There’s a PR guru in the US called Dr Glen M Broom who recently said that over the past two decades the role of the PR professional had radically changed from being largely focused on communications to one of chief relationship officer.
I’m not sure about the title – chief relationship officer sounds a bit weird – but his three stage evolution makes sense.
Bloom says the old model – which was based on traditional journalism – used to be: ‘How do we say it?’ The model then moved to a more strategic role where the question was ‘What do we say?’ and has now evolved to an even more strategic position alongside CEOs and senior management and answering the question: ‘What do we do?’
A case in point. Just last week a worried organisation rang because the company’s actions over a certain incident resulted in the brand’s behaviour – and through that its values – being called into question on commercial breakfast radio.
The organisation was suggesting a convoluted tale that sought to diminish responsibility. We said no, we will tell the truth. So we explained to the radio station that it was an oversight, that measures will be put in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again and that we unreservedly apologised. That message was broadcast – end of story and the death of a mini crisis.
And the point of the story? Years ago we were merely seen as the conduit carrying the client’s wishes; today we initiate, develop and carry out both the strategy and the message.
Like most of the changes which have hit all areas of the communications industry, the prime reason behind the status update can be sheeted home to social media, via the internet.
Business has largely been spooked by social media, which has crept uninvited into just about every facet of a company’s operations. Marketing, recruitment, crisis management, customer complaints and interactions, sales – you name it and social media has stuck its inquisitive nose in, and all without knocking before entering.
For a while managers preferred to look away, hoping the invader might beat a graceful retreat. Instead social media became all pervasive and suddenly the old top down system of autocratic rule was no longer effective because – horror of horrors – everyone not only had a say, but they were actually saying it. And, worst of all, people were listening.
However, when it’s all boiled down, social media is all about communication and that’s exactly the sort expertise that PR has always had.
Consequently the gradual shift from how do we say it to what do we do has come with an appreciation that PR has something worthwhile to say about the big issues that organisations face. We’ve been invited to sit at the top table to counsel and advise, with many of those issues involving reputation management.
Once again, the ability of social media to harm or enhance corporate reputation has largely been the trigger.
Countless studies have shown that intangible assets like reputation are among the cornerstones to success. Reputation, however, has to be real and sound real because social media will call you out if you are faking it, or even if you sound like you are faking it.
Corporate-speak is out so any executive who talks about “going forward” while “stepping up to the plate” will be swiftly designated as a phoney, along with his organisation.
We need to believe in both the message and the messenger. Remember back in September 2007 when Kevin Rudd was Leader of the Opposition and at a state lunch in Australia he addressed China’s President Hu Jintao in Mandarin? We all thought that was pretty good because it confirmed our opinion of Rudd as a smart guy who could match it with the best on the world stage.
Remember also the time almost two years later when then Prime Minister Rudd said “fair shake of the sauce bottle” three times during the one day? We marked him down severely for that because it sounded nothing like the Kevin Rudd that we thought we knew.
Companies also need to be aware of what the public really think of them and to do that its handy to have someone from outside telling the truth. On too many occasions organisations look at their sales figures, or their profit margins and fool themselves that the public must love them (yes, big banks, we’re talking to you).
That’s another of PR’s roles these days, acting as a trusted advisor who is able to tell the unvarnished truth to clients. If you don’t know your actual reputation then you can’t properly manage your reputation because everything you do has to take into account your current standing in the eyes of others.
Companies today need to be honest, be authentic and understand exactly how their reputation stands. It might sound easy, but if you get any part of it wrong then your customers and other stakeholders are only too happy to tell you.
As usual, Warren Buffett has the right advice. Talking about handling a crisis, the Sage of Omaha once said: “One’s objective should be to get it right, get it quick, get it out, and get it over. You see, your problem won’t improve with age.”
It’s one of the first rules of crisis management and it’s the one that Tony Abbott should have heeded when the stories about politicians’ dodgy expenses first surfaced. Instead he did nothing and the extended political honeymoon that should have accompanied a thumping electoral victory over an unpopular government disappeared with unprecedented speed. So much so that now, a bare six weeks post-election, the brand new Abbott government has an old and second hand feel to it and the expenses story continues to get traction.
