Considering PRSA’s Definition of PR

On the 1st March the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) announced the result of a vote which resulted in their modern definition of PR. They now state that:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Defining this complex industry defined by relationships, constantly evolving and understanding its various ethical pickles is tough. To do that in a sentence is even tougher. In a class last week I was challenged with writing my own definition in 5 minutes. I concluded with:

“Public Relations is a form of social psychology that recognises the values of different publics in order to create relationships to improve reputation and profit.”

It isn’t perfect but it states an important opinion of mine – PR is no longer just concerned with reputation. The online advertising industry makes their money from direct (or in-direct in terms of re-messaging campaigns) sales. The very same metrics the online advertising industry utilises can also be used by digital PR. So why aren’t we using them?!

Yes, I understand that digital PR tracking sales online questions its classical definition but this is exactly what the PR industry needs. It must adapt or die. So whilst the PRSA claim their definition is shiny and modern… it just isn’t. It has failed to understand the nature of digital public relations.

For the UK digital PR will see an ever growing importance, especially as the UK boasts the largest internet economy in G20. That is an 8.3% share of the UK economy! Let’s not hand over all of this juicy money over to online advertising. Digital public relations can provide equally effective results.

This is partly why I am writing a digital PR dissertation on online metrics. There are a variety of books available concerning online measurement but PR can go a step further. Using the fundamental principles of recognising the values between various stakeholder groups it is possible to target in a far more accurate way compared to, the rather ridged structure, endorsed by the online advertising industry.

I will only say it once again on this blog but Latent Semantic Analytics really offers a whole host of benefits to the digital PR industry. We just have to build a suitable system first!

That’s it. End of blog post before things get really geeky…

Bell Pottinger Group were not to Blame

On the 5th December 2011 a video emerged from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism showing Bell Pottinger Group offering reputation management to the despotic regime of Uzbekistan. Countless human rights groups protest due to the country’s use of child labour, torture and media control. Dozens of journalists and activists are systematically tortured in the country’s jails each day. Leader, Islam Karimov, keeps oppression fresh by tolerating no opposition.

Bureau journalists contacted the Bell Pottinger posing as members of Azimov Group stating that the government of Uzbekistan was committed to real change would like to promote good relations with the UK. Bell Pottinger, feeling that this tyranny could do with a spot of reputation management, accepted to meet.

Uzbekistan's Controversial Cotton Fields

Managing Director of Bell Pottinger public affairs, David Wilson, checked after the first meeting that the Uzbekistan government was indeed willing to change their approaches which included child labour, human rights and democracy. The fake Azimov Group agreed.

The key arguments that Bell Pottinger Group will drive for the Uzbekistan presentation (as can be viewed here) are:

–       Uzbekistan is changing. A strong programme of reform is correcting past problems.

–       Uzbekistan is important. Its co-operation with the West has greatly helped US and UK forces in Afghanistan.

–       Uzbekistan can be an excellent trading partner. Its exports are valued and valuable. Its people are becoming more prosperous. The UK should not allow others to get ahead of it in trade with Uzbekistan.

Their Digital PR recommendations were:

–       Drown out negative content

–       Push our messaging to the top of global search engines

–       Direct journalists and internet users to key websites and content

–       Shape the online conversation and debate regarding Uzbenistan’s cotton trade and issues concerning child labour and help to redress the balance in reporting.

I have to reiterate that David Wilson had only agreed to any of this only if the Uzbekistan government was willing to

David Wilson

change. As an expert in public affairs it is rather unusual how David Wilson had not noticed the long history of Uzbekistan not allowing reporters to observe their progress (let alone the jail sentences and torture).

During meetings Bell Pottinger’s close relationship with PM, David Cameron, became apparent. Yet a quick statement by Cameron’s spokesperson denied that lobbying companies influence the government. Clearly not the case, as it did become apparent that Bell Pottinger’s past client, Dyson, had caused the PM to discuss copyright issues with the Chinese PM. Whilst it is true that business matters would be discussed when considering the running of states, it seems unlikely that such a discussion would have materialised from luck.

Bell Pottinger Group were not to Blame
Despite the evidence brought forward from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism I do not believe Bell Pottinger is to blame from the criticisms brought forward by the media since. It strikes unfair how suddenly journalists became outraged by the lobbying industry when their own influence is dubious. I concede that the management exampled by Bell Pottinger on this occasion was not righteous – in places it seemed ignorant considering the extensive history of Uzbekistan.

