Saturday, November 08, 2008

Slowdown presents an opportunity for PR and brand protection, says Andy West

Does the present global slowdown present an opportunity for both public relations agencies and corporate communications professionals?

In such times, “companies are going to be especially protective of their brands”, says Andy West, formerly of Text 100, who has been roped in by Hotwire to launch an international corporate practice for technology brands.

The new practice follows a move by Hotwire to broaden out from its existing areas of expertise, reports PRWeek’s Chloe Markowicz .

However, West, who started as managing director of the corporate practice this week, admitted the challenges of launching a new practice as budgets are tightening.
At the moment, West is working with existing Hotwire staff but he hopes to bring in experts in branding and broadcast within the next six months.

West was made redundant from Text 100, where he was former executive vice-president of business development. He has since founded, which allows users to take part in live online debates.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tatas to launch PR campaign: Jaguar Land Rover as ‘blue-chip UK corporate’ brands

The Tata Group-controlled Jaguar Land Rover is planning a major communications campaign for the automobile brands.

Jaguar Land Rover has appointed Portland PR to position the firm as a ‘blue-chip UK corporate’, on a par with retailer Marks & Spencer, reports PRWeek.

Jaguar Land Rover Communications and Public Affairs Director Simon Warr said: “We’re the largest car company in the UK and so are a major corporate player. We need to start mixing with other British major corporates. We should be up there with Marks & Spencer.”

He added that the firm had traditionally enjoyed a good relationship with motoring correspondents, but that its presence on the business pages was limited.

The drive to raise its corporate profile comes at a tough time for auto manufacturers. British car sales have fallen heavily in recent months, with Land Rover particularly hard hit and further job cuts expected at the firm.

Portland will focus on issues surrounding the change of ownership, the firm’s investment in green technology and its strategy to get through the economic downturn.

The agency has initially been taken on until the spring, with further work expected.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

PR, media, corporates and communications: Sandeep Bamzai’s analysis

Here is Sandeep Bamzai’s guest column in

The wheel always comes full circle. No, this isn't a philosophical observation, but more of a reality check which embodies the old adage that there are no permanent enemies over the long term. Well, the Tatas have shown that through their public relations firm – Vaishnavi headed by Nira Radia.

Some years ago, all hell broke loose between Bennett and the Tatas over a morphed image of Ratan Tata in The Economic Times. The schism was significant and the Tatas pulled out all advertising from all Bennett & Coleman publications. Vaishnavi was at the forefront of this exercise and though many attempts were made to bridge the chasm, the divide grew wider. Bennett also blacklisted coverage of Tata events, results and other sundry happenings.

Meanwhile, Hindustan Times benefited from this rift as it got an even larger share of Tata advertising, including a big ticket deal for the HT Leadership Summit. But recently, one saw a major change, which meant that the rapprochement was complete. With the Tatas shifting the Nano to Gujarat, Tata Sons chairman Ratan Tata was interviewed by only three media outfits – Times Now, ET and TOI. Nobody else got a look in. The interviews were truly exclusive to the Times Group. This signaled a major change in Tata policy and I guess back channel diplomacy had paid off. But equally significantly, even as the champagne toast was being given to the shift from Singur in West Bengal to Narendra Modi's Gujarat, HT wrote an extremely damaging piece on its edit page against Ratan Tata and the Tata's conduct in Singur.

Yes, the wheel had come full circle. HT, which had been falling over itself to please the Tatas, had launched a broadside. The leader written by Prem Shankar Jha was extremely hard-hitting. Titled – 'Whose brakes failed?' – Jha's piece on October 5 was a scathing indictment of the way Tatas had managed things in Singur. But more importantly, on the whole the Tatas had managed the environment rather well. Jha aksed whether the Tatas were really the wounded victims that they made themselves out to be and Mamta Banerjee the villain that the world had made her out to be. Coincidence? I doubt very much.

This was, in a manner of speaking, a big victory for Nira Radia herself. Some eight years ago, like a bolt from the blue, she was handed over all public relations functions of all Tata group companies. Harried by the Ajit Kerkar-Indian Hotels fiasco, followed by the Dilip Pendse-Tata Finance scandal, R K Krishna Kumar convinced Ratan Tata to create and in a way incubate a centralised PR outfit for the group. And it seems to have worked over the last few years.

Managing the environment is a euphemism associated with the unified Reliance Industries. Jokes about R positive and R negative have been doing the rounds for years in Delhi's political and bureaucratic underbelly. Reliance in its split wide open avatar has never used external PR outfits. The 'environment was always managed' by internal resources. Against this backdrop comes the shocker that Reliance Industries with all its heavyweights in the capital has chosen Nira Radia promoted Neucom Consulting as its communication consultancy and single point of contact to deal with all requests and queries. Now this was a coup for Radia. One of the biggest clues of this impending announcement came when at the height of Singur drama. Reliance Industries Limited Chairman Mukesh Ambani came out in support of the Tatas.

So, we now have a situation where two of India's largest private sector industrial groups are using a common communications consultancy, though Neucom is obviously at arm's length distance from Vaishnavi, even if the promoter is common to both. This was unthinkable till a few years back. Will communications consultancy include the corridors of power or will it be limited to media and environment management. More than that, what remains to be seen is whether the stories against RIL Retail will stop in ET?

Anyway, the wheel has come full circle. And yes, here and now.

