Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Gender and life balance

The overwhelming majority of women in PR, makes one wonder why so many women are attracted to this field. Throughout my research I have found quite a few reasons, but the one that called my attention the most is the fact that PR is seen as a female-intensive industry, meaning industries more likely to hire women because of the flexibility they offer.

If a majority of women enter public relations with the view of having a flexible work, do they really encounter a friendly work environment for that matter? And what are the impacts it has for women and the profession?

It seems like those issues have to be addressed form many angles. First, a social model moving from traditional to progressive – or from male breadwinner and female carer to dual earner and dual carer - is rather an appealing view towards change. Otherwise we have the individualization heading to a society without families, backed up with the fact that a great number of successful executives remain childless, according to Sylvia Ann Hewlett.

Many women avoid the presence of children in the workplace – even on photos or conversations – as it can be reason for the discrepancies between men and women towards hiring, salaries and promotions.

The integration of work, family and community life provides a new vision of the profession, looking at men and women as human beings struggling to achieve balance rather than mere communication professionals. To offer flexibility and work arrangements compatible with practioners life style constitutes great advantages for employers including reputation capital and higher average stock returns. However it is not only up to employers to provide changes in the public relations field. Societal systems that promote gender bias are of great influence on the issue. It is possible for professionals in public relations to be well-paid, influential and happy, taking the example of PR field in Quebec, Canada where the majority of women are pleased with their position. Policies and social differences have weight on the satisfaction of those professionals who enjoy more generous parental leave than in most countries.

Women in public relations can enjoy flexibility parallel to successful work upon certain changes in social context which allows women and men to have a more meaningful professional and personal life.

Here are some sources for more reading on the subject: 

Feminist Phase Analysis in PR: Where have we been? Where do we need to be? Journal of PR Research 2006

Gender Discrepancy in a Gendered Profession. Jounal of PR Research 2002


Cultural understanding is essential to successful communicators. Global PR companies cover a range of local issues to produce campaigns. What works in one country will be not accepted in another. For example, for Americans and most Europeans the color white means purity but for Asians it means death; red is used by brides in China where it means luck and happiness while it means love and passion in Latin America.

Awareness of such details is crucial on campaigns. But also local practices need to be known. Practices such as the Russian zakazukhi (bought articles) can be surprising even to IPRA past President Alasdair Sutherland who has been calling for ethical behavior in media relations on different countries.

Culture goes beyond national way of life. Corporate culture is also relevant for communications especially within internal stakeholders. Strong corporate culture can make a Swedish model of power distance work well in Brazil. On a less positive note though, it can cause a Japanese car manufacture to ignore design issues driving the company to immense international crisis.

Clotaire Rapaille mentions a perfect example of well built corporate culture on the hotel chain Ritz-Carlton:

“The company calls its employees ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentleman. Their goal is to give their guest the best hotel experience of their lives, and their employees’ job is to provide that experience. […] If a cleaning person encounters a guest with a problem and the guest complains to her, that cleaning person has the power to improve his experience by giving him a free meal or even a free night in a room. This gives the cleaning person a strong sense of motivation, the belief that she is part of the corporate mission.”

Any well prepared practioner should know the principles of Hofstede on power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism and collectivism. I would also recommend Richard D. Lewis for as a precise glossary for different countries.

Sources and more reading:

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Crisis Case Study: Coca Cola Perception is Reality

Coca Cola had an interesting crisis to deal with in 1999. Michael Regester and Judy Larkin presented a case study of the crisis in their book Risk issues and crisis management in public relations. Here follows my short summary and analyses of the case study.

