White is apparently Right in China...or is it?

This morning a somewhat interesting story caught my attention on BBC (did I ever mention that I love BBC and that I dress with my tv on BBC, and then listen to it on the radio on my drive to work?). White guy in a tie. I am sure some of you already know about it but for those of you who don't, it's basically white men for hire in China - paid to wear a suit, go press palms with Chinese businessmen and create the impression that the Chinese firm that contracted them, has international or Western connections. Of course in a global market, international business is a big deal, and a firm's connections and global networks can be vital to its business and its image as a player in the global marketplace. But the question raised in the segment was Is this fraud or PR?

Some may argue and say "Hmmm...fraud. PR. Is there a difference?" You know who you are. But really, do you think this practice of creating a false impression to bolster public image and reputation is ethical? Wouldn't it be better to try to actually position your business via real networking and marketing? I would think that establishing real relationships with companies which are deemed as valuable to their position in China and beyond would be more practical, not to mention, ethical and would in fact bring REAL rewards. I have to wonder how this works, especially if this is a new trend in China. If everyone uses this as a viable marketing strategy, then how can you trust your suppliers, your competitors etc?

As I said, it was a pretty interesting segment.

Out of Touch with the Public's Reality

Though I have been caught up with the football, I am still in touch with the rest of the world. This is more than I can say for Tony Hayward, who thought it would be a good idea to go boating in an elite yachting event while barrels and barrels of oil gush into the ocean. It says a lot about not just Tony Hayward but about executives in general. There are many senior executives who somewhere along the way have completely lost touch with the "small people".

Their daily lives are somehow spent in a bubble where they fraternise among themselves and share the same belief systems, honed after years of living in said bubble. So when it comes down to dealing with life situations outside of that bubble - be it internally with employee issues or externally as in the BP case, they believe what they know to be right. It's when these issues manifest themselves in the public domain, that we recognise the growing chasm between those "up there" and the little people.

They spend much of their day at internal meetings, getting information from their managers. They get advice from their boards, who tend to be older men and a few women who are even further detached from the web. Board members have even less of a clue. So most CEOs are probably having the wrong conversations about the wrong things with the wrong people. - Business Week
Maybe if more leaders went "undercover" as in the CBS reality show Undercover Boss, or more realistically, spent more time interfacing with people other than their elite peers - employees, customers for example, they would better understand the way the real world works and how real people are affected by events that somehow don't seem to matter much to them.
"The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume." - Tony Hayward, May 14.
And it is these out of touch with reality statements and actions from BP and its executive which continue to exacerbate what is already an insurmountable scenario. It makes even the term "public relations" a misnomer because if he in fact had any type of real, honest to goodness relations outside of his myopic inner circle, then he would probably not be so regularly angering the public.

Licence to Kill. Licence to Tweet.

Even with the football fever gripping my senses, I am still aware that the world is not a giant football revolving around the sun.

The news headline on BBC news that morning was "Utah executes convicted murderer by Firing Squad". I have a host of other issues with this story but one of the most talked about aspects of it is definitely the tweet heard around the world.

Many people felt the tweeting of the death of a man, albeit a cold blooded, clearly sadistic murderer, to be grotesque at best and inappropriate. Mr Shurtleff says he believes in an informed public and he continues to "use social media to communicate directly with people".

I do agree with him there. Social media has changed the way we communicate and can really bring us closer to our various publics. But even though I am an advocate for social media, I always contend that sometimes we get so caught up in the hype that we forget the basics. I did not think Twitter was the best place to tweet about this and maybe that is my own moral perspective. But I also don't think Mr Shurtleff should be left to his own devices with Twitter. I really believe he needs a Twitter intervention because looking at this single tweet in a vacuum does not begin to demonstrate the fact that Twitter is a powerful PR tool, which in 140 characters can make or break one's image.

I was a bit taken aback by the lack of tact here. It's almost like he could not wait for the guy to be pronounced dead so he could have his 5 minutes of fame.

The AG would do well to think before he tweets, especially considering the very public office he holds, for while verbal comments may not always be picked up, tweets are forever. Yes, you may want to publicly defend your stance on "death by tweet" but berating your followers? Really?

And calling them whiners? Who is this dude's media adviser? Someone needs to hide his laptop and his smartphone!!!

I am after all this, slightly amused by his Twitteritis, and sincerely hope he gets help. And while we use social media for communicating news and important messages, as with everything else, some messages may require different vehicles for safe passage. There are also issues of what is and isn't appropriate for social media and these are questions that many of us may have to consider in the future. I mean, you never know what may be next!

PR Blues - The Fall of the French Football Team

Yesterday the problems for Les Bleus continued to escalate with the team refusing to participate in a public training session. The expulsion of one of their players, Nicholas Anelka seems to have been the last straw in an already tenuous situation.

