Monday, November 30, 2009

Employee Relations - Diversity

I've always been a big fan of diversity. One of the reasons I chose Clemson is because I know we have a pretty diverse student body (at least more than other South Carolina universities). I also understand that diversity is important, not just in universities, but in companies and organizations too.
DiversityInc. even ranks companies and put out a list every year of the top 50 most diverse companies. Here's the list from 2008. This site has articles about everything, for employers, employees, and even people who are looking for a job (or just want to know where to shop).

Another website I found that really delves into the topic of diversity in the workplace is HR World's blog. They cover a lot of the hot topics today, like religion, gender, and sexual orientation. On this blog, I found an interesting article about English-only rules. I had not actually heard of them but it really affects diversity in the workplace. Here are the EEOC laws on English-only rules. I understand the laws pertaining to this but I don't think that it should be used as a discriminatory tool against those who do not speak English or who do not speak English fluently. As globalization increases, people have to realize that languages are going to overlap. It is already shown that knowing another language can increase your chances of getting a job or getting a promotion. While it is not necessary to have completely bi-lingual companies, if you want to attract certain consumers (and therefore, increase profits), you must accommodate language-wise.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Is This PR? - McDonald's and service dogs

About a month ago, a disabled veteran, Luis Carlos Montalvan, filed a suit against McDonald's. His reasoning pertains to his service dog that inspired Al Franken's service dog program for disabled veterans. Allegedly, McDonald's refused to allow his dog inside the restaurant twice, even though after the first time, stickers were placed on the doors stating service dogs were allowed. Then, as he says, he went to McDonald's (but they were closed) to take pictures of the stickers and he was beaten with plastic trash can lids by unidentified employees.

This incident has caused more than just a lawsuit. A veterans organization also started a "small, but passionate" protest outside the 5th Avenue McDonald's, where the original incident took place. Whether it was small or not, I'm sure that a lot more people know about the incident. And people have strong opinions about the discrimination. The story is presented a little fuzzy so many people have doubts about the credibility of the events. Others are just outraged at the alleged mistreatment of a combat veteran.

Whether the story is true or not, McDonald's handled it badly. Besides the original written apology by the first McDonald's manager, there seems to not have been any other apology given to Montalvan. Quoted from the article from, this is all that I could find about official McDonald's comments: "A spokeswoman for McDonald's USA said the matter is under investigation and that the company could not comment further, other than to say that McDonald's takes pride in making its restaurants accessible to all customers, 'including those with service animals.'" Since according to the story, McDonald's did not make its restaurant accessible to all customers, this just makes McDonald's look even worse. McDonald's should not have waited for the situation to get to a lawsuit level. They should have handled it at the managerial level (and also, at the employee/worker level). Workers should have been trained better to deal with customers who have disabilities and other special needs, like service dogs. If the problem had been dealt with earlier (and better), the lawsuit may not have been filed and McDonald's could have avoided a lot of negativity.

Verdict? Bad PR.

Employee Relations - Let's be thankful

In light of the Thanksgiving spirit, I think I'll concentrate on the idea of being grateful (and showing it) in the context of employee relations of a company. I think this is a pretty big part of employee relations. Of course it applies to all types of PR but it is particularly effective with employees because it is part of what keeps them happy. According to this article by Warren & Hays LLC, 70% of employees are "very thankful" for their job. This is good, however, the other 30% have different ideas. They even give a few suggestions on how to improve employee relations, such as conducting workplace surveys where employees can give their opinions anonymously. I think this would be really effective because by making it anonymous, employees can give their true opinions about the company without worrying about jeopardizing their jobs.

