The|Intangibles » Corporate Reputation http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/boydneil Selected posts from Boyd Neil's blog at http://www.boydneil.com Tue, 23 Nov 2010 20:22:30 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.9.2 en hourly 1 CSR & the Capital Markets http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2010/9/16/csr-the-capital-markets.html http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2010/9/16/csr-the-capital-markets.html#comments Thu, 16 Sep 2010 13:54:25 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:8870745 Discussions about the relevance and influence of corporate social responsibility usually don’t take into account the significance of corporate conduct on capital market decisions, perhaps because it is thought this is the arcane domain of financial analysts and academics.

However, if those of us who believe responsible conduct is an imperative and not just an afterthought to a business strategy, then we should get better at finding and defending the evidence that the capital markets will react to social and environmental behaviour if only to manage risk.

Fortunately, we’ve been given an advantage with two academic papers appearing over the past couple of months which look at the repercussions of CSR on cost of capital and investment strategies. (Thanks Tara, a colleague, for sending them my way!)

Having not read the full studies yet, I can’t tell you whether the findings are  definitive. But the abstracts offered here suggest they may provide some materiel for engagement with the Freidmanites.

The first Does Corporate Social Responsibility Affect the Cost of Capital? jointly authored by four academics, three of whom are based at Canadian universities:

We examine the effect of corporate social responsibility (CSR) on the cost of equity capital for a large sample of U.S. firms. Using several approaches to estimate firms’ ex ante cost of equity, we find that firms with better CSR scores exhibit cheaper equity financing. In particular, our findings suggest that investment in improving responsible employee relations, environmental policies, and product strategies contributes substantially to reducing firms’ cost of equity. Our results also show that participation in two “sin” industries, namely, tobacco and nuclear power, increases firms’ cost of equity. These findings support arguments in the literature that firms with socially responsible practices have higher valuation and lower risk.

The second is a working paper called The Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility on Investment Recommendations by Ioannis Ioannou of London Business School and George Serafeim of Harvard Business School.

Using a large sample of publicly traded US firms over 16 years, we investigate the impact of corporate socially responsible (CSR) strategies on security analysts’ recommendations. Socially responsible firms receive more favorable recommendations in recent years relative to earlier ones, documenting a changing perception of the value of such strategies by the analysts. Moreover, we find that firms with higher visibility receive more favorable recommendations for their CSR strategies and that analysts with more experience, broader CSR awareness or those with more resources at their disposal, are more likely to perceive the value of CSR strategies more favorably. Our results document how CSR strategies can affect value creation in public equity markets through analyst recommendations.

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Forget Foursquare? Not yet. http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2010/6/24/forget-foursquare-not-yet.html http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2010/6/24/forget-foursquare-not-yet.html#comments Mon, 05 Jul 2010 17:53:51 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:7300792

Time magazine not too long ago rated Foursquare as among The 50 Worst Inventions (along with Crocs, DDT and subprime mortgages). When I talk to friends about the social web tools I use regularly, Foursquare is the one that comes in for the most derision (although the same happened two years ago when I started to use Twitter).

I’ve given it a few months. I have a variety of badges and am now mayor of the Starbucks in the Longo’s Food Market, of my favorite Toronto restaurant Pangaea, a Chapters bookstore,  my whole office building in Toronto, and my home office. I just started following Mashable on foursquare. And it is fun knowing what connections or business associates are up to you.

But so far the “rewards” have been non-existent, although according to Mashable we will be able to start wearing Foursquare gear and apparently Foursquare will be coming out with badge rewards. There is the guilty and somewhat narcissistic pleasure of being ‘mayor’ of somewhere. But no specials have been offered. No frequent-visitor “miles” from Starbucks. Only two friends have used the tips feature (thanks Ed Lee and Collin Douma). And I have annoyed many with frequent updates of my location by connecting Foursquare to Twitter and Facebook, a function I’ve now disabled.

Still, being a contrarian I think I’ll mount a defence, although I’m sure these ideas have been mentioned by others.

There are obvious reasons for retailers and tourism groups and associations to take a close look at geo-tagging services like Foursquare. Site-specific communications for cities and historic/art sites are also a possibility. I think I read somewhere that the Philadelphia tourism bureau has made an arrangement with Foursquare to ‘tag’ historic sites with background  information. When you check-in at a historic monument or attraction, the ‘tip’ accompanying the tag a short burst of background or a recommendation for another site close by.

Foursquare is also uniquely suited to small, local businesses who serve a broad but regular clientele. Knowing that specific and identifiable customers frequent your restaurant, coffee shop, or clothing store means you can potentially reward their loyalty or recommend other products or services. I could see how companies with large sales staff could use Foursquare as a means of staff checking in.

People give a lot individual reasons for using Fousquare . . . arranging meetups at conferences, picking out local pubs, gathering nearby ‘friends’ for an impromptu party. Rae Hoffman at Outspoken Media used Foursquare ‘tips’ to avoid long line-ups at the airport in Orland Florida.

