Christian Constituents and The Blind Side

The Daily Beast today reports on the remarkable box office success of the Sandra Bullock-starrer "The Blind Side." The film to date has grossed more that $200 million on a paltry budget (by Hollywood's standards) of $29 million. It usurped "Twilight: New Moon" in its third week atop the weekly rankings.

Could it be that Ms. Bullock's star has finally taken hold big time? (I'm told she's fab in the flick.) Does "The Blind Side" mark the resurrection of sports on the big screen after the disappointing George Clooney-starrer "Leatherheads?" The answers are likely neither, though the film's “four quadrant” appeal to male, female, young and old, certainly helps.

Apparently, the movie's marketers had the divine provenance to retain a PR firm that specializes in corralling the Christian coalition.
"Grace Hill Media, a marketing and PR firm that specializes in faith-based audiences, was aggressively selling The Blind Side to pastors and ministers around the country."
Now this is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a studio tapped the faithful to drive box office receipts. In October 2005, I wrote about a similar scheme to support the "Chronicles of Narnia," and before that, another sports film - for golf. And then, who can forget the special screenings organized for Mel Gibson's (misguided but most profitable) "Passion," including one for the Pope? (Talk about engaging a key influencer!)

As for "The Blind Side," the tactics were familiar:
"One of Grace Hill’s most innovative techniques was to provide half a dozen clips from The Blind Side, along with “sermon outlines,” to 22,000 megachurches (most of which are equipped with huge screens, typically used to display lyrics to rock hymns). Pastors were encouraged to, while showing a movie clip to their congregation, apply a “biblical connection” and “life application” contained in the Grace Hill promotional materials."
The stategy to court constituents (and potential evangelists, literally) to create advance movie buzz is nothing new. I remember years ago working on the film "Absence of Malice" in which an everyday businessman (Paul Newman) was libeled by newspaper reporter (Sally Field). The studio retained PR legend John Scanlan to engage journalism and legal groups to explore what constitutes journalistic "malice" and in so doing, create buzz for the film. Our firm handled mainstream entertainment media outreach (as if there were any other).

And today, with the advent of niche social networks, the process of identifying or even building fresh channels of like-minded constituents becomes that much easier.

Personal Reputation Management: Review

I am about to start teaching three MA and BA modules in social media, and all will include significant amounts of hands-on practical work. As Bernie Goldbach observed, there's really no other way to do it.

One of the challenges is that, unlike most university assessments where there is pressure to blindmark, and students can expect a high degree of confidentiality in feedback, social media assignments are by definition played out in public, with flaws, weaknesses and sometimes plain stupidity on show for all to see, cache and index forever.

One of the reasons I am keen to add Louis Halpern and Roy Murphy's book, Personal Reputation Management: Making the Internet Work for You (2009, HalpernCowan) to the reading lists is that it constantly invites people to think about key issues of privacy and identity.

From the outset it's worth pointing out that the authors need a lot of white space, design creativity and none-too-stringent editing to break the 200 page barrier; the important bits could be delivered effectively in a much shorter and more focused way. At the same time, this is a good book for dipping in to, and if the 'relaxed' format succeeds in making students think, all well and good.

Halpern and Murphy start from the very reasonable position that "In the internet age, your personal 'brand' or identity is never off duty and your reputation is always 'switched on'. The internet is your 'reputation battleground'.

They claim, with some justification: "Privacy is in the past. It's gone. It's history.

"Imagine a scenario where every bad decision you made or every indiscretion was opened up for all to see. Scary thought? Welcome to the very connected world we now live in."

Backed by examples ranging from the talk radio DJ outed as a BNP member to a man whose reputation was shredded by bad reviews on a dating site, they conclude: "Your reputation is in serious danger if you don't look after it."

The problem is a lot broader than being caught doing bad things. If people look at what you knowingly and freelyhave posted, what will they conclude?

"What facets of your personality are you consistently projecting? Are you friendly? Efficient? Dynamic? Do you get on with people?"  

It's a good point. I have several facebook friends who are always complaining about being stressed, moaning about being put up on by colleagues, habitually disorganised (me!) or perpetually unlucky or unwell.  

