Archive for the ‘PR-contemporary issues and theories’ Category

A little thank you note!

I still remember my first day at the University of Westminster, Harrow Campus. I was tad nervous, yet immensely happy to finally see my dream come true! I always wanted to come to London to study……..could be anything!

The journey was a tough ride for me, since I come from a culture which is so closely knitted, involved and nurtured with affection. I wasn’t used to the aloofness, the silence around and the distance always scared me.

But gradually, the distances did fade and I realised that the people around my class are very cordial and helpful. The long nights at the library, the struggle to come up with one brilliant idea for the assignment, the brain storming sessions with my mates always came in handy!

I broke down at the most awkward times to embarass myself, I shared some precious laughs, the many after class gossip sessions at the canteen, I even learnt to ice skate, though I was a disaster!.…But this course made me tough. I fell many a times, but I’m really glad I learnt to face my fears.  

I owe a big thanks to all my teachers….Pam and Michaela who have been with us as great mentors. Kim, without whom the fashion module wouldn’t have been the same and Matt, who taught us some great tricks for blogging and tweeting.

Last but not the least, to all my classmates….without each one of you, this course wouldn’t have been such a wonderful journey…….now it is a beautiful memoire for life!




Political PR-is there a change?

People are aware that there is a hot battle going on the national platform for their attention and PR campaigns are executed to get the better of them. No doubt the public is the most precious commodity in today’s time when they trust the reigns of their nations in the hands of political parties.

Ever since democracy started to unfold its wings and politics, the favourite games of the elites and their entourage moved out in the open, the war for public’s attention has been gaining fervour.

The PR that at best wants to protect their clients interests no matter what the case be and act in the true spirit of professionalism striking a balance with the ethics faces a tough challenge when it comes to the politics of it.

Political PR has developed over the years from just canvassing or open speeches. The battle is now to win the hearts and minds of the people. Strikingly, no practitioner wants to give the impression that their client’s best interest in the public gets unveiled only in the time of elections.

Political PR is a year-round process which delicately tries to woo the electorates and build a confidence base of party members.

Obama’s strategy has been the shining examples of political public relations. His strategists portrayed him as brand Obama that stands for transparency. Obama even committed on publishing all proclamations and executive orders on the white house website. He has been quick to address issues either directly or through his team members, thus curbing the speculations and rumours. To top it all up, he has been promoting his policies through Facebook and Twitter, reaching the public directly and in a timely manner.

Compare this to Hurricane Katrina hit areas in US in 2005, where government came under criticism for lack of efforts. Government banned journalists from accompanying boats out in search of victims citing a Defense Department policy, in order to treat victims with dignity and respect. Even the photographs were banned from publishing. This was considered as censorship and further news from the recovery operations started to get misinterpreted. Eventually through a lawsuit filed by CNN, the media ban was lifted. Thus, adding to the overall bad reputation in the press and in the public eye about this natural disaster.

Obama’s social media strategy did bring about a wind of change which connected him more intimately to the people who voted for him and who look upto him with hopeful eyes. social media puts a human face to the larger than life figures and makes them a part of the crowd. That is the best PR strategy that works for now!

Thus, I’m delighted to conclude that it is hightime the political sphere also realise that social media watchdog can sniff the spin and expose it to the world in a wink!


Have no doubts on social media in times of crisis

As defined in the book, Master the skills to disaster by Harvard Business School; “Crisis management can be defined as a change, either sudden or evolving, that results in an urgent problem that must be addressed immediately. For a business, a crisis can cause damage to its employees, its reputation or bottom line.”

Throughout the learning of this course, I realized that social media has entered every nook and corner of the corporate structure and has revolutionized the art of doing business, to the extent of changing the guidelines of managing crisis.  “internet is the new communication threat for all organizations and it’s something that, even today, big organizations are not taking seriously enough,’ says Hill & Knowlton’s MD of crisis and issues Tim Luckett.”

The emerging social media are used differently in a serious crisis situation as opposed to social marketing. Any doubts raised about what potential damage could attacking blog posts, tweets, and viral videos do to the reputation of the company, were laid to rest forever with the dominos prank videos which hit a million viewers overnight and put the company into the most embarrassing situation in its history.

Dominos wasted no time in burying the truth and came out in the open with an apology and a viral video which they owed to every trusted customer across the world, thus brushing off the dust from their reputation.  

On the other hand, Eurostar’s recent crisis was a classic example of why having a grip on social media is crucial. Passengers were tweeting complaints and updates while stuck amidst the snow. But Eurostar failed to own its brand name on the social media platform.