Crisis management is a much studied art and the new world of social media has changed the rules completely. People now have a voice, and they have no problem in exercising it. Just as on-line comments over the past three years were filled with an unending diatribe against Julia Gillard’s ‘carbon tax’ so will the next three years be preoccupied to the point of nausea with questions about probity and dodgy expenses. Every time Abbott takes part in one of the many athletic events for which he is famous, questions will be asked whether the taxpayer is paying for his recreation.
Social media has also added to the professional media’s armoury. Apart from the obvious benefits of news tips, on-the-spot reporting and feedback, crowd-sourcing was responsible for one of the biggest story in the never-ending expenses saga – WA MP Don Randall’s claim which related to a trip to Cairns for he and his wife, ostensibly for electoral business but co-incidentally at the same time the Randalls purchased an investment property in the city. Randall eventually repaid the disputed amount. Through readers with time on their hands, Fairfax was able to enlist a number people to trawl through the publically available data on political expenses claims, resulting in the bones of the story.
Politicians in power also need to ask themselves the question: ‘Did they vote the other mob out or did they vote us in?’ The last Federal election was certainly an anti-Labor vote, rather than a pro-Coalition vote; the same is true of the last NSW State election which delivered a huge electoral majority to Barry O’Farrell. That lack of positivity gives governments an even shorter honeymoon period because the problems that the other guy had are now your problems and without the cache of charisma things quickly turn sour – as O’Farrell found with the 27 per cent swing against his government in Saturday’s Miranda by-election.
Governments and companies regularly face crises, and the majority of those crises start from within. The public understands that problems arise and they normally judge on the effectiveness of the response, not on the crisis itself.
Trust is something that good crisis management stresses. Another study – by The Oxford Executive Research Briefings, Templeton College, Oxford – found that the share price of companies judged to have mishandled a crisis had fallen by an average of 15 per cent a year after the crisis, while the share price of those judged to have handled a crisis well had risen 7 per cent on average at the same time.
A Monash University study, Mapping Social Cohesion, released this week shows that trust in the Federal Government has fallen dramatically in recent years – from 48 per cent in 2009 saying that the government could be trusted ‘almost always’ or ‘most of the time’ to just 27 per cent this year.
With that study in mind, Buffett has another quote which politicians should remember: ‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.’
There’s an awful lot of research about the lack of women on boards and in senior executive positions throughout the world. The situation is undeniably dire, but the problem for women is what to do to change things.
Quotas are worth thinking about, and the Ontario government in Canada has announced plans designed to force companies to give women more boardroom seats. But until the situation changes what we have inadvertently stumbled upon in my industry, PR, could be described as in-field research that in the long run just might end up making a difference.
PR is a different sort of industry, being female dominated. I run Ogilvy PR, Australia’s largest PR agency, and the vast majority of my competitor agencies are also run by women. And I have to say that we are the most competitive group imaginable – regularly pitching against each other as we battle for work; fighting to attract the best talent; relishing our successes and cursing our failures.
So far, so male; but here’s the difference.
We are also in regular contact, sharing information, supporting each other through the various crises that arise in business and occasionally personal lives, working on and driving initiatives for the industry where we all benefit, consulting with each other and even putting work each other’s way when there might be a conflict with a prospective client.
What this means is that for the first time in my career, women in senior positions understand what it is that we share; and one thing we certainly do share is our gender. Being female means we think differently to men, work differently to men and are motivated by very different things to men.
PR, because of its gender imbalance at the top, could give us an opportunity to operate under the same sort of one-sex rules that apply to the wider business community. We could use our female dominance of the entire industry, which is decidedly different to other business sectors, to create a ‘girl’s club’.
We could, but we choose not to. There may be this sort of collaboration and support in other industries, but it is teaching us in PR the sort of information that most men take for granted.
Regardless of individual views on gender equality, the statistics prove that most male business leaders have enjoyed such a self-perpetuating power structure.
What we women of PR are realising is that once we recognise that we are motivated by the same things, we also can be a very powerful force in changing the business world to a business world that embraces everyone. In other words: everyone’s business world.
