Chia and Symott (P.351) state the increasingly fast-paced development of new technology will make it challenging for PR professionals to work out what software programs they should be using to communicate. It is exciting that there will be a whole host of choices for PR professionals to choose from, whether it be traditional media, social media or a mixture of both. More and more organisations are using social media to convey their messages. In the UK this week , police in Greater Manchester, used Twitter to reveal exactly what their officers were doing on a particular day. This was a reaction to staff cutbacks. They gained 28,000 followers in one day. Last year, Ron Torossian from PR agency, 5WPR, predicted that ‘Facebook and Twitter are just the beginning of what social media will look like, and the future is exciting. PR agencies have the ability to shape social media communications.’ He was right and social media has become one of the tools that PR practitioners can now legitimately consider in any PR campaign they are involved in. Online news “The Daily Mirror”, 15 October 2010. PR News. Sep 14, 2009. Vo. 65, Iss. 35.
Reputation and crisis management are important for the success of a company or organisation. They are interlinked in that having a positive corporate reputation can assist when a crisis occurs. Regester (2008:207) suggests a record of responsible deeds is the organisation’s insurance policy if something goes wrong.
Pauchantand Mitroff (1992:28) organised potential crisis clusters into 5 groups:
- External economic attacks which includes extortion, bribery, boycott, and hostile takeover. A company which experienced an extortion threat in 2008 was National Foods in South Australia where Berri juice is made. A claim was made that the fruit concentrate was contaminated so production was shut down for the day.
- Megadamage which includes environmental and accidents. In 2006, Bovis Lend Lease, a major construction company had an accident in which a worker was killed at their site at the Canberra tax office.
- External information attacks which includes copyright infringements, loss of information, counterfeiting and rumours. Earlier this year, in the United States, Limewire, a file sharing software company were liable for infringing the music copyrights of 13 major record companies.
- Breaks which include recalls, product defect, plant defect, computer breakdowns, poor operation and poor security. Today, Abbott, a pharmaceutical company, withdrew its weight loss drug ‘Reductil’ from sale as it causes overweight people to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
- Psycho which includes terrorism, copycats, on-site sabotaging, tampering, executive kipnapping, sexual harassment and rumours. In 2008, New Zealand company, Fonterra, believed contaminated milk powder being sold by its Chinese company in China was the result of sabotage. The milk powder killed two infants in China and was withdrawn from sale.
If National Foods, Bovis Lend Lease, Limewire, Abbott and Fonterra possess good corporate reputations, then it would make it easier for them to take control of the crises situations that they have found themselves in these instances.
1 M. Regester (2008) Risk Issues and Crisis Management in Public Relations. Kogan Poge, London; Philadelphia.
2 J. Chia & G. Synott (2009) Introduction to Public Relations: From Theory to Practice. Oxford University: Melbourne.
Media Relations – Times Are A Changing!
10 years ago, media relations was probably the cornerstone of public relations. The advent of social media has changed and expanded the range of options that public relations practitioners have to communicate with their publics, whether it be internal staff or external customers. It’s an exciting time to be working in the area of public relations and the options that new technology has provided can give more creative avenues for public relations practitioners to use for their campaigns. Social media tools such as blogging, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Flickr offer opportunities for companies to share and interact with potential customers. 500 million people use Facebook globally so PR practitioners would be foolish to ignore this new social media as a method of reaching potential new customers. Companies need to be open for scrutiny when putting themselves on Facebook as Facebook can backfire on them if their company work practices are seen to be immoral or unethical. A recent case was earlier this year when environmental activists used the Nestle Facebook page to vent their anger over unsustainable palm oil in chocolate – not a good public relations exercise. These are transitional times for public relations as they move from the old style media into the new pastures of social media and it will be interesting to watch how it all unfolds!
Participative or Authoritarian Culture At Work?
I would rather work for a company who has a participative culture than an authoritarian culture. A participative culture is a far happier environment to work in as you feel you have some say in what goes on the company you work for. An authoritarian culture can potentially foster bad employee morale as staff feel they have no input and are treated as numbers and not people. I have worked for organisations that have practiced both these styles of management and was far happier in the participative culture as it encouraged more of a team approach. In general, I have found that large companies and government organisations tend to have a participative culture. Smaller companies that may be owned and managed by one or two people can be more dictatorial. Potentially, a Public Relations professional could assist with liaising between staff and management in an authoritarian culture but it would be far easier in a participative culture as people would be more open to listening to management. Good internal communications in companies can only be a positive benefit to both staff, management and the company itself. This is where the public relations skill of building internal relationships can greatly assist.
