Monday, June 3, 2013

Analyzing the Global PR Practice

by Khiara McMillin

While studying abroad in London, England, in summer 2012, I had the opportunity to analyze and compare various global public relations agencies. Each day, employees laid out their daily work schedules to educate and advise ambitious PR students of what it means to be globally PR and how to consistently maintain that presence within an organization. An independent PR and digital communications agency called Kaizo aims at helping brands realize their ambitions in terms of profile, sales, market share and positioning by connecting and converting those that influence, from broadsheet media, to “mums” online. Another agency, Ketchum, is ranked among the largest and most geographically diverse PR agencies, operating in 70 countries. This organization demonstrated a few of its most successful case studies to students. Throughout the meetings, common PR terms continued to be repeated by both agencies while communicating the principle.

Crispin Manners, an employee from Kaizo, highlighted one of the most recurrent terms when learning PR. He said, “Trusted content is at the heart of purchase decisions.” Trust seems to be one of the core principles that PR practitioners must keep in mind at all times. By comparing Ketchum PR agency and Kaizo employee, Manners, it is evident that both use a wide variety of strategic tactics which illustrate global PR. For example, Ketchum demonstrates this framework by the selected case studies collectively analyzed during its discussion. One employee focused on the important obligation of global PR practitioners to connect and build relationships with their key publics. She pointed out that in order to do this, it is essential to do extensive research on your target publics. It is critical to grasp an understanding of audience norms and values to adjust a message particularly to fit their needs. The ‘Marmalade,’ “Bring Back Breakfast” campaign case study is a perfect example. During this campaign, employees at Ketchum researched the underlying problem of decreased marmalade sales and discovered this was a product used predominately by an older age group which ultimately led them to their key publics: younger folks. The agency then incorporated the Paddington Bear, a fictional character in British children’s literature, as visual stimuli during the campaign which served to mirror the geographical location and age of its target publics. In essence, by taking time to build a genuine understanding of its target publics, Ketchum succeeded in thoroughly performing its objectives and goals. Manners also strengthened this element when he explained how Kaizo worked to strategically assemble a diversity of mundane household products in a profoundly clever way. This framing technique worked to effectively carry out its goal of getting people to listen to its message and fundamentally winning their confidence and trust in the core advantages of buying and using these products. The company was praised by a volume of positive media coverage. Again, it pinpoints the high-priority requirement of PR practitioners to research their publics and compose a message accordingly to their wants and needs.

Both agencies signified a high level of global PR tactical application. One apparent difference was the degree of emphasis Manners placed on social media. His definition was simple: “A conversational medium for people with shared interests.” It really accentuated the basic feature of organizations physically and virtually interacting and communicating with people to build that dynamic set of relationships that is so compulsory in international PR. The best global PR practitioners are ones that immerse themselves in as many different cultures as possible. By the end of my travels, I became acutely aware that PR isn’t only about earning positive media coverage but, also, setting tangible goals to help people better live their lives. It is doubtlessly an essential part of life for everyone living within a community.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Intrusiveness of Data Mining Online

By: Richard Linning 

Microsoft is taking another swipe at Gmail with a campaign to encourage people to dump Gmail for Outlook (,0,6815888.story). So what? It is just another shuffle of the deck of marked cards from the “How to Make Money from the Web” game book.  The real news is that 7 out of 10 Americans say they don't believe or didn't know that any major email service provider scans the content of personal emails in order to better target ads.  In fact all digital traffic receives the same treatment.  It is called data mining. And yes, the public relations industry benefits too: SEO or search engine optimization makes it possible to better target PR clients’ messages.  Not to the stakeholders, but to a stakeholder. Is this the global picture, I expect so.  
Our every online transaction – from our social media presence, to our searches to our buying habits – is already subject to the once over from some algorithm. There’s no such thing as a free lunch on the web.  Now, the government in the UK has announced it is getting in on the act too with Deep Packet Inspection. With its black box technology, British spy agencies want to log data from all digital communications, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Skype calls with family members, and yes, even visits to pornographic websites ( Today the UK, tomorrow it is where you live, if it isn’t already happening.  The really comforting thing is that (as Google puts it), “No humans read your email or Google account information in order to show you advertisements or related information."  The free stuff has to be paid for somehow and the somehow is targeted advertising, marketing, and public relations. 
As communicators the public relations role is being taken over by geeks.  Now, as customers, we have targeted pricing.  Look at this way, you enter a store, the salesman or woman sums you up (think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman here) and decides what you can afford – or not afford – to pay. Personal-identification-storage technology is doing the same thing online. It means goods are being priced according to you, the customer.  Once it was the inventory that drove price. For example, the guy or gal on the flight next to you probably didn’t pay the same price for his/her seat because price was designed to shift capacity risk (to you and me, empty seats).  Dynamic pricing programs have taken over from the shop floor in targeting you, the customer according to what you can pay.  We all know what is next. Tracking online behavior variables will help determine our future buying intentions.  Hang on, that’s already happening, but I guess like 7 out of 10 Americans and data mining you didn’t know that. But that’s for another CGPR posting. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

PR Measurement
By: Jaime Rauso
As Public Relations practice becomes more global, its professional community must constantly work to ensure that its ethics, outcomes and approaches are at the highest standard. Unlike the natural, we do not always have reliable empirical data to analyze. Rather, we oftentimes must rely on qualitative data in our attempts to analyze the attitudes and opinions of our publics and their reactions to our messages. However analyzing reactions is a broad umbrella term used to generalize all the steps that go into measuring results.