The authors recommend a reputation action plan, assessing the brand values you are associated with (whether you like it or not!) coupled with a reputation audit of all the platforms on whuich information about you apears. The goal is to achieve a positive, consistent message across all 'digital touchpoints" that acts as an "executive summary of you", which can be bolstered by projecting key phrases and words to show you in a good light and "to help clarify the best aspects of your brand."

Perhaps this can go too far - as they say, "social media also allows a person to present an idealised version of themselves online." There is some truth in this, experience suggests that even the most scrupulous a few rough edges to show through.

Where the book doesn't deliver surrounds strategies for cleaning up a bad reputation. They give a few ideas but reality is that reputations are fragile and even resorting to the law is only a partial solution.    

Anyway, Halpern and Murphy "foresee a time in the near future when reputation management classes will be taught at school's and universities."

Well, that time is already here at Sunderland, and my students can expect to spend quite a bit of the coming semester working through the exercises in this useful and worthwhile book.  

UPDATE: You can download the first chapter free from the Personal Reputation Management website


   

The secrets of controlled media leaks…

There’s a lot of great content online.  If you wade back into the mists of time (I’m probably talking about oh 2001) then there really was very little information to find on subject areas like PR (believe me I used to look for it). 

But now we have the luxury of thousands of people actively blogging and twittering about PR and PR-related issues. This is fantastic.

Even when you consider quality-versus-volume, we’re still in a far far better place.

However, sometimes as I monitor what’s getting lots of Twitter love I just scratch my head and wonder.

The latest is this piece in MacObserver on How Apple Does Controlled Leaks (great headline) is a case in point.  You think ‘wow, we’re going to get the inside track here from a former Apple marketing dude’. (Well I personally wouldn’t say dude but come with me.)

This is being re-tweeted ad infinitum, people are getting ever so excited.

To save you the 45 seconds it’ll take you to read it, let me summarize:

“They call a reporter and tell them the leak.”

My God, why didn’t we think about that before? How clever, insightful, strategic and crafty. So, they ring a reporter and tell them the leak.  Fantastic.

I am now better equipped than ever to face the day.

Seriously, did everyone think they used to meet people in a dark corner of a parking garage? Did people think it was a mysterious envelope?

Really?


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Seriously… dump that social media stuff and get back to work

Happy New Year. I had a lovely time, thanks for asking.

I have spent far too much time over the past couple of weeks monitoring the online chatter.  My god there’s a lot of noise.

I think I am having Social Media sweats. There are just so many articles, posts, rants and links.  Now don’t get me wrong it’s great that people are sharing their views, and opinions and, in a very small number of cases even their experiences.

But really… there are only so many Social Media Top 10s, 10 things to avoid, 10 brands that…. you know… enough already.

Social Media is incredibly exciting, important etc.

We get it. 

Seriously.

Enough with the colorful* graphs, bar charts and stock photography.

Honestly. If you don’t get the importance of the whole social media thing, then you are probably still faxing and spamming people with press releases and let’s be frank there’s little hope for you is there?

The reality however is that most of us aren’t paid a princely sum just for thinking about social media or antagonizing about the global impact of a new widget or phone. At least not me, if I missed that memo can you send me an e-mail or even a letter, please.

The reality is that we’ve got a day job and that day job requires us to think about mundane things like personal and professional objectives, managing our ever growing workload, understanding how our audiences are using social and unsocial media, how we can be more creative and how we can fundamentally change the way we write and think about communications.  In summary we are focusing on how we can be more effective in communicating with people who matter to our clients or employers. People not tools, widgets or hardware.

Social media is important for all of us, but as my grandmother often said don’t forget the knitting, it’s cold out there.

At least that’s what I think she said.

 

 

*Yes I’ve migrated to US spelling full-time.  I keep getting blank stares from my colleagues when I deliver pithy and if I say so myself, witty phrases that didn’t travel over the Atlantic, so US spelling reduces other risks.


