Public Relations… a New Pathway

public-relations-sketch

Original drawing by Hugh MacLeod @gapingvoid

The end of the program is coming soon, so this is a good opportunity to think about the PR courses I have taken and what I want to do next with what I now know. When I registered for this program, I knew a little bit about Public Relations, although I didn’t know how interesting I would find it. After taking these PR courses, I like what I have learned. I enjoy the analytical thinking that is required, and I have a much better understanding of the kinds of research required and how to apply that research.

For example, I discovered new ways of approaching a case study for the assignments. I was amazed how first ideas for developing a PR plan changed as I did more and more research, and how I could develop a strategy from a point of view completely different from the one I started with.  I learned the importance that the role of storytelling plays in a plan and how stories can be the medium to communicate the message; stories touch people and can open the door for two-way communication.

Nancy Duarte, in her book Persuasive Presentations, talks about ways to inspire action, engage the audience, sell your ideas, and create something the audience will always remember. I believe these concepts can be transferred to PR because we need to reach our audience and engage them with our messages. This is a big challenge for any PR practitioner. Duarte says,

“…Stories have the power to win customers, align colleagues, and motivate employees. They’re the most compelling platform we have for managing imaginations. Those who master this art form can gain great influence and an enduring legacy….”

Another aspect of PR I learned is how important it is to be aware of current and global events, and how some of these events can impact the organization where we work. This realization will help me form my own opinions so that I can communicate, for example, with city councils or legislators in meaningful ways. Also, to be part of this global community and understand issues and events that affect other cultures will help me see different viewpoints outside my own world.

I also learned the importance of the sincere apology, particularly when a crisis comes up. Through different examples, we saw the effects that an apology can have on public opinion. BP CEO Tony Hayward said during BP spill crisis, “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.” It sounds as if Hayward is much more concerned about his own life than the lives of all the animals and people the oil spill impacted. This is not an effective apology. When Maple Leaf CEO claimed responsibility for the listeria outbreak and took action immediately without blaming anybody, we saw how beneficial an effective apology can be.

I’m excited about what is coming next. Before these courses, I never thought that PR could be so fascinating – a pathway I would be interested in following. Now, I look forward to the opportunity to apply all this new knowledge in the real world and build my own PR story.

The Power to Persuade

Last week, the focus of the Case Study and Issues in PR class was to understand public opinion and persuasion. To go deeper in this understanding, we need to think the following questions.

What has made you change your opinion of a public figure, organization or brand. 

Persuasion involves engaging people’s emotions, and stories can do that. Any company can use storytelling to persuade its stakeholders or customers. I read an interesting article, Storytelling That Moves People, written by Robert McKee and Bronwyn Fryer (Harvard Business Review), about the importance of storytelling and how to communicate ideas using this tool instead of a boring PowerPoint presentation. The authors suggested, “There are two ways to persuade people. The first is by using conventional rhetoric, which is what most executives are trained in. It’s an intellectual process, and in the business world it usually consists of a PowerPoint slide presentation in which you say, ‘Here is our company’s biggest challenge, and here is what we need to do to prosper.’ The other way to persuade people—and ultimately a much more powerful way—is by uniting an idea with an emotion. The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story. In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener’s emotions and energy.”

The Body Shop was created as a green alternative to mainstream cosmetics. Founder Anita Roddick built The Body Shop around opposition to animal testing of products, using natural ingredients, and supporting local farmers around the world. She created a story around the brand, which people bought and supported. I was one of them. When L’Oreal bought The Body Shop, I felt betrayed. I did not understand how a company with strong values could be sold to a company that is known for the opposite values. Something did not match. I felt that the story behind The Body Shop was a lie. I have the option to not betray my values, so I’m not a Body Shop customer anymore.

What factors have influenced your decision to do or not do something? 

After the factory disaster in Bangladesh, there has been a lot of discussion about companies are handling globalization – that is, what do they do in countries where corruption is common and law enforcement policies are different from those in North America?. Many companies have said that they do not have ties to the collapsed factories and, therefore feel no responsibility to what happens in countries such as Bangladesh. I believe that all companies are responsible. All businesses have values, and those values need to be transferred to any and all markets.

Gap Inc. is one of many companies that produces its products in Bangladesh but did not sign the Bangladesh Factory Safety Accord. This accord commits the brands to work with local stakeholders to guarantee the safety of workers. Gap said it “…was ready to sign on to the agreement, but first wanted a change in the way disputes are resolved in the courts.” Gap Inc. states the following on its website: “Working with Integrity: Our Code of Business Conduct, available in nine languages, promotes a responsible and ethical work environment for all Gap Inc. employees.” I shop at the Gap; however, I am concerned by the fact that what the company says appears to be different with what it does. I have not decided if I will continue shopping at The Gap. I like Gap clothes, but I need more information before making any decision.

What has made you think differently about an issue? 

In 1999, Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said created the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which is a youth orchestra for young musicians from Middle East, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Spain.

The objective is to promote understanding between the people and “demonstrates that bridges can be built to encourage people to listen to one another. Based on this notion of equality, cooperation and justice for all, the Orchestra represents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East.” Daniel Barenboim said, “Music can connect people and give the possibility to listen each other.”

This experience is showing us that other way is possible and how listening, art and dialogue can make a difference.