But what about for managing a company or organization’s reputation or dealing with an issue? I’m hard-pressed to think of anything more applicable than these two ideas:

  1. Build some identity capital simply by ensuring your company name appears in the list of ‘places’ when someone checks in in your vicinity, and add a tip the points out your vision and values.
  2. Provide contact information for a community manager in your company so that Foursquare users nearby recognize that you value connection

I dont’ know where Foursquare is at with respect to building out any of these evident strengths. But we Foursquare users are a patient bunch of folks. While standing by for more substantive applications, I am happy just to wait it out and build my geo-power base.

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A Model of Trust http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2010/5/18/a-model-of-trust.html http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2010/5/18/a-model-of-trust.html#comments Tue, 18 May 2010 20:38:40 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:7711631 Trust is one of those things companies want and stakeholders give sparingly. And trust is being granted even more sporadically today given ample evidence, for example, of a cavernous spin-reality gap in the social performance of some companies.

For companies wanting to assess how likely it is they will win trust, here is a simple graphic against which to chart their performance on the actions and values that are the simple building blocks of trust, credibility and belief.

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Trust is one of those things companies want and stakeholders give sparingly. And trust is being granted even more sporadically today given ample evidence, for example, of a cavernous spin-reality gap in the social performance of some companies.

For companies wanting to assess how likely it is they will win trust, here is a simple graphic against which to chart their performance on the actions and values that are the simple building blocks of trust, credibility and belief.

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A Year in Five Social Media Movements http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2010/1/4/a-year-in-five-social-media-movements.html http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2010/1/4/a-year-in-five-social-media-movements.html#comments Mon, 04 Jan 2010 21:13:31 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:6132697 Reports on social media trends in 2009 are ubiquitous -- here's one of the most useful lists from Adam Vincenzini in The Comms Corner -- as are cogitative posts about what to expect in 2010 like that by David Armano blogging at the Harvard Business Review.

My assessment of what mattered last year is shorter and more personal, and I am too deferential to the forecasting abilities of others to speculate on 2010:

  1. Many words, occasional invective and a lot of social media blood were spilled over the demise of newspapers and its effect on journalism and those who practice it within the historical news delivery infrastructure. I weighed in often enough because I believe there is a radical shift in the sources of reporting, the formation of public opinion through communication, and the opportunity for individuals and groups, when motivated, to work around the traditional news infrastructure to exchange information, ideas and opinion for social change and political purposes.  The critical words on this issue in Canada may have been spoken by The Supreme Court of Canada. In late December its ruling on responsible communication made it clear that such communication is not just the province of journalists, but of anyone engaged in public communication including bloggers  As David Eaves so eloquently summed it up in his post "The ruling acknowledges that we are all now journalists and that we need a legal regime that recognizes this reality."
  2. During the Iran elections in June 2009, Twitter became the means for getting images and news out about the repression of democratic protest. Recognizing that Twitter was a tool by which people in Iran were communicating with each other, and the world outside, even the U.S. State Department asked Twitter to delay its scheduled maintenance outage in order not to impede the flow of information. In my view, this was the single event that brought Twitter naysayers to heel, especially cynical journalists. News was being reported by citizens through a social network that some silly luddite columnists (still) see as "little more than the glorification of self indulgent trivia". (Martin Vander Weyer in The Spectator, January 2, 2010). 
  3. Speaking of reality, it is now being augmented in ways that are mind boggling. Augmented reality refers to the overlay of the virtual on the real. As explained by Ben Parr last August "These applications combine virtual data into the physical real world by utilizing the iPhone 3GS or an Android phone’s compass, camera, and GPS system. The result is that you can see things like the location of Twitter users and local restaurants in the physical world, even if they are miles away." While excitement has been focused on fun apps like being able to wave your iPhone or Android in the air and find the nearest pubs, there are obviously hundreds of other uses, especially for product seeding . . . about which I know nothing. As for reputation management, corporate communications or issue identification and control, well, I'm not sure.
  4. I am a little surprised that Google's Sidewiki has become a non-story. At first blush, it seemed to have the potential to be a game shifter in how people interact with web content about which they have strong opinions, pro or con. It may be that social networks are already platforms for interaction about web content and Sidwiki in the context of opinionated and criticism-friendly social networks is simply redundant.
  5. As a consultant over the past couple of years, I have been recommending social media strategies as pivotal in the success of reputation management programs largely because they are community (or affinity) rather than media focused. Clients are buying into it. But the conversations I've been having with companies over the last few months lead me to think we are at a social media tipping point (no, I have not read Mr. Gladwell's epnymous book). According to the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts, "Social media is mainstream. Forty-three percent of Inc. 500 companies consider social media important to their business, with 91 percent of Inc. 500 companies employing at least one tool in 2009." Employing one tool, however, is not a strategy and many companies and organizations are recognizing that the one-off Facebook page or Twitter handle isn't giving them traction, nor will it. They'll want -- or should be wanting -- the full game plan.

So, I lied: Number five is a 2010 forecast.