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Anatomy of a Controlled Leak

On Monday evening, I tweeted the following:
@PeterHimler March shipping date. Price of $1K. My my. How unApple-like for new product details to leak in advance of the launch.
8:43 PM Jan 4th from Power Twitter
Late yesterday, the good folks from The Mac Observer peeled back the skin of Apple's seemingly invincible PR department with the following post "How Apple Does Controlled Leaks." Former Apple senior marketing manager John Montellaro writes:
"Often Apple has a need to let information out, unofficially. The company has been doing that for years, and it helps preserve Apple's consistent, official reputation for never talking about unreleased products."
He then applies his parer even deeper:
"The way it works is that a senior exec will come in and say, 'We need to release this specific information. John, do you have a trusted friend at a major outlet? If so, call him/her and have a conversation. Idly mention this information and suggest that if it were published, that would be nice. No e-mails!'"
He reveals that no "paper trail" should be left behind. All clandestine outreach is conducted over the (i)Phone. In the case of Tuesday's "controlled leak" in the Wall Street Journal, the sources cited were "people briefed by the company". Hmmm.

Of course, this is a win-win situation for Apple PR. The company can't be accused of playing media favorites, yet still gets the word out via a most influential outlet. What's more, Mr. Montellaro writes,
"Walt Mossberg was bypassed so that Mr. Mossberg would remain above the fray, above reproach. Also, two journalists at the WSJ were involved. That way, each one could point the finger at the other and claim, "I thought he told me to run with this story! Sorry."
Gee. I knew something was not right in the state of Cupertino, but then again maybe this is how Apple typically leverages its mojo with its journalistic followers. Whatever the case, can you blame the company for leaking its ace in the hole what with Google PR's slam dunk yesterday for its new "superphone" the Nexus One?

Now we just have to wait until the formal announcement on January 26 January 27, a date that was first leaked in late December.

Photo via Gizmodo.com

Bloggers Note: Guest Posts

General note to all those people kindly sending me offers to write guest posts.

Unfortunately this blog only gets about 5 visitors a month (and that’s if I hit refresh a couple of times) so you’re probably better spending your time pitching and writing for a real blog like the Huffington Post or Engadget or something like that.

That approach has the upside that there’s a chance that someone other than you and me will read it.

Secondly, even if this blog did get visitors and I did take contributed posts, I’m not sure hands-on tutorials on scripting, or business transformation really float my boat, so to speak.

If the policy changes, I’ll let you know, don’t worry.

Thanks

PS: Thanks to everyone who keeps sending me random press releases. I read all of them, they are a constant source of solace in a sea of irrelevance.


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Search and reputation optimisation

Domainrenewal2 One day on from my rant about Domain Renewal Group, and Google has ranked my post higher than the company's own website (for the admittedly rather odd search string 'pop domain renewal group'). I know this because someone found my blog having typed this search in Belgium.

Other recent visitors to PR Studies came here having entered 'meaning PR', 'dissertation public relations', 'why want to work in PR', 'emergence social media public relations'.

This is a fair overview of this blog's content over several years - and a hint of what I should write more about if I'm to attract more visitors through search.

The origins of CSR

Some interesting back reading about CSR, and also about the structure (what 'bits' make up CSR) in this post by Toby Webb.If the link to the Drucker article doesn't work try here.

A PR Nexus

Wasn't it just swell of Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) to set up a video camera at today's Google presser introducing the Nexus One, Google's presumed iPhone killer?

Midway through the event, I counted some 16,000+ people signed on to watch the historical event unfold. (You see, Robert, having all those followers can come in handy.)

I just wonder why Google's PR peeps didn't go through the trouble of web-streaming their own news conference, while arranging for on-site attendees to record wirelessly, to ensure optimal site lines and audio. But then again, Google likely wouldn't have enabled the dialog box that accompanied Scoble's Ustream feed. (See photo above.)

Of course when the Google executive-in-charge announced that all in-person (Googleplex) attendees could pick up their own Nexus One's "starting at 12 Noon downstairs," I had to suggest that those on the webcast should also take part in the payola. Someone then likened it to the Oprah auto giveaway.