Paralleling the growth of PR, measurement standards are being adopted by professional associations such as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the International Public Relations Association (IPRA). PR practitioners are looking at past data and are attempting to correct mistakes in the past attempts to measure the effectiveness of public relations, however effectiveness is perceived. Measurement standards are important in analyzing data, but they may vary over time and space as the practice becomes more global and accepts new research questions and measurement methods.

Dr. Don W. Stacks of the University of Miami cites three issues with PR measurement: (1) confusion over goals and objectives, specifically research objectives which go unreported; (2) the varying advantages and disadvantages of different methods, in which it is often hard to choose which method is right for a specific research question and public; and (3) the definition of success? When is a campaign successful? What qualifies as success?

These questions make me wonder whether success in PR is completely arbitrary. I would think common measurements of success would be monetary gain for the organization or a positive or at least a neutralizing effect on public opinion. Yet, a different practitioner with a different public relations situation, in a different industry within a different culture and a different audience may disagree.

To create a universal measurement guide for PR begs the question whether all PR is the same. As we are becoming more, global, it is vital to understand how PR varies throughout the world and how practitioners must address these variations. I believe that a measurement standard is effective, if it is within a specific case. These measurement guides must be tailored to each situation and must acknowledge factors that may require it to change. We must never forget or ignore this inevitable growth of globalization in PR.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Time for a little blue sky thinking? If public relations has outlived its raison d’être what is its future?

The findings of the latest International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) 2012 Q2 Trends Barometer[1]show what everybody already suspects – that PR consultancies need to be creative in their client work in order to succeed. Creativity in strategy and tactical implementation are core to any campaign proposal but is this really the only reason we risk losing out to the increasing number of our competitors? 

Richard Linning, Scholar-in-Residence

Blue sky thinking is a truly horrendous management cliché.  But some brainstorming without limits and without preconceptions might actually help to determine what could nudge public relations further towards the standards of practice and public and client acceptance to which we aspire.  To extend our reach beyond our grasp.  After all one of the basic tenets of blue sky thinking is never to assume that something is impossible. 

There is and has been for some time something rotten in the state of public relations.  Reference to any barometer of trust confirms that.  And perception as we know is reality.  PR’s greatest challenge is to slough off the often quite justified pejorative reputation of “spending money to minimize bad publicity” or “hiring someone to help [the government] ‘spin’,”[2]  

Public relations as practiced today is neither what it was yesterday nor what it will be tomorrow.  The origins of public relations are firmly rooted in propaganda.  As Edward Bernays said, "What I do is propaganda, and I just hope it's not impropaganda."   What he did he achieved through third-party endorsement.  As Professor Tim Traverse-Healy – IPRA’s first Honorary Secretary General and President from 1969 to 1973 – recalls “when in 1947 I had just put up my plate what we practitioners talked about were releases, share of voice, column inches, image, identity, deadlines and the familiarity-favourability factor”.  

In 1978, the World Assembly of Public Relations Associations claimed  "public relations is the art and social science of analysing trends, predicting their consequences, counselling organisational leaders and implementing planned programmes of action which will serve both the organisation’s and the public interest".  

   For many an aspiration echoed in the 2010 Stockholm Accords’ call to enhance and affirm the role of the public relations and communication manager in organisational success[3]. Truth to tell in this year of 2012,  nine-to-five, most practitioners are more 1947 rather than 1978. The raison d’être of practice yesterday and today is securing that all-important third-party endorsement; facilitating the “Don’t believe what we say, listen to what the others are saying about us” whether it is in print, hits, likes, shares, retweets etc etc .  

Measurement of success was always been the bug-bear.  The best that the great and the good of the measurement community could agree on in the Barcelona Declaration was that public relations goals should be as quantitative as possible.  But then the turkeys that are the competing measurement franchise holders couldn’t be expected to vote for an industry standard Christmas, could they?   AVE’s still rule, OK!  The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) 2011 Q3 Trends Barometer[4] showed continuing strong support for Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE's) as legitimate measurement of PR campaigns. The evaluation method most used – “number of mentions” (75%). 

Despite the implied  limitations of what the 1978 World Assembly of Public Relations Associations called “the public interest”, the previous and new IPRA Code of Conduct are predicated on the right of everyone to air their opinion.  But does the libertarian argument for the exercise of this right in a pluralist, and increasingly transparent world always hold true?  

