Revenue Versus Principles

Revenue Versus Principles

climate-changeThe Guardian’s recent article entitled “World’s top PR companies rule out working with climate deniers” brought to the fore again the dilemma that all agencies face at one time or other — courage to turn away revenue (business) or confront a collective conscience angst, with a shrug.

It is true that, by the very nature of the profession, public relations firms play an influential role in framing conversations, debates and establishing perceptions. All the more then, to note the heavy weight of responsibility for those professionals who make the choice of opting for increased revenue for the company, with little thought as to the public consequences of extensive disinformation campaigns or, at best, campaigns that are more akin to “error of omission” rather than disinformation.

Still, there is no way around it. It is subjective as to what each agency would consider company principles that are strong enough to turn away business. It is as the old adage goes — there are no universal truths. But there are universal wrongs, according to our laws. Unfortunately, causes for the public good are slow to be included.

In the case of the Guardian article, the publication sent out a survey to PR firms conducted by the Guardian and the Climate Investigations Centre, a Washington-based group that conducts research on climate disinformation campaigns, asking as to whether the PR firm would rule out representing clients that deny man-made climate change or seek to block emisson-reducing regulations.

Ten firms responded that they would. Yes, 10 out of 25 responders. And the others?

Well, in their defense they already have clients on board that would be in conflict with this, so the survey is too late for them, unless they re-think their stance in the future and not accept big industry clients that benefit from the opposing view in the first place.

Revenue versus principles…

But the good news is that the ten are some of the world’s top PR companies that have, for the first time, publicly ruled out working with climate change deniers, marking a fundamental shift in the multi-billion dollar industry that has grown up around the issue of global warming. Such companies include WPP, Waggener Edstrom (WE) Worldwide, Weber Shandwick, Text100, and Finn Partners.The UK-based WPP, the world’s largest advertising firm by revenue and parent company of Burson Marsteller and Oglivy Public Relations, said “taking on a client or campaign disputing climate change would violate company guidelines.”

Still others would not rule out campaigns opposing regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions or are noncommittal and find reasons such as “we would not knowingly…” or maybe “a case by case decision” or “there may be scenarios where a client has different views,” etc.

Look, it is not about climate change deniers, or abortion rights or pollution or whatever. Rather it is about choice and a collective conscience, or a code of business conduct. PR firms are not in the business of turning away business. But I suggest that displaying that collective conscience is good for business. What client would not respect that and value it?

The Blurring Of Journalism, Again…

The Blurring Of Journalism, Again…

Since time immemorial, sharp reporters/editors would basically stop at very little to get a scoop on a breaking news story for their publications. Last Friday, the venerated Sports Illustrated did just that — get a scoop of the biggest sports news of the day, the one about LeBron James returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but not by actually writing the story, rather by letting James tell it “in his own words” as a bylined first person account. Clearly it was not the kind of full-blown news story with context and breadth, the kind of reporting we have come to expect from the journalistic standard-bearer that the magazine has been for decades. It was simply LeBron’s own statement.

Wait a minute, isn’t that what blogs are supposed to do — offer a platform for direct communications with audiences or fans as in this case?

In the dash to get the ‘scoop,’ the magazine left a journalistic pack in the dust, one that included 15 on-air people at ESPN. Does this still constitute a news scoop or rather a public relations coup, when you consider that Lee Jenkins, a top writer for the magazine, had been in touch with James’ “people” and had offered to publish LeBron’s own statement, saying that “the magazine had done it before (with Jason Collins last year when he announced that he was gay). Jenkins offered that “if it was something they were interested in, we could explore it.” Basically, Jenkins handed James the platform for his unfiltered statement.

Jenkins conceded that, in most cases, he would write a third-person story. But in James’s case, he said, “My biggest priority was his voice, not my subtext.” Nonsense. It was all about landing the story and getting the scoop no matter what. Proof is that Jenkins is already working on an in-depth story about James’s decision for next week’s magazine.

Apparently the editors have no regrets with Jenkins’ approach for they got what they wanted — a breaking story, if not a real newsworthy story that carried journalistic clout.

