FiftyOneZeroOne

Posts Tagged ‘United States

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.

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. http://www.instituteforpr.org/digest_entry/2015s_top_communicators_new_skills_and_expertise_required/ What’s your view on this?

Coming from England where walking and cycling are widely encouraged, Miami is a shock as it’s designed for the car. On Sunday, I went for a walk to see how the folks who live in the Coral Gables and South Miami areas, near to the  PR research conference I was attending.

The first challenge was to cross any road of substance. Where there are pedestrian crossings (and that’s not often), it takes three or four changes of lights before you can step off the curb in safety offered by a green pedestrian light. In many places there was no path for the walker to follow; when crossing a waterway near the opulent Biltmore golf course there was no pedestrian area on the bridge over it. You had to spot a gap in the traffic and run.

The other surprise for me was that in the extensive suburban areas, there are no local shops. If you want milk and bread, you must get in the car and drive for at least a mile and probably two or three. I’m told that this is common across the country. Now, I’m sure that American readers can remember quaint English villages with sidewalks and no local shops, but that’s different to the designed suburban areas of Miami. Without a car, you must be really isolated as there’s not much public transport to fill the gaps.

Apart from a taxi driver who lamented that work had dried up badly in the past six months, there’s no immediate evidence that the Miami/south Florida economy has hit the buffers. There are reports of 30%+ drops in house prices from their peak but my two hour perambulation found some evidence of houses for sale but none with the much-televised bank foreclosure signs on them. Also, a couple of nights in South Miami restaurants indicated that the locals are still out enjoying themselves in large numbers. It was also spring break for students who have traditionally flocked to Miami for sun, sand and non-scholarship. Colleagues who went to the famed South Beach area at the weekend said it was very busy and very noisy. Outside the sunny south east of the US, colleagues said that because their house prices hadn’t inflated like Florida, there has been less of an impact from housing defaults but that manufacturing and service employers are cutting jobs extensively.

At the conference, there were academics from all over the US. Some reported that universities are cutting staff as income from investments and alumni has fallen rapidly. That’s not happening in the UK yet, although budgets are tight and being squeezed down. We aren’t as exposed to financial markets; it’s government funding that is critical.

I was going to make a snide comment that there are a lot of very overweight people in this part of the world (although most PR academics are lean and slim, a factor of high workloads) and then I joined the queue for my BA return flight to London. It made me realise that there were lot of overweight Brits who had just waddled off their cruise ships. So it’s back to the diet and away from gratuitous comparisons.

Finally, I did enjoy myself in Miami. The mainly American PR academics who came to the conference were kindly, courteous, collegial, great company and very bright. Also, it was warm and sunny which was a real benefit after the coldest winter in England for a decade or more. It was a great time.

This blog started life after the 2007 International Public Relations Research Conference in Miami, so it’s about to celebrate its 2nd birthday. It’s a really enjoyable conference and this year, around 40% of presentations were from non-US academics and practitioners (but only two from the UK).

 

This year, there has been increasing emphasis on social media and its relationship with public relations and interpersonal communications. Tina McCorkindale reported on a survey of Facebook pages run by or linked to major US corporations.

 

Of 100 Fortune 100 companies, there were 55 Facebook sites, of which 52 could be regarded as ‘positive’ in their content (The ‘anti’ sites were for Wal-Mart, Verizon and ExxonMobil).

 

The ‘fan’ numbers for some sites were quite spectacular with the retail giant Target scoring 191,000 as No.1, followed by Verizon’s own site at 150,000 and Microsoft at 68,000.

 

Some sites were employee run, others by corporate communications staff. The retailer Lowes’s employees have an embarrassing ‘Lowes Hos’ area (with female and male staff identified). Ford and Microsoft look to be heavily managed. The carmaker was described by Tina as “positive heavy” while Microsoft has many deletions of postings on it, possibly taking out negative comments.

 

The Dell site, perhaps scarred by the “Dell Hell” controversy of several years ago, had rapid responses to questions with ‘Janet’ offering solutions to problems, including phone numbers to call.

 

Other phenomena observed included headhunters posting job information on corporate sites to attract staff from them; a low level of information on corporate social responsibility activity; and many sites without recent news on them.

 

Overall, Tina observed that there was “a lot of lack of engagement” which may indicate that corporate comms people see Facebook as another type of corporate website and not an opportunity to engage with customers, enquirers and staff.

 

Mihaela Vorvoreanu of Clemson University has also made an initial investigation into the inter-relationship between Facebook culture and PR efforts, and what is appropriate and inappropriate engagement between corporations and ‘Facebook natives’.

 

Using focus groups with PR students, she found:

 

§        Students didn’t like the loss of exclusivity when Facebook moved away from its original student base and allow access to everyone (including corporations).

 

§        The initial attraction of Facebook was to ‘digitally hang-out’ in which you can keep up with friends, but corporates “are just trying to sell and they have other motives”.

 

§        Facebook natives like to recognise things they like and become fans – “it can be a way to show off what you are”.

 

§        There was a strong belief that Facebook was ‘personal’ and that you should be able to post pictures without fear of potential employers using the site to vet applications. [It appears that many students tidy up sites before they enter the workforce, which they resent.]

 

§        Facebookers don’t mind supporting small businesses and hearing from them as “they have a face” but they don’t want to hear from Sony or “something big and obnoxious like Microsoft”.

 

Mihaela ended her presentation with the rhetorical question – Can relationships (between organisations and stakeholders) be protected by staying out of the conversation? That is, leave the Facebookers alone in their own space for fear of annoying them? It’s a relevant question and links with Tina’s view that the corporates’ own Facebook presences lacks engagement.

 

 

 


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