Wednesday, 31 March 2010

NGOs, Social marketing and PR

We had an interesting session in the class with a guest speaker from Friends of the Earth. He highlighted some important points with regards to the relationship between Public Relations and NGO’s and how NGO’s use this tool to meet their campaign objectives. Here’s a brief summary of what we learnt.

How NGO’s differ from business/commercial organisations

Last decade has seen a massive growth in the number of civil society organisations. This growth has been so fast that these organisations have become powerful agents of change. But with power comes responsibilities, therefore, these organisations are often looked at from a critical eye to examine whether they are fulfilling their responsibilities properly or not. There are several ways to distinguish between an NGO and a corporate or business organisation. The first point of distinction is ownership; instead of owners or shareholders they have stakeholders and beneficiaries. Second point of distinction is motive; such organisations are driven by value motive whereas a commercial organisation is driven by profit motive. The output of NGO’s is usually subjective, for example, unlike commercial organisation it does not depend on the number of products sold rather it depends on developing or increasing the understanding of the change, delivering a particular thing which could be changing a law or changing the way society looks at something like diversity etc.

Relationship between NGOs and PR

The relationship between NGO’s and PR is quite interesting. The speaker mentioned that PR and NGO are seldom heard together. This is because of the negative perception associated with the word ‘public relations’. So, generally we find that most NGOs have communications department, campaigns or media relations departments’ etc. which share the same role and responsibilities as that off a public relations department. Another reason is since most of the corporations use the term public relations, NGOs are bit wary of using the same term since these corporations are the target of NGOs. But if you scratch the surface, you will find that they do the same thing as PR practitioners like writing press releases, briefing journalists, maintaining relationships with stakeholders and organising an event etc.

Limitations and Advantages

The biggest limitation which NGOs face is the limited access to resources, they operate on very small amount of money. But it is this limitation which has led to the development of a very innovative culture within such organisations. Also, NGOs usually enjoy high levels of trust amongst people and therefore, they get trusted to go in and experiment, it is not unusual to find an NGO taking something which it right at the edge of cutting end technology and using it for a purpose. They are very quick to be in the latest place. For example, NGOs were very quick to be on second life (and quick to leave as well), MySpace, twitter, facebook etc. because they are cheap and quick medium to reach the target audience. For example, 38 Degrees has run many of its campaigns online and have successfully managed to gather tens and thousands of supporters for different causes. Thus, NGOs operate in an innovative culture within their limited resources.

Competition and cooperation

The proliferation of NGOs has resulted in fierce competition in the third sector. They need to be competitive and in order to survive they often form an alliance. Lot of NGOs recognises that they cannot achieve change without being in an alliance because large alliances which come together enable rapid spread of innovation. An idea that sparks off at one part of the sectors spreads fast through alliance.

The process

In order to develop effective campaigns, NGOs first analyse the situation, it includes communication expertise at the very beginning. The process generally takes a long time. Once the situation is analysed, they then need to identify stakeholders who have the power to stop something from happening or bring a change. After this, they map out what is required from those stakeholders and what the NGO want them to do and how will they reach them. NGOs need to be innovative in reaching these stakeholders and once they reach them, the doors would be open to talk and communicate.

Social marketing and PR

Social marketing is about using the tools of marketing looking at individual behaviour to promote a cause. On the other hand, campaigning is like saying we are going to run after companies and not let them do something. Public Relations practitioners need to be aware that social marketing give away lot of information and is very much led by the audience. Therefore, they should be prepared to relinquish control.

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Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Corporate Reputation and Crisis Management

We had a fantastic guest lecture on Corporate Reputation and Crisis Management by Eddie Bensilum from Regester Larkin, leading crisis and issues management consultancy as part of our corporate communication module.

