Category Archives: media relations

Of terror, color and communication!


Hyderabad, Charminar

Hyderabad, Charminar (Photo credit: Arian Zwegers)

Yet again, there has been a terror strike in the capital city of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh – Hyderabad.

As always, the ruling government and its leaders have in their ‘usual’ language condemned the act of terror with the usual vocabulary meant for such occasions – a dastardly act, an act of terror, an attack on the Indian democracy etc.

For those who observe such incidents – now happening with an alarming regularity  in India – it’s a sad and tragic sense of deja vu, that comes to haunt this country and its people again, and always.

Terrorism by the extremist elements who are against resolution of their grievances through democratic ways and means, is no less a grave problem that faces a country like India, given its history, and geo-political fit.

But more than that, what may continue to inspire such elements in continuing their thirst for blood and such inhuman acts is not just the actions by those in power.

It is equally inspired (with hesitation, one could use the world emboldened) by the confusion in communication or communication strategy by those who hold power.

The moment the unequivocal message from the ruling class is – we will not tolerate (the words in their truest sense) such acts, by whomsoever doing this – there will be a strong deterrent by the terror outfits – making them think that their ‘jehadi’ acts will not work.

Contrary to that, the communication strategy by the government is being carefully ambiguous – more keen to assuage the feeling of some sections of the society where some of these elements may belong to.

Add  to that, the new tendency of the rulers to use colors to depict the kind of terror – red, blue, green and what not.  Lack of assertiveness and conviction in articulating – with the message “irrespective of who, belonging to where” attack people in the name of religion, had clearly given more courage to such attackers, their supporters, the communities in question, and whoever give those people safe haven.

Terrorism breeds in a climate where the right words – not just verbal condemnation and routine drab statements – are used by the government and state/central administration.

Add to this the coloring attempts based on vote bank convenience – if your terror is of a certain color, then there are a hundred other factors to be seen before the right punishment is meted out…  and you keep making a perennial cocktail in which innocents lose life, and the perpetrators continue to do so at will.

In handling terrorism, and the terror elements, the choice of words matter as much as the deeds, by those holding office.

Here is a simple yet powerful example – post 9/11, President Bush said “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.. we will hunt them down, in whichever corner of the world they may be”.

In contrast, immediately after the attacks yesterday evening in Hyderabad, India, Dr Singh Indian PM said “”The guilty will not go unpunished.”

Its so much different from “the guilty, whomsoever, will be punished quickly.” What plays in the choice of words is not the conviction to act, but what fallout usage of tough words will cause.

To take terror and its roots head on, the country and its administration first need to communicate with power and conviction.

The right actions by all concerned will be a natural fall-out.

Ambiguity in whether to really deal with such acts (color depending) will be a good recipe for empowering rogue elements.

Of papal resignation, PR & Communication!


English: Emblem of Vatican City Italiano: Embl...

English: Emblem of Vatican City Italiano: Emblema della Ciattà del Vaticano Македонски: Амблем на Ватикан {| cellspacing=”0″ style=”min-width:40em; color:#000; background:#ddd; border:1px solid #bbb; margin:.1em;” class=”layouttemplate” | style=”width:1.2em;height:1.2em;padding:.2em” | 20px |link=|center | style=”font-size:.85em; padding:.2em; vertical-align:middle” |This vector image was created with Inkscape. |} Emblem of Vatican City.svg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pope Benedict has expressed his intent to move on, owing to palpable health reasons – and going by the looks of the visuals widely aired by television channels, it appears to be true. 

Late on Monday night, the Vatican has released the text of the Pope’s speech informing a close door meeting of his decision – read it here http://bbc.in/YT31jU
 
Yet, the Vatican authorities, and more-so, the communication advisers at Vatican seem to have missed a golden opportunity in seizing the moment – from a PR and communication angle!
 
Even hours after the news broke, the communications team of Vatican did not come up with a formal statement, may me with a mention of the events that led to the pope’s decision.
 
The highest religious authority of catholic Christians in the world is wanting to move on from his role, and surprisingly, his communications or pr team does not back it up with a statement of facts, and may be a succession plan with a timeline.
 
Even worse, in the news broadcast on BBC news aired this morning, a communications adviser to the pope was seen as saying that “people missed the hints thrown in by the pope in an address a couple of months back” 
 
Communication advisers are meant to simplify the messages and send it to the target audience, and not act as soothsayers or those who just dissect comments – that was the role of external communication pro’s and not the least of a Vatican communications adviser.
 