The entire debacle does nothing for the image of the French and has attracted the scorn of global onlookers who have labelled the team as "recalcitrant, indignant whiners".

But it seems that this was a disaster waiting to happen, with a total lack of teamwork, communication and consultation off the field - the retention of an unpopular coach, the retention of players caught up in another, even more unsavoury PR disaster, the unwillingness to deal with contentious issues head on before they grew from mounds into mountains and ultimately into volcanoes which have now erupted. The subsequent fall out has now further undermined the once glorious image of French football, created by the 1998 World Cup champion team. Les Bleus are quickly becoming Les Ughs with their antics and fail to recognise that their selfish actions are not only impacting their World Cup performance but also their entire country. I would think that the honour of wearing the national colours would mean something and trump personal ambitions and feelings, but clearly this is not the case with this team.
Economy Minister Christine Lagarde, formerly a member of the national synchronised swimming team, slammed the boycott, telling a French TV channel: “I am appalled because I have worn the French national colours…and when you wear the French national colours, you have added responsibilities”. - France24.
Clearly noone spoke to them about their role as brand ambassadors for the tricolour and all it represents and how their actions could positively or negatively brand over 65 million people.Clearly noone mentioned to them that they were the role models for the little boys who aspire to be part of football history one day and be catalysts for the development of sporting programmes in communities across the country and the injection of corporate sponsorship to support this development.

Instead, they have chosen to make themselves the laughing stock of what was supposed to be a great tournament. Their statement to the media does not reflect the reality of the situation at all and is incredible at best.
"Out of respect for the public who came to attend training, we decided to go to meet the fans who, by their presence, showed their full support. For our part, we are aware of our responsibilities as those wearing the colours of our country. Also for those we have towards our fans and countless children who keep Les Bleus as role models."
It is a total reputational disaster for not just the players on the field but the supporters and nation which they represent and for the sport of which they were king 12 years ago. Perhaps, one of the biggest losers in all of this is probably the Irish national team who was denied a place in the tournament by yet another French PR disaster - the infamous Thierry Henry hand ball. I would like to assume that had they qualified instead of the French, they would have been committed to representing their country and the sport in more honourable fashion. But we will never know and are instead left with the ongoing fallout from a poorly managed situation on the part of all the parties involved, not just the players, who though are the ones left smack dab in the public eye and the ones making a bad situation worse.

Don't Hog the Ball: Adopting the Football Model in Business

Football is a team game; it always has been and it always will be. Having good positional sense, communication skills, and an awareness of where your teammates are is far more important than being able to perform a step over or shoot effectively from 30 yards or more.Bleacher Report 

And like football, communications in an organisation requires teamwork and the ability to create synergies across teams. No longer can team execute their responsibilities as silos and PR/communications teams cannot hope to develop and implement internal and external communications strategies without the input of other teams and a healthy collaborative culture.

When communications within a team breaks down and disharmony manifests itself, or a resistance to be part of a collaborative efforts, bet your last dollar that the results would not be as outstanding had the team worked together as a unit. I have been part of organisations where programmes were rolled out without proper consultation and feedback from the rest of the company. You get to work and there in your inbox is an email about some new programme that noone broached as an idea, or which clearly was not thoroughly thought out from various angles and employee perspectives. Something that may seem like a great idea to one team, may have other implications for another, but how would you know if there does not exist a deeper consultative culture? And while not trying to promote bureaucracy and unnecessary corporate red tape, because God, we know how that can go, it is always better to have other teams on board to ensure universal buy-in and support, and ultimately a better final product. The French football team is currently showing signs of team wear and tear and it is showing in their performance thus far at the 2010 World Cup.
Many of the French players seemed to be under the impression that they were there to create their own personal highlight reel rather than to perform as a functional team. Nicolas Anelka and Frank Ribery are both outstanding players, but they did not perform to anything like the level they are capable of against Uruguay.
The main reason for this was their reluctance to play simple football, to simply receive the ball, protect it and lay it off. Virtually every time that either man received possession they embarked on an ambitious solo run and almost without fail they ended up surrendering possession... (Bleacher Report)
In an organisation, one has to be open to new ideas and suggestions and to be able to provide different perspectives on strategies, with the end result being a more effective team with a common goal. It's like having your own internal focus group to weed out the bad elements of an idea and improve the good elements. And whether it's a social media initiative, an advertising campaign or an internal rollout, the double C effect of consultation and collaboration in my opinion, is always a better bet than hogging the ball and trying to shine solo. It often just does not work - in football or in business.

The World Cup's PR superstar

The 2010 World Cup is in full swing and the matches so far, in my opinion have not been as exciting as hoped, but it's only the first round so I am not too worried. But the REAL buzz of the tournament so far has been the loud, unapologetic and fancy-free vuvu.