Instead the investigation raised more questions surrounding the integrity of the lobbying industry, occasionally referred to as ‘the dark arts’. Anybody with an inclination towards politics will know the influence of businesses and states when decision making is in progress. Why shouldn’t lobbyists be transparent and argue for the concerns of the client?

The key point of this investigation was when the bureau said the government of Uzbekistan was seeking real change. Only once this has been announced was the rest of the investigation possible but it was based upon a lie told by journalists. Yes, it provided transparency but under the wrong circumstances. If the Bureau had announced that Uzbeckistan was not seeking changes then I believe Bell Pottinger would have dropped proceedings with pitching the campaign.

Broader education is required publically of the lobbying industry. It starts with providing proper regulation of the industry in the UK. In America a measure of statuary transparency exists which requires companies to disclose client contracts and announce their contact with politicians. A requirement such as this may be the right path to take to ensure integrity remains at the centre of this, at times, questionable industry.

Exploitation Marketing: The Companies “helping” Japan

Mixing Marketing and Charity is always a difficult tightrope to walk. There is a fine line between assisting a cause and using a difficult/disastrous situation for marketing purposes. Over the last few days I’ve spotted a few companies who are using Japan’s crisis as a means for their own marketing. Yes, they are still donating but couldn’t they have just donated all the money in the first place? Some will think the below companies are being courageous, I think these social media tactics are a bit sick.

Explore.org


Explore.org are donating $1 for every “Like” of their “Dog Bless You” Facebook Page, up to $100,000. Couldn’t they have just donated the money in the first place? This is a classic example of a devious Social Media “expert” who thinks they have found a way to raise the exposure of their Facebook page through means of a charitable cause. Time is precious in Japan, don’t wait for 100,000 likes, just donate the money now!

Mashable even published an article urging people to “like” Explore’s Facebook Page!

AViiQ


AViiQ, a company who manufacture mobile accessories have also offered another Facebook “like” campaign. As with explore.org each “like” Aviiq will donate $1 to Japan relief efforts.

Only a few days ago they tweeted “Visit our Facebook contest tab for a change to win a free AviiQ portable Laptop Stand!” in a bid to win a few Facebook likes. I wonder if using Japan’s disaster has improved their Facebook “like” statistics?

Spark Energy


Spark Energy is a retail energy and natural gas supplier. Whilst they will be donating $5,000 towards Japan relief efforts they have also decided to join the $1 Facebook “like” campaign. I won’t explain this concept again… just donate all the money in one go Spark Energy!

Some good methods to donate towards Japan relief efforts can be found here.

Are the above examples of exploitation marketing? Have you spotted any other ethically questionable marketing tactics relating to Japan’s disaster?

Facebook needs to take Responsibility: Simone Back’s Death

Last week I got a call from a Journalist at BBC Radio Sussex informing that a lady called Simone Back committed suicide on Christmas Day. This wasn’t any ordinary death as she had announced her intentions to commit suicide to her 1000 Facebook friends – with only several malicious responses. As her death took place on Facebook the BBC wanted to understand my opinion on the situation and then interview me on their breakfast show the following day.

BBC Radio Sussex is based in Brighton, the same area in which this lady died and I knew there was a high possibility that friends and family could very well be listening to the developments of this story over the airwaves. I agreed to be featured on their programme and started to write down my various views on the situation.

Before going on the radio I find that writing a list of key bits of information extremely useful. Sometimes the nature of a programme refrains from this activity. For example being on radio debate panels requires quick of wit and thought rather than a carefully written series of thoughts. Tone of voice in this story was critical, no jokes of any sort and a clearly laid list of different points to why Simone Back’s friends may not have come to the rescue.

Always remember this; the answer is never as simple as a news story makes out to be. Journalists only gather news and their opinions have to be simple (unless they are columnist’s scribe) as a story must be easily communicable, especially over the radio. Before going live on the radio I wrote down this list of thoughts:

Genovese Syndrome

Kitty Genovese was the name of a lady who was murdered in 1964. The murder took place in full public view for about 30 minutes but yet no witnesses came forward despite at least 30 people be present around the time of the murder. This gained the attention of the world’s media and raised many questions concerning human behaviour. A few years later an American Psychologist published an article explaining the behaviour of bystanders at the murder who did not attempt to get involved with the situation. Eventually Genovese Syndrome was postulated insinuating that when humans are in large numbers less are likely to get involved in order to manage information overload.