Still, you have to give Google credit for getting all those early adopters to eat out of its hand. Virtually every tech influencer I follow on Twitter regurgitated today's talking points. And why wouldn't they? Here were a few of the highlights I caught when not penning a client news release:
  • "The Nexus One belongs in an emerging category of devices we call 'super phones.'"
  • The text-driven apps are all voice-enabled, e.g., "take me to Mt. Fuji" on Google Earth or, "Hey, I'm really enjoying the phone's QWERTY keyboard" on GMail.
  • Google's Nexus One (w/Android OS) can be purchased via new Google-hosted web store, a first for the company (though in during the Q&A, Wired's Fred Vogelstein questioned Google's retailing acumen, or rather lack thereof)
And last, but hardly least:
  • Google's Nexus One to be available through Verizon Wireless come this spring via Google's new web store
Wow. So much fort Verizon jumping in to bed with the iPhone. Herer's a round-up of some of the coverage of today's big event:
Hey. Didn't Google give Joshua Topolsky of Engadget the exclusive back on December 14? "Exclusive: First Google hone/Nexus One Photos, Android 2.1 On Board"

And if this all wasn't enough, you can watch Scoble's video of today's presser here.

And they call US spin doctors? Part 6 of 6

Solutions “Jimmy is 8 years old and a third-generation heroin addict, a precocious little boy with sandy hair, velvety brown eyes and needle marks freckling the baby-smooth skin of his thin...

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Compass – An ‘Ersatz’ Left Within New Labour?

Within six months, the United Kingdom will have a new Government. It might be a Tory Government or a Government of the centre-right or centre-left precariously juggling nationalists or Liberal Democrats before being forced to return to the country - or we might see the return of New Labour ...

How New Labour Might Return From The Dead

New Labour's return to power under Gordon Brown looks unlikely but it is far from impossible. Its coalition might yet remain solid while the opposition, although a majority in the country and almost certainly in Southern England, splits into its Tory, liberal and radical nationalist components.

The New Labour coalition has some pretty good reasons for holding together and getting its core vote out. The trades unions fear political evisceration under a vengeful Tory Government and the public sector always suffers more in terms of cuts under the centre-right.

The Celtic nations and decaying Northern urban communities have lived off the fat of the South. They know that the machine for taking Southerners cash and re-laundering it back to them via the EU, and more directly, will come to a sharp halt as the Tories look for quick and easy cuts.

Finally, there is a large middle class quangocracy and a fair body of liberal progressives who like the redistribution of English cash to the emerging world. Neither trust claims of compassionate conservatism despite Cameron's attempts to win classical social liberals over to the Tory cause.

For all these reasons and others, New Labour could squeak back in with a majority but if and only if its traditional voters walk out of their front door on the day, forget their rage and frustration - with wars overseas, failures to deal with poverty and 'political correctness gone mad' - and vote.

Compass

And this is where Compass comes in - a sort of ersatz Leftist movement, led by Jon Cruddas, MP, a key figure in the liaison between the trades union political officers and New Labour in the early days of the party's 'modernisation' but now reinvented as the main Left challenger to the consensus.

Its latest mailshot (admittedly to the faithful) is red in hue, its main symbol the internationalist one of a man holding a globe and weighed down by the responsibility, with much talk of 'change' through action (an obvious nod to the Obama phenomenon).

It claims 30,000 members and supporters which, if true, is significant in recent political terms. It is probably 10 times the size of the real membership of the last grassroots revolt within the Party in the mid-1990s.

If Compass succeeds in mobilising its growing number of discouraged activists, students and fringe intellectuals into a machinery for winning Labour a victory in 2010, Jon Cruddas and those associated with him can justifiably demand preferment. Cruddas is Cabinet material under such circumstances.

Ersatz?

I used the harsh word 'ersatz' to describe Compass but I write objectively not to denigrate what Cruddas and his supporters believe themselves to be. They believe themselves to be of the Left because they have taken radical positions within an essentially conservative movement.

Naturally they continue to avoid the 'S' word. Socialism frightens the English horses and is now unacceptable to a progressive mentality that hated Sovietism more than 'American imperialism'. If they are attempting anything, it is to take over the contested word 'progressive' and own it.

Instead Compass speaks of 'greater radicalism' (as if New Labour has been radical at all). This term radical refers back to a late nineteenth century pre-Labour Representation Committee culture of dissent before the socialists and Fabians muddied the waters and confused trades unionists with theory.