Avoiding the avoidable:

The foremost step for an alert and responsive PR team would be to identify a potential crisis even before it occurs. Waiting for a disaster to happen is like inviting trouble. A sturdy PR strategy can minimise if not negate the damage to caused to the brand due to negligence or casual attitude. It would be appropriate to mention Toyota here for their delayed responses to the global crisis which has caused a huge dent to their brand and loss of customer faith. The company could have easily prevented a bad situation from becoming worse by acting promptly and issuing some explanation to clear out the cloud of confusion. And the result, it brought more and more trouble for the Toyota car company with recall after recall, customer complaints and fears, congressional investigations, stock price reductions, and a roller coaster ride of media coverage.

Act quickly to reduce the momentum of damage:

A Japanese proverb says, if it stinks, put a lid on it. And Toyota religiously followed suit by denying that they have a crisis in the first place. The company officials did not confront the media until 2 weeks and this delay made the critical voices grow louder. Expecting to escape from the public eye without giving due explanations and cashing upon their poor memory is not the best PR strategy anymore. Social media has given birth to a more alert, participative and inquisitive audience.

The Toyota crisis management strategy:  

  • Publishing a written apology in print
  • Direct mail for recall
  • Regular press releases, public apologies and explanations on TV
  • Television ads showing testimonials of customers driving Toyota since the past 50 years and have also addressed public grievances by admitting they made mistakes in quality control.

The do’s and don’ts of PR practices:

According to an article in PRweek 24 february 2010, Social media make crises spread faster and allow the public to voice their opinions and experiences or propagate rumours in a highly visible manner. And crises are increasingly breaking online, without the knowledge of management

  • PRO’s should closely monitor the digital space’, using tools such as BlogPulse, BoardReader, IceRocket, RSS feeds and Google Alerts.
  • Being friendly or minimally cordial to the key online influencers, bloggers, attackers
  • Respond immediately-put a statement online and then address the media traditional way
  • A fool proof back up strategy can come handy at the time of crisis.
  • Crisis takes a global shape because of the internet. So applying a different strategy in different geographical areas for the same brand can be fatal.


PR or Propaganda?

The truth- that is what keeps Propaganda at bay from Public Relations. Doing what a practitioner does best – spinning, if based on credible facts is simply PR. But when the facts get diluted in the hype of amassing the largest number of impressions either online or off it, then its Propaganda.  

However, that brings us to the question of what is a truthful fact? A PR practitioner is the representative of clients and does not have much say about the factual information related to the core processes of the company. This raises quite a few ethical issues as the codes of ethics emphasises on practitioners to investigate the facts made by the clients. Though, in reality this is not always a possibility. The practitioner has to make a tough choice based on a professional commitment and faith on the clients ability to share facts. The PR practitioner acts like a good citizen of the corporate world and makes sure that the illusion of their client holds in the eye of the public. Sometimes it would mean defending the client on issues like environment and safety standards for employees. 

Is propaganda still powerful?

Isn’t that also the purpose of Propaganda? Eventually, both PR and Propaganda are selling an idea through a set of objectives and strategies. Propaganda is defined by E. Bernays’s as “the consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group.” We see a similar theme when we look at how he defines Public relations: “attempt by information, persuasion and adjustment, to engineer public support for an activity, cause, movement, or institution.” 

 Where propaganda scores is on magnifying made-up facts and gets the negative connotations from the wartime propaganda and Nazi Germany. Though its roots go back as far as  1622 when Pope Gregory XV formed  The Sacra Congregatio Christiano Nomini Propaganda (the Congregation for Propagating the Faith).  

Though propaganda suffers from a negative reputation, the basic difference between the two is the way they are utilised to secure strategic objectives. So do Propaganda and PR coexist? Well, considering the rise of social media and omnipresent journalists who are on lookout for slightest misleading facts. So, if a practitioner deliberately uses untrue facts or a version of facts, then journalism sleuths are bound to catch such a action. Even if they don’t then customers won’t put up with such a campaign for long and its ramifications would resound in the form of a backlash for the company.  

Are Propaganda and PR synonymous? The definition and interpretation varies with the context in which it is being used. PR industry has always tried to embrace code of ethics and hold itself by the highest standards. Propaganda meanwhile has been associated with campaigns which violate these principles. 