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Reports on social media trends in 2009 are ubiquitous — here’s one of the most useful lists from Adam Vincenzini in The Comms Corner — as are cogitative posts about what to expect in 2010 like that by David Armano blogging at the Harvard Business Review.

My assessment of what mattered last year is shorter and more personal, and I am too deferential to the forecasting abilities of others to speculate on 2010:

  1. Many words, occasional invective and a lot of social media blood were spilled over the demise of newspapers and its effect on journalism and those who practice it within the historical news delivery infrastructure. I weighed in often enough because I believe there is a radical shift in the sources of reporting, the formation of public opinion through communication, and the opportunity for individuals and groups, when motivated, to work around the traditional news infrastructure to exchange information, ideas and opinion for social change and political purposes.  The critical words on this issue in Canada may have been spoken by The Supreme Court of Canada. In late December its ruling on responsible communication made it clear that such communication is not just the province of journalists, but of anyone engaged in public communication including bloggers  As David Eaves so eloquently summed it up in his post “The ruling acknowledges that we are all now journalists and that we need a legal regime that recognizes this reality.”
  2. During the Iran elections in June 2009, Twitter became the means for getting images and news out about the repression of democratic protest. Recognizing that Twitter was a tool by which people in Iran were communicating with each other, and the world outside, even the U.S. State Department asked Twitter to delay its scheduled maintenance outage in order not to impede the flow of information. In my view, this was the single event that brought Twitter naysayers to heel, especially cynical journalists. News was being reported by citizens through a social network that some silly luddite columnists (still) see as “little more than the glorification of self indulgent trivia”. (Martin Vander Weyer in The Spectator, January 2, 2010).
  3. Speaking of reality, it is now being augmented in ways that are mind boggling. Augmented reality refers to the overlay of the virtual on the real. As explained by Ben Parr last August “These applications combine virtual data into the physical real world by utilizing the iPhone 3GS or an Android phone’s compass, camera, and GPS system. The result is that you can see things like the location of Twitter users and local restaurants in the physical world, even if they are miles away.” While excitement has been focused on fun apps like being able to wave your iPhone or Android in the air and find the nearest pubs, there are obviously hundreds of other uses, especially for product seeding . . . about which I know nothing. As for reputation management, corporate communications or issue identification and control, well, I’m not sure.
  4. I am a little surprised that Google’s Sidewiki has become a non-story. At first blush, it seemed to have the potential to be a game shifter in how people interact with web content about which they have strong opinions, pro or con. It may be that social networks are already platforms for interaction about web content and Sidwiki in the context of opinionated and criticism-friendly social networks is simply redundant.
  5. As a consultant over the past couple of years, I have been recommending social media strategies as pivotal in the success of reputation management programs largely because they are community (or affinity) rather than media focused. Clients are buying into it. But the conversations I’ve been having with companies over the last few months lead me to think we are at a social media tipping point (no, I have not read Mr. Gladwell’s epnymous book). According to the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts, “Social media is mainstream. Forty-three percent of Inc. 500 companies consider social media important to their business, with 91 percent of Inc. 500 companies employing at least one tool in 2009.” Employing one tool, however, is not a strategy and many companies and organizations are recognizing that the one-off Facebook page or Twitter handle isn’t giving them traction, nor will it. They’ll want — or should be wanting — the full game plan.

So, I lied: Number five is a 2010 forecast.

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Newspapers as Niche News Providers http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2009/12/9/newspapers-as-niche-news-providers.html http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2009/12/9/newspapers-as-niche-news-providers.html#comments Wed, 09 Dec 2009 20:30:00 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:6027861 This post by Jim Horton at Online Public Relations Thoughts makes an interesting follow-on to my last post on the decline of newspapers.

The story Mr. Horton references adds even more evidence of the print implosion going on. But his point that "newspapers are fast becoming a niche medium" is the one that hits home: (This is the full text of his post.)

"This is interesting. Newspapers have finally recognized that they are no longer mass media and are cutting back to a core of readers willing to pay for the paper daily. In other words, newspapers are fast becoming a niche medium, no longer powerful but catering to what is probably an older crowd. This means, of course, that newsrooms will continue to shrink and coverage as well until a balance between cost and revenue is achieved. The hard task for newspapers is not to cut too much. The New York Times, for example, is in the middle of newsroom buyouts and lost some of its well-known business reporters in the last few days. Who will replace them? No one.

In PR, we have seen this coming for a couple of years and as practitioners we have been shifting away from newspapers for some time. The problem is that in some areas like business news, there is nowhere else to go. There are no independent blog sites for business news that have become prominent like Politico for political news. Business news blog sites are associated with the same mainstream media that are cutting back. It is a challenge for corporate PR that will only become larger."

There is a shortage of reliable and trustworthy social media alternatives for business news and analysis. Yes, there are dozens of financial and market-watching blogs, online newsletters for the investment industry, and an assortment of kvetchers, but as far as I know no credible news alternatives to the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times of London or the New York Times business pages (at least for the time being).

Until that gap is filled, it will be difficult to convince some organizations of the value of social media-driven communications strategies, although as Mr. Horton points out there may be little choice if business reporters become extinct.

