Posts Tagged ‘Reputation

In recent times, as the endless litany of claims of phone-hacking and other journalistic behaviour by journalists at the UK’s now closed ‘News of the World’ and other newspapers in the Murdoch UK stable have arisen, friends in the US and other countries have suggested that I blog on it.

I have not rushed to judgement, as each day seemed to bring forward worse claims than the one before. And also because, and here I declare an interest, my first job almost 40 years again was as a cadet journalist on ‘The Australian’ the national daily newspaper established by (Keith) Rupert Murdoch in the late 1960s. On that paper, I gained my first experience of journalism and rose to be a national correspondent and, at times, night news editor.

I remember “Rupert” (or “KRM”) as innovative, hard-nosed, and wanting his newspapers to be the best – the newsiest and top-selling. He could be ruthless but was also immensely loyal to many editors and managers who stayed with him as his empire expanded into the UK, US, India and China.

So I have always had a continuing regard for this very driven media entrepreneur who has built an empire from one daily paper in Adelaide, South Australia. But that doesn’t mean that I have accepted the behaviour of his more popular papers.

In the UK, it has been obvious for some years that the News of the World and the Sun, the daily tabloid, have pushed the bounds of taste, decency, accuracy and ethical behaviour. In some ways, this non-establishment behaviour by “red tops” is what has made them so popular for over a century. The Sun, for example, sells more copies each day than all the “quality” daily news papers added together.

The “phone hacking scandal” is just the furthest extremes in practices. The News of the World may be just one example of the abuse of privacy of people who are not in the public eye. Please note that a non-Murdoch newspaper, Daily Star, has been raided by police and allegations have been made against the Sun and the very establishment Sunday Times.

As Rupert Murdoch has very publicly apologised to one set of victims and was heard saying that he was “appalled” by journalist behaviour, we can see that he has begun to realise the enormity of the problem and, possibly, to reinstate new values to his journalists.

Many public relations theorists (Coombs & Holladay; Fearn-Banks) have proposed ‘apologia’ as strategy in crisis communication and recovery. It sets a base for recovery and reinstating reputation. This has started but is questionable whether Murdoch’s News International group can recover its standing in order to maintain its ‘licence to operate’.

Regulators, parliament and a judicial enquiry into phone-hacking have already limited its operations. It’s possible that US authorities may become involved, as there are claims that 9/11 victims had phones hacked and that payments made by Murdoch journalists to British police for information may be addressed by US anti-bribery laws which reach beyond national jurisdictions.

At this point, the issues to address are 1) what were the Murdoch public relations strategies and behaviours and 2) what future strategies and actions are needed? From the evidence of News International’s public relations spokesperson’s interviews, the strategy had been to ‘deny and reassure’ even when obvious that continuing disclosures demonstrated phone-hacking was widespread.

That strategy painted News International into a tiny corner and has only been reversed when Rupert Murdoch flew into the UK earlier this week. Any “halo” value of past performance in terms of financial success, popularity of publications, political influence and innovation had been eroded. In short, the public relations behaviours were the same as the obstructive attitudes of management. Public relations counsel has either been ignored or supine.

For the future, the apologia delivered by Murdoch has to be followed by very transparent responses to enquiries and police investigations. News International must follow this approach as there is no skerrick of trust in it by major decision-makers. Any further obstruction will close the ‘licence to operate’ further.

Putting aside the phone-hacking scandal, the Murdoch papers have always been leaders in journalism and news. That’s what made them so popular. It has also held politicians and malefactors to account, along with numerous celebrities. The right form of transparent and values-;ed public relations strategy, along with new corporate behaviours, at the News International corporate entity can help restore robust journalism.

That will be very important because there are many key influencers, especially in Parliament, who want to get revenge on the media, not just the Murdoch press. They want to limit the scope of news-gathering and investigation, which will limit debate in a democratic polity. The ‘phone-hacking’ scandal has given them an opportunity, which must be resisted. Public relations strategies can help resist these attempts at greater control.


In a cross between crowd-sourcing and Eurovision voting, the 100+ delegates at the European Summit on Measurement in Lisbon voted for five draft statements of needs that may end up in the Measurement Agenda 2020.

