mind that activist organisations employ PR practitioners too." Though the PR industry has acknowledged NGO PR, there is limited existing literature on this subject.

PR practice in the NGO sector
PR in the NGO sector is different from the generic PR practice. Their practice requires in-depth ans extensive research, an aim for social change and above all undying passion and hope. They use tactical approaches to address social problems to achieve social and behavioural changes. Some activist/NGO organisations undertake lobbying and insider relations with the people in power in a view to achieve substantial, arguable compulsive results to achieve social change and the other kind like to go out loud and radical mobilising rallies, protests, marches to arrest attention of decision makers and powerful people. There are two main theories adopted by activists - structural behaviour theory and individual behaviour theory. While most activist campaigns use a combination of the two theories, many organisations, arguably, have spent more time, resources and energy in individual behaviour theory which has minimum scope of reaching their overall objective - social change.

Online activist based organisation

Online Activism
Arguably, a new type of activist organisation has sprung up which is online activism. Online activism uses internet to create political and social movements in order to achieve social change. While it has it's own limitations, online activism empowers individuals and engages them to be activists and social agents   to bring about a change. NGOs have been early adopters of online activism and has been able to highlight the power of it.  

PR is highly valued
NGO, activism and PR have gone a long way with strategically and more often successfully utilising  public relations practice and being a communications driven field has valued public relations more than any other industry.