In 1999 more than 200 children felt sick after drinking coke in a Belgian School. Once the company was informed about the issue, it recalled several bottles of cokes from the market upon investigation. The issue reached the media which reported the case on TV among other channels. More and more people kept claiming the same symptoms from the school children.
Nevertheless further investigation from Coca Cola could not find any fault on the products which now were not even from the same plant. As the issue developed into a crisis, the company failed to explain the reasons of the symptoms to its stakeholders. Belgian and French government demanded actions from Coca Cola in order to remove products from the market. The political scenario was not favorable to Coca Cola with re-elections taking place in Belgium after previous dioxin food alike crisis – not well handled by the government.
Interestingly enough there was nothing wrong with coke cans (the initial issue happened on bottles). Finally a Belgian independent professor hypothesized about mass hysteria MSI but he had no evidence at all.
In conclusion it was a case of MSI. However Coca Cola didn’t handle the situation properly by not communicating in a timely manner with the stakeholders. The crisis represented vast damages to Coca Cola’s reputation and total cost of 66 million pounds. The main reason for the mistakes it was the lack of authority of local executives. Coca Cola identified the reason for the fails in communications and consequently empowered the local teams to deal with this sort of situation.

The lessons from this case study show how important it is to communicate with stakeholders. Even if a reason or solution is not clear it is necessary to pay close attention to the high power and high influence stakeholders - in the case study government relations was crucial.

Risk issues and crisis management in public relations

Friday, 8 April 2011

Sustainable business

When Anita Roddick created the Body Shop following her activist and ethical principles, it made the company an example of sustainable business. In the video below, a speech she delivered to entrepreneurs in the British Library, she emphasizes and expands in a point mentioned in the last posting: how powerful business is in our society. Anita believes that along with the power, companies should have a sense of responsibility. The Body Shop is a company that, in Anita’s words “prove you can make a profit and can make contribution to the society.

This speech was given a few months after the Body Shop had been acquired by L’oreal. Since the acquisition The Body Shop was highly criticized as we can see in this article from the Independent.

Body Shop's popularity plunges after L'Oreal sale - The Independent - Apr 10, 2006

In the 2003, documentary The Corporation, The Body Shop is mentioned in a scene a member of the public refers to the company as deceiving.

The Body Shop, before and after L’oreal acquisition, is an example on how sustainability and CSR can affect a company’s reputation therefore how crucial it is for communicator to be involved in the CSR function.

Friday, 1 April 2011

CSR - Corporate and Social Responsability

When we started the CRS discussion in class, one of my professors said that my concepts made it sounds like an enormous thing. I cannot deny how fascinating the subject is in my view. How can you describe CSR in a world that companies’ profits are higher than countries GDP and companies’ culture can overcome countries way of life, but the power of corporations is underestimated.  What is the mission of CSR? Can business make the world a better place? Furthermore, is business willing to make the world a better place?

Before diving in CSR, here are two key concepts to develop the discussion:

[     Philanthropy definition: generous help or benevolence toward one’s fellow men (Webster’s dictionary). Corporate philanthropy use to be likely a mere choosing of charity or organization followed by donations. Philanthropy is related to strong moral or ethical values therefore backed by belief systems.

[     Corporate social responsibility encompasses not only what companies do with their profits, but also how they make them. It goes beyond philanthropy and compliance and addresses how companies manage their economic, social, and environmental impacts, as well as their relationships in all key spheres of influence: the workplace, the marketplace, the supply chain, the community, and the public policy realm. (Harvard Kennedy School)

 CSR goes way beyond what Corporate Philanthropy used to be. We can use the metaphor of license to operate. Scrutiny, visibility and trust make this license essential.

Now that the concepts of CSR are covered – and I agree it is not so enormous – we will discuss sustainable business on next posting.

Here it is an interesting link on CSR and also the source of my definition above:

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Virtual Revolution

BBC series The Virtual Revolution is an interesting source of information on all the happenings behind the computer screen. When navigating and finding information “for free” most people don’t realize there is a price on “free”.

Keeping tuned with what people do on-line is the best way to communicate with stakeholders. Recently I posted a low rate on a product I bought from Philips Avent on Amazon. The product, plastic containers to storage food, has no indication of being BPA free. Within days there was an answer to my posting with a link to the company web-site where it is mentioned the product is BPA free. Interesting enough, every time I returned to Amazon to check on the product it was out of stock. My hypothesis is that the answer for my post comes from someone within Philips and furthermore it boosted the on-line sales.

In short, this is an intelligent way to communicate directly with the end consumers. To share more on tracking on line activities here it is a video from the BBC series I mention above, The Virtual Revolution.