The vuvuzela has been creating quite a riot - literally and otherwise - in this year's World Cup. Many people are irritated by the noise which it creates,which mimics an elephant, saying it drowns out national anthems and patriotic chanting and songs and basically distracts from the game. But bet your vuvu, the buzz has made vuvu the unexpected star so far of the World Cup. No player or team has gotten as much coverage as the vuvu and I think it should get a publicist to manage its 15 minutes of fame.

Many games have come and gone without much to remember apart from the football moments. The energy so far from South Africa has been amazing and infectious and the moments are sure to be memorable. When the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided to restrict traditional WI cricket cultural traditions as the region hosted the ICC World Cup in 2007, it was no longer a West Indian World Cup. It was a cricket World Cup merely held in the West Indies. The elements which would have made the tournament unique and special were gone, leaving only the cricket and its international players. The calls to ban the vuvu are as loud as the vuvu itself, and there will be much debate about it during the Cup, but it is part of what makes the tournament uniquely South African - giving it a unique selling proposition; setting it apart from World Cup tournaments gone by.

The vuvu may not be the most loved instrument at the moment, but it surely the most sought after, with sales of the obnoxious plastic horn climbing daily. A friend of mine in South Africa at the moment confessed that it is a bit harsh on the ears, but he has bought them in many colours as souvenirs for friends and family - mementos of the first African World Cup. The instrument is also available for sale across the world, e.g. in the UK. and is quickly becoming a cash cow for wily businessmen, seeing the opportunity to capitalise on all the noise.

The vuvu is effortlessly creating greater buzz around the 2010 football showcase and at the moment is surely outplaying stars like Kaka, Rooney and Ronaldo. It says nothing, does nothing, but is still as popular as any star player. It has its own app, is a blog star and is the hot ticket for merchandisers around the world. Additionally, its PR star power has now been harnessed by the United Nations...yes...the UN, to heighten awareness around violence against women and children via its Blow Vuvuzela campaign.

It is doing a fantastic job, like it or not, of selling South Africa and selling its World Cup as distinctly African, and hopefully as one of the most memorable World Cups ever.

Vuvuzela basics:

USA vs England: Perception vs Reality

So the NY Post debuted this now infamous cover on Sunday after the USA drew 1-1 with England at the World Cup on Saturday.

Now, to say this cover annoyed me initially would be an understatement. I mean, a draw is not a win, not by any stretch of the imagination. That's just reality. A draw does not give you 3 points, but merely 1, and furthermore, the quality of the goal which brought the USA to this point was not one for the record books. At least not for the USA. Robert Green, the unfortunate and villified English goalie decided to give the other team a hand. So in my football circle and in many other circles, where the footballer right now is King, the reality was that the USA was delusional, desperate for glory and sad. lol.

But after a good night's sleep, I overcame my annoyance with the cover, remembering our own "win" in 2006, when though we did not win by a draw like the Americans, Trinidad and Tobago in our very first World Cup ever, bravely and skilfully withstood the roar of the Lions and did not totally embarass themselves with a 10-0 scoreline (good morning Socceroos). Though we did not plaster T&T wins against the English 2-0 on our newspaper, because that would have been a laugh and that sports editor would have been run out of town, it felt good nonetheless.

I guess for the USA, a country that calls the beautiful game soccer and as one tweeter complained on Saturday, is happier to have the tv in the bar on a rained out Nascar race as opposed to watching their national team play football in the greatest footballing show on earth, a 1-1 draw was indeed a victory. A 1-1 draw against a team from a country with one of the best football leagues in the world.

But more than that, it was a sale - a great PR push around a perception that this team had the chops to be a contender. A cover and a headline and an image like this one - happy and exuberant red, white and blue clad "soccer" players celebrating a goal, regardless of its merit, is bound to create some good buzz around the team, so there could be more World Cup on LCDs over the next week or so, and less Nascar. Good news for the sponsors, the advertisers, the MLS and of course the team. It's a good PR cover for a team that does not yet have the same rabid support as the NBA, NFL, or clearly Nascar.

The perception celebrated here is that the USA had "come good" when noone else thought they would, and had proven that "soccer" had a place in the American sporting fabric; that it was not just a thing a bunch of guys did for fun, but a real passion and one which they were getting more competitive at. I cannot fault them for that in the end. It's a win.

But taking off my PR hat and putting back on my boots, the reality however, still remains that a draw in its most technical sense is still not a win and there are more games to come.

In case you missed it the first, second or 50th time...Robert Green.

They are Ready!: Africa's PR Test

As we count down the mere hours to kickoff of the FIFA 2010 World Cup (in case you were unclear as to what was kicking off, in case you live under a rock in a deep, dark cave), it is clear that not only is it the largest and most spectacular showcase of global footballing talent, but it is also a HUGE public relations and marketing coup for South Africa and by extension, the entire African continent.