Jenkins colleagues also offered support. Steve Rushin, a special contributor to the magazine, said, “Amid 24-hour speculation and tea-leaf reading about what LeBron might or might not do, Lee got the news straight from him.” And Managing Editor Christian Stone supported it by offering that, “In cases like this, it’s beneficial to let the subject tell the story in his own words.” Really?

Ok, but here is where the blurring starts… Journalism has always been about objective reporting of the news, while blogging has always been about telling it like you want it told and Sports Illustrated let the “King” tell it in his own words within the context of journalism.

As I said, it is all about getting a scoop at whatever cost and in this case, the cost is the essence of journalism.

Starbucks Trail Blazes Education For Its Employees

Starbucks Trail Blazes Education For Its Employees

As the battle for raising the minimum wage rages on in Washington, DC, with not too much hope for a resolution for the underemployed to get out from under, along comes an innovative corporation with an idea that trumps Congress’ endless battle.  Educate the hourly employee, with the expectation that this will aid employees to get out of the financial sink hole they are in and give a helping hand as they climb up the ladder to a better future…

Yes, it’s Starbucks again, that socially conscious corporation that is betting that education will offer more for its employees than the extra few hourly dollars, that is, if it ever comes to pass in Washington, DC. After all, reaching for a $10.10 minimum wage solution will not do much to offer a way out of poverty. Education will, but unfortunately, it’s about tomorrow not today.  Still…

Starbucks will now begin picking up most of the tab for workers to get a degree through Arizona State University, online.  According to Starbucks, employees who work at least 20 hours a week and enroll in Arizona State University’s online bachelor’s degree will get $6,500 — about half of their tuition — for the first two years, the company said in a statement. They will then get full tuition for the final two.  Which makes me wonder how minimum wage employees can come up with the other half of the $6,500.  Maybe the government can step in with loans…

Student-loan borrowers in the U.S. have amassed more than $1.2 trillion in debt, putting a drag on the economy because some young people avoid making big purchases or starting a business. Not only that, the thought of facing a lifetime of repaying student education debt is a major deterrent to getting the education in the first place.  President Barack Obama issued an executive order on June 9 to expand a program easing student-loan payments.  But two days later, the U.S. Senate blocked a measure to let student-loan borrowers refinance their balances at lower interest rates.

Again a roadblock…All the more reason, why corporations should get kudos for stepping in…

It’s not the first time.  Other U.S. companies offer college tuition reimbursement — some with stricter requirements. L Brands Inc., owner of Victoria’s Secret, gives employees who’ve worked at least one year full-time as much as $3,000 a year for college tuition. Home Depot Inc. (HD) offers tuition reimbursement for salaried and full-time hourly workers. Wal-Mart has a partnership with American Public University, and will allow some Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club employees to earn credits in areas like retail management and logistics for performing their regular jobs. The University will offer eligible employees 15 percent cost reductions on tuition, which is a pittance, but does a lot for the perception of “caring” about employees.

Still, Starbucks is the winner for now. It will do wonders for the company, in terms of engaging customers. A recent study revealed at the Google Beach Pavilion in Cannes that consumers are now making purchasing decisions in the same way they consume content – with the purpose of choosing brands that engage with their passion and interests.  Certainly education offerings fit that bill.  Moreover, It also can impact the US economy as a whole when you consider that piling up debts with little hope of paying them back is a deterrent to going after that college degree.

And the best part, Starbucks’ employee college students do not have to continue to work at the company upon graduation. That is truly the altruistic part…

Giving Credence To A Fugitive

Giving Credence To A Fugitive

He has been called many things, ranging from a traitor to a whistleblower to a protector of privacy rights, but what no one can argue with is that he is a fugitive from the USA because he has broken laws — such as stealing documents that are not his to steal, and revealing them to international audiences that are not his to reveal, and setting himself up as the judge and jury, in violation of his contractual agreements.

And despite the fact that Edward Snowden can’t set foot in the United States for fear of arrest for felony charges of espionage and theft of government property, former National Security Agency whistleblower, Edward Snowden, has joined the speakers’ roster at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival held in Austin, Texas, and will appear via teleconference, of course, in a virtual conversation with Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union.  And, as seen by the way in which the session has been publicized, it certainly gives the impression that the 2014 Festival thinks that it has a coup on its hands.