So we are starting to understand what we need to do: use our new-found knowledge of our similar aims, ambitions and attitudes to not only mentor each other and those coming behind us, but to do more: to actively sponsor women to senior positions by telling everyone we run into about the abilities of those women we know.
And we will do that, not because we want to take over, nor through emotion or through engendering some sort of ‘do the right thing’ feeling, but because it makes sound business sense to select from the entire gene pool.
There is no doubt it is needed. At the latest count women hold just 9.7% of key executive management positions in ASX 200 companies and the fact that 60% of ASX 200 companies do not have a single female in a key executive management position is disappointing in the extreme.
And all this is despite years of research which consistently shows the shareholder benefit of having a gender diversified top echelon.
Research, for example, like last year’s finding by the Credit Suisse Research Institute that showed that after a six-year worldwide tracking program of shares of companies with a market capitalisation of more than $10 billion, the companies with female board members had outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26 per cent.
Or the McKinsey report from two years ago where 89 listed companies in Europe with a very high proportion of women in senior management posts were researched, with financial performance compared with the average for firms in the same industry. The results? A higher return on equity, larger operating profits and a better share price.
Having women in the top ranks of company leadership is good business. Nothing more and nothing less.
Remember climate change? While the issue might have dropped to the farthest reaches of the political radar, the fact remains that climate change remains and at some stage Australia will have to deal with it.
So this week we rekindled the debate with a ‘Climate of the Nation’ event at Ogilvy House.
With John Connor, the CEO of The Climate Institute, presiding over a panel featuring renowned climate change scientist Dr Graeme Pearman, John Scales, the founder and MD of JWs Research, and Essential Media director Peter Lewis, an 80-strong crowd was informed about the seemingly endless saga of public and political engagement and disengagement in one of mankind’s great challenges.
Lewis said that public support for action on climate change reached its zenith in 2007, when there was bipartisan backing for a price on carbon action, but since that point ‘the number of don’t knows’ in his research climbed from the 10s to the 20s and then to the 30s.
He sheeted the blame for the drop-off in support to the paucity of the government’s explanation of the case for climate change action. Scales agreed, citing the fact the government changed its position on a number of occasions.
Pearman, the Australian Academy of Science fellow, said that ‘science tells us more strongly than ever before’ that there was a risk which needed to be managed. In contrast, public belief in man-made climate change had dropped to just 51 per cent, with 35 per cent putting the changing climate down to the natural weather cycle.
He said he believed people had rejected the science ‘because they don’t want their world view to be challenged’.
When asked by Connor whether the coming Federal Election could be accurately depicted as ‘a referendum on the carbon tax’, all panellists disagreed, with Lewis saying research showed it was a referendum on the economy and on the Labor government.
You can check the pollute-o-meter below to see how our political parties rank.
Lewis also said polling showed that one of the legacies of the past few years had been a marked drop in support for all civic institutions.
Scales believed that in the aftermath of the coming election climate-concerned organisations like The Climate Institute needed to stop and rethink the way they tried to deliver the message about the urgent need for action. ‘We need a new look, a new way,’ he said, citing problems with inconsistent and fragmented messaging from climate change groups in the past.
Pearman questioned the basis of the much-publicised target of a maximum of 2 degrees warming, saying that would cause severe water shortages and problems with the coastal plains, while the effect of such an increase on other areas of the natural environment were limited.
For Lewis, public demand for action would only be forced by catastrophic climate events over the next decades, while Connor said he believed the push to renewable energy would be led from outside Australia, through countries no longer wanting buy Australian coal.
Yianni Konstantopoulos, the group managing director of Social@Ogilvy, spoke about the potential benefits and possible pitfalls of social media campaigns on such issues.
Climate change, he said, had become a polarising issue. Social media could help to garner support for action but organisations needed to establish just who their supporters were and just what the organisation wanted them to do before enlisting them.
Connors spoke of the Vital Few campaign which The Climate Institute was currently running. With superannuation being such a source of investment wealth, he said there was a fiduciary duty between superannuation trustees and their members which meant that the trustee had to respond to members’ requests for information.