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This post by Jim Horton at Online Public Relations Thoughts makes an interesting follow-on to my last post on the decline of newspapers.

The story Mr. Horton references adds even more evidence of the print implosion going on. But his point that “newspapers are fast becoming a niche medium” is the one that hits home: (This is the full text of his post.)

“This is interesting. Newspapers have finally recognized that they are no longer mass media and are cutting back to a core of readers willing to pay for the paper daily. In other words, newspapers are fast becoming a niche medium, no longer powerful but catering to what is probably an older crowd. This means, of course, that newsrooms will continue to shrink and coverage as well until a balance between cost and revenue is achieved. The hard task for newspapers is not to cut too much. The New York Times, for example, is in the middle of newsroom buyouts and lost some of its well-known business reporters in the last few days. Who will replace them? No one.

In PR, we have seen this coming for a couple of years and as practitioners we have been shifting away from newspapers for some time. The problem is that in some areas like business news, there is nowhere else to go. There are no independent blog sites for business news that have become prominent like Politico for political news. Business news blog sites are associated with the same mainstream media that are cutting back. It is a challenge for corporate PR that will only become larger.”

There is a shortage of reliable and trustworthy social media alternatives for business news and analysis. Yes, there are dozens of financial and market-watching blogs, online newsletters for the investment industry, and an assortment of kvetchers, but as far as I know no credible news alternatives to the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times of London or the New York Times business pages (at least for the time being).

Until that gap is filled, it will be difficult to convince some organizations of the value of social media-driven communications strategies, although as Mr. Horton points out there may be little choice if business reporters become extinct.

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Why Sidewiki May be Okay http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2009/11/13/why-sidewiki-may-be-okay.html http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2009/11/13/why-sidewiki-may-be-okay.html#comments Fri, 13 Nov 2009 22:00:00 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:5780816

I am a bit late to the game with comments on Sidewiki. (It launched more than a month ago.) A student in my Ryerson University reputation management class gave a presentation on it the other night which got me thinking that the debate about its influence on public relations has been thin. Surprising really given that some, like Mark Rose, believe Sidewiki "is a PR game changer".

Here's what Sidewiki allows you to do once you have installed the application: As Google describes it "Google Sidewiki is a browser sidebar that lets you contribute and read information alongside any web page."

In other words, you can write an un-moderated comment beside any web page you want. You can add anything you like (with the usual caveats about libel, perversion, vulgarity, etc.), provide your perspective on the page, add new information, share an anecdote, or add a link that sends readers somewhere else.

I believe Google uses an algorithm to rank Sidekwiki posts by relevance and credibility rather than chronology. Through its webmaster tools it will also allow the website owner always to have the first note in the sidebar.

Of course, the dangers are self-evident. My first Sidewiki contribution to the front page of the Globe and Mail was a complaint about the panic-inducing headlines and coverage of H1N1 in Canada's national newspaper. As much as I like to be helpful, I am just as likely to get frustrated by the content on organizations' web pages. Now I can have that frustration, even anger or disgust  made evident to every other reader of the page with the Sidwiki app.

The debate about the ethics of being able to tread on the last piece of web ground that an organization could "own" should go on for a long time yet once people take the full measure of this new social combat tool. At least I hope it does. (If you want to see some pretty harsh and cogent criticisms take a look at the website called Sidewiki Sux.)

But Sidewiki may have one benefit. For those of us who get stonewalled whenever we suggest that organizations should pay more attention to their websites, make them more peppy and responsive, treat them less like a print annual report or marketing brochure and more like, say, a collaboration platform, this may be a turning point.

Could Sidewiki actually encourage (force) website owners to breathe life back into moribund web anatomies because people may actually be stopping by and, excuse the vulgarity, taking a piss on them?

]]>

I am a bit late to the game with comments on Sidewiki. (It launched more than a month ago.) A student in my Ryerson University reputation management class gave a presentation on it the other night which got me thinking that the debate about its influence on public relations has been thin. Surprising really given that some, like Mark Rose, believe Sidewiki “is a PR game changer”.

Here’s what Sidewiki allows you to do once you have installed the application: As Google describes it “Google Sidewiki is a browser sidebar that lets you contribute and read information alongside any web page.”

In other words, you can write an un-moderated comment beside any web page you want. You can add anything you like (with the usual caveats about libel, perversion, vulgarity, etc.), provide your perspective on the page, add new information, share an anecdote, or add a link that sends readers somewhere else.

I believe Google uses an algorithm to rank Sidekwiki posts by relevance and credibility rather than chronology. Through its webmaster tools it will also allow the website owner always to have the first note in the sidebar.

Of course, the dangers are self-evident. My first Sidewiki contribution to the front page of the Globe and Mail was a complaint about the panic-inducing headlines and coverage of H1N1 in Canada’s national newspaper. As much as I like to be helpful, I am just as likely to get frustrated by the content on organizations’ web pages. Now I can have that frustration, even anger or disgust  made evident to every other reader of the page with the Sidwiki app.