Difference between an issue and a crisis

The first point Eddie raised was that as public relations practitioners we need to educate clients on the difference between an issue and a crisis. She mentioned that the difference can be understood on the basis of five parameters like speed, surfacing, scrutiny, structure and stance. A crisis happens quickly, suddenly and demands intense scrutiny whereas an issue develops gradually and generates sporadic interests from the audience. An organisation’s structure needs to be rigid during a crisis, on the other hand, in case of an issue, it should be fluid. The stance should be reactive in a crisis situation whereas in the case of an issue, an organisation should be proactive. Although this fundamental difference should be kept in mind by public relations practitioners before formulating crisis communications plan but I think they should also understand the relationship between the two. By this I mean that crisis and issues are not two different entities, rather they share a deep relationship. One can say that if an issue is not managed timely, it can result in a crisis.

Managing reputation

Eddie later highlighted why companies need to bother about managing reputation. She said that reputation is what people (who matter) think about the organisation and it is important because it affects their attitude and behaviour towards the organisation. She pointed that reputation is directly linked to trust which in turn is broken if there exists a gap between what the organisation say and do or if there is a gap between the audience expectations and the performance of the company. The book Exploring Public Relations define crisis as an event that disrupts normal operations of a company or organisation and if, badly managed, can ruin hard-won reputations in just days and even, in some cases, destroy companies. Thus, based on this definition we can say that managing reputation ensures sustainability for organisations.

The Andersen case study mentioned in Exploring Public Relations by Ralph Tench and Liz Yeomans builds upon the point that companies need to be not only careful about their reputation but they also need to be wary of the reputation of other businesses or partners they deal with. Andersen has been best known and respected auditing companies in the world. It was an established and trusted brand. The problem with the Enron energy company crisis (Enron executives had been mismanaging the business and falsifying its financial performance) had a direct impact on Andersen and it saw its business and client base rapidly and drastically reduced. Andersen was later implicated in an attempt to cover-up with reports of coded instructions to employees to ‘clean out’ Enron-related documents as US federal investigators prepared to launch an investigation. In this case study, Andersen was later implicated because of its involvement but what about situations where the partner or suppliers did not do anything wrong. They might still be affected by the crisis situation. Thus, in my opinion, it is imperative for organisations to build and maintain reputation and trust. For any crisis communication plan it is vital that is should have an effective leadership, a clearly defined structure, trained and competent professionals, an agreed process and intuitive and user friendly tools.

The new media age

Eddie rightly pointed out that social media has drastically changed the communication paradigm. As a result, people have access to more knowledge; they demand greater scrutiny and transparency and the trust levels of people on brands and companies has decreased. It has also led to the growth of anti-business activism and NGO proliferation. So, what has been the impact of all this on communication professionals? Well, for them this means that managing crisis is much more complex and therefore requires much more planning and resources.

Crisis is a blessing for PR

A very interesting point which was discussed during the class was that in case of a crisis, public relations or communications department suddenly becomes the centre of attention. The need and importance of public relations practitioners is realised the most in a crisis situation. I think this is quite true since communications play a very important part in managing crisis and public relations practitioners are equipped with skills and techniques of packaging and selling effective messages.

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Related links

References: Exploring Public Relations by Ralph Tench and Liz Yeomans, chapter 19, Crisis public relations management

Monday, 29 March 2010

Ben and Jerry's fairtrade viral video campaign

In February 2010, Ben & Jerry announced its commitment to go fully Fairtrade in the UK and Europe by 2011 and across its entire global flavor portfolio by the end of 2013. Ben & Jerry's is the first ice cream company to make such a significant commitment to Fairtrade across its global portfolio. Thus, there is a big opportunity in front of Ben & Jerry to capitalise on this social initiative and gain a strong foothold in the market as a leader in driving social change.

Communication Strategy

The communication strategy is to listen, plan, participate, engage the target audience into a two way communication dialogue and measure and evaluate the results. The idea is to first listen to the conversations which are already taking place about Ben and Jerry’s, plan how and who will facilitate those conversations, then participate in those discussions and finally, engage the audience with the brand in order to build a tribe. The tribe will be persistently engaged in various activities and will be delivered with valuable information from time to time. The strategy aims to establish and maintain a bond with the target audience at an altruistic level and engage them in a transaction where they feel a part of Ben and Jerry’s social mission of driving social change.