To back this up, in their fund-raising and recruitment campaigns, Compass makes seven claims that define what they are and how they want to capture the Labour Party and, through the Labour Party, the Government:

  1. Their support for Jon Cruddas as Deputy Leader is positioned as instrumental in getting housing and inequality up the Party agenda.
  2. Compass MPs campaigned to add 'ethical', social and environmental obligations (or 'burdens' as the centre-right might put it) on businesses through amendments to the Companies Bill.
  3. They have 'led calls' for a High Pay Commission.
  4. They campaigned for greater 'tax justice' just before the 2009 Budget and claim that three of their demands were included in Darling's Speech.
  5. They campaigned for a windfall tax on the energy and oil firms which, they claim, was instrumental in the Government's subsequent £1bn energy package.
  6. They were part of a 'broad coalition' in opposing the part-privatisation of Royal Mail (and claim substantial credit for postponing, though not 'shelving' as they further claim, these plans in July 2009).
  7. They collaborated with CND, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to delay the renewal of the Trident nuclear WMD system.

Assessment

This is not a bad record over eighteen months or so - certainly so when compared to the complete failure of any Left challenge to the prevailing order within the Party since the middle years of Kinnock's leadership.

But it is not quite as impressive as they claim. The determination in their literature to tell us that 63% supported a High Pay Commission and 67% supported the windfall tax on energy tells us that the campaigns are still not built on principle but on populism.

Compass is not a coherent ideological challenge to New Labour. It is pitching for a place in New Labour's sun, adopting its assumption that power derives from political mobilisation. Compass will claim its place on mobilising votes for New Labour rather than by mounting a cogent critique of its failures.

Nor has it achieved a great deal of a practical nature. The changes to the Companies Bill may be irritating to business but they are insignificant. The windfall tax and the postponement of Royal Mail part-privatisation and Trident owe far more to straightened economic circumstances than Compass.

Compass' power resides entirely on its ability to mobilise disillusioned activists to vote for a Party that has (by any standards) been involved in illegal war, been a mere adjunct to a foreign power and reduced basic civil liberties (albeit in return for increased 'human rights').

It has also been administratively incompetent, done little about inequality and presided over a disastrous economic meltdown built on an unsustainable use of credit to promote growth. So, the critique of particular policies rather than the system is telling - loyalty and solidarity trump analysis.

The Limits of Compass

Closer analysis of Compass' claims show that its power is extremely limited. The big wins are merely postponements of controversial policies. The use by the State of their street pressure to mount windfall raids on the prosperous are not signs of a shift to the Left but of economic weakness.

The particular failure to position housing (a sector which cheap credit was designed to deal with) as ring-fenced, alongside the educational and healthcare expenditures that most concern the swing middle classes, shows that Compass is still mostly noise and fury.

In fact, the Government has done very little to claw back bonuses or deal with high pay as a structural issue. It bought into 'international competitiveness' arguments about the City, on which welfare spending now largely depends. Compass has no consistent alternative critique of this strategy.

Compass is being used by New Labour to give itself the opportunity of stabilising and even advancing its vote in the street. Compass offers the Party the chance to mobilise activists to knock on doors and show enthusiasm on the day without having to make any promises it has to keep!

Hope Again!

What New Labour needs is students and activists on the doorstep able to counter negative arguments with a message of hope and hope is best spread by believers and not by bureaucrats.

We have covered hope before in our postings - it is a very powerful political tool but also one that raises expectations. Growing disillusion with Obama in the US is the price paid for using hope as a campaign weapon. But New Labour is now desperate - later disillusion it can live with, loss of office it cannot.

Any New Labour Government that emerges on a bit of populist Left legerdemain will not be radically different from the one that it replaced. It will still have a PLP dominated by the centre-right of the Party and figures like Mandelson and Miliband, even Purnell, will be of more significance than Cruddas.

If Brown remains in office (it would be hard to dispose of an election winner for perhaps another two years), the Brownites will be manouevring to protect their future. Cruddas and the Compassites are likely to be seen as merely the mobiliser of the OMOV vote in a Leadership contest.

But this is where Compass pays off for its PLP and union promoters. It builds bridges across the Party to non-Party progressives. Its real power will lie either in its value as a chip in a leadership contest if existing factions are prepared to bid for its vote or in the immediate aftermath of a defeat.

Compass' populist stance has thus nothing to do with the country and everything to do with the Party. If it can 'own' the grassroots activists and then pull disillusioned outsiders into the party for the first time or as returnees, it could, with trades union support, transform the balance of power within the Party.