The focus of the campaign was for members to contact their trustee and request information on the fund’s exposure to investments like coal, which, he said, could carry substantial investment risk because of an expected drop-off in demand through international action to combat climate change. Through that, the Institute hope to pressure superannuation funds to no longer invest in such companies.
Ogilvy Public Relations is a supporter of The Climate Institute.
The world of PR measurement is changing, albeit at a snail’s pace! Responsibility rests with both clients and agencies and it’s up to both sides to push each other towards more meaningful measurement. That means driving a stake through the heart of AVEs, educating and pushing back on those who still think that AVEs are a ‘like-for-like’ measure with paid-for media. Instead, try opening a conversation about higher value coverage that actually reaches your target audience – or introducing a level of rigour through the Valid Metrics Framework; by working on solutions that measure outcomes and impacts (rather than just inputs and outputs like media coverage); introducing Share of Voice benchmarking or investing in Share of Impact analysis.
The bottom line is that there is no silver bullet – every client and project needs its own measurement solution – put in place up front rather than at the end. And most importantly, we’ve got to be prepared to invest in measurement – estimate about 10% of any budget to be put aside for this.
Read Kaz’s view in the latest edition of Influencing, PRIA’s measurement guide “a good solution” here
Despite the inevitable focus on the change in Labor leadership, its worth reflecting on Julia Gillard’s recent CEDA speech in Canberra, defending the strength of the Australian economy, as a timely intervention into the nature of public debate in Australia. She took to task some economists, business leaders and sections of the media for talking down the economy. And while the content of the speech wasn’t out of the ordinary, it was the reaction of those who were the subject of her criticism that provoked my interest, drawing attention to the broader issue of debate between politicians and business in Australia.
Saul Eslake, a highly regarded economist, took issue with the then PM’s remarks and said that she was “in a sense, shooting the messenger” – after all he was simply doing was his job and pointing out the risks to the economy. Retail boss Gerry Harvey also reacted to her criticisms that an unnamed “retail industry leader” was publicly complaining about the impact of the declining value of the Australian dollar. Mr Harvey apparently was “absolutely perplexed” by the criticism describing it as “beyond comprehension”.
The broader point here is that if business wants to engage in policy debate, it needs to be prepared to wear the consequences of a spirited rebuttal by politicians, and then respond (and keep on responding) in kind. That’s what debate is all about. To his credit Eslake did contest Julia Gillard’s comments but it seems he didn’t like the political blowtorch being applied to him as evidenced by his complaints about shooting the messenger.
There are interesting lessons to be learned from this small exchange. Politicians quite rightly complain that when it comes to public discourse, some business leaders go missing, the charge being that they are too willing to hide behind their industry associations and corporate spokespeople. Formulaic responses are usually issued in attempt to dampen down debate in the hope that the relentless news cycle will soon pass them by. Business leaders are often advised to do this by their corporate affairs people (guilty your honour!) who themselves are often from the political class, and who know that when it comes to a public battle of wills, politicians are very good at wearing the slings and arrows of debate, and then come out guns blazing.
It is entirely understandable that business leaders tend to shy away from public conflict with politicians knowing that they will inevitably cop a bruising and potentially invite retribution, which could translate into reprove from nervous boards and investors, who are all for a quiet life. I have sat through plenty of meetings where everyone agrees that a political issue should be contested, but when the discussion gets to the pointy end - who is actually going to ‘bell the cat’ and front up and run the arguments publicly - caution often prevails. Talk of brave opposition soon dissolves into how best to ‘fly under the radar’ (just this once of course).
For their part politicians should continue to encourage this sort of debate, and not exhibit sensitivity when others venture into the public arena of ideas. And when business does enter the contest of ideas, politicians should recognise this, particularly as the easiest of options for a business leader is to hold fire if the alternative is public trial by fire.
Business leaders too can take the lead in this sort of debate. David Murray often comes to mind as someone who was prepared to draw a line in the sand and speak his mind on an issue of principle. In 2004 when he was the Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Bank, he was prepared to take NSW Commerce Minister, John Della Bosca, to task for proposing new tough laws including five-year jail penalties, making employers liable for workplace deaths, calling them “absolutely abominable”.