Campaign Objectives

•To raise awareness about Ben and Jerry going 100% fair trade in the UK
•To reinforce that Ben and Jerry is still committed to producing ice cream in the nicest possible way and is a leader in driving social change.
•To drive traffic to the website
•To improve search engine ranking

Target Audience

The campaign will primarily target both men and women in the age group of 13 years and over so called ‘Digital Natives’ who are active users of internet in the UK.




6 months (March-August 2010)

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Men are from Mars and Women are from Public Relations

In the United States it is estimated that 65% of practitioners are women, while Public Relations Society of America point to 90% female membership. UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations figures estimates 62% of practitioners are female. Meanwhile in France it is estimated that 80% of all PR practitioners are women. An immediate thought which comes to the mind is why public relations as a profession is so popular amongst women?

Why are there more women in PR?

According to Women in PR there are seven main reasons why there are so many women in the industry:
1.They are better, or natural, communicators (33%)
2.They multitask and organise better than men (23%)
3.PR is a soft career suited to women – as are teaching, human resources etc. (18%)
4.The have better and more sensitive “people skills” (18%)
5.They are better able to pay attention to detail and to look at things from different perspectives (15%)
6.They are better suited to a variety of practical administrative tasks (10%)
7.Women have greater imagination, intuition, and are sensitive to nuances (8%)

Although these could be the reasons why there are so many women in PR but I think the ability to communicate, multitask, organise, sensitivity, attention to detail and imagination etc. are some generic qualities which are required in other professions as well. For example, say medicine, law, education etc. then what makes public relations such a special choice for women?

The Popular culture

Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy point out ‘popular culture’ as a factor for the growing influx of women in the industry. The portrayal of public relations on the big and small screen as a sexy, fast moving, well-paid and exciting job that is welcoming to women could be one of the reason why women are attracted towards this profession. This could possibly be true because from my own personal experience, I opted for Public Relations because I found it interesting. I had an impression in my mind that as a public relations professional, I would get an opportunity to influence senior management decisions and maintain good relationships with people. To be honest, that is all I knew about PR before I started working in a consultancy. In fact, I think most students (female) like me do not have a clear understanding of public relations until they join the industry. These stereotype perceptions of public relations being glamorous, well-paid, exciting and powerful etc. could be a strong force to influence women to join this industry.

Are women running Public Relations?

There could be numerous reasons for women to join the PR industry but if you scratch the surface, beneath lies the truth, men still seem to hold more senior positions and in general, earn more than women in the industry. According to Fawcett Society 2009, around 1 in 20 company directors are women and women earn 17-35% less than men. Men with five or more years experience in PR still, on average, earn more than their female counterparts ($124,000 median salary for men versus $85,000 for women according to a 2007 survey).

Why women don’t reach the top?

So, what could be the possible reasons behind it? We had an interesting debate in the class about the issue and my classmates raised some really interesting points. People speaking for the motion (women will always work in PR but will never run it) said that PR is a fast and dynamic profession which requires 100 percent commitment and flexibility, since women need to maintain a balance between their personal and professional lives; they often find it difficult to continue working in the profession. Women still tend to be the key child carers and take career breaks or even give up their career as they start to have children. As a result, they either leave the profession or are not able to make constant progress.

I think all the above mentioned reasons are pretty realistic and practical especially for working mothers. They always find themselves in a situation where they need to prioritise since working in a consultancy means long hours, late nights, more pressure and lot of hard work. At the same time, they have responsibilities towards their children which if remain unfulfilled leads to frustration and disappointment. Some of the main reasons given for the high churn rate in PR, particularly, at the middle level, are to do with long hours, relatively low pay, and lack of job satisfaction.