Information Overload

There is no doubt that Facebook has an issue with information overload. Indeed every social network suffers from the same problem of constant updates. The larger your network, the more widespread your influence but an increased amount of information. Simone Back’s Facebook network was 1000 friends big and the huge numbers of contacts may have meant a less likely chance of engagement.

Engagement

(Similar to my Information Overload point) In social media terms large networks are not always the best. The real value from social media comes by evaluating the levels of engagement. The trick is to create an online community, a task which is not easy as it requires to bond humans together. The larger networks can be far tougher to manage due to the high numbers of people necessary to reach out to. Too many people, too much information and not a lot of engagement.

Difference between “Friends” and “Contacts”

Facebook was initially built as private social network between different University students which is why the term “Friend” is probably still used on the site today. Yet, not all of your Facebook friends are indeed friends. I have contacts on my Facebook from people who have added me after only meeting me once over a year ago. Even people from Secondary School. These people aren’t my friends, Facebook doesn’t recognise the difference between friends and mere contacts. In my view I can’t believe Simone Back had 1000 friends, nobody has that many friends. Instead much of her network was probably contacts, acquaintances and so reading headlines “Simone Back Announces Suicide On Facebook –And None Of Her Friend Help” does irritate me a bit.

Facebook’s Responsibility

An inevitable outcome through the discussions of this tragic news story have been for Facebook’s involvement in Simone Back’s death. As the company who owns the social network where she decided to announce her death surely they should be some sort of responsibility on their part? Many views on BBC Radio Sussex were quick to call for a Facebook Panic Button, this would raise police concern over future serious Facebook status updates. Facebook do have a Help Centre but it is the most complicated piece of Facebook to navigate around. I can’t even find a relevant section.

Facebook are a strange breed of company. All of their money making tactics depends upon the large wealth of personal information they hold on their databases. A company who provides a social network also has the responsibility to safely manage a community. You would not have a city without police and so why abandon the police on the online equivalent?

On the radio I reminisced over online Forum systems who use moderators to organise and filter discussion. Perhaps Facebook should introduce something similar. I understand this could be awkward regarding privacy settings but a simple option in the profile would sort that problem out.

If Simone Back’s suicide message could have been reported then it is likely she may still be alive today. Facebook can’t refer the responsibility to Simone’s suicidal status to her contact list but instead should flag security to this message immediately. Finding how Facebook should do this is the tricky part but without a doubt Facebook hold some responsibility.

Discussing this story was a learning curve for me due to the possible emotional implications that could have been caused to her family. I only decided to take the story to straighten out public opinion, as I can relate to it personally due to an event that happened a couple of years ago and because Simone Back’s mother was the one to have approached the media first. Simone Back’s family and friends have my condolences during this difficult time. What a horrid way to begin 2011.

Machiavellian Public Relations

It is 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli has just rested his pen on the desk after having completed his work The Prince; a book full of political ideology constructed on scientific and empirical principles. The outcome of Machiavelli’s arrest in 1512 when Medici, a political dynasty, came to power in Florence.

The Medici dynasty assisted to elect four Popes, including Pope Gregory XV, of which the phrase ‘Propaganda’ (to mean biased information) came to use during the conception of the Gutenberg Press when works were aggressively printed by the Catholic Church and the reformers as a way to propagate the faith. A sort of faith-gate.

Gutenberg’s Press began in the mid-1400’s and Niccolo Machiavelli’s book, The Prince, would have queued behind many theological works to be spread around Europe. It is due to this that The Prince is considered by some to be the first modern work of Political Philosophy. An important political masterpiece with controversial undertones but essentially a PR stunt…

The clue is found by who Mr Machiavelli decided to dedicate his book to, none other than Lorenzo II, in a bid to win favour with the Medici. It didn’t work.

At the University of Gloucestershire one of the modules deals with ethics in Public Relations. A term which holds a relative nature dependent upon the fibre of the individual. For some the only ethic is to please the client and to gain the cash. When dealing with Public Relations the ethical boundaries are often blurred between your perspectives and the company’s. A distinction often made by holding the phase ‘Machiavellian’ as a derogatory term. In our modern free-spoken society the idea that one man should lead many as a ruler, to be an ideal Prince, is a travesty. Especially when Niccolo Machiavelli’s humanist views are concerned; it seems celestial ownership is not gratified due to the lack of power this would provide the House of Medici. Considering the close ties with the Catholic Church this makes for a compelling and destructive assumption.