Curiously this sort of response can often draw a private rebuke from Canberra or Macquarie Street where reasoned opposition from a business leader leads to mutterings that the business person in question should stick to their knitting, and not interfere in political issues.
A liberal democracy needs robust and civil public discourse between politicians and business leaders. The time for such a debate is particularly pressing in the lead up to the Federal election where, to date, political distractions have unfortunately got in the way of a proper discussion on the economy and policy, between Labor and the Coalition.
Now more than ever, business leaders need to make their voice heard, and politicians should encourage greater public discourse. Our democracy will be stronger for it.
David Bell – GMD Corporate 27th June 2013
In the recent edition of Boss Magazine in the AFR an article entitled ‘How to avoid social media death’ explored the reticence behind social media adoption and provided a few handy tips on getting started and mastering the art of social communication in the digital age.
According to the article, only four of the top 100 ASX listed companies had CEO or MDs who had an active Twitter presence – News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch, Wesfarmer’s Richard Goyder, Bank of Queensland’s Stuart Grimshaw and Atlas Iron’s Ken Brinsden.
As the article rightly points out, social media isn’t just about brand awareness stating that “those who get involved in Twitter and other social media will reap intangible but real benefits from being closer to their customers base and ahead of the curve on emerging trends. They will also have the chance to elevate their personal brand and their company’s reputation by displaying a human face”.
So, why such unwillingness amongst Australia’s key business decision makers? The single biggest obstacle for executives looking to become more socially savvy is having the appropriate social media knowledge, time or technical skills. Too often executives will simply put social media in the too hard basket – “it’s not for me”, “there isn’t any value in it”, “I just don’t have the time to tweet”, “people don’t want to know when I’m brushing my teeth”.
A degree of reluctance is understandable. Social media is not the easiest medium to understand not least of all because of constant state of change, new and emerging tools and the omnipresent risk of doing significant organisational and personal brand damage.
As a Queensland recruiting executive recently found out, it is very difficult to divorce a personal account from your professional career. The recruiter posted abusive messages on Twitter directed at radio personality Wendy Harmer. The executive was forced to publicly apologise and his online ‘spat’ resulted in news coverage across a variety of online outlets.
Through knowledge sharing, training and a companywide adoption, CEOs can ingrain social media into their everyday business thinking and activities.
Social media training should be a mandatory requirement for executives and senior management. It does not necessarily need to be a precursor to establishing a presence but at the very least it will give those who are charged with critical decision making the basic knowledge on how social media can affect a business from sales to thought leadership and everything in between.
Those executives who have mastered the art of social media communication have usually undertaken some form of training or digital eminence course.
Executives can undertake a simple three pronged approach to better understand and utilise social media tools:
- Understand the landscape – who is your audience, where are they and what are they saying
- Create content that is relevant to the audience – what insight can I provide that will add value to the audience and properly reflect my business and position
- Begin to engage with the audience through informed and friendly dialogue, providing personal experience and business insight
Social media is not the natural domain of Australia’s business elite. But those who master it sooner, undertake the necessary training and seek to readily engage with the community, will quickly find a competitive advantage and some very addictive tools!
By Thomas Tudehope social@ogilvy
“We have no Public Relations department. I take the view that public relations should be handled by the manufacturer himself, or by specialist counsel,” – David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963).
Before undertaking my internship with Ogilvy Public Relations (PR), I thought it would be a good idea to find out more about the man behind the name. Naturally, I was shocked to read the above sentence, as Ogilvy PR is one of the worlds most recognised and respected communication brands, which made the lead up to my internship both daunting and exciting.
“I admire people with gentle manners who treat other people as human beings.”
Walking off Christie Street into Ogilvy House was quite an experience in its own right. The sheer size and scale was overwhelming, but the friendly smiles of the team at Howorth Communications and Social@Ogilvy quickly changed all that.
“I admire people who build up subordinates.”