Shubra Sinha, Account Manager, Accord Public Relations says, “I feel the main reason which stops women from sticking to the high management levels (this is not restricted to PR only) is mainly due to the pressures and demands that they get along. Women undoubtedly have two tasks in hand - family and profession – and obviously demands from both the ends grow as the responsibilities increase. There are women who manage to compromise on some aspects and reach higher levels in the corporate world; however this percentage would be low. Most would still prefer to maintain a balance and sacrifice on the professional front, to be able to give enough time to family.”

Why men earn more?

Another interesting reason which is highlighted in the academics in that men are far better represented in the higher earnings sectors, such as lobbying and financial PR. Most women tend to work either in consumer or lifestyle PR which are traditionally less remunerative. According to a survey of female PRs by Women in PR, 70% of respondents worked in consumer and lifestyle PR.

Impact on Public Relations

‘Because PR is mostly female, the negative impacts associated with being female also impacts negatively on PR.’ Larrisa Grunig (2001). It can be debated if the feminization of PR has a positive or negative impact on the industry. Morris and Goldsworthy are of the opinion that the current evidence suggest that it doesn’t have an impact at all. The industry by almost any measure continues to grow and outperform the wider economy. PR courses in universities and colleges are often oversubscribed and show no signs of decreasing in number. I personally think, gender does not play a role in creating an impact on the PR industry, reason being, there are other professions like teaching, human resources, nursing etc. which are primarily women dominated and this fact doesn’t seem to play any role in building the reputation of that profession. What does impact is the nature and execution of profession and not which gender is dominating it. For example, politics is mainly dominated by men and generally politicians are not perceived as trust worthy, so can we say if politics would have been run or dominated by women, the profession would have enjoyed much more credibility and trust?

References: PR A Persuasive Industry? Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy, 2008, Chapter: Girls, gurus, gays and diversity

Monday, 15 March 2010

Corporate Image, Reputation and Identity (Case Study P&G)

Corporate Overview:
Proctor and Gamble is a Fortune 500 multinational corporation producing consumer goods. The headquarters are in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. It is the 8th largest corporation in the world in terms of its market capitalisation and its market capitalisation is greater than the GDP of many countries. The company has operations in more than 180 countries and is serving nearly 4 billion consumers.
Brand Value:
As per the table of 20 Largest US Companies, P&G has a market capitalisation worth $180 billion and has the strongest portfolio of brands. These 43 brands account for 85% of sales and more than 90% of profit. P&G is certainly one of the most valuable companies in the world.
Corporate Image:
Corporate image is the perception of the company which exists in the minds of its publics and how they view it. Corporate image changes from person to person and from time to time.
Employees: P&G employees feel a sense of pride for being a part of P&G’s rich cultural heritage and its global scale of operations. Their strategy is to Engage and equip all P&G employees to build Sustainability thinking and practices into their everyday work. By offering them a share in the company, P&G made them a part of their growth.
Consumers: For consumers, P&G stand for quality and value for money. P&G has always put consumer at the centre and has always evolved itself with their demands. As a corporate, it supports events and programs through sponsorships to ensure greater visibility and also gives its consumers opportunities to become a part of their growth. For example, P&G sponsored Allstate Gospel music Super fest, US Olympic team and the launch of Brighten Bay Idol, an online talent search for the next bright star.
Suppliers: P&G has nearly 80,000 suppliers across the globe and it sends across their message by recognising their contribution in the company’s success through award ceremonies. This way supplier feels a part of P&G’s growth and it makes the bond stronger. For example, P&G’s Global Business Development Dinner awards Procter & Gamble Company hosted over 50 external companies in Nov09 to acknowledge and celebrate successful external partnerships with P&G's Global Business Development Organization. A separate web page has been created on the website to cater to the information needs of potential and current suppliers.
Communities: P&G is actively engaged in community’s welfare activities. For example, recently P&G made huge contributions for Haiti earthquake victims. Initiatives such as Children’s Safe Drinking Water and Pampers 1 Pack = 1 Vaccine are examples of how P&G is improving the lives of millions of people every day. Therefore, communities see P&G as responsible and committed organisation.
Investors: The Company has been paying dividends without interruption since incorporation in 1890 and the company's dividends have also increased every year - more than 9 percent a year on average, over the past 53 years. The company’s website has a special category called investor relations and it contains all relevant and updated information for investors. The aim is to keep the investors well informed on the achievements and strategies of P&G and also to attract potential investors and encourage them to invest. The investors can also subscribe to press releases and events news on the website.
Media: The website is quite media friendly has a media section which comprises of latest press releases, media kit with product images and logos to download, quick facts about the company and list of media contacts. The journalists can also sign up to receive timely news updates. Through these tactics, P&G conveys a message that they are friendly, approachable and pro-active.
Government: P&G works closely with government regulators to ensure that products meet stringent safety and efficacy criteria.