Taking the foundations from The Prince and marrying them to the realities of working with a PR agency is slightly out of context. The basic stance within lectures is to focus on the elements of dictatorship within The Prince. Liking such power to that of a mediator discussing events with the public.

The way in which Machiavelli blurs the boundaries between good and evil, monarch and tyranny, sets out the moral framework of the book of which The Prince holds supreme power. In true empiricist fashion an absolutist ethical framework does not exist but instead a relativism which is dictated by the one in power.

When considering Public Relations such distinctions could be made to incorporate the way in which individuals view life. Acceptance of a relativist ethical framework could allow Public Relations practitioners to choose options more suiting towards their selfish means (for example, supporting a Tobacco firm due to profits). You are said to be Machiavellian, caring only for the gain and not the larger scheme of life.

Yet saying that such things as Machiavellian ethics in Public Relations seems to miss the point of Machiavelli’s works. For The Prince, strongly worded and, in my opinion, well argued, is but one of Machiavelli’s works. Those who have read Discourses will see a liberal Machiavelli of which distorts The Prince to show its true colours, a failed method for Machiavelli to gain power from his adversaries.

So whenever I heard Machiavellian ethics being mentioned in lectures, I just remember that being called Machiavellian isn’t all that bad.

Losing Reputation: Amazon UK’s Black Friday deals come under criticism

When I heard the news that Amazon’s Black Friday deals were coming to the UK I became very excited. Mostly at the prospect of the 60% reduction off Microsoft’s Xbox console. Despite working for Microsoft this is one discount we can’t get due to the Xbox being largely subsidised by Microsoft before they hit the shelf. Amazon UK announced product reductions on thousands of products and customers were left counting down the days for Black Friday week to start.

On Monday morning, at precisely 9am, it became apparent that Black Friday Deals were not discounts across the whole online store but instead product discounts on the hour.

The clock will count down for each item and once available tens of thousands of people will attempt to purchase. Most products are sold out in under a second. I chuckled when I saw one customer had gone through the steps of using a high speed internet connection with an Alien Ware notebook thinking it would boost his chances.

Ever heard of the phrase, ‘stock it high and sell it cheap’? Well, Amazon seems to have a different plan. It seems the stock for Black Friday is in limited supply and dirt cheap. With only a limited number of products and thousands of people waiting for a purchase – not many are successful with their purchases.

The Amazon social media team are hot on their toes promoting Black Friday seemingly unaware that the majority of their customers aren’t too happy with the service so far. Their forum system is regularly littered with angry posts from customers and Facebook page comments have revealed just how frustrated everyone is.

It is rare that I decide to join in with online media storms but even I have been registering my distaste for Amazon UK’s Black Friday week attempt. I feel like Amazon UK fooled their customers, making them believe these were great offers in the store, rather than offers made on a chance basis.

I can’t complain about Amazon’s service as a whole. I’ve been a customer for a few years and their efficiency has always been great. However it seems their UK Black Friday week has left a scar on their reputation, at least in my view.

The Burka should not be Banned

4BN6A6KFHZHG Every few days I sit in front of my computer and consider which tantalising, tenacious or treacherous deed has blessed the contours of my mind. Why do I bother shouting into the vast abyss called the internet? Perhaps in a bid to become known? Maybe a part of me actually believes that I could make a difference to the world? Really though. Surely writing is paramount to praying in many ways. Useful hands which have been given a placid task. Nevertheless today I am going to break a rule on this blog which I have held over the last year and 7 months. A cliché topic is about to be digressed, it will cause controversy and I am completely unapologetic for it. Sometimes it is necessary to break a rule. Welcome to the category of Religion.

It is strange that I am preparing the arguments in my mind for what really could only be described as a job for an Islamic Apologist. No part of my soul (a bad choice of word?) is spiritual. Atheism not only gives me a reason for clear thought but it provides a platform which intelligently explains events around the world and does not suffer from the indignation of faith. It is the non-religion, the anti-faith, which allows one to clearly see the world in its true form. Some consider Atheism to be too hardcore, a foot over the line and a rejection of the fundamental principles which makes humans separate from the other creatures on the planet.

Despite my personal beliefs I am not interested in Atheistic Evangelism. Actions such as the Atheist Bus Campaign left me bewildered and discomforted. Why try shaping the word ‘Atheism’ into something which portrays a large following? How can one preach to the world about Atheism? Atheists are vastly different from each other and besides, I would not call myself an Atheist. I have Atheistic views but Atheism, as a belief itself, does not define me.