The debate about the ethics of being able to tread on the last piece of web ground that an organization could “own” should go on for a long time yet once people take the full measure of this new social combat tool. At least I hope it does. (If you want to see some pretty harsh and cogent criticisms take a look at the website called Sidewiki Sux.)

But Sidewiki may have one benefit. For those of us who get stonewalled whenever we suggest that organizations should pay more attention to their websites, make them more peppy and responsive, treat them less like a print annual report or marketing brochure and more like, say, a collaboration platform, this may be a turning point.

Could Sidewiki actually encourage (force) website owners to breathe life back into moribund web anatomies because people may actually be stopping by and, excuse the vulgarity, taking a piss on them?

]]>
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The Power of Apologies http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2009/10/22/the-power-of-apologies.html http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2009/10/22/the-power-of-apologies.html#comments Thu, 22 Oct 2009 18:50:26 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:5582295 Anyone who has followed my posts on apologies will know how important I feel they are as a way to manage reputation in a crisis. (Forgive the self-reference, but two of the most recent posts can be found here and here.)

A colleague in my firm's Seattle office, Drew Arnold, sent me an article from the Oregon Business Journal referencing a June 2009 discussion paper called 'The Power of Apology' from the University of Nottingham's Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics.

Here is the paper's abstract:

After an unsatisfactory purchase, many firms are quick to apologize to customers. It is, however, not clear why they should do that. As the apology is costless, it should be regarded as cheap talk and thus ignored by the customer. In this paper, we test in a controlled field experiment whether apologizing influences customers' subsequent behaviour. We find that apologizing yields much better outcomes for the firm than offering monetary compensation."

Based on a study of customers using eBay in Germany, the study found among other results:

  1. "Customers who receive an apology instead of a monetary compensation are more than twice as likely to withdraw a (negative) evaluation."
  2. "When money is offered, a higher purchase price makes it less likely that a customer withdraws his (negative) evaluation. An apology works independent of the level of the purchase price."

Why then can't we assume that the propensity to consider legal action when harm has been caused by an accidental event, even if negligence is involved, just might be mitigated by a genuine (and the key here is the word 'genuine') apology?

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Anyone who has followed my posts on apologies will know how important I feel they are as a way to manage reputation in a crisis. (Forgive the self-reference, but two of the most recent posts can be found here and here.)

A colleague in my firm’s Seattle office, Drew Arnold, sent me an article from the Oregon Business Journal referencing a June 2009 discussion paper called ‘The Power of Apology‘ from the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics.

Here is the paper’s abstract:

After an unsatisfactory purchase, many firms are quick to apologize to customers. It is, however, not clear why they should do that. As the apology is costless, it should be regarded as cheap talk and thus ignored by the customer. In this paper, we test in a controlled field experiment whether apologizing influences customers’ subsequent behaviour. We find that apologizing yields much better outcomes for the firm than offering monetary compensation.”

Based on a study of customers using eBay in Germany, the study found among other results:

  1. “Customers who receive an apology instead of a monetary compensation are more than twice as likely to withdraw a (negative) evaluation.”
  2. “When money is offered, a higher purchase price makes it less likely that a customer withdraws his (negative) evaluation. An apology works independent of the level of the purchase price.”

Why then can’t we assume that the propensity to consider legal action when harm has been caused by an accidental event, even if negligence is involved, just might be mitigated by a genuine (and the key here is the word ‘genuine’) apology?

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International Public Relations SUMMIT http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2009/9/27/international-public-relations-summit.html http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2009/9/27/international-public-relations-summit.html#comments Sun, 27 Sep 2009 21:01:04 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:5315749 Unfortunately, it is unlikely that I will be able to attend the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) Summit in London this October. It takes place Friday, 30 October 2009 at Merchant Taylor's Hall, Threadneedle Street, London and the theme is PR in times of crisis – From austerity to opportunity. You can register here if you can spring for a thousand or so British pounds, plus travel.

This is one of the few international conferences I get to, having been to three IPRA Summits in London over the past 2 1/2 years. (Disclosure . . . I am a member of the IPRA's governing council.) Having not been offered a speaking platform (which I have in the past), and running up against the restrictions on business travel common to many agencies these days, the chances of getting to the U.K. for October 30th are slim.

I'll miss it.

The number of North American public relations and social media conferences is overwhelming. However, at them seldom do you hear the perspectives of French, British, Israeli, Norwegian, Russia, Irish, Indonesian, Indian, Nigerian, and Singaporean public relations professionals, for  example, as I have at the London meetings. Their experiences can be sharper than in North America; their stakeholders more aggressive; their governments over-intrusive; their cultures less - or more - flexible; their political sensibilities acute; and their use of mobile technologies extravagant.

The speakers at this year's conference include Nick Sharples, Sony Europe (who has tweeted all of once at @SharplesN); Fernando Rizo, Ketchum UK; Robin O’Kelly, T-Mobile; Rob Brown, author of Public Relations and the Social Web; Elizabeth Goenawan Ananto(Indonesia); Tim Weber - BBC Interactive (who tweets at @tim_weber); and Maria Gergova - IPRA.

