Archive for the ‘Public Relations’ Category

The medium sends a message…

posted by Tara Knight

Maybe the format of CSR reports isn’t keeping you up at night (OK, it’s not keeping me up at night either) but each year, I find it fascinating to review the CSR Trends 2010 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Sustainable Business Solutions practice and Craib Design & Communications.

If you haven’t had a chance to review the report – PwC and Craib do a great job of sifting through hundreds of reports mainly from Europe, Japan, Australia, The United States and Canada, reviewing trends and providing a useful snapshot of the differing expectations business cultures have about CSR reporting – and the best practices you may want to emulate. The report doesn’t address truthfulness, instead it delves into how effective companies are in communicating their CSR strategies and performance.

No surprise, there is still a significant difference in how much North American companies report on CSR in comparison to their European counterparts. Virtually 100% of European companies surveyed had CSR information on their corporate website – and 81% published a CSR report. North American companies are further behind than I would expect, with 80% of American and 72% of Canadian companies posting CSR information on their website, but only 37% of Canadian companies and 40% of American companies following up with a published CSR report.

One of the things I was surprised to see in the report is how few companies are taking greater advantage of the benefit of websites and the social web for communicating their CSR commitment. Although 28% of American companies surveyed are using blogs to engage with stakeholders, that is more than double the rate of Europe and Canada. Of all the companies surveyed, while 48% are using CSR microsites, just 35% are leveraging video (particularly for stakeholder testimonials) and only 23% are using interactive diagrams or maps.

The lower use of interactive maps and diagrams particularly surprises me, given that graphics are such an incredibly powerful way to communicate complex information – and websites are a perfect vector for interactive visual mapping and diagrams. Given how many graphics are developed for printed CSR reports, companies clearly understand the value in making complex information clear with the use of design. So, I am a little astonished that more companies are not considering how they could translate these to better leverage the attributes of the web.  (If you are really keen, the report covers some very impressive “best practices” in online communications and interactivity starting on page 42 – such as my personal favourite, Stora Enso’s sustainability microsite (which I wrote about previously here, and is a client of H&K Finland.) 

Bottom line? Move ahead of the pack by first – talking about your CSR activities, and second, building your CSR reporting into every aspect of your communications. Use the attributes of the communication tools you already have to make your CSR reporting come alive.


The Power of Apologies

posted by Boyd Neil
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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Why ‘Media’ with ‘Social’

posted by Boyd Neil

A post by a colleague got me thinking about the phrase 'social media' as the lexeme to describe the technologies of web-based self-publishing that have led to unprecedented connection, conversation, engagement and community.

The provenance of the phrase is evidently to contrast user-generated news and comment with mainstream or industrial media in which the 'means of production' to use the Marxist description (also favoured by cultural commentator Andrew Keen) are owned by corporations not the individuals who create the content. The debate about whether 'social media' is the right term has been going on for at least two years.

The problem I have is less with the 'social' element of the lexeme than with 'media' to describe the interface, although a colleague did comment the other day that it would make it easier to sell social media as a communications strategy to companies if it didn't contain the word 'social' which smacks of people-driven rather than business-driven decision making . . . which is the point of course.

Let's do a little academic geekery here. defines media as "the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, and magazines, that reach or influence people widely." (The 'reach' is becoming questionable and the 'influence' declining. But that's the subject of a future post.) The Online Etymology Dictionary suggest a derivation from the "notion of 'intermediate agency,' a sense first found around 1605." According to Spiritus Temporis, media refers to "those organized means of dissemination of fact, opinion, entertainment, and other information."

You see the trend: The word 'media' has about it the notion of a channel by which you deliver something to people, not interconnect with them. Some, well many, communications and marketing people have a hard time switching mental models when it comes to assessing social tools for online interaction. They fixate on the term 'media' and apply old public relations patterns and benchmarks to social media strategies.

Doc Searls (co-author of the groundbreaking book The Cluetrain Manifesto), for one, objects strenuously to the limitations and misdirection prompted by the 'media' terminology. I do to . . . but the battle for a new conceptual model may already be lost as usage soon drives definition. Even though the conceits of social computing tools, social interaction software or social engagement strategies seem to collocate better the important elements of the digitally-driven cultural revolution, they still aren't really there yet.

So, can we revive the two-year-old or longer debate? Or has it been resolved and I am just out of the loop?

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International Public Relations SUMMIT

posted by Boyd Neil

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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