December 19, 2013
A lot has been written recently on how political bias defines prevalent viewpoints on two of the most scrutinised issues of the day: climate change and GMOs.
In particular, this question is posed: why do people who define themselves as left of centre believe that climate change is real, citing good science, while being almost universally anti-GMO, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus being that GMOs are safe and beneficial?
Probably because a more dominant component of the traditional left of centre worldview takes over i.e. mistrust of big business. Given that GMOs are seen as a product of big business, and contribute to their profits, the science is overridden.
What’s the communications slant on this?
The GMO case is one of many where companies ignore human nature in favour of rationality. In that industry, and countless others, when looking to defend themselves against attack or, more broadly, to manage their reputations, they argue at the wrong level, basing argumentation on fact, ideally backed by science.
But what’s really under attack is often not the facts themselves, but the legitimacy of a profit-making organisation. So what should companies do? Grossly oversimplified, the following: foster a culture where being nice, honest and engaged trumps all; then communicate that culture through real people, not highly polished corporate speak.
December 1, 2013
I’ve often heard corporate communicators representing organisations under attack cite one of these three approaches and declare that they’ll turn a corner as long as they aggressively pursue it:
- No one understands what we do. “We’ve been too quiet and have not explained exactly what we do – when people understand how we operate, they’ll be supportive.”
- Fact vs. fiction. “There are too many falsehoods being perpetuated by critics. We need to rebut these far more actively, ideally using 3rd parties.”
- Draw a line the sand. “By being too quiet, we’ve let critics get away with murder. Enough is enough. Let’s send in the artillery and attack the opposition.”
- 3 is unlikely to work: belligerence makes things worse.
- There’s nothing inherently wrong with 1 and 2, but they don’t work in isolation. If both are practiced simultaneously, and with great skill, they’ll buy some time.
So what does work?
- If 1 really is true i.e. “no one understands what we do”, a campaign outlining how the organisation operates is not enough. There are probably deeper cultural realities that need addressing: why does no one know what it does? Presumably, they’ve appeared secretive, conceited or combative over the years (possibly all 3). Beyond information provision, a more deep-rooted change in tone and manner is vital: transparency, humility and a willingness to answer questions need to be palpable, with real people at the forefront, not just the polished spokesperson.
- In there is no truth at all in 1 i.e. if the organisation in question operates in a space in which no amount of cultural change and information provision can improve a damaged reputation, the communicator is fairly powerless. Reputational enhancement can only come about through significant business change i.e. dropping an unpopular product or service, or adapting the operating model or parts of the supply chain. Clearly, these sorts of big decision are C-suite remit and thus (usually) beyond the communicator’s jurisdiction. Unless real change is likely, the communicator is left fighting fires and attempting to stall the inevitable.
November 10, 2013
I developed the digital public affairs wheel a couple of years ago, which does a decent job of summarising how digital can support the three main components of execution in Public Affairs i.e. intelligence gathering, message delivery and relationship/coalition building. What it misses is the background stuff i.e. the unseen work which makes the execution actually work. To this end, I think the following 3 + 3 split works quite nicely i.e. you still have the execution (the “seen”) but in parallel we have the “unseen.”
October 12, 2013
Heard recently: “how would we target a digital audience?”
Although there’s far more overlap these days, most communications specialisms still focus on an explicit audience: public affairs on stakeholders who impact policy-making, brand marketing on end-consumers, and so forth.
But there’s no such thing as a “digital audience.” Digital is horizontal, straddling every communications discipline, and should therefore be ingrained in each.
The fact that the question is still asked, however, helps to explain why some communications professionals still feel comfortable omitting digital from their toolkit: if a “digital audience” is something entirely different, it’s for someone else to worry about.
August 25, 2013
A thought raised by a colleague in a meeting earlier this week: “why only show our own case studies? Let’s also showcase the work we wish we’d done.”
I like this. Sure, it’s someone else’s work, but you exhibit the following by showcasing it:
- You’re curious enough to look beyond your own backyard
- You’re humble enough to admit others might have done it better
- You know where to set the bar for excellence (and presumably, it’s the bar for where you want to go)
What’s the work I wish I’d done?
Here’s a start:
June 10, 2013
In government relations, online listening is often only used to conduct traditional media monitoring. I’d argue there are other ways of using online listening platforms that are more directly related to GR activities, such as:
For instance, when looking to carry clout with MEP X, assess the issue, company or sector’s saliency in their constituency by carrying out searches specific to that constituency only. Who is talking about it? What’s trending? What’s the prevailing sentiment? The insights can be used to target more narrowly.