What I do with my life will inevitably define me, not what I happened to believe. Many religions need to evangelise because of what the terminal of the belief involves. The fear of eternal punishment is a perfect tool for those who believe to try and save their family, friends, co-workers and strangers from the death they vividly picture. Whilst at the same time allowing the belief to spread virally, only stopping at those who can escape the clutches of the lies they were fed as a child or as an adult. Why people believe such dated traditions, eschewed words and oxymoronic theology – I shall never know.

However I have digressed…

Even as an Atheist each fibre of my being rejects the Burka bans which are spreading throughout Europe. Today the French Senate are voting if the Burka has a place in their country. Even if the ban went through it would only roughly affect 2000 Muslims in France but the scale isn’t the problem, it is the meaning behind the act. Spain are expected to follow suit, surely the rest of Europe will follow as nations call for referendums to possibly rid the garment from their countries.

Microsoft: Broadcasting with Guidelines

For any students reading this blog who are into their social media platforms you will soon discover that many companies have blogging, tweeting or ‘digg-it’-esque guidelines. As the world’s largest software company, Microsoft is not exempt from such guidelines. When you sign that dotted line on the contract you are not only promised work for that period, maybe a salary but also personal discretion of what you are allowed to broadcast.

Recently I completed Microsoft’s Standards of Business Conduct 2010 which included a section tackling information leaks. I must make it clear that ‘information leaks’ doesn’t mean revealing unjust practices (if there were any) within the company but instead personally outing news before the agenda has been set. If Microsoft were to inform me of a new social network they are building and I revealed any details, even suggestions about it, before the PR department does then I would be in risk of losing my job. Better described as ‘contract termination’ when spoken with an American accent.

Anything I type on this blog must be classified as my own views and not the company’s. I must make a concerted effort to always keep mindful of any confidential information or indeed information which just wouldn’t be suitable for public ears. The official Microsoft guidelines highlight that these boundaries are too be dealt with on a personal level. That if I deem it suitable to reveal a piece of information then I may do so but I must have a process of reason behind it.

In a blog post I wrote a little while ago I highlighted one of the problems I had with traditional media as an employee of Microsoft. BBC Radio 2 phoned asking for my views to do with a particular website (which happened to be a competitor of Microsoft’s) and invited me to the studio to speak with Jeremy Vine.

Such an opportunity, especially at my age, was too resistible to turn down. Yet, after much advice and deliberation, I had to decline the offer. Working for my dream company has its sacrifices. I cannot speak over the radio and give the impression that all Microsoft employees have the same view or appear to be speaking on behalf of the company. Thus why I am taking an extended break from radio and instead writing upon this page.

I will never stop loving radio or abandon it as a possible future career but sometimes circumstance is more important than desire. If anything my love isn’t with radio but instead Journalism as a whole which is pushed forward by my love for writing.

Surprisingly social media guidelines stretch to popular (or perhaps un-popular due to recent news) websites like Digg. Microsoft regularly gets into the news and employees are told to never artificially create a sense of popularity on websites by ‘digging’ posts. Public popularity must be genuine.

The reason these guidelines exist isn’t because the company is full of corrupt people but instead to keep communication within Microsoft ethical. It is very easy for Microsoft, as a large company, to bully others with their market dominance but to do so is unethical, against guidelines and will cause the dreaded contract termination.

Social media guidelines are now always at the forefront of my mind. Not because I want to seem special because I may have privileged information but because I would rather not lose my job this year. The extent to which these guidelines may affect me are clear – I constantly blog and tweet about everything I do.

Today I attended a Q&A session with Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, in a virtual town hall session broadcast from MSN in London. To be one of 50 guests at the event does give you a sense of importance – I will not deny that. Although due to this I decided against taking a picture to upload to Twitter. I knew the journalists wouldn’t be uploading their pictures until ½ way through the session and so for me to jump the gun, as an employee and post to Twitter instantly just seemed a little cheeky and wrong. Everyone in the room was actually asked to put their mobiles away.

If I were to be a guest from outside the corporate world then this action would have been okay but reasonable indiscretion told me to leave the camera alone. Perhaps I have taken these guidelines to the extreme? Even if I have I hope you understand my position.

Having said that I will be attending a large Microsoft conference in London early September and I am positive that tweeting from this venue will be kosher.