Corporate Reputation:
Organisational reputation is when an individual collates all the photographs or images taken over a period of time into an album and forms an opinion of the organisation by looking at the entire collection of photographs. Therefore, since its inception P&G has successfully managed to establish its reputation as a leader.
Leadership: Nearly a half-million people apply for P&G jobs every year. They hire less than 1% and attract top talent because of P&G’s reputation as a great company for leaders. So, we can say that P&G has established itself as a pioneer in consumer goods.
Respectable: They are respectable because they show respect for all individuals It ranked 3rd on the world’s most respected companies list compiled by Barron magazine.
Diverse: Diversity & Inclusion is deeply rooted in our company’s Purpose, Values & Principles. P&G brings together individuals from different backgrounds, cultures, and thinking styles providing remarkably different talents, perspectives, and life and career experiences. They all work for a shared purpose together in the most diverse environment representing 140 nationalities. The mission of Diversity & Inclusion at P&G is:
Everyone Valued, Everyone Included, Everyone Performing at Their Peak™. For example, it was named top 50 companies for diversity in 2009.
Innovative: P&G has constantly evolved itself with changing times. One of P&G’s strategies is to shape the future by working transparently with stakeholders to enable continued freedom to innovate in a responsible way. It ranked 12 among world’s most innovative companies as per Business week.
Socially responsible: P&G is deeply committed to improve children’s lives through their socially responsibility programs. For example, through their Learn Live and Thrive initiative, they have reached 135 million children since July 2007. They aim to deliver an additional 20% reduction (per unit production) in CO2 emissions, energy consumption, water consumption and disposed waste from P&G plants, leading to a total reduction over the decade of at least 50%.

Corporate Identity:
Corporate Identity is what the organisation communicates via various cues. Olins (1999) specifies three categories to encapsulate different structures of identity: monolithic – where one name and visual identity are used throughout (IBM), endorsed- where an organisation has a group of activities or subsidiaries which it endorses with the same name and identity (Chanel) and branded- where an organisation operates through a series of brands which may be unrelated (Procter & Gamble). According to Van Riel (1995), corporate identity mix includes symbolism, communication and behaviour. Symbolism includes symbols like company’s logo, type face, font, colour, building, stationary, visiting cards etc. through which an organisation consciously or unconsciously sends a message.
For example, P&G changed its logo when its publics started linking it to devil. They thought that the 13 stars represent the original 13 colonies of the US and that the satanic number 666 is hidden in the curly beard. Finally, in 1990s, P&G changed its logo to a wordmark using just P&G. This changed helped P&G in building its brand. The P&G logo and brand name today are far stronger than the old name and logo were. The Procter & Gamble logo was designed in 1991 by Lipson Alport Glass & Associates. The colour is blue which symbolizes trust, loyalty, integrity and power. Procter & Gamble uses the typefaces Franklin Gothic and Times New Roman.
Communication involves how P&G communicates with its stakeholders, for example, through advertising, public relations, marketing and other information sources like websites and new media. Behaviour means how P&G deals with its stakeholders like employees, suppliers, and customers etc.