What Compass Means

This is what Compass is about - the recapture of the main centre-left Party by the Labour Movement so that it can resist, in coalition with progressives and the regions, a vicious class attack from the Southern middle classes.

What the Labour Movement fears is the ending of the New Labour commitment to full employment, deregulation of the labour market and cuts in public spending affecting their members. Civil liberties, issues of war and peace and national sovereignty are trivial next to these concerns.

A beaten New Labour Party with a disillusioned and divided activist base might open the door to decisive action by the Conservatives to break the link between the trades unions and politics, decentralise public services (removing union bargaining power) and turn the labour market into a free-for-all.

For trades unions, the best and only option is to ensure the return of a Labour Government against the odds so that the Tories collapse back into a futile English nationalism. But if that option fails, the second line of defence is a united 'resistance movement' that has forgotten the failures of New Labour.

So, Compass is not unimportant. It is of no direct political consequence currently in terms of policy but, as a tool of Labour/trades union recovery, as a potential influencer in the next Leadership contest and as a centre of labour resistance to Tory 'reform' on defeat, it needs to be watched.

But, at the end of the day, it is still an 'ersatz' Left. It has no coherent ideology other than a general and vague progressivism and labourism where labourism represents a decreasing number of people. 

Labourism just wants more 'working class representation' within an existing Blairite politics. Compass, in this context, replaces coherent thought with populism. It suffers from the same disease as New Labour - a preference for power over principle.

This is not its fault. The structures of New Labour offer no alternative to challengers - and there are signs that Cruddas may be sympathetic to reform of those structures. But what Compass offers to anyone outside the special interests operating within Labour coalition remains unclear.

And they call US spin doctors? Part 5 of 6

To public officials, the role of the news business is obvious. We see the process of information shaping first hand, warts and all. But ask a journalist their perspective of their role, and the...

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Winter blunderland – snow highlights poor PR at Eurostar, Eurotunnel and more

What if?  One of the most powerful questions that any organisation can ask. What if a Eurostar train (or two, three, four) gets stuck in the Eurotunnel – would seem a pretty basic question for both organisations to have asked.  Apparently neither did.

What if too many people turn up at Eurotunnel creating “saturation“?  What if Eurostar is out of operation for a couple of days?  More “what ifs?” that don’t seem to have crossed the minds of the PR or operational managers in these companies.

Or let’s try some UK local authorities – what if it snows in the middle of the afternoon, before we normally send out our gritting lorries?  Or the airlines, or ferry companies – what if it snows just before the major Christmas break? (Or staff vote for a strike as in the case of British Airways, which seemed to get lucky when a judge ruled the ballot illegal.)

There are numerous causes of organisational crises – human error, fire, terrorist attack, electrical or other technical problems, bad weather – just to name a few which could any of the above problems. 

Good crisis management works on the basis that any of these could happen – and considers the consequences in order to develop effective solutions.  Again, basic management stuff.

From a PR perspective, we need to consider who is likely to be impacted, what methods of communications to use, the nature of our relationships with stakeholders (identifying organisational friends and foes), how the situation could develop – and how best to handle any situation that does arise. 

It should go without saying that monitoring for early warning of issues, taking steps to avoid them escalating and having full contingency plans in place are part of essential crisis management.

Edmund King of the Automobile Association (@AApresident) even fired a clever PR warning shot across the soon-to-be icy decks of the local authorities by claiming they didn’t have enough salt for a major cold spell – just last week.  Of course, the local government association (LGA) hotly denied this allegation.  If they were right, the AA would benefit with fewer calls from members – and Edmund was right (which it turns out he was, at least in Reading and Basingstoke), the local authorities are left answering questions from the media higher government (which can’t hurt the AA’s reputation there either).

