Another New Year’s List, But With A Different Take…

Another New Year’s List, But With A Different Take…

It’s just about that time of the year when the old nostalgia feeling wells up — for what could have been and wasn’t. It’s also the time of year that offers hope for a new and peaceful year…

It’s also a time when an abundance of Top Ten lists hit the media — the top ten anything — as in innovators, newsmakers, films, books, videos, and such. And then there are those silly ones, like the best and worst dressed people, the biggest losers, celebrity headliners as to who did what, to whom, and who got paid the most per movie, in 2014.

About five years ago, we jumped on the bandwagon and added our own list of “things” and called it the “Ten PR Defining Moments.” Considerations for making our list was not so much the PR moment itself, or a blip that made the news in 2014, but rather their implications, such as lessons learnt or their lasting impact in our industry.

And so our 2014 Ten PR Defining Moments picks are …

  • A challenge that swept the Internet and raised millions of dollars for research, marking a shift in fundraising
  • Anonymous social media apps that became ubiquitous, yet not without pitfalls
  • A company that “seized the moment” and turned an embarrassing World Series moment into a marketing coup
  • A new social media precedent that was set as the first libel case involving Twitter unfolded
  • A public firestorm that impacted the NFL’s downplay of domestic abuse
  • Data breaches that compromised millions, raising the bar for consumer data protection
  • Native Advertising that got adopted en masse, forcing the publishers to deal with consumer advocacy issues
  • A national survey that showed the first i-Gen-ers entering the workforce with a whole different attitude
  • Apple’s new iOS system teamed up with an iconic band for its launch, pushing a song on fans who resented the intrusion
  • Brands that “newsjacked” major international events to make their own brand messages go viral

There are, of course, many, many more PR defining moments, but these are our choices.

Take a look…

IBM’s Co-Investment Plan

IBM’s Co-Investment Plan

Here goes IBM’s dwindling reputation, spiraling further downward with their new hair-brained idea. This time they are talking about a forced employee “co-investment” – new word for pay cut. What HR/marketing guru thought that one up? What they used to call “on-the-job” training, generally bourn by a company, is now becoming (only at IBM) an employee cost responsibility.

Actually, when you think of it, it is an ingenious scheme for cutting costs, albeit underhanded.

The story goes that a copy of the Sept. 12 memo, (seen by Computerworld), was sent to IBM employees in its Global Technology Services strategic outsourcing group. The memo sent to affected employees begins by telling the worker that an assessment has revealed, “that some managers and employees have not kept pace with acquiring the skills and expertise needed to address changing client needs, technology and market requirements.”

Ok, so offer training. Or send them to an academic institution to be trained.

But IBM is coupling this training with a six-month salary reduction of 10% with the promise of reinstating the salary to its present level when done. No talk of reimbursement or something like that. And this is not solely for entry-level positions that need the skill set before embarking on a career with IBM. No, no, senior professionals, some with 25 years at the company are on the list.

According to one employee, by reducing pay “by a significant amount,” IBM is acting “in the hopes that the employees won’t be able to sustain that pay and decide to quit, exempting IBM from letting them go and have to pay severance.” Sounds foul to me…

And no options are given. If your name is on the list, take the training and salary cut – or quit. Just having a list is sinister.

In an era where humanizing a corporation has seen its many advocates (remember Occupy Wall Street?) and where unprecedented corporate growth has greatly outbalanced the earning potential of workers, IBM takes a reversed course. Greed. It smells of Gordon Gekko, and the ‘80s…

Lee Conrad, national coordinator at the Alliance, a Communications Workers of America local, said “IBM needs to be mindful of further demoralizing workers and adversely affecting customer.”

And IBM’s retort to all the “noise” about it on social media platforms?

Co-investment. That’s it.

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…