Brand personality: is the expression of the core values & characteristics of a brand. Corporate personality is made up of the organisation’s history, culture, values and beliefs as realised through its staff, structure systems, its products and or services. Bernstein talks about stakeholders experiences of an organisation building into a mosaic ‘the picture is that of an individual, a corporate portrait of a “Mr. Cadbury’ or Mr Shell or Ms Avon. Olins links the notion of corporate personality to an actual human personality.
Olins links the notion of corporate personality to an actual human personality. If P&G was a person, how would you describe it? This brand personality helps P&G to differentiate itself and thus gain a competitive advantage. As public relations professionals it becomes imperative for us to understand the brand’s personality since this will help us in taking intelligent decisions, for example, choosing the right celebrity for the brand who compliments the brand’s personality which P&G has done quite successfully.

The reason why I picked up this brand is that it is a great example which highlights that the corporate identity task is to manage the multiplicity rather than suppress it. Though P&G has a very distinct division between the brands versus Procter & Gamble as an organisation but its images are consistent, not with each other, but with the organisation central values which includes leadership, reliability, innovation and quality.

References: Exploring Public Relations, Ralph Tench and Liz Yeomans, 2009 and Alison Theaker, The Public Relations Handbook, 2008

Monday, 8 March 2010

Inside Public Relations launch social media webcast on Youtube

London: Global integrated communications agency, Inside Public Relations today launched a social media webcast on YouTube titled Social Media and Public Relations. The webcast gives an overview of social media and highlights the paradigm shift in the way businesses interact with stakeholders through social media.

The webcast primarily aims to educate businesses on various aspects of social media and provide simple answers to some of the most common questions asked about social media like what is social media, what are the various platforms of social media and why businesses need to care about social media.

Another striking feature of the webcast is the use of case studies demonstrating how businesses can benefit from using social media. It also explains how Inside Public Relations through its expertise can help businesses to harness the power of social media.

Divya Kapoor, MD of Inside Public Relations said, "The Digital Survey 2009 by PR Week found that 83% of clients now request for social media to form a part of PR activity. Although the demand for social media is increasing but many businesses don’t know enough about social media and what benefits it can bring to their business. Therefore, this webcast aims to educate businesses on various aspects of social media so that they can take informed decisions."

To view the webcast click here. For more information, visit Social Media and Public Relations or contact
Divya Kapoor
Managing Director, Inside Public Relations
Office: 02086214412
Mobile: 07875084387

About Inside Public Relations
Inside Public Relations is a leading global, integrated communications agency with 20 offices and 600 employees around the world. In 2009, the agency was recognised as a Business Super brand by International Brands Association and was awarded the best place to work in public relations by PR Week. Our services include: Corporate Communications, Consumer Relations, Technology, Public Affairs, Digital Media and Crisis Management. We have worked with several clients and have over 30 years of experience in the communications industry.

Public Relations Ethics: A risible oxymoron?

‘Public Relations’ as a term suggest different meanings for different people. For some, it’s fluffy, white-washing and all about lying, while for some, it’s a serious profession with a purpose. These different perceptions and images could be a result of individual experiences or knowledge about the profession; however, as a student of public relations, I strongly feel that the ethical decisions which public relations practitioners take are crucial to the profession’s credibility.

The next question which comes to the mind is, on what basis do public relations practitioners determine what is ethical and what’s not. Kevin Moloney in his book Rethinking Public Relations explain that these judgements are arrived at by a mixture of reasoning and emoting in unknown quantities. He also elaborates that the recipients of messages hope that the decisions taken by senders are based on reason, evidence and positive and nurturing emotion but in case they are not, then the observers get disappointed which results in erosion of trust and credibility. Similarly, PR practitioners need to make personal judgement based on morals and ethics before messages are sent to the target audience.