Most of these issues are initially operational problems – but if the communications element is poorly handled, then it can quickly become a public relations nightmare.  Rachel at DigitalStuffing notes the issue of communications failures, which I believe appear across the board:

  • First, good PR means preparing the ground work, building a good reputation, managing strategic relations and asking the “what if?” questions.   This is the goodwill you rely on when operational problems occur. It has been evident that many people were unable to distinguish between Eurotunnel and Eurostar, with “Eurotunnel” used as a generic term, confusing the passenger train operations (Eurostar) from the infrastructure – and the operator of the car/freight trains (Eurotunnel).  Unless you use the services, it is confusing – it seems surprising that neither organisation’s market research has ever identified the need to ensure there is clear understanding of the operation and brand of each concern.
  • Senior executives seem ill-prepared to address issues.  As mentioned above, the LGA used a denial strategy that left them open when the inevitable occurred at least somewhere in the country.  The Eurostar boss publicly blamed Eurotunnel (whilst saying he wasn’t) for the communications problems – which is always a terrible strategy as ultimately the two organisations need to work together.  Although subsequently claims it was the wrong type of snow – ie fluffy French stuff – were blamed.
  • Employee relations are vital before, during and after any crisis.  They are usually best placed to originate great “what if?” scenarios being closest to possible issues.  The inability of Eurostar to communicate with its employees on the trains should have been known within the organisation – and regardless of the cause of the problem, this was a major issue waiting to happen.  Following the Kings Cross fire over 20 years ago, the need to be able to communicate under ground has been known. 
  • There’s so much talk about employees being “brand advocates” but the reality is they are much more than that – especially in respect of crisis management.  Eurostar seems not to have briefed the train staff on the procedure to adopt in such an eventuality.  In turn, they have not been given any communications training and were ill-equipped to support the stranded and frightened passengers.
  • Communications with the stranded passengers subsequent to their “rescue” were poor – with the media seeming to be more in touch with their experiences than Eurostar or Eurotunnel.  How did the local authorities communicate with motorists affected by the lack of gritting? It seems they left the job to the police – and other commentators via the media.
  • In many of the Winter blunderland organisations, explanation of the situation and communication about the action being taken have been communicated solely (or at least primarily) using traditional mainstream media – Twitter and other social media have not been used extensively to communicate direct with the public.  Why go the long way round when there are direct means open to organisations at little cost (beyond time and motivation)? 
  • Marketing messages are still being communicated – I called the Eurotunnel FlexiPlus phone number yesterday (to cancel a booking) and instantly was advised this was the fastest route to France.  What a joke! 
  • When there is a crisis, hiding behind recorded messages is insulting. In the case of Eurotunnel, the customer information line (08444 630000) provided little information and directed customers to the web (www.eurotunnel.com) to rebook.  That means of communication was equally poor – and only allowed you to select another date, to travel in the same direction.  The online instruction was to call the customer contact centre (08443 35 35 35) to cancel – which was another pathetic recorded message.  (Or you can email: customer.relations@eurotunnel.com) Hence, under “contact us” I found the FlexiPlus premium customer line (0844 335 3335) answered (after the marking message) by a real person.  Although no apologies were expressed my cancellation was efficiently wiped off the system with a “phew that’s one out of the way” attitude.
  • There has been no direct communication with people booked onto either Eurostar or Eurotunnel – and this seems common in other organisations such as the airlines.  When making most travel bookings, you are required to provide email and mobile phone contact details.  So, why not use these to actually update customers.  Relying on media reports, rarely updated websites or recorded customer phone lines does not put the company in control of its own communications.  Hence people turn to Twitter and other forums where wider criticism of the organisations soon escalates. I was busy packing my car to leave yesterday when my mum called – she lives in France but heard a television news report regarding Eurotunnel’s “saturation” meltdown – without this, I would have been stuck with two dogs in freezing conditions for hours.  A text or email – or preferably both – would have been simple.  After all, my dentist, doctor and car dealer all manage to do this for routine matters.
  • Organisations need to have a better understanding of the impact of operational decisions made in the midst of a crisis.  In the case of both Eurotunnel and Eurostar, it seems those caught up in the initial crisis have been prioritised over those with later bookings.  So instead of frustrating a couple of thousand customers, the misery net is spread even wider.  This causes more customer and public relations problems and ensures the crisis continues even longer.  I understand my booking was not honoured yesterday because the company allowed additional bookings to be made on Sunday – how stupid is that?
  • Never ignore politicians who will be vocal in most crisis scenarios – both local and national.  They benefit from tough talk that places blame elsewhere – and I haven’t heard any supporting those organisations at the heart of the Winter blunderland, which implies poor reputation management with this stakeholder group, before and during the recent crisis situations. 
  • I doubt communications have been any better with shareholders who see their investments impacted by poor crisis management – and there are many other stakeholders (who are affected by, or can affect, the organisations’ future).