Watch a report by AlJazeera about U.S. media being curbed from reporting Iraq war

Women have their way in PR

A crackling debate about women in PR broke a buzz of discussion among the entire class. And most importantly, it got me thinking why aren’t there enough women on the top positions in the PR sector? The debate picked up two important ‘so-called’ weaknesses that pull women back from ruling the roost.

1)     Their first priority is their family. They do not opt for demanding job profiles lest they would neglect their families.

2)     Women are not practical enough and do not have a business bent of mind. After all, it is all about running a successful business and making profits.

Climbing the ladder

 But there were some very strong points thrown by the opposition that women are known for multi-tasking and there are so many influential women who have been successful in striking a balance between home and work.  For Eg: Indira Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo is a role model for many Indian women.

Since I have a soft corner for my species, I would say that women till date have not been given enough opportunities to show what they have and now that the stereotypes are slowly crumbling, women are gradually making their way up the ladder. Women are smarter, more efficient and more competent in delivering multiple duties at the same time.

According to an article in PR Week 2002, a survey conducted among 200 female respondents from the PR industry shattered many a myth about them. More than 50 per cent of the women surveyed were graduates – a further ten per cent having a post-grad qualification. Of those who were married or co-habiting, 47 per cent were the main breadwinners for their family; which means that they are well qualified and competent enough to shoulder any responsibility provided they are given a fair chance to prove their worth.

Though, the survey results clarified that women in PR are not very apprehensive about sexual discrimination or male dominance over managerial roles. Rather pressure from the family and the upcoming younger talent who are eager to put in extra hours is what intimidates them.

Signs of change showed up even a decade ago. Biss and Co. Chairperson Mrs. Biss entered the industry in 1978 who has witnessed more female MD’s as her boss says that the industry welcomes anybody who is talented and upfront – regardless of gender.

A survey conducted by the CIPR reveals that increasing number of women enrol for PR degrees and courses across the world and more and more women are entering the PR sphere. This trend does barge into the male dominance and allows more room for diversity, deeper understanding of the profession from different perspectives, fertile dialogues between the company and its publics and expansion of market shares. Women have the charm and elegance which is just the right quality for this profession.

Women are a great work force with a deep understanding and endurance and bringing them into any work space will introduce a balance, growth and acceptance of innovation in a fundamentally ‘male supremacy’ environment.  

Related Articles:

PR Week on Diversity:

Indira Nooyi on the women power:

Is there anything called ethics in PR?

Time and again, Public relations has been associated with all things unethical – lying, spin-doctoring, and even espionage. Many critics argue that there can be no ethical public relations because the practice itself is akin to manipulation and propaganda. Or how else would you justify those PR agencies who deal with the tobacco or ammunition clientele?!

There is considerable body of evidence to prove that modern PR practices have thrown ethics out of the window. To list a few popular spin doctors of the industry, Hill and Knowlton who have many a scandals in their kitty. Max Clifford, the famous media manipulator who honestly admits that telling a lie is sometimes necessary and he’s proud of being able to do that. Alastair Campbell, communicator, writer and strategist had a major role in justifying USA’s attack on Iraq.

 An unfortunate belief among many journalists, policy makers, and laymen is the belief that the term ‘public relations ethics’ is an oxymoron: either an unreal possibility, or smoke and mirrors to hide deception.

Take coca cola India for example. The fizz giant is struggling to brush away a series of scandals by trying to spin the facts and shed their responsibility. The bottling plants have been discharging toxic wastes into the sacred rivers; the only source of harvesting for the farmers, have reduced the underground water tables to an all time low and have been careless about pesticide traces in the beverage.

On the other hand, a fashion retailer deserves a mention in terms of being ethically and morally upright in their PR practices. I once presented a case study in my fashion PR class about Monsoon Accessorize which is now a global brand with 1000 stores. I have never come across a more environmentally responsible and socially contributing company ever. And hey, if twisting some facts and hiding some malice is what PRO is ought to do for a client, then I think it’s high time they learn from Monsoon.

But Simon Goldsworthy, a senior lecturer in PR, Westminster University says in an article in PR Week that, “BBC journalist Andrew Marr says we must all deviate from the truth every now and then – he says ‘a day of honesty would be enough to finish most of us’Could you imagine a world where PROs spoke freely about every single worry affecting their company? Of course not. It would be a foolhardy PR professional who would say a client has big problems.”

At times, telling a lie just becomes a necessary evil or a part of his duty towards the client. PRO owes full responsibility to keep up the reputation of his client at any cost.