Less cosmopolitan than usual, but still a strong cast.

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Unfortunately, it is unlikely that I will be able to attend the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) Summit in London this October. It takes place Friday, 30 October 2009 at Merchant Taylor’s Hall, Threadneedle Street, London and the theme is PR in times of crisis – From austerity to opportunity. You can register here if you can spring for a thousand or so British pounds, plus travel.

This is one of the few international conferences I get to, having been to three IPRA Summits in London over the past 2 1/2 years. (Disclosure . . . I am a member of the IPRA’s governing council.) Having not been offered a speaking platform (which I have in the past), and running up against the restrictions on business travel common to many agencies these days, the chances of getting to the U.K. for October 30th are slim.

I’ll miss it.

The number of North American public relations and social media conferences is overwhelming. However, at them seldom do you hear the perspectives of French, British, Israeli, Norwegian, Russia, Irish, Indonesian, Indian, Nigerian, and Singaporean public relations professionals, for  example, as I have at the London meetings. Their experiences can be sharper than in North America; their stakeholders more aggressive; their governments over-intrusive; their cultures less – or more – flexible; their political sensibilities acute; and their use of mobile technologies extravagant.

The speakers at this year’s conference include Nick Sharples, Sony Europe (who has tweeted all of once at @SharplesN); Fernando Rizo, Ketchum UK; Robin O’Kelly, T-Mobile; Rob Brown, author of Public Relations and the Social Web; Elizabeth Goenawan Ananto(Indonesia); Tim Weber – BBC Interactive (who tweets at @tim_weber); and Maria Gergova – IPRA.

Less cosmopolitan than usual, but still a strong cast.

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A Friend’s Take on Transparency http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2009/9/17/a-friends-take-on-transparency.html http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2009/9/17/a-friends-take-on-transparency.html#comments Thu, 17 Sep 2009 13:25:00 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:5214006 I recently re-tweeted something from Todd Defren about a stark example of a lack of transparency in the use of Twitter by a public relations agency.

[RT @TDefren: Shouldn't "Seth the Blogger Guy" have *disclosed* that he worked at Fleishman? http://tinyurl.com/narrze http://myloc.me/DGYQ

A friend of mine who works in a senior corporate communications role for a large company felt the tweet deserved a reaction. He sent me an email I thought was worth sharing largely because it takes a contrarian view to received ideas about transparency. He said he was okay with me posting it here (unedited) anonymously. So here are the thoughts of one experienced corporate communications practitioner who, I must say, does delight in the role of iconoclast.

In my view, "transparency" in corporate communication, while a noble ideal, is just that, an ideal.  It's like democracy or green living, the reality is much thornier and more complex in practise (or is it practice?)  

Having kicked around the net for awhile now, personally and professionally, I have come to the conclusion that an unrealistic definition of transparency is placed on most companies.  In my view it is rooted in a stereotypical belief that corporate entities are essentially run by very bad people and a company is always guilty until proven innocent.   There is this odd double standard attached to companies participating in net-based communications, that somehow they are required to always declare the name behind the username, whereas virtually nobody else is. Who exactly is canuck1975 and who cares? -- unless he works for the man.  Activists and critics and trolls run about the internet with relative impunity, because the David and Goliath narrative always favours David, even if he's stretching the facts, ignoring those that don't suit him, and generally whooping it up with no constraints.  Sure it's exciting, but it doesn't make for valuable information.    

I was thinking about transparency in the context of your tweet and perhaps they did make a mistake, but then I got wondering:  did they choose to make it?  No one's that naive anymore... more than one corporate representative has been unmasked at this late date.  It's not like the risk was was unknown.  Although if an SVP at an agency didn't know about it, tough luck, Charlie, and enjoy the account review.

In this instance perhaps it was a phased approach, getting the message out in phase one trumping concerns about the means by which it was done and the revelation of that means, if it even ever was revealed.   If the information was factual, valuable and verifiable, I suggest the how and who are less important.  The net is a rough and tumble place, a reality often considered in passing, if at all.  Declaring "I am the company" or "I work for the company" runs the risk of shifting the focus from the message to the messenger.  Immediately teeth are gnashed and cries of "Spin!" et al displace reaction to the content and a big old flame war erupts where everybody can have some fun.   

Consider it this way.  You're in a meeting with your worst enemy, who is presenting an idea, that is, in fact, a damn good idea.  How many of us, in all honesty, aren't spending at least a little time looking to poke holes in that  and bring the worst enemy's house of cards tumbling down?  Now imagine the same idea is presented by a respected colleague and the consensus view is it's an excellent idea.   Then the respected colleague acknowledges your worst enemy as the brains behind the presentation.  Well, you might be a bit rueful, but there'll be no denying the quality of the thought, even if it surprisingly did come from that bloviating idiot. 