I also found another article, this time from Biz Coach Tim, that emphasized the importance of saying thank you to employees. While a lot of this article can be applied to all relationships in life, I think some of the advice works really well for employee relations such as these four steps to show gratitude (which are incidentally from another blog post from Kevin Eikenberry):
  • See it – look for reasons to be thankful to your team
  • Say it - they won't know that you notice what they do unless you tell them
  • Write it - this is much more powerful than verbal thanks and longer lasting
  • Share it - formal recognition is the greatest motivator of all.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Is This PR? - Miracle Whip v. Stephen Colbert

Recently, Stephen Colbert dissed Miracle Whip in a parody commercial on his show, The Colbert Report. Well, Miracle Whip responded, in a unique way. They bought all of the ad slots for the commercial breaks on the Thursday showing of The Colbert Report. In these ad slots, they showed their normal commercials but with modified voice-overs that talked directly to Colbert. Before the show, they also ran an open newspaper ad (that also appeared in several places on the Internet) that was addressed to Colbert and said that they "WILL NOT TONE IT DOWN." In an article from the Chicago Tribune, there is an overview of the "marketing opportunity" taken, complete with a quotation from spokeswoman for Kraft (manufacturer of Miracle Whip). This article also touches on the irony that in addition to producing Miracle Whip, Kraft is also one of the top manufacturers of mayonnaise.

So, PR? Definitely. Good PR? The ballot's still out on that one.

I have read several responses to the retaliation and the sentiments are mixed. There are two sides to the opinions on this PR tactic. On the one hand, this is a light-hearted approach where instead of getting angry at Colbert, Miracle Whip brought it back with humor. On the other hand, it is a campaign that it taking it too seriously. Contradicting, right?

Well I'll start off discussing the good. Even Comedy Central, the channel The Colbert Report appears on, said Miracle Whip's letter was "admittedly funny." It was. The letter, and following commercials, took Colbert's humor and turned it back around in a creative attempt to retaliate the "Colbert effect."

And then there's the bad. The main problem is people believe Miracle Whip is taking itself too seriously as a product. The commercial is trying too hard. You should give 110% right? Which in any other case besides PR would be true. In PR, however, you must strike a balance. This article from Warming Glow seems to think it's too intentional.

In the end though, I think that most of the people who did not like the commercials were people who did not like Miracle Whip in general. The humorous approach to something they could have turned nasty is Good PR.

Ethical Ice Cream (CSR in action)

When we were given the assignment to write a blog post about a company that uses corporate social responsibility, my immediate thought was one of my favorite ice cream companies, Ben & Jerry's. Ben & Jerry's has gotten a lot of attention on the subject matter of corporate social responsibility. They have an extensive mission statement that presents separate statements for social, product, and economic aspects.

I found several examples of their socially responsible practices in this article by an apparent B & J's enthusiast that include not using milk from cows that have been treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone which increases chances of infection (and therefore, pain) for the cows. They actually pay the farmers who raise the cows that they get their milk from NOT to use this hormone.

Another interesting example mentioned in this article is their ice cream flavor, American Pie. This ice cream flavor not only taste like an American classic, but is also part of a political media campaign of the company's. Here's an article from Junk Food blog that goes more in depth on the topic. Basically, the ice cream container features a pie chart that illustrates government spending. The purpose is to make people aware of the government's spending on things like nuclear weapons and the war. This is socially responsible, however, it may not be the best PR in general. As you can see from the comments on this post, some people feel that Ben & Jerry's is alienating half of Americans (conservatives). That said, I think it succeeded in informing people about the issue.

Another issue people have been criticizing Ben & Jerry's for is its recent acquisition by Unilever. As B & J's has always been pretty outspoken against corporations, this acquisition came as kind of a shock. Many consumers wondered if the company would still be able to continue all of its socially responsible actions. This blog post from Ideoblog seems to think Ben & Jerry's is still doing a good job. They are teaching their employees about CSR too.

In general, I believe Ben & Jerry's is doing a good job. I also think whoever does their PR is doing a good job too because the word is definitely out there about their socially responsible practices and stances.

Seriously, no company is perfect. As wonderful as it would be for every company to be socially responsible in every aspect, that's a perfect world and that does not exist. I believe that Ben & Jerry's puts in the effort in many aspects of its company and that is more than many other companies are doing.

Here is a quote I found while doing my search on more information for Ben & Jerry's. While it does not have to do with the company specifically, I think it illustrates the purpose (and importance) of CSR quite nicely:

"Money should never be separated from values. Detached from values it may indeed be the root of all evil. Linked effectively to social purpose it can be the root of opportunity."

--- Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Professor, Harvard Business School

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Role of a PR Practitioner in CSR

As I began to read about the use of public relations practices in corporate social responsibility, I realized not everyone has very high opinions about it. Like this article from The Guardian in the UK, Christian Aid did a study (of which the validity/reliability I am still not sure) that shows that many people think that corporations "preach" about CSR but do not follow through on it (on a side note, this article shows that many people do not think very highly about the PR profession in general).
This leads me to my first point about the role of the PR practitioner when dealing with CSR. PR practitioners must publicize their companies' CSR and then make sure it is enforced. I agree with the article in that companies should not say they are being socially responsible when they are not (i.e. LYING!).
As long as it is being enforced, PR practitioners have the responsibility to make sure their publics and stakeholders know about it. This is their responsibility to the company and stakeholders. PR practitioners need to present it "in the most neutral tone with no hypes nor exaggerations." This quotation is from an article from DT Communications Asia Pacific. They also emphasize the idea that it is not only a specific event, like a fundraiser, but should be seen as an ongoing process where there is no "final point." This article also gives three pretty interesting examples that I feel really exemplify the importance of good PR in social corporate responsibility.
Social corporate responsibility is primarily the responsibility of the company. However, PR plays a big role in this because PR practitioners are the ones responsible for getting a company's socially responsible messages and values to the public. This generates more business for the company which in turn can generate even more socially responsible practices.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Music in the Digital Age

With sharing music so easy nowadays, copyright lawsuits are becoming more and more common in the music industry. I was definitely one of those people who used Kazaa and Limewire, but I stopped after hearing about people (continuously) getting fined thousands of dollars for music that was worth less than half of the fines. And I understand where the music industry is coming from. People need to get paid, and not just musicians and CEO's of record companies. I'd bet that they would actually be some of the last to feel the cut from illegal downloading. Now, social media sites like YouTube are getting into trouble for allowing their users to use copyrighted music; it's the new battle in the music industry. The big case I'm talking about is the one between YouTube and Warner Music Group.

Warner Music Group has now been removing all of their musical content from YouTube. While this might be protecting their copyrighted material, it is alienating their consumers. YouTube is popular because you have the ability to find anything and everything on it. Taking content off because people are not paying for it, alienates everyone. And there's proof of this. YouTube users have been creating angry videos in response to Warner Music Group's decision to take down content containing their music. This is similar to the airline situation with Dave Carroll that I talked about in a previous post. The airline wronged him and he fought back using social media, specifically YouTube. This is creating a LOT of bad publicity for Warner Music Group. I bet their PR director is stressed.

The answer to these kinds of problems is Creative Commons. This organization provides free licenses to creators of material that allows these owners to choose what others can and cannot do with their original work. It allows people to make more creative works than they would under normal copyright laws. As a music fan (and a fan of music blogs), I think this is great. I love having music available to listen to all the time and I love with artists collaborate with one another or when some music enthusiast decides to make a remix or mash-up. It inspires creativity and, personally, I think it is great PR for a musician or band. I know this free PR is not needed for bigger, well-known bands, but for independent, lesser-known bands, it can get their names out there and make them big.

So what does this mean for PR? I think it means that record companies are going to have to seriously reconsider the regulations they put on their music. It should be the responsibility of the content owners (i.e. the musicians, I'm assuming) to decide the regulations and Creative Commons is the best way to do that. Record companies should look at the reaction to Warner Music Group and learn that strict regulations are not the best way to go even if they are the most protective of original content. Warner Music Group will need to rethink its policies and respond carefully to those angry videos protesting it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Disclosure and Ethics in PR

I think Dave Fleet's article about disclosure made some very good points. Yeah, for a lot of people, they don't know that someone else is doing the campaign and, subsequently, they don't care. But I believe that if people understood that a lot of the time PR agencies are creating the messages, they would care. With social media becoming one of the primary ways of communicating, more and more "average" people are becoming aware of issues that usually required some college courses or just an unhealthy affinity for a particular topic. Now, the "average" citizen can learn about issues like disclosure by reading just a few hundred words on a blog, like Dave Fleet's. I think one of the comments on this post really says it all:
John Carson said:

"I think if the campaign goes well, and everyone involved is a hero, then people don’t care about disclosure.

But, if the sh*t hits the fan, then people search for accountability and look back — ruefully — with hindsight about the disclosure issue.