Corporates & communications: Edelman favours evolution of PR into public engagement

Richard Edelman, Pesident and CEO of Edelman, the world's largest independent public relations firm, has spoken about the evolution of public relations into public engagement at a lecture at the University of Maryland.

He asserted that PR can become the discipline that melds strategy and communications, constituting an essential bridge between corporations and their stakeholders.

“I contended that PR must also be part of business strategy and policy formulation, in addition to being responsible for communicating the decisions,” said Edelman.

“There is the confluence of several trends in the marketplace that make this transition possible and advisable. The recent government emergency intervention in global financial institutions has ended the free market era. The dispersion of authority continues with CEOs under fire and government officials seen as ineffective regulators. The transformation of media is accelerating, with mainstream media downsizing, greater reliance on digital platforms and merging of news with entertainment. Expectations on companies are rising with stakeholders looking for Mutual Social Responsibility -- merging cause related marketing with corporate social responsibility.

“I suggested that Public Engagement has four important attributes:

“First, it is democratic and decentralized. A good example of this is the Obama campaign’s mobilization of five million volunteers, who are able to make decisions on how best to contact voters, attract funds and communicate on social media. Another is the site that solicits new product ideas from the crowd, reinforcing the company’s relationship with its customers while the company listens and learns.

“Second, it aims to inform the conversation. This is a major change for PR, which has relied on research-tested messages delivered one-way to media, which then writes the stories. If Andrew Heyward, former president of CBS News, is correct in positing that “Every company today is a media company,” then smart businesses will take the opportunity to become public resources on areas of expertise, by providing credible well-researched data on its own web site, and correct on-going discussions, whether on discussion forums or in the press, if there are factual errors. An example of this is our work for Masdar, the first carbon-neutral city in the world that has become an important focus for data on new forms of energy.

“Third, it calls for engagement with influencers of all stripes. To be influential today does not require academic or professional credentials alone. It means that the person has personal experience with the product, passion for the category, and a desire to contribute to general knowledge. It is our task in PR to build trusted relationships with the broad set of influencers. A great example is the Johnson & Johnson (a client) Family Health Institute in China, which helps educates mothers about family health, and funding schooling for nurses.

“Fourth, it suggests that reputation is built on policy and communication. Our client Wal-Mart’s strong commitment last week to the highest standards on environment and workplace safety in China is indicative of this trend. It is often useful to partner corporations with the NGO community for input in the decision-making process and help garner support in the broader community.

The rationale for public engagement is best captured by Thomas Friedman, who wrote a week ago in the New York Times, “In a connected world, countries, governments and companies have character… how they do what they do, how they keep promises, how they make decisions, how they engender trust…”

The PR business must rise to the challenge, by creating a new form of expression that will work in today’s cynical and uncertain environment.

Also see:

Citizen Renaissance: Public Engagement, the Decline of Advertising, and Communications Companies of the Future

Building a strategy for successful public engagement

Toss out the PR playbook: Send in the public engagement team

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Financial crisis: Corporates should communicate more and more with their employees

Is internal communications the key amid a financial turmoil? Is it important that even corporates, which are doing well, should keep all their communications channels alive? Should even companies, which are uncertain as to how the present global financial crisis affects them, resort to such corporate communications?

Yes, says PRWeek’s Tonya-Garcia.

According to a recent study by Weber Shandwick, 70% of the 514 employed Americans surveyed expect the current situation to have a negative impact on the companies for whom they work, 54% said their company leaders have not discussed the impact of the financial turmoil, and three-quarters said their colleagues are discussing it.

“There's so much uncertainty that being able to separate one's company from the economy as a whole becomes that much more important,” says Micho Spring, Chair of the corporate practice at WS. “In this climate of potential layoffs and stock prices falling, it's important that if employees can't understand the world at large, then [they should]... understand the fundamentals of their company.”

This free flow of information, coupled with the recessionary economy, has thrust many companies into a crisis communications situation. However, unlike a crisis that impacts an individual company with a specific issue, this is a “global malaise” that requires a different approach, says Mark Hass, CEO of MS&L.

“Even those [companies] that are doing well need to talk about what this means and what matters to employees,” he adds.

As talk of recession mounts, employees are concerned about the fate of their companies. This concern has made internal communications a more important part of the work that firms are doing on behalf of their clients.

Keith Burton, President of Insidedge, says he's seeing an uptick in employee communications, with many clients making sure they understand the company's plans. Moreover, the communications are personal in nature.

“A good part of what they're doing is intensifying face-to-face communications,” Burton says. “Smaller group sessions where people can talk about addressing issues or needs and provide feedback is the most important thing that organizations can do today. Digital media [such as an intranet] is secondary or complementary to face-to-face communications. If [companies] anticipate cutbacks... they have to report that in advance. Employees are pretty vigilant about this, particularly those represented by unions.”

Without direct communications from the company, employees will turn to one another. This type of situation is a breeding ground for innuendo, fear, and misinformation.

“If you're the CEO of a company that's headed into uncertain economic territory, you may not know what it is you're going to have to do because you may not understand the impact this financial situation will have on your company,” says Sallie Gaines, Senior Vice President at Hill & Knowlton’s global response group. “But you need to do the hard task of communicating with [employees] now, even if you're not sure what the shakeout is going to be. There's no shortage of good data... when there's a vacuum of information, rumor and speculation fill that vacuum.”