If people have to read between the line of what Pope’s say time and again, then that would be only a recipe to more confusion and a clear lack of communications authority at the papal seat.
 
It was only a few weeks back that the Pope chose to join the social media bandwagon by coming on to twitter – an acknowledgement of the changing times by none other than himself! http://bit.ly/YT4pDa
 
Yet, the team of communicators at the Vatican left the media, the believers, and people of the world guessing on the ifs and buts.
 
The Vatican’s communications team have proved that they are redundant?!

Online activism, India et al


Online activist... can you ignore me??

Online activist… can you ignore me??

My country, India, has seen a spur of online activism in the recent few years, thanks to the growing disillusionment of the much touted urban middle class, and a perceived failure of the present country administration on a whole range of issues – from corruption, which has swept the carpet under the polity to law and order – where my sisters do not feel safe to step out late evenings, right at the heart of my national capital.

Some notable examples of recent online activism

  • The movement, India against corruption which sprung into existence thanks to the moral leadership of Anna Hazare, has used online tools in a big way, to spread the message across, gather people, and consolidate views and crowd source protest ideas. On twitter, they have mad e of numerous handles, the primary one being @janlokpal, and successfully built opinions.
  • In the protests against the recent moral assault and subsequent death of Delhi girl Nirbaya,  by a gang of rogues on a moving bus, many groups and individuals used the social media to spread their angst against the establishment and the police, protesting consistent inaction. Some notable handles in this episode were activist @tajinderbagga who was the target of police action, and a girl activist who was arrested for joining the protests.
  • Online activists crowd sourced strong protest against a Gurgaon hotel hosting a singing even of notable Punjabi singer Honey Singh, whose lyrics provoked anger for their lewd views on women, in the light of events after the death of brave girl Nirbhaya.

(just to illustrate a few; twitter handles selective and not exhaustive)

The increasing spread of information through social media, and a large number of concerted online and offline activists spreading information to garner support for any cause that affects the common man is a new trend that is catching up swiftly in India and neighboring countries as well.

The establishment and the stakeholders who are the target of such activism, either out of compliance and deference to the views of people, or out of the fear that a cascading effect of the information on them from online to offline to the houses to the streets, will impact the credibility – are partly giving in to some demands as a result of online activism.

While the measurement of the effects of online activism will be a bit farfetched as of now, the day is not far when social media mavens will also find out means by which the on the ground impact of such efforts can be quantified and the impact measured.

While in India, online activism has only sprung into action only in more recent times, globally, the trend is in place at least for the past decade, and is only increasing/bound to increase by the day as the social media has proven to be a platform for swift dissemination of real time breaking news and events, and in many countries where democracy is nonexistent or in peril, where mobile devices in the hands of the affected, disgruntled and victimized, are the only means by which they make messages go viral – and for the global media to take note.

There’s also a raging debate that’s been going on since a while on whether online activism is really a cause for worry across the globe – questioning the likely effect isolated groups can have on ground realities.  Malcolm Gladwell’s article in The Newyorker of Oct 4, 2010 http://nyr.kr/ap4hO1 stirred a social hornets’ nest, inviting a flurry of responses to the statement “ Social media can’t provide what social change has always required”.

Amongst the many interesting debates as a reply to Gladwells story, Erum Haider from neighboring Pakistan made very relevant and sort of ‘local’ responses to why social activism will make an impact and will stay on, and gain more power if used appropriately, for the right causes too. http://bit.ly/arngfb

With a fair amount of confidence, and the emerging nature of polity and demography in this part of the globe, one can say, with a fair amount of confidence that ‘social activism’ is indeed here to stay, and gain more strength as the clock ticks.

If you are a social media maven, ‘social media activism’ making J must be in your armor as well.

By the way, is it in the things to watch for in 2013 in your trend-watching list?

You can also see a brief history of online activism here http://on.mash.to/qYMYUU  

@twitter handle – are you in the 30 minute response league?


English: jacket cover of Dominate your market ...

English: jacket cover of Dominate your market with Twitter – UK edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does you company have a dedicated and real time twitter handle for service to your customers? Be it for your product or service or promotion?

Well, if your answer is yes, then you are in a special 23% league! Yes. As per a survey by simplymeasuredthat’s the percentage of companies which have a service-handle on twitter!

But whats the point if you have a handle, and take eons to respond to your customers? Today, with social media at the touch of a mobile screen 24/7, every minute of delay in your response is adding up to the dissonance in the customer’s mind.

In the same survey, not many of those 23% companies responded to the tweets coming in, within 30 minutes!