Max Clifford Founder, Max Clifford Associates says in the PR Week February 2007, “The only mantra I work to is that your duty is to your client. If I’m not comfortable lying, I won’t do it, but there will be plenty of other agencies lining up to take the business. All PROs at all levels lie through their teeth. I lie on behalf of a cross-dressing MP, a prominent businessman who is having an affair with a man, and a gay footballer. Always the aim is to keep their identity out of the press. There’s only been one footballer who was revealed to be gay, and he hanged himself. I know the ruin that will befall these people if news gets out. Here the truth is destructive – I lie because there is no choice.”

The current state of ethics in public relations practice depends heavily on codes of ethics adopted by every company and individual practitioner. Truth as said is very relative. A former editor of The Observer once said, “There’s your truth, my truth, and then there’s the real truth.” It all boils down to an individual’s choice of how much can he compromise with his moral values and where does he choose to draw a line. Same stands true for a company.

CSR – a fad or philanthropy?


    Corporate social responsibility or sustainable responsible business or corporate citizenship: 

    Virtue is its own reward and for business enterprises, it can profitable too. Many companies incline towards a social cause in order to win public trust and portray a favourable image in the media. There has been an increasing demand for CSR and are being increasingly held responsible for their actions which have a direct bearing on the public, stakeholders and the environment. Therefore, it has become important for companies to win long-term public trust through ethical business practices. Also, with the coming of social media, it has empowered the customer as an equal participant and given more ground for media scrutiny.  

     But there are many factors that question the legitimacy of companies who take up social issues. Is it because they feel its their moral and social duty or does it all boil down to profits? Does CSR really takes the genuine concerns of the society/customers into consideration or is it all strategic philanthropy?

    Paul Davis Jones and Cary Raymond describe CSR  as a “strategic philanthropy” where contributions of dollars,  volunteers, products and expertise are invested to a cause aligned with the strategic goals of a business .

    On the other hand, William J. McEwen in the article”Does Corporate Social Responsibility Matter?” highlights the importance of CSR and how it can help in being emotionally bonded with the customers. “Today’s financial markets bears compelling testimony to the fact that emotions truly do matter. Companies don’t need to be better at everything. They need to be better at the things customers feel are important. Research shows that the companies that generate “fully engaged,” emotionally connected customers sell more, make more money, and are better able to withstand the stress of economic downturns.” (source: Gallup Management Journal Online; 1/28/2010, p1-1, 1p;)

    Benefits of doing CSR:

  1. Changes the perception of audience (media, stakeholders, market and customers) about the company as being socially, morally and ethically upright!
  2. Gives the company a benefit of doubt in times of crisis.
  3. Being socially engaged rubs well on the brand image and customer loyalty
  4. CSR can mobilise various the business strategies and increase profits. 
  5. CSR represents a tie-breaker, a “sweetener” that can help enhance a customer’s feelings of connectedness with a company.
  6. Retains employees and attracts best talent.

The other side: 

Various arguments have tried to define the true purpose behind the practice of CSR

1. Some critics argue that CSR distracts from the fundamental economic role of businesses.

2. Others believe that is nothing more than superficial window-dressing

3. It is an attempt to avoid scrutiny of government and community watchdogs over powerful multinational corporations.

4. Corporates shorten the most needy causes and choose the one’s which suit their strategic interests and business policies. 

5. The practice of CSR has always been debated and kept under a critical lens because it emerges out of a crisis, accident or an emergency.

6. The consumers are skeptical today because their faith has been shattered by tall promises and hidden motives behind CSR. Therefore, winning its credibility is a big question.

7. The company cannot expect to provide cheap services or substandard products and get away with it just because the company is affiliated to social causes.  

8. CSR has often been considered as a tool to beat the competition and attract more media attention. The underlined motive of CSR is profit and that is what defeats the entire purpose of being socially inclined. 

Following are some major examples of CSR. Read on and decide which is ethical and which is not?

Recently, many companies have taken a proactive approach to the environment, transforming the nature of their organization and products to reflect this. They are discovering that well-formulated environmental strategies can lead to a number of business advantages, such as better quality, reduced costs, improved environmental image, and the opening of new markets. Also, relations with stakeholders (such as regulators, local communities, and environmental groups) improve along with business profits. 

The drug giant Pfizer decided to do a good deed for its customers who had lost their jobs due to recession and thus, lacked prescription coverage, Pfizer would supply 70 of its name-brand drugs, from Lipitor to Viagra, free of charge for up to a year. For a company whose reputation has suffered some blemishes, including $2.3 billion in fines last year for improperly marketing drugs to doctors, the free-prescription program was well worth the cost. “We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do,” says Pfizer CEO Jeffrey Kindler. “But it was motivational for our employees and got a great response from customers. In the long run it will help our business.(Source: Richard McGill Murphy; “Why doing good is good for business?” Fortune; 2/8/2010, Vol. 161 Issue 2, p90-95, 6p, 7 Color Photographs.)