Cultures are at the core of every civilisation, and from these cultural foundations develop social practices in every domain of human activity.  Doesn’t Islamic civilisation, the community of believers, the umma, include several dozen states? Modern Western civilisation consist of states on three continents? The Hindu and the Buddhist inhabit numerous Asian states?  

How can the competing rights of these competing groups to be heard to be reconciled within civil society when each one is more articulate and more outspoken?   And more likely to turn to public relations for advocacy?  More tolerance, more respect for the opinions of others or less?  On the one hand the Norwegian response to the likes of Anders Breivik has been to advocate more not less tolerance, on the other the British government has responsed to telephone hacking and blagging by the British – not just the Murdoch – media with proposals to tighten controls on what and what cannot be published.  

Since we have been “outed” as message manipulators, cannot agree on how value-added can be measured, yet take the moral ground on freedom of speech ..  where to now?  There are important questions, far more important than those of mere process, of how to exploit for profit the latest advances in digital technology, that need to be addressed :  

+ propaganda is our past, is it also our future?  
+ public relations itself has become the story.  Can Pandora be put back in its box?
+ what really is the added value of pr?  Are there universally applicable metrics?
+ how do we to respect diversity and difference?
+ asked to do something ethical for a client acting unethically, what do we do?
Perhaps if we all engage in some brainstorming without limits or preconceptions – some blue sky thinking - we will come up with the answers.  

Richard Linning



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Are we ready to be skilled public relations professionals?

I came to this personal reflection as I witnessed rapid and unstoppable environmental changes I believe have influenced public relations practices worldwide. There is no doubt the public relations practice has become multinational and multicultural in nature, due to internationalization and globalization. But something keeps bothering me: are we, as public relations professionals, ready to face these challenges?

Over the last couple decades, the number of multinational corporations as well as its employees has significantly increased. From only 24 million employees working at multinational corporations in 1990, the number increased to 54 million in 2001 and reached 69 million in 2011 (UNCTD, 2002, 2012). While there were approximately 65,000 parent corporations controlling 850,000 foreign affiliates in 2001, this number had reached 103,000 parent corporations controlling more than 890,000 foreign affiliates across the world in 2011 (UNCTD, 2002, 2012).  These multinationals, of course, have to deal with employees, governments, partners, suppliers, and customers from different cultural backgrounds. But have we developed the ability to both recognize cross-cultural differences and adjust to these differences?

In line with the growing number of multinational corporations, there is increasing economic activity in some countries. Despite the global economy crisis in 2008-2009, global foreign direct investment flows rose by 16% in 2011 with more than 50% of the investments going to developing and transitioning countries’ economies (UNCTD, 2012). The World Investment Prospects Survey conducted by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD) revealed that multinational corporations’ executives chose 6 developing and transitioning countries’ economies among the top 10 prospective destinations for investment plans in 2012 to 2014. These are China (1st), India (3rd), Indonesia (4th), Brazil (5th), Russian Federation (7th), and Thailand (7th).  For the first time, Indonesia entered the top five destinations, which raised two levels from 2011 survey. The other four destinations are developed countries, i.e. United States (2nd), Australia (6th), United Kingdom (6th), and Germany (7th). As we are increasingly being forced to enter new markets such as Asia? How will we predict or even decide which strategy might work well in one country and not in another?

Combined with the globalization movement, democratization in many parts of the world at the end of 20th century has also urged organizations to allocate more resources to manage relationships within its diverse publics. In the early 1990s there was no country that could be considered a democracy. However, since the fall of Nazism and Fascism and more former Soviet bloc countries moving toward a more pluralistic society, the number of countries that embrace civil liberties and free societies has increased. In 1950, there were 33 free countries and in 2011 that number reached 87. As a result, emerging democracies around the world have led to the growth of public communication, which has impacted to the need of more skilled public relations practitioners. Are we also ready for this?

To fulfill the needs of vast multinational corporations’ operations, global public relations agencies are growing. In 2006, the global public relations agency business was estimated to have been worth $7 billion and employ more than 50,000 people worldwide (The Holmes Report, 2007). The latest report shows the business keeps growing. It has reached $10 billion in 2011 and employs more than 66,000 people worldwide, with 107 countries (this is more than half of the total number of countries in the world, i.e. 193 countries including Taiwan) having a representation of at least one of the top ten global agencies.

These figures clearly show public relations has become a significant global business. The trend also shows a significant global public relations development in Asia, with some countries such as China, India, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and Taiwan having at least eight offices belonging to different top ten major global public relations agencies. This may be due to increased economic activity and investment in Asia. In spite of this growth, there is still a lack of strategy applied by global public relations agencies that suits local conditions, as most agencies continue to replicate other global strategies.

So, within this situation are we, as public relations professionals, prepared to practice effectively across borders? With a more globalized world, how should we develop understanding and skills that enable us to conduct public relations practices across cultures, languages, time zones, and other complexities? Has public relations scholarship provided adequate models and information we can follow? This remains to be seen.

By Gregoria Yudarwati
Scholar in Residence