Something that makes the Ogilvy PR Internship experience unique is its structure. One day I was creating media lists, drafting pitches and compiling research, and the next day I was involved in brainstorms, helped prepare events, and attended company-training sessions. Every single second of my day at Howorth was organised as I came to grips with using media monitoring platforms, assemble coverage reports and learnt about the importance of strategic messaging. Whilst this certainly challenged my time management skills, the tasks and the mentorship provided really helped me to further develop and apply my skills.
“I admire self-confident professionals, the craftsmen who do their jobs with superlative excellence. They always seem to respect the expertise of their colleagues.”
Howorth, like many of Ogilvy PR companies, makes a point of being creative in its work and takes pride in its office culture. There were a number of occasions where I observed staff pause to celebrate a co-workers success or mourn their departure, only to continue working tirelessly in order to not only meet, but also exceed, client expectations.
“I try to get the very best out of every man and woman in the agency.”
It is only now that I reflect and am writing about this experience that I realise just how lucky I am to have been given the opportunity to work at such a wonderful company and be surrounded by even more wonderful people. What I have taken from this internship is a huge amount of confidence in my ability, and a drive to continue learning as much as I can about being a good PR practitioner, with the hope that one day I will return.
I look at the first quote from this great man and I have a range of mixed feelings – although he lived to see Ogilvy PR come to life, it saddens me that David Ogilvy passed away not having seen the brilliant work of his team in the public relations space. However, as I flick through his book once more and look at my experience, I know that if he were still alive today he would be very, very proud.
By David Dunn
The second annual report, by executive search firm Salt & Shein, resulted from on-line surveys in December of 324 mainly-Sydney-based in-house corporate affairs professionals. There were plenty of interesting findings but what surprised me were the responses to a couple of questions.
The first was when people were asked to nominate the most significant issue they thought they would have to deal with as a communicator in 2013 and beyond. The clear leader in the concern stakes was social media, which, when variations on it were added, came to 36 per cent of responses. To give some idea of the gap, the second biggest coming concern was dealing with flat or reduced budgets and resources, and that came in at 8 per cent.
In response to another question, an overwhelming 75 per cent said they believed that the role of social media had become more important over the past year. Nothing too surprising in those findings, except when you compare those concerns with company action.
Despite the communications experts’ fears, just over 50 per cent reported that their organisations had committed no dedicated resources to social and digital media, a similar figure to last year. Of the 44 per cent who said they did have social media resources, the average team consisted of 1-2 staff.
The phrase ‘accident waiting to happen’ springs to mind.
It took the launch on Tuesday of the updated Climate Institute/GE Low-Carbon Competitiveness Index to bring home the underlying message about climate change. That is that while climate might be the agent of change, our focus has to be on risk.
Lord Nicholas Stern, the author of the Stern Review – the highly influential 2006 UK government-commissioned review on climate change, spoke at the launch via teleconference. He pointed out that the world had not seen temperatures rise by more than three degrees above the long term average for the past 3,000,000 years – when sea levels were around 20 metres higher than at present – yet we are now looking at a four to five degree increase in the next 40 to 50 years. Just what effect that is going to have on life and death matters like food security, the availability of water and extraordinary climate events – let alone the upheaval caused by the forced migration of millions of displaced people – is best left to the experts.
What I do know is that the likelihood of such occurrences is now so persuasive that businesses and organisations must look to including climate change in their risk analyses in the same way that they factor in any other risk.
Chi Mun Woo, the director of Climate Change and Sustainability at KPMG, perhaps put it best at the launch when he said of some boardrooms in which “there are rational decisions being made for a world that doesn’t exist anymore.”
Lord Stern has said recently that he had underestimated the risks and would have been “a bit more blunt” in his report had he known the effects of the past six years. At the launch he pointed out that China, which was reorientating its economy, had jumped up the Low-Carbon Competitiveness index to third place behind France and Japan.
In the interests of transparency, I should tell you that Ogilvy PR partners with the Climate Institute and I sit on its strategic board. In the interests of even further transparency, I should tell you that I do it for my beautiful six-year-old daughter and couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t think I was doing at least something: after all, it’s not worth the risk.
By Kieran Moore.