 Let the content be judged, I say.  So if that requires flying beneath the radar, that may be a choice that needs to be made in an environment where hyperbole and flame wars are often the best show in town.  There's no point executing a brilliant ground strategy if the battle's being fought on the bounding main.   Perhaps they actually made a wise decision to divide the process into two parts by getting the information they wanted out there and then, in the second part, dealing with the fall out from the revelation of who provided it. 

Which brings me to my second point:  web 'management', the new inside baseball.  Sure, as practitioners, we have an interest in the drama and the strategy, and certainly an activists or critics of the organization in question could feast on this revelation like it's steak.  But does the target audience for the information really care about the who and how of how it got there?  I suspect if you ranked the criteria for credibility, using the 80-10-10 rule to divide the audience, the factuality, verifiability and value of the information would trump who wrote it.  That's not to say strategies don't shape perceptions, they do.  But I don't believe it's a given that the outcome in this specific case means anybody's going to wear an indelible stain in the view of the audiences that count.   Then 10 and the 10 may remember, but the focus of the 80 is very likely elsewhere. 

I wouldn't recommend it in every instance, nor am I counselling the same recklessness and subterfuge that often accompanies the online antics of the loudest voices on the message board.  But on the other hand, lets get real:  the shock of finding a company or its consultant behind a web mask isn't what it used to be.    If the information is factual, valuable and verifiable, and the climate irrationally dismissive of certain sources, sometimes perhaps a case can be made for taking your lumps if you get caught doing what almost every other demographic on the web is doing from time to time as well.   If you've got the defence of substance, versus spin, it could be an imperfect strategy worth executing.  The dogs bark, but the caravan passes by.  The question that has to answered is whether anyone will remembering the barking or what caused it. 

I'd like to know your thoughts because it's a weird thing to take such a contrary view to the easy, perhaps reflexive, mantra of transparency and what that means.  If you ask me the web is translucent at best and that goes for the lot of us, spinmeister, client, activist, geek and basement dweller.

I'll discuss this over lunch with my friend . . . but I would love to bring him your comments through the comment thread below. (No Facebook wall posts please . . . aggregate comments here so others can see.)

]]>
I recently re-tweeted something from Todd Defren about a stark example of a lack of transparency in the use of Twitter by a public relations agency.

[RT @TDefren: Shouldn't "Seth the Blogger Guy" have *disclosed* that he worked at Fleishman? http://tinyurl.com/narrze http://myloc.me/DGYQ

A friend of mine who works in a senior corporate communications role for a large company felt the tweet deserved a reaction. He sent me an email I thought was worth sharing largely because it takes a contrarian view to received ideas about transparency. He said he was okay with me posting it here (unedited) anonymously. So here are the thoughts of one experienced corporate communications practitioner who, I must say, does delight in the role of iconoclast.

In my view, “transparency” in corporate communication, while a noble ideal, is just that, an ideal.  It’s like democracy or green living, the reality is much thornier and more complex in practise (or is it practice?)  

Having kicked around the net for awhile now, personally and professionally, I have come to the conclusion that an unrealistic definition of transparency is placed on most companies.  In my view it is rooted in a stereotypical belief that corporate entities are essentially run by very bad people and a company is always guilty until proven innocent.   There is this odd double standard attached to companies participating in net-based communications, that somehow they are required to always declare the name behind the username, whereas virtually nobody else is. Who exactly is canuck1975 and who cares? – unless he works for the man.  Activists and critics and trolls run about the internet with relative impunity, because the David and Goliath narrative always favours David, even if he’s stretching the facts, ignoring those that don’t suit him, and generally whooping it up with no constraints.  Sure it’s exciting, but it doesn’t make for valuable information.    

I was thinking about transparency in the context of your tweet and perhaps they did make a mistake, but then I got wondering:  did they choose to make it?  No one’s that naive anymore… more than one corporate representative has been unmasked at this late date.  It’s not like the risk was was unknown.  Although if an SVP at an agency didn’t know about it, tough luck, Charlie, and enjoy the account review.

In this instance perhaps it was a phased approach, getting the message out in phase one trumping concerns about the means by which it was done and the revelation of that means, if it even ever was revealed.   If the information was factual, valuable and verifiable, I suggest the how and who are less important.  The net is a rough and tumble place, a reality often considered in passing, if at all.  Declaring “I am the company” or “I work for the company” runs the risk of shifting the focus from the message to the messenger.  Immediately teeth are gnashed and cries of “Spin!” et al displace reaction to the content and a big old flame war erupts where everybody can have some fun.   

Consider it this way.  You’re in a meeting with your worst enemy, who is presenting an idea, that is, in fact, a damn good idea.  How many of us, in all honesty, aren’t spending at least a little time looking to poke holes in that  and bring the worst enemy’s house of cards tumbling down?  Now imagine the same idea is presented by a respected colleague and the consensus view is it’s an excellent idea.   Then the respected colleague acknowledges your worst enemy as the brains behind the presentation.  Well, you might be a bit rueful, but there’ll be no denying the quality of the thought, even if it surprisingly did come from that bloviating idiot. 