And that is a big big fail!

So, have a service twitter handle only if you man it real-time and 24/7/365.

Else, don’t have one. Period.

Does your organisation have the soc-med ecosystem to pass the 30 minute response test?

If you say YES, you are in the 30-minute response league.

Social media – Is there a crisis brewing somewhere out there?


#bdi Social Reputation Management Conference N...

#bdi Social Reputation Management Conference NYC March 2010 (Photo credit: ShashiBellamkonda)

Its become sort of fanciful or on the other extreme paranoia to keep chanting about an impending social media crisis, for the organization. To be ready to handle any social media crisis that will dent the reputation is now widely discussed and advised all over.

Yet, sometimes, it is not being prepared to handle of face such an event or online burst that is wanting – rather, it’s the vision or wherewithal to see a cropping up social media crisis for the organization and the ability to act post that, which is an impediment to effective crisis management.

So, what are some of the signs of a social media reputation hit, brewing in out there?!

  • Is there any unusual buzz around your brand (product, service, or people within your team) in the online space? Do you see some strange mentions about any of these, which has not been noticed earlier? This is something which is a pointer that you must take cognizance of the social media buzz, and probe to what may have triggered this. Yes, there is a possibility that this could be positive buzz. But, the cardinal rule in social media reputation management is this – unusual buzz tends to be more inclined on the negative side. A service issue, or a misdemeanor by someone in your global team is more likely to generate a discussion or post, that something good.
  • Has there been an event that has occurred somewhere, where you foresee a lot of buzz? Could be a part failure or lack of retail-end availability of your offering. Or just anything like that. Its imperative that you watch out the social media buzz in that region with alacrity. When you know that there could a negative buzz coming in, its easy to deploy the necessary people and tools, and take up and address queries, and have a social-response hierarchy in place – effectively dousing the negative buzz, before it flames your reputation.
  • Has someone in your senior team, be it even your CEO or someone in the top echelons of the organization erred in the manner in which some issue has been communicated to the media, or even in an one of one interview, which has been quoted out of context, and is beginning to set a negative reputation spiral? Good reputation managers, backed by their real-time experience can see the coming in such situations. In such cases, it’s easy to be prepared with an effective response, and even post it to all media, and in all social destinations, and then also handle individual queries on a case by case basis, as the situation or kind of media demands.

Here are just three illustrations that give the reputation manager or social media commander a feel of what could be coming in, and how it must be handled effectively to ward off an evil strike at the reputation base of the organization.

Logically, these can be extended to more permutations and combinations across geographies and various social destinations to serve as reputation hit forecasts.

Executive leadership, art of communicating, & “Reputation”!


English: President Barack Obama and Vice Presi...

English: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with BP executives in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, June 16, 2010, to discuss the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Pictured, from left, are BP CEO Tony Hayward, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP General Counsel Rupert Bondy, BP Managing Director Robert Dudley, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Attorney General Eric Holder, Biden, Obama, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a person on the communications learning curve ever, I am a great fan of Steve Farnsworth’s @Steveology blog, and a student alike.

I found this post “3 Things Executives Can Do To Be More Quoted In The News” a very informative one in the context of every top manager/leader being communicators for the organization!

By now, the world of communicators is too familiar with the reputation disaster the erstwhile BP CEO Tony Hayward was, in his now famous (rather infamous) “I’d like my life back” comment to the humongous disaster, the oil spill was.

The cardinal rule for any CEO/CXO who is in the line of sight of the media is to be always “battle ready”. This might indeed sound ominous, yet it’s the closest to reality and the best communications mantra!

Picture this – there could be a call from anywhere in the globe on something which has just been just happened a few minutes ago (hours and day response time are dead and gone forever – another rule to remember!). Any of these calls, if not responded to swiftly, can a long term ‘reputation impact’ on your company and its fortunes.

Add to the events per se that may impact your company, the buzz in the social media universe – someone cooks up a rumor, or goes by sheer hearsay, and tweets or posts a few words that could go viral in minutes, or hours – the ‘reputation’ consequences will impact you and your company too!

One quality that will keep your reputation index in good stead is this – your ability to respond in an appropriate manner to any query from any corner of the world!

The CEO may not have a magic wand to all queries, and it is important to admit and realize that – the best answer when confronted with an uncomfortable or ill-informed query is very simple – give me a while and we will come to you with the facts!

What happens in real-life is, on many such occasions, just the opposite – out of a quest to close the issue, and under pressure of the situation, the response is wee bit casual.