Really? I would venture to say it feels more like a stain…What price publicity?

Understanding that surveillance and online privacy are to be one of the biggest topics of conversation at this year’s Festival, why would anyone want to give credence to a person that willfully breaks the nation’s laws, and who has taken it upon himself to singlehandedly judge NSA’s tactics (right or wrong) and do something about it that puts the foreign policy of the US into jeopardy?

Apparently Snowden will discuss “his beliefs on what the tech community can and must do to secure the private data of the billions of people who rely on the tools and services that we build.”  Why is he more credible than all the brains that are presently working on this in all the major tech centers worldwide? The quick answer he is not, but he carries the publicity factor, albeit an empty one. No substance behind that.  We know some things about Snowden.  We know he never graduated college; we know he was good at duping one of the highest calibers of global intelligence agencies; we know he was good at evading his followers as he ran for his life. But good at building secure tech tools and service?  Not so much…

His mentor and helper (or savior), Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who was also called upon to chime in at this Festival with another “virtual conversation” told an audience that people power is the key to rolling back the power of the National Security Agency and other surveillance agencies.  Is this then another kind of a coup, from another kind of a fugitive?

I understand that organizers at SXSW wish to prompt a healthy debate with regards to the limits of mass surveillance, which is considered vital to the future of the online ecosystem, but credible leaders, rather than fugitives escaping the law, should lead it.

Facebook Is Ten.

Facebook Is Ten.

facebook-birthdayThere is no question that in its first ten years, Facebook has transformed the way we live.  There is no argument.

We may now know more details of people we met only once in our lives, than we do of our neighbors’ lives next door or across the street.  Our kids can interact with “friends” across the world and may know more about them than they do about the ones they see everyday at school.  Our employers know more details about people they are recruiting than they ought to know.  The community is the world, but it is not the neighborhood.

It took almost these ten long years to adjust to our new “toy.”  Judgment mistakes were made and, because of it, lives were bruised.  Still, to be fair, we had no precedence for this.  Traditionally, we learned from our elders’ experience – grandparents, parents, teachers and mentors. With Facebook, there was no trusted counsel to advise as to what baby steps to take. Instead we followed the vision of a kid, who had an idea, guts, perseverance and lots of real life friends around him that understood that he, Zuckerberg, was on to something that even major corporations had not thought of…

And now we cannot do without it.  But let’s put all this celebration into perspective…

If in fact, as is often said, that there are no new ideas, just old ones that evolve and eventually transform into new concepts and ideas, then there is never a reason to celebrate a company’s birthday, except to mark the day as a personal accomplishment for the founder.  For in truth, there is no company birthday.  As Dino Grandon wrote so brilliantly in The Huffington Post, when does one mark the day?

In the case of Thomas Edison, it was easy. The light bulb went on. But seriously, how do you define a company’s birthday?  By the day it incorporated? By the day a germ of an idea happened in a shower?  By the day when the company first opened its doors, and in the case of a website company, a site?  How did Apple celebrate its birthday? The day that Wozniak and Jobs connected all the “dots” in the computer they were building in the garage, or the day  they invented its new operating system?

So after the brilliantly executed PR blitz of the birthday celebration dies down, we are left with a communication platform whose diminished novelty,  has become an activity as intrinsic to our lives as any other, let’s say even brushing teeth. So after the brilliantly executed PR blitz of the birthday celebration dies down, we are still left with a communication platform that may have lost its newness, but that has become an activity as intrinsic to our lives as any other, let’s say even brushing teeth.  Facebook follows in the footsteps of Xerox, as well as many other companies, in becoming a verb.

And so, let’s continue to Facebook each other but maybe now do it, collectively, a bit smarter, recognizing what we did not realize when we first marveled at our new toy that opened up the floodgates of communication — that our posts have a world stage (or world billboard) and not all needs posting – just some of it.

Still, it is all very deserving of a Happy Birthday on any day, even if it is not on the arbitrary day of February 4.  But let’s not make it a lonely substitute for that real life talk we were planning to have with a friend and never did.