 Let the content be judged, I say.  So if that requires flying beneath the radar, that may be a choice that needs to be made in an environment where hyperbole and flame wars are often the best show in town.  There’s no point executing a brilliant ground strategy if the battle’s being fought on the bounding main.   Perhaps they actually made a wise decision to divide the process into two parts by getting the information they wanted out there and then, in the second part, dealing with the fall out from the revelation of who provided it. 

Which brings me to my second point:  web ‘management’, the new inside baseball.  Sure, as practitioners, we have an interest in the drama and the strategy, and certainly an activists or critics of the organization in question could feast on this revelation like it’s steak.  But does the target audience for the information really care about the who and how of how it got there?  I suspect if you ranked the criteria for credibility, using the 80-10-10 rule to divide the audience, the factuality, verifiability and value of the information would trump who wrote it.  That’s not to say strategies don’t shape perceptions, they do.  But I don’t believe it’s a given that the outcome in this specific case means anybody’s going to wear an indelible stain in the view of the audiences that count.   Then 10 and the 10 may remember, but the focus of the 80 is very likely elsewhere. 

I wouldn’t recommend it in every instance, nor am I counselling the same recklessness and subterfuge that often accompanies the online antics of the loudest voices on the message board.  But on the other hand, lets get real:  the shock of finding a company or its consultant behind a web mask isn’t what it used to be.    If the information is factual, valuable and verifiable, and the climate irrationally dismissive of certain sources, sometimes perhaps a case can be made for taking your lumps if you get caught doing what almost every other demographic on the web is doing from time to time as well.   If you’ve got the defence of substance, versus spin, it could be an imperfect strategy worth executing.  The dogs bark, but the caravan passes by.  The question that has to answered is whether anyone will remembering the barking or what caused it. 

I’d like to know your thoughts because it’s a weird thing to take such a contrary view to the easy, perhaps reflexive, mantra of transparency and what that means.  If you ask me the web is translucent at best and that goes for the lot of us, spinmeister, client, activist, geek and basement dweller.

I’ll discuss this over lunch with my friend . . . but I would love to bring him your comments through the comment thread below. (No Facebook wall posts please . . . aggregate comments here so others can see.)

]]>
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Reputation Key in FDI http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2009/9/1/reputation-key-in-fdi.html http://www.boydneil.com/blog/2009/9/1/reputation-key-in-fdi.html#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2009 11:12:23 +0000 Boyd Neil 417677:4590288:5052388 An analysis by Shawn McCarthy in Canada's national newspaper The Globe and Mail of PetroChina Co. Ltd.'s investment in Canada's oil sands (through an investment in Athabasca Oil Sands Corp.) makes this assertion:

Despite some concerns about PetroChina's ultimate control resting in the hands of senior mandarins of China's ruling Communist Party, the company will likely face little opposition from the federal government on this deal.

Just two weeks ago, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was in Beijing and told officials that Canada welcomed commercial investments in resource development from Chinese companies, so long as they are subject to proper corporate governance.

It is indeed an important test of the Canadian government's new guidelines for state-owned foreign direct investment. But broader public understanding of - and support for - foreign investment by offshore suitors would help the government along. For this to happen, these companies need to do a better job of making their case before announcing a deal. There are at least four things that should guide their reputation building strategies, assuming they care about public opinion:

  1. Being transparent and honest about their global business strategy
  2. Introducing their senior executives to the host country to temper mistrust
  3. Creating healthy sources of information online about the company, its management and its investment and operational track record
  4. Committing to integrity and openness in corporate governance and providing evidence of this  commitment through a world-class and defensible code of business conduct

The alternative is to hope the host government will not experience, or will ignore, public doubt or opposition. And with any elected government that is always a questionable proposition no matter its ideological commitment to foreign investment.

]]>
An analysis by Shawn McCarthy in Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail of PetroChina Co. Ltd.’s investment in Canada’s oil sands (through an investment in Athabasca Oil Sands Corp.) makes this assertion:

Despite some concerns about PetroChina’s ultimate control resting in the hands of senior mandarins of China’s ruling Communist Party, the company will likely face little opposition from the federal government on this deal.

Just two weeks ago, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was in Beijing and told officials that Canada welcomed commercial investments in resource development from Chinese companies, so long as they are subject to proper corporate governance.

It is indeed an important test of the Canadian government’s new guidelines for state-owned foreign direct investment. But broader public understanding of – and support for – foreign investment by offshore suitors would help the government along. For this to happen, these companies need to do a better job of making their case before announcing a deal. There are at least four things that should guide their reputation building strategies, assuming they care about public opinion:

  1. Being transparent and honest about their global business strategy
  2. Introducing their senior executives to the host country to temper mistrust
  3. Creating healthy sources of information online about the company, its management and its investment and operational track record
  4. Committing to integrity and openness in corporate governance and providing evidence of this  commitment through a world-class and defensible code of business conduct

The alternative is to hope the host government will not experience, or will ignore, public doubt or opposition. And with any elected government that is always a questionable proposition no matter its ideological commitment to foreign investment.

]]>
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