Of course, the other excuse is that we don’t get snow a lot in the UK and so aren’t prepared – but that’s a bit of a diversion, since the key issues relating to crisis management and communications would apply regardless of the cause.

It’s snow excuse – in my view.


It’s Excellence, Jim – but not as we know it! Grunig revisited

When David Phillips and I wrote Online Public Relations 2nd Ed (2009) we confidently claimed that the digital media revolution had changed PR forever, and that such changes meant that scholars needed to rethink the theoretical paradigms that have dominated academic conceptions of the discipline.

We still do.

We were therefore delighted to read that James Grunig, the driving force behind the hugely influential Excellence models and the general theory of PR which underpins these models, used our book as a prime focus for a significant PRism journal article, Paradigms of global public relations in an age of digitalisation.

Although beginning by appearing to lump in social media with other 'fads' that have momentarily distracted some from more fundamental matters, Grunig declares:

If the social media are used to their full potential, I believe they will inexorably make public relations practice more global, strategic, two-way and interactive, symmetrical or dialogical, and socially responsible.

Clearly, David and I agree. But for me, the interesting point is that the areas in which Grunig sees social media as having significant impact are framed within contexts drawn from Grunigian "general theory". These are the very assumptions from which we asked one of our key questions:

The issue now for those trying to understand the changes being brought about by the internet society is to determine whether the developments outlined in this book are sufficiently dramatic to challenge the Grunig model. Let’s try.

I have been arguing for several years that social media has flipped what I call the vector of communication through 90 degrees and that the significance of this change - or perhaps more accurately, this potential change - is a long way from being understood and embraced by PR theory.

So I am agreeing with Grunig that digital media makes no fundamental attack on many of the principles of his team's general theory, but I do maintain that the aggregation of individual opinions that is empowered by the searchable web is transforming conceptions of reputation. I am not convinced the general theory does or perhaps even can, accommodate this change.

Yes, we are in truth challenging what Grunig characterises one of his middle range theories, in particular the those elements which deal with conceptions of publics, persuasion, engagement and relevance.

But, for me, these are the most important aspects of public relations. I think writers like David and myself have only just begun to consider the implications of the changes we are trying to identify.

Meanwhile, thank you Professor Grunig for many valuable insights. Like the dutiful and dilligent students I try to nudge along at Sunderland, I will go away and spend the festive period in critical reflection.

And they call US spin doctors? Part 4 of 6

The consequences of misinformation: How the New York Times worked with an activist group to mislead the nation “Let’s give ‘em something to talk about.” – Bonnie...

Please click the article title to read more.

Reasons to be cheerful

Following up on earlier post about the future being brighter, Jeremy Rifkin says that in the future all the energy will be home-harvested instead of coming from elite energy suppliers (see page 22). I think there is a little way to go yet in being able to make this dream real, but a future with no gas bill would be a good thing.

Latest results for CIPR courses

dec 09 resultsBusy week sending out feedback to the CIPR Advanced Certificate and Diploma students who have just received their results.

Congratulations to them for their hard work.  Most have now passed all three assignments and so can add the qualification to their CV/resume.

We had quite a lot of students defer the final assignment as a result of the increasing pressures they are facing at work.  It is difficult to balance the commitments required when taking on study alongside work.  So it is really great to receive emails that confirm the course is of real practical value – such as this one:

Just wanted to drop you  a note to say thank you for your help and support this last year. It was greatly appreciated. The course certainly was an eye opener, a lot of hard work but for my own learning has been extremely beneficial.  I know have much more ideas about what I could be doing and could be offering my employer.

Students should never underestimate how much we appreciate receiving such notes – and also keeping in touch as their careers develop.  It’s not just the thanks, but knowing we have made a difference to their future that gives a warm glow.


Product marketing phase is over

Undergraduate marketing students learn about the development of marketing from the Henry Ford days of the product being the focus (we can make lots of black cars all the same so that's what we'll encourage you to want) to the 'progress' of today when Apple and the like will try to anticipate the public desire then deliver it in so many variations you think they've done it just for you.Sometimes