Public Relations and Journalism – A Close Relationship??
Back in March this year, a study by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism showed that 55% of media articles are generated by public relations. They analysed 2,203 stories, across 10 Australian newspapers, published over a five-day period*. The reaction from Australian newspaper editors was mixed at the time. Some found that is damaged their journalists’ reputation and others felt their journalists were now outnumbered by public relations professionals. These findings certainly stirred up a very sensitive issue at the time. It also shows that the ‘agenda-setting’ theory may be reversing and that public relations professionals are also partly responsible for setting the agenda in what is published in our media. Sasha Pavey, who was one of the authors of the report, commented that public relations practitioners “…are now finding the background. They’re no longer simply the go-between, between source and journalist. They often are the source of information. They provide the quotes. They provide the bones of the story.” As public relations practitioners, it is up to us to ensure we provide media releases of a high calibre that include correct, well-researched information, that journalists are able to utilise in their work.
*Taken from University of Technology, Sydney study.
Ron Kawalilak, public relations specialist, says that if your Public Relations strategy or programme fails due to a lack of research or evaluation, it is unacceptable and avoidable. As PR practitioners, we need to acquire a knowledge of all of the research methods available to us and decide which is relevant for the particular client or company we are working for. Research skills are a vital tool for us to learn and carry out in practice. Using research throughout the campaign or program can allow us to change or fine-tune as necessary. Research conducted at the end can be an indicator of how well our campaign or program has performed and whether the predicted outcomes were achieved. If we do not do our research then we run the risk of not achieving what we wanted to do. For instance, if you were planning to launch a new Staff Health & Wellness programme, you would firstly survey all the staff to find out what’d they like to see included rather than launching activities without their input. This way you are including them and building their interest. During the programme, you would also monitor staff to find out what they like and dislike, how many people were attending the activities. At the end, you would evaluate how successful or unsuccessful the programme has been. Research skills are a crucial part of public relations practice.
On a different note, Kevin Rudd, was ousted from his post as Prime Minister due to research showing that he was on the nose with the voters. Labour power brokers decided he needed to be removed and replaced with Julia Gillard as Newspoll surveys showed that the Public were not going to vote for him.
During our lives, both professionally and personally, we are likely to face an ethical dilemma. Would I work for a company whose ethics I didn’t agree with? If there were plenty of other jobs on offer…definitely not! However, if there was only one PR job in my area and I had children to feed, I would work for them and attempt to perhaps influence their business ethics internally. One major reason, organisations should look to maintaining their ethical values is the investor. Some investors only look at investing in an ethical company. An example of this is back in 2008 when the Norweigian government withdrew their $1 billion investment in Rio Tinto. This was due to Rio Tinto’s involvement in the severe environmental damage caused by their Grasberg mine in West Papua. The company was disposing large amounts of mining waste known as ‘tailings’ into the Ajkwa river. The Norwegian government sent its own council to West Papua to audit Rio Tinto’s gold and copper mine. They concluded that Norway could not maintain a financial interest in the mines while the operation demonstrated ‘grossly unethical conduct’. (sourced from ABC News Online). This is a very strong argument for businesses to maintain and carry out their businesses in an ethical way.
In 2007, News Limited jumped on the ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ bandwagon by launching their website ‘One degree of responsibiltiy’ (www.1degree.com.au). Their corporate environmental policies included working to reduce News Limited’s environmental impact and their business to be carbon neutral by 2010. Some of their initiatives included improving green design of current corporate buildings, minimising waste of compressed air, expanding recycling, switching to lower-energy LCD screens, improving lighting, air conditioning and power energy efficiencies, using energy-efficient vehicles or public transport, encouraging business partners, staff and customers to change their own behaviour. News Limited not only looked for changes in their own business to lower their greenhouse gas emission but also used this campaign to get staff, business associates and customers involved as well. There is currently a debate whether ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ is still as high on company agendas as it was a couple of years ago. Nic Mackay from PR Agency, The Human Race commented on Mumbrella on 22 April 2010 that ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ was dead. I don’t believe it is dead but I believe it depends on the individual organisation themselves and a number of factors such as whether they have the budget to spend and also if directors or management are socially environmentally minded.
(This is in response to ‘reflect and discuss’ question on P64 of ‘An Introduction to PR’. Using some of the high-profile organisations in your state or country, discuss how these organisations have responded to changes in the environment. What specific changes in their environment did they respond to? What programs or policies did they develop?).
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