By then, of course, it’s too late!"

That really sums it up for me. This emphasizes the importance of disclosure from the beginning. While, of course, everyone plans their PR strategies to go well but that is not how it always happens. If something goes wrong, which Murphy's Law teaches us that it always will, no disclosure means a much bigger mess than if you just tell the truth (i.e. not lie through omitting) from the beginning.

That said, as another commenter pointed out, giving disclosure on social media like Twitter where you have a limited space can be difficult. Paid tweets are becoming a big deal and the FTC is stepping in. One of the solutions that many PR practitioners are coming up with is some sort of indicator in the tweet that lets the reader know it's a paid or sponsored tweet. Stowe Boyd of suggests putting "AD" at the beginning of the tweet. Brian Carter of TweetROI takes it a step further and makes the distinction between a paid tweet and a sponsored tweet. Paid tweets, where the company dictates the content, would be indicated by "AD," while a sponsored tweet, where the company does not decide the content, would be indicated by "SP." There are even more elaborate idea such as color-coding and different fonts for different types of tweets. No matter which way will eventually win out, the main goal of all of these ideas is to provide disclosure and keep Twitter-marketing ethical.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Is this PR? - Levi's Go Forth campaign

I decided to start off my "Is this PR?" presentations with Levi's Go Forth campaign because 1. I, personally, think it is an awesome campaign and 2. I am writing an original criticism on it for another communication class!

Here is one of the print ads for the campaign.

To give a basic overview of the campaign, I'll start by explaining where the title "Go Forth" came from. As the narrative goes, it stands for Grayson Ozias IV, a family friend of Levi Strauss' nephew, who went exploring one day in the West (back when it was uncharted territory) and disappeared with $100,000. The company found his treasure (using wax cylinders he left behind). Now they are creating a virtual treasure hunt that ends with one person being able to do a real treasure hunt and find Ozias' fortune. "Go Forth" also connotes the freedom and revolution that Levi's is trying to create with this campaign. In addition to the "treasure hunt," they also have print advertisements and commercials which feature Walt Whitman poems like "America" and "Pioneers! O'Pioneers!" The entire campaign is trying to take people back to the pioneering age of America, when Levi's was started. Levi's uses other ideas like "The New Declaration" where they invite people to rewrite the Constitution or write their own.

As I stated before, I really like the campaign. However, among others, it has had mixed receptions. And I understand the thoughts of those who oppose it. There have been some blogs that think this campaign is beautiful yet ultimately will not reach its goal of selling jeans but rather alienate postmodern consumers. If you read the comments though, not everyone agrees with this. Others think the use of Walt Whitman poems is an interesting choice. Using poetry to promote a company is controversial because it is using art (something usually seen as not consumerist) to sell something; however, as others note, it's getting people to discover poetry and, really, Walt Whitman wrote reviews for his own poetry so it is kind of fitting that he would be used to promote jeans. I think Rick Mathieson does a good job at summing up the opposing views towards the campaign in his article. To answer some of the questions he poses, yes I do think this can "reset the brand" for today's generation. Just because it is obviously advertising jeans doesn't not mean it is trying to "brainwash" today's generation. It's true; people are pessimistic these days and, while they are not going to believe that buying jeans will change the world, the message Levi's could become associated with through this campaign, could.

In the end, I believe this campaign is good and I believe this campaign is PR. It is striking up conversations about Levi's and it is using social media to the fullest. The interactive element of this campaign puts it in this century, while the message brings back the past. This is a response to their recent financial failures to compete with designer brands, like Sevens and True Religion. Levi's listened to what their publics were saying and realized they could not compete in the same arena as designer brands so they decided to go an alternative route, back to their roots.

That said, I would love to hear other opinions about this campaign because, as I have seen, the views towards the Go Forth campaign have been quite varied.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Crisis Communications in action

To help myself better understand crisis communications and the most appropriate methods to use (and how to figure out which are the most appropriate methods), I decided to look up a few examples of crisis communications in action. Of course, as I found out when researching for my previous blog post, being prepared seems to be one of the most crucial aspects of good crisis communications. What about if you are not prepared?