Moral development of PR practitioners

A recent study on the moral development of public relations practitioners: A comparison with other professions and influences on higher quality ethical reasoning by Renita Coleman, School of Journalism, University of Texas-Austin and Lee Wilkins, School of Journalism, University of Missouri suggested that public relations practitioner’s rank 7th highest on moral development among all professionals tested and that they performed significantly better when the ethical dilemmas were about public relations issues than when they were not which indicates domain expertise on ethical issues. Although this study signifies the strong moral development of PR practitioners but then why is it that the phrase ‘public relations ethics’ is subject to much amusement and paradoxical connotation.

What makes PR more accountable?

Moloney argues that, for PR professionals, the activity of themselves speaking the words of rightness or goodness or truth gives a particular personal dimension to their choices that is not present when the engineer, for example, sees another car leave the production line or when a marketing professional publishes a trends survey. When they send messages, PR people utter words that are right, good or true. So, can we say that the front facing role of PR practitioners could be one of the reasons why PR is held more accountable? In my opinion, the answer is yes, for example, take the case of Toyota recent crisis where customers started complaining about the quality of cars, bad crisis management affected the reputation of Toyota of being a leader in innovation and more questions were raised about reputational issues like Toyota engaging in drip-drip revelations for several weeks, keeping customers in the dark and playing a cat-and-mouse game. How many people blamed or accused the engineers for the fault in the production design? As most of us know, reputation management is a forte of public relations; hence, it is subject to much criticism and scrutiny from stakeholders. Parsons (2004, p. 7-8) says, ‘As the interface between the organisation and its public, arguably the keeper of the organisational reputation, the public relations function has even more important role as the social conscience of the organisation.’

Limitations of PR practitioners

Another point is the status of PR practitioners in an organisation, most PR people do not have the status to engage actively in the management decision process and only few enjoy that sort of power and authority. As Tedlow (1974, p. 201) explains PR people who have self-consciously set about to reform their employers as the first order of business…most likely meet with failure more often than success. This limits the scope of practicing ethical public relations.


Whatever the limitations or reasons could be, strong emphasis on ethics awareness and implementation will make PR a more credible profession. However, in reality how practical it is, still remains an argument. Atkinson in his survey of PR ethics (2004, pp. 427-35) has summed up accurately: The role of the corporate communicator remains challenging. There will continue to be a requirement to ‘soften’ or ‘control’ the effect of ‘bad’ news whether financial or otherwise. There will continue to be pressure to create the perception that all is fine even when it is not.

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Friday, 5 March 2010

“The industries of conscience”- Do NGOs sell a product?

Government and big corporations have often been condemned for the use of PR. But it’s not only government and big corporations that are using PR for building reputation; international nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) are also using PR to propagate their agenda. According to wikipedia, the number of internationally operating NGOs is estimated at 40,000. National numbers are even higher: Russia has 277,000 NGOs and India is estimated to have between 1 million and 2 million NGOs.

Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy in their book PR A Persuasive industry mention that “it could be argued that NGOs do sell a product – that as what have been called “industries of conscience” – they “sell” their donors and volunteers that most delicate of luxury goods, a contended conscience. I personally don’t agree with the statement, reason being, you can identify the objectives with which NGOs exists through their actions, communication messages etc. but you can’t always recognise the real objective with which a donor donates money or a volunteer offers his/her services.

Therefore, donor and volunteers might not always be looking for a transaction that offers them a “contended conscience” in return. For example, according to a research done by Vinspired (online survey of 1,997 young people aged 16-25 in England) in June 2009, the motivations for volunteering (considering volunteering) inevitably involved a mix of altruism and self-interest. While nearly half (46%) said that helping others would be an attractive reason for volunteering, young people indicated a great many personal benefits that would make volunteering appealing. Around six in ten (57%) thought gaining work experience and training was an attractive reason for volunteering and over two in five (42%) said building up a CV would be appealing. The research Engage Young people in Politics (2008) which involved a poll of 1,000 girls aged 14-25 who are members of Girlguiding UK also supports the same analysis. As per the report, the main motive for volunteering given was CV points with 61 percent of girls naming it as their top reason.