This will be the next stage of international policy development in PR measurement and evaluation, following on from the seven Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles agreed last year.

The statements are:

  • Create and adopt global standards for social media measurement;
  • Identify how to measure the Return on Investment of PR [a crowd source suggestion];
  • Measurement of PR campaigns and programs needs to become an intrinsic part of the PR toolkit;
  • Institute a client education program such as clients insist on measurement of outputs, outcomes and business results from PR programs;
  • Define approaches that show how corporate reputation builds/creates value.

The statements will go to conference delegates in mid-July for further comment. They were chosen from statements prepared from responses to an informal survey of delegates and other practitioners undertaken in recent weeks.  The wide range of academic research on PR measurement wasn’t taken into account.

This seems to be a less-than-robust method of data collection for policy-making when, for instance, a Delphi study amongst leading practitioners could have developed the propositions with greater certainty of future application.  Perhaps Barcelona Principle 7: “Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement “, should have been kept in mind.

The latest, very topical Managing Outcomes newsletter from Tony Jaques in Australia has a very good article that questions the value of  Issues Advertising by large organisations. The killer data that he uses to support the case is about the low level of trust that the public has in advertising and in the statements by organisations about themselves:

“… the credibility of traditional media advertising is continuing a steady decline. In fact a study of 2,000 adults in the UK and US for the British company Alterian showed that only 5% of consumers (4% UK, 6% US) trusted advertising, and only 8% (9% UK, 6% US) believe “what the company says about itself.” If it is true that well over 90% of the public don’t believe advertising, perhaps [Australian bank] CBA should have remembered the wise old maxim on the subject – Corporate advertising is like wetting yourself in a dark suit. It very briefly gives you a nice warm feeling, but no-one notices.”

I recommend signing up for Tony’s regular newsletter on issue management. It’s always readable – and he’s got the hand-on experience and research to support the case that is being made.

The Irish historian, Dr Francis X. Carty, has written a history of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin, who died in 1973. McQuaid formed a Public Image Committee in the 1960s but found it hard to cope with two-way communication. Below is a telling quote on “the voice of authority” from McQuaid who found the liberal outcomes of Vatican II rather hard to cope with.

“As a matter of principle, authority cannot give its reasoning. People must accept decisions because authority has spoken, and not the reasons behind the decision. This is, of course, because authority is from God, and the voice of authority is God.”

Archbishop  McQuaid was addressing the first meeting of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin’s Public Image Committee in the 1960s. He was responding to a priest’s comment that “there is a tendency today for people to be interested in the reason for events”.

(Carty, F.X. (2007). Hold Firm – John Charles McQuaid and the Second Vatican Council. Dublin: The Columbia Press, p.28)

In Latvia, a stunt by a PR agency to create a fake meteorite crater goes wrong:

What an own-goal to enrage government and lose your client’s confidence and the contract, too!

I have just started a research project for the Institute for Public Relations, sponsored by Coca-Cola, on the skills and competencies needed for senior corporate communicators and PR advisors, looking five to 10 years ahead.

Here’s the URL to the Institute for Public Relations website on which I discuss current communication scenarios and the future needs for developing top communicators. What’s your view on this?

More news from IPRRC Miami – Prof Mary Ann Ferguson of the University of Florida is a well known researcher on corporate social responsibility (CSR). She and colleagues have built up a database of all the awards – national and international – that are given for best practice in CSR.


In a beta form, it can be found at and is fully searchable.


One research outcome from their review of awards is that companies which have received at least one award for CSR have profits that are on average $1 billion a year greater than those which have not. The winner’s revenues are $13 billion greater than those without. Does this mean that CSR really is “business effective” or a factor of the size and management performance of the companies? A correlation is implied but CSR is only one factor in a corporation’s performance.


Companies winning most awards are PepsiCo, Marriott International, Texas Instruments, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, Nike, Cisco Systems, Novartis, Principal Finance and Citigroup (!). Nike, in particular is under constant activist criticism for its behaviour and Citigroup is a financial basket case at present.


Sectors most likely to win CSR awards are accommodation and food, electronics, professional and scientific, information and manufacturing. The laggards are construction, utilities, management of companies and transportation.

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Tom Watson

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