Lo and behold, I found an article talking about just that. While it is specifically discussing European firms, I think some of these things apply to American firms too (and actually, I don't mind the European aspect; I hope to work for an international organization). The exact statistics given in this article are that "although 60% of the business decision makers polled have experienced a crisis and more than half of these have experienced one in the past year, only 53 percent currently have a crisis plan in place." Now, I have learned from my statistics class to be skeptical of the veracity of statistics, for illustrative sake, I'll take these as is. This survey was led by Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations and communications consultancy (that description is word-for-word from the article except for the word "leading" which I remember is one of those means-nothing words). Basically the article discusses the consequences of not having a crisis plan ready, one of the more detrimental being that companies without a crisis plan usually have longer recovery period (they cite 9 months, rather than 7). Some other consequences they discuss:
  • bigger loss of revenue and layoffs
  • falling share prices
  • loss of corporate reputation
  • loss of media and/or public trust
  • law suits by individuals or groups
All of these I believe are quite true and quite important. They even give an example of this by mentioning British Airways.
...which leads me to the blog post I found specifically talking about why airlines usually have such bad PR.
As noted in the blog post, airline PR practitioners must have one of the most difficult and stressful PR jobs ever. When people are flying, they want a perfect, uneventful trip which seems to rarely happen. This article specifically talks about United Airways. The event discussed was about a Canadian musician, Dave Carroll, who flew United and subsequently had his expensive guitar broken by the baggage handlers. When he received no sympathy from United employees, not only did he blog about it, he even wrote a song and made a video (posted in this article). This has got to be a nightmare for United; musicians are obviously not the ones to cross. United suffered. However, these types of situations are not left just United Airways. All airlines are notorious for losing luggage, delayed flights, bad customer service, and, apparently, breaking customers' personal possessions. It seems to be unavoidable, so the only way an airline can keep its customers happy is with good customer service and good communications, largely the responsibility of public relations practitioners. It also discusses airline attempts (and fails) to use social media to help with customer service and complaints. I think this is partially due to the fact that many problems with airlines are seen as very serious and many people might expect something more formal than social media which is still seen sometimes as young and solely for entertainment. However, if airlines could figure out how to use social media to their advantage, it could be incredibly beneficial (that said, they may just have to wait it out for social media to obtain a more serious reputation).

Crisis Communication - thoughts on the exercises

Ok so personally I find crisis communication to be difficult and a little terrifying. As much as I, and probably others, would love for public relations to be all campaigns and accepting awards, it's not. I can see this as being where public relations jobs get stressful. The exercises given by Professor Vargas really woke me up to this crucial type of communication for public relations practitioners. I really thought hard about my answers, yet I am still unsure of them. I hope this kind of thing becomes easier with practice.
So I decided to do a little more research on the subject (even using my new-found blog search source, blogpulse!).

"Like the good Boy Scout – a good motto for the crisis manager is 'Be Prepared'."

This is the last line in a blog post of Mike Love's about crisis management/communications. While I'm not sure what kind of actual experience Love has (though the first paragraph of the post seems to suggest a lot), I feel that his advice given in the post is very well said and quite correct. He reminds us that crises happen anywhere and at any time, so being prepared is essential. He mentioned several things like keeping copies of the crisis plan in other places, having alternate office spaces, and having alternate ways to communicate with the necessary people. Another idea that I really liked of Love's is his thought that the "Communicator" sometimes has to be the Devil's Advocate. I think this is true. The "Communicator", or what I am assigning to be the public relations practitioner, needs to be able to find the faults in the company/organization to be able to fix them and/or respond to outside accusations of these faults. If you don't think there is a problem, it won't get fixed.

Crises cannot usually be handled solely by the PR director of a company. Often, the company is too big, there are too many publics, and/or the situation is too much to handle for one person. Therein lies the importance of a crisis communications team, all of whom need to be trained in whatever their role in the team is. In an article written by PR Ideas, the role of the team members is discussed. The tips given in this article are interesting and are very pertinent for crisis communications. Basically, it reinforces what I have been reading in all of these articles and in the slideshow presentation from class.

Also, in my search on the blogosphere, I found an event that pertains exactly to what we are learning that's actually going on at this very point. Here's the link for the Social Media for Crisis Communications in Government.