Moreover, NGOs heavily rely on public relations to express their viewpoints, create awareness about their activities and concerns, and highlight their achievements etc. For example, Ron Sereg in his article PR Boosts Third Sector Results argues that if NGOs are to be sustainable and effective they must make a commitment to PR. Also, Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy state that since NGOs are engaged in a sophisticated transaction, which most of the participants would rather not see as a transaction at all, therefore, it requires lashings of public relations. Thus, the point here is that the job of PR is not to “sell” but to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships. Hence, NGOs do not really “sell” their donors and volunteers a contended conscience; they engage their stakeholders in an effort to build relationships with them so that they can act as advocates for the cause.

Monday, 1 March 2010


Corporate Social Responsibility is subject to much debate and criticism. Some argue that it is sheer window dressing, companies should stick to the aim of profit making and that companies use CSR as a tool to divert attention of stakeholders from much more serious issues while the supporters of the concept think that since organisations have a major impact on the social and physical environments in which they operate, therefore, companies should be held accountable to societies and communities in which they operate. Also, they believe that by engaging in CSR activities, organisations benefit in multiple ways and can enjoy strong relationships and sustainability. In this blog, I will discuss some arguments related to this issue.

Corporations are only responsible to its shareholders
Milton Friedman and others have argued that a corporation's purpose is to maximize returns to its shareholders, and that corporations are only responsible to their shareholders and not to society as a whole. They also support the fact that companies should obey the laws of the countries within which they operate but they assert that corporations have no other obligation to society.

While shareholders are definitely one of the most important stakeholders in any business model, but just think for a second, can an organisation really survive by not paying attention to the interests of other stakeholders like customers, communities, activists groups and employees etc? Those who support this view reject Friedman’s ‘stockholder’ or ‘shareholder’ model in favour of what is usually referred to as the ‘stakeholder’ model where corporate managers need to balance the interests of all the different groups who have a ‘stake’ in the company. These groups might include shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, the local community and even broader society.

Corporations use CSR to distract the public
Critics of CSR believe that CSR programs are undertaken and publicised to distract the public from the core issues. They also argue that corporations use CSR as a tool for their commercial benefit for example, by building relationships and reputation.

If companies genuinely engage in CSR activities, the benefits will be substantial and visible for example, increase in sales or image or reputation. Thus, if companies are undertaking CSR activities to distract publics, they will themselves stand at a loosing end. Also, effective governmental and international regulations and enforcement can ensure that companies operate in socially responsible manner.

CSR is the responsibility of the government and politicians
There is also an argument that CSR is the responsibility of government and politicians since they are there to ensure the welfare of people and the state so why should companies engage their time and resources to do CSR.

Although government’s primary role is to ensure welfare of the state but there are certain areas where it has been ineffective or incapable of creating and implementing solutions to some of the societal problems. This is where big corporations or multinationals come in to the picture. They have the resources and means to create and implement solutions which benefit their stakeholders.

This can be particularly true in the case of developing countries, for example, where the government of India has been incapable of providing education, food and shelter to children in rural areas, TATA group through its corporate social responsibility initiatives has supported many causes ranging from education, healthcare, reuse, recycling, energy saving and employing people with disabilities etc. Rather the very existence of this group is to provide community support.

CSR as a concept is gaining value and importance. If companies genuinely engage in CSR activities then the results will be substantial and if companies use CSR as a tool for window dressing not only they will loose the potential benefits but will also put their reputation at stake. This is because of the emergence of new media which demands more accountability and scrutiny from stakeholders. Window dressing might work for short term but if corporations want to enjoy long time sustainability, they need to integrate CSR in the way their business is being managed.

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