This is a perfect recipe for inviting negative media and negative soc-med, and  you are possibly and un-alterably messing up an already fluid situation.

If you think that an expert coaching intervention is needed to handle such events with the media, do ask your board or your organization, and tell them that it is a reputation imperative. Most organizations tend to have the belief that the CEO spokesperson must be suave and possess extra-ordinary skills in communication! This can be a huge advantage but not a pre-requisite at all.

In fact, track some PR crises and how suave spokesperson handled them – you will see that the over-confidence that comes out of being suave and flamboyant brings in a tinge of arrogance – a perfect recipe for many a media disasters!

Facts and truth, yes, nothing but truth – put across in simple language with amazing clarity and miles ahead of a suave and ambiguous, arrogant and just too casual remark.

Many PR careers have been shunted by usage of inappropriate language, unintended it may be – someone somewhere leaks it out when things go out of the hand! The mantra ought to be state the facts and only facts, in a language that can be scrutinized anytime later.

While speed of response is a paramount criterion, it never can be at the cost of language that reflects an unprofessional and casual attitude! Make sure that facts are not colored by style and the tone and tenor of the spoken or written language!

Executive leaders must endeavor to be masters in the art of communicating to the media. And get to being masters one event or crisis at a time – sans making any costly ‘reputation’ screw-ups.

On the ‘when’ or ‘why’ of news-jacking!?


News Anchor

News Anchor (Photo credit: ed100)

Well, this sounds so familiar by now – news jacking, as an armor in your public relations strategy is here to stay. And not just stay – the only way you will be able to make a significant value addition to your brand is to use news-jack. That will happen if your are real-time new-jacking ready!

By now there is also a raging debate on the merits and de-merits of news-jacking.  The answer to that debate is this – you must news-jack at the right time, in the right place, in the right context. There are no two ways about it.

This earlier post in this blog also dwelved on whether brands must news-jack piggyback on a major disaster like Super-storm Sandy.  There are a handful of global brands that jumped into the news-jacking bandwagon in the aftermath of Sandy.

This post is a nice illustration of how some brands really reaped the windfall gains of news jacking in a positive brand-lift context.

While there can be a long debate on the when and how of new jacking as a PR tool, brands must look at news jacking if it has the following impact for them-

  • Will it show the brand, products and services in good light, in the context of the event?
  • Does the consumer see the brand has something beneficial to offer – either by way of information or services, or tangible/intangible product benefit?
  • Will news jacking in the given situation serve brand-lift in the short and long term?
  • Will news jacking stand the test of ethics in business and also stand any legal test, that may come to the fore by any stakeholders?
  • Would all the stakeholders in the product/service be happy with the technique used to news.

As a PR professional, and an avid news jacker, ask yourself these quick questions when you embark in your next news jacking sojourn!

Social media.. do you need a specialist?


Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Although the word social media is being used in a broad sense, the question is more in the context of the 140 character powerhouse of information, Twitter!

Globally, and closer home too, celebrities and the common man alike have taken to tweeting as not just a habit, but a must do. The same can be extended to posts and views across the social space.

In the case of celebrities, even just a few tweets gets them thousands of followers. Along with that comes loads of scrutiny both by the media, and their followers/critics.

Celebrities use their status sometimes to a great advantage; at the same time, some of them tend to shoot them in their own legs by their over enthusiasm, and also in their bit of recklessness or call it packed emotions. In a nation of a billion views on any topic in the universe that is India, such reckless tweets land the celebrities into controversies, and at times land them in litigation.

There are a whole bunch of celebrities who use ghost tweeters, with their views on issues be known, and the actual time and line of tweeting is decided by the tweeter who happens to be a specialist in communication. In such cases, the specialist adds in a sense of context, and takes care to see that the sensitivities are not hurt, in issues of import.

Such specialized intervention and management ought to be seen in the light of the power of social to amplify, interpret, at times misinterpret what is said – all this in the speed of light (or call in the speed of the net!)

While there can be questions on whether such a tendency to specialist manage or agency manage social media is right, ethical, and stands for authenticity, there can be no doubt that when there is so much rapt attention to every single tweet and word in the tweet uttered (or feed/post in any social post), a specialist intervention in managing such social media could be handy.

As communications outreach professional, what are your thoughts to share?

Is Social ‘brand lift’ your target?


Social is all about engagement, and conversations.  The singular objective of any sane social media strategy is to foster engagement and create an ongoing stream of conversations, around your product, services, people – all encompassing to your brand!