Philip Morris, the tobacco giant donated more than $17 million in a year to schools, hospitals, cultural organizations and charity groups. Critics believe that many of these funds were targeted to minority organizations which would help beat tax and anti-smoking bills. The CSR was well strategized in order to gain some political benefit. (Source: Ralph Tench, Liz Yeomans; ” Public Relations Strategies and tactics; 7th edition)

McDonald’s has a blog entirely dedicated to its CSR policy ( Although not extremely well established in the blogosphere, the blog is growing in popularity. The blog itself is written by Bob Langert, McDonald’s Vice President of CSR, and is dedicated to informing the public about the five key issues relevant for McDonald’s: balanced active lifestyles, responsible purchasing, people, the environment, and the community. Would you call this genuine or a mere distraction from the real health issue?(source: Fieseler, Christian1 Fleck, Matthes, Meckel Miriam; “Corporate social responsibility in blogosphere”; Journal of Business Ethics; Feb2010, Vol. 91 Issue 4, p599-614, 16p)

The corporates owe a lot to the public who buys their products and services. As long as they don’t comply with the ethics conforming to their professional standards and social behaviour, CSR will only perceived as a mere hypocrisy, astroturing or spin.  If CSR is being done to aid the stakeholders, organisation and society and not camouflage some malicious activities, it will  help gain long term mutual benefits for the parties involved.


Non profit PR v/s the other sectors

” Charities is the only sector that practices ethical PR and all other sectors mainly practice spin or propaganda”


Being a part of this debate, i had to support one side of the statement that yes, charities is the only way to do good, ethical PR for a simple reason that charities work for a philanthropic cause and not for scaling profits. So who cares what means were adopted to achieve a noble end! ” greater good for a greater number”. But unfortunately, the world isn’t like a black and white grid of chess board that it would be so easy to seggregate the good from the bad!

My conclusion about this debate like all other debates is that if there have been a series of scandals in the corporate sector and our politicians (whom we love to hate) have been caught doing propaganda just to cash in more votes; the NGO sector has also had its fair share of bad press and public scrutiny. NGO’s have also been attacked as a puppet at the hands of corporate giants who aim to cash in more credibility for their CSR activites on behalf of the charity they loop in. And in return for their favour, they end up getting huge sums of donations!

It could be argued that NGO’s are also selling a “product” of contented conscience for two main motives 1) To gain more media attention 2) For more donations 3) Win more supporters. But there is a difference in the approach and the end result. They are not serving the way trade unions or trade associations do.

Trevor Morris in his book “PR- a persuasive industry” says that NGO’s are engaged in a sophisticated transaction where there are no tangible goods involved or a conventional exhange of services. But customers end up buying a contented afterglow after contributing money or investing their time. Good PR at work ensures sustainance of volunteers or donors.

According to the international journal of Not-for-profit law, volume 8; january 2006: there has been a gradual erosion of confidence in leaders, institutions of governments and corporate houses. The paralysis and poor performance of these groups who promise to serve for public good have given an endless stream of scandals and have shattered public trust. in such a scenario, NGO PR emerges as a credible source of information in an effort to address the deficiencies.

The key points that came out from the debate were:

Credibility and transparency are the two main credentials which an NGO seeks to have because that leads to more donations and good publicity. But this is impossible to achieve without being ethical. Since NGO’s are not accountable to any governed body; thus,PR techniques used by NGO’s should be subject to greater scrutiny to ensure long term public trust.  

NGO sector has to be more ethical in terms of practising PR to mobilise the cause that they believe in with no underlined selfish motive. otherwise, it fails the very purpose of being n the voluntary sector. The attitue has to be self(less) and not self (ish)

NGO PR would ideally not wait for a crisis to occur and act with profound responsibility towards all citizens; unlike other sectors who indulge in CSR only if there is a crisis, an emergency or bad press.

NGO PR believes in building a “brand image” through long-term relationships with its donors and media, active campaigning and spreading awareness without calling it an act of “PR”

NGO’s use tool of persuasion in order to bring about awareness and change in the public opinion towards an issue or a problem. Unless persuasion doesn’t cross the line of propaganda, spin or astroturfing, it is acceptable!


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