I am sitting here, thanks to the lovely Kim, taking in bits of the WC kickoff concert and the talent and pageantry is absolutely amazing. Here is a chance for for Africa to shine and put themselves out there in the most positive light; to harness the glare of the global media and turn it to their advantage by marketing all that is beautiful and powerful about the continent. For years, we have sat by and watched Africa's hunger, bloody civil wars, corrupt and vicious dictators, battles with epidemics like HIV/AIDS and that has been what we have come to associate Africa with more times than we should. The world had formed its own image of the region.

But now it's their turn to show us THEIR Africa under the full lights of our scrutiny and against the backdrop of stereotypes and prejudice and so far, it has been beautiful and thrilling and touching and powerful. It's the reason island nations fight for beauty pageants, regional and global conferences and sporting events - to put their PR machinery to work, to put their people and their culture and their very beings to work for their economies, for their productivity and for their pride. For the chance to show the world, "Here we are. This is who we are!"

Let the beautiful game begin in beautiful Africa. Bafana! Bafana! Nelson Mandela must be truly beaming. I am ready for the World Cup and so is Africa.

The Female Consumer: The almost-forgotten football fan

I have not spared much time to check out all of the campaigns for World Cup 2010 just yet, but I am sure the sponsors have gone all out in pimping out their brands and creating innovative campaigns which would maximise their advertising dollars (hopefully). But it would be interesting to see how many of these ads specifically target women. I am a football fan and I cannot say that in past tournaments, the advertiser has been speaking to me. He/she has been sending loads of messages to my father, my brother, my boyfriend etc, but the story ended there. There was no concern for the fact that I too sit down fixated by the movements of a black and white ball for at least 90 minutes; no real recognition of the fact that millions of women are also rabid fans of the beautiful game. Football is not a man's game by any stretch of the imagination, so I would expect that the marketing would no longer be tailored just for my male football viewing counterparts. Begone silly ads with scantily clad women in the background.

The great thing about social media is not only that it allows two way engagement, but it somehow also levels the playing field so to speak. The Coca Cola campaign is a good example. The campaign invites fans to share their videos, celebrating Roger Milla's infamous goal dance. It's great because now, with her camera or mobile phone, the football loving woman can get in on the action.

Campaigns now, because of the nature of the technology which has the ability to make them universal in a shorter time, have real community power and can no longer focus on the age old stereotype that men alone enjoy a football match with their mates. The nature of football in itself is that it is the centre of a huge global community, so it's time the marketing got on board that train. I watch more football than some of my male relatives and friends, and *gasp*...I'm a woman. Looking forward to the greatness!

Visa's 2010 spot, just one of the many ads that will be running during the beautiful month!

First Impressions are Lasting Impressions

I was invited to a meeting once and when I got there on time, the person who had called the meeting was not there. Twenty minutes later, she sauntered in with an apology and a sandwich, which she had already started eating, wrapped in foil. She sat down and continued eating her sandwich, in the foil, and with crumbs attached to her face. This was my first impression of this woman. It was not a very good one. Sadly for her, it is the one thing that sticks out in my mind when I think of her.

This morning, I went down to the ground floor and there was our VP, Customer Service at the door greeting customers, along with a couple of his team. As a customer, this would have been a great first impression - prompt 8am start with a senior executive member at the door meeting and greeting.

While it is indeed cliche, you really do only have one opportunity to make a first impression. There is generally no rewind button and what you give is what stays etched in the mind of the person or persons you interact with. First impressions are the last thing anyone forgets. And be it via your frontline staff, your telemarketing team, your website or your sales pitch - your first step is the one which will determine how successful you will be. First impressions are motivated by our need to influence others, have them act in a certain way and the ultimate onjective is to gain a reward of some kind. And first impressions usually are centred around really small things like a prompt response to a complaint, or the usability of a website. This morning I tried finding info on flights and the first website did not really inspire me to make a purchasing decision right then and there. However, the second site, which was clean and easy to navigate, and which also was complemented by a Twitter customer care channel grabbed my interest and more importantly pushed me closer to making a purchasing decision. All the scrolling ads, pop up windows and flash in the world on the other site did not resonate with me as a consumer, who wanted to be in and out of there without the hassle. And hassle it was.

So it is important to take the time to make that first impression count. Think about not only your presentation and how it can build your brand, but also how your presentation relates to your customer. Think of the criteria with which that person will judge your brand based on the first impression you create.
  • Do they trust the brand?
  • Does the brand inspire confidence?
  • Is it a professional image?
  • Is it a company that cares about people - both its customers and its staff?
  • Is the brand understood and well represented by all staff, across all levels?
And the list is endless. But these are just a few questions one can ask when evaluating how you present yourself and your brand to your audience, because first impressions last!
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