Any strategy that drives up the engagement levels of your brand (or call it engagement of people with your brand), does in all certainty add to the overall marketing goals of your organization.

To rephrase, the singular intent of the strategy of any organization in social media space must be, to borrow a term from Jon Steinberg , to endeavor ‘social brand lift’.

How does Jon define ‘social brand lift?

He says, in one of his posts – “Social Brand Lift occurs when content that is candid, interesting, though provoking and shareable lands in the hands of the people most interested in discovering it”

In the case of your organization, or brand, the targeted brand lift must lead to an increase in a favorable perception towards the product or service. So, the goal of every single component of the social media plan is to make sure brand lift happens.

Brand lift happens when there is a purposeful engagement by the visitors to your site, followers across the various platforms your organization is in, and in the manner in which every query or concern in respect of your product, service, or even people issues is answered.

Social brand lift also happens only when compelling content is in place in all your social touch points – which are veritable goldmines that must be aimed at a great engagement with your target world.

To endeavor a social brand lift, is the baby step your social media strategy/execution takes, in building stronger and favorable brand perceptions for your organization.

Revisit your social plans now. Have you made sure that each of its components aims at a brand lift?

Social Media… Who wants to be a champion?


ESA/ESOC goes Social Media _10

ESA/ESOC goes Social Media _10 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Circa 2012, social media has well indeed arrived in full force, and there is no way that you or your organization can continue to look away or turn a blind eye to. Unless offcourse, you suffer from a monumental myopia to what value a social presence can mean for you, your company and its brands.

This has propelled the need for social media champions in these organizations, big and small, to wake up to the need for someone who can lead and spearhead the social media initiatives’ – welcome the social media “executive champion”.

But wait, there are some key facts (factors) you must weigh before you are prompted to take the plunge to usher in your organization and brand to the whole new ‘social’ world – the world of likes, fans, followers, re-tweets and so on.

Behind all the buzz and socmed jargon like above, there is a whole lot of ‘back-end’ preparedness that is really needed before you take the first step.

So, what are some of those ‘musts’ if you need to be a social media champion for your organization or brand?

  • Does the organization, which wants you to be a social media proponent (okay, champion), cede all the authority in you, to facilitate the creation/execution of a long term social media plan? And along with the authority, does it also trust you with all the resources that would be needed to put the social media face in place?
  • More importantly, do you think you possess the relevant knowledge and bouquet of skills which will be needed to eventually make the social media plan a workable, and to some extent measurable (the board always loves to ask – where are the results to see) one? Social media is a dynamo and keeps evolving by the minute, in some nook and corner of this animal called internet – one can never be ready with all the know-how, but must be willing to look around for emerging trends, and what works and what does not – across the globe, across platforms: are you willing to be always on that learning curve?
  • Do you have the ability and agility to sell a ‘vision’ (social media vision) to your internal customers – your big bosses, the CEO, the board, and the stakeholders? And to do that, you must have the insight and prowess as to how, where, why and when of the social media plan. Do you?
  • Social is free is the biggest assumption, out there – which is patently false. This premise leads to too much internal strife once the plan is kick started – yes, platforms may be free, but the team in your organization which will work in delivering the social media plan will have to be paid – and paid well at that. Social media calls for tremendous long term investments in time and money – and once the organization decides to make that investment, then it’s obvious that they want to measure the results as well. So, right at the word go, you must have the wisdom and vision to decide the goals on social media, the investments, and how the final or intermittent measurement will be done. Do you have the ability to do that?
  • Can you seamlessly work hand in hand with all the cross functional leadership of your company – be it with HR, marketing, finance, supply chain and the board/CXO of the organization, with the larger interest of a successful and workable social media presence? This will need the ability to possess the leadership skills and ‘moral’ authority to counsel, in case there happens to  be teething issues – which will be almost always there.
  • You are the social media champion – more of the driving force behind the scenes. There will be a host of people, who will be executing these plans from the front, on the ground – these will be a group of social media savvy professionals, who will need all the support needed; and also the counsel and intervention when there are goof-ups and crises due to errors of judgment. In the social media world, there is nothing like a perfect plan or even near perfect execution- some unexpected tweet or post or comment, unintended may be, will erupt in a big way – it’s your sagely presence and ability to lead in crises that will be the day saver. Think you are that kind of a person who will not wilt under pressure?

Thinking of some or all of the above even when you want or are wanted to don the mantle of a ‘social media champion’ will be the baby steps in your success out there.

So, ready to champion ‘social’??

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