Tracking a select group of online stakeholders vs. key issues
“We only care about max 100 people,” GR professionals will spout: a small hotchpotch of politicians, officials, media, analysts etc. In addition, they only care about the 100’s view on the few issue(s) that matter to the organisation in question. Given this, online listening is deemed too broad to be of interest. In this case, set up alerts to be notified only when any of the 100 mention the organization or any of the issues of interest. It’ll probably only be a few times per day if that, but will allow you to cut through the clutter and pick up highly relevant material only.
Identifying new influencers
Maybe it’s not just 100, but 101? But the 1 you’ve never heard of because they’re a new online influencer based beyond the usual sphere of interest, and yet they’re communicating around your issues and appear to be increasingly influential. Listening platforms will allow you identify them.
Assessing the impact of own activities
By aggregating mentions of terms, online listening platforms can help determine trends over time: people spoke about company X & issue Y this much in June, but less so in July. And so forth. If you’re trying to convince Brussels and a couple of national capitals of something or other through GR, you can track the impact you’re having by measuring trend development even among a highly select group. For instance, you’re spreading “message x” in Brussels and 3 national capitals. Use your platform to track the diffusion of “message x” in Brussels and the 3 national capitals week by week, and only among the select group of stakeholders you care about. And in contrast, track the rise/fall of your opponent’s “message y”.
NB: listening platforms can do lots more, but the thoughts I list relate strictly to supporting the government relations function.
May 16, 2013
Last year, I produced the digital PA wheel, which, building from three core components of traditional public affairs (intelligence gathering, information provision, relationship building), showed how each can be supported by a variety of digital and social channels, tools and methods.
While I still think the wheel is valid, I think it’s missing a few things, and will be developing the visual on the left further, resulting in an updated digital PA wheel (or matrix perhaps.)
What’s different now?
Management and skills
All organizations are affected by the speed and ubiquity of social media. All functions within them, including public affairs, will require new skills and processes, and sometimes updated technology and resourcing, in order to manage. Although not strictly a communications discipline, a competent digital public affairs professional should be able to advise on how the PA function should adapt. In the commercial world, the term social business is usually applied to describe this area of digital and social competence.
In PR and corporate communication, digital often owns creative. Not sure whether it’s because creative output channels are frequently digital, or perhaps digital types tend to be more comfortable with creative simply because they have embraced a medium that is manic and unkempt, much like the creative process. Or perhaps no one else wanted it.
Creative has tended to be imbedded in content, and although I think content is its closest ally in the mix, I think it deserves a separate category. Developing a creative concept, whether for a single visual or catch-phrase, or a full-on campaign, should not be an afterthought, even in PA. For starters, the process should involve multiple iterations, concepts should be underpinned by data, and they should be tested. And although process can’t produce creativity, organizations should have a method, from how they structure a creative team through to how they brainstorm, plan and implement.
Intelligence beyond monitoring
Although not detailed in the visual above, intelligence in PA should go beyond monitoring, which has tended to be the core of the offering. Granted, it remains key, but the multiple new tools and methods we have at our disposal to collect and break down data can provide ammunition for the PA professional, from influencer identification through to identifying data that will enable tailoring of message almost per single audience member (e.g. data specific to a decision-maker’s constituency?)
May 8, 2013
Scores of PA professionals are creative now, it appears, given that they film talking heads or ask a designer to decipher some data and represent it in visual format.
There’s a discrepancy between creativity and publishing in content formats that traditional audiences aren’t accustomed to, however.
By all means, experiment with new content formats, but creativity doesn’t lie in format, but rather, in developing a smart, relevant, snappy, memorable, thought-provoking and possibly funny (depending on the subject matter) creative concept. If it’s good, it can be translated into whatever format you want, whether in written, spoken or visual form.
In short, the creative process is not deciding on a content format, but rather, developing a creative concept, and it will likely be a lengthy, arduous and frustrating process.
March 19, 2013
Even just a couple of years ago, a fair few people in the Brussels bubble were getting excited about the prospect of online grassroots campaigning.
Their logic was as follows:
- Regulation increasingly reflects public sentiment
- Public sentiment lives beyond the bubble
- Being able to showcase public support in member states is thus key to success
- However, building, showcasing and/or somehow aggregating support is very difficult
- The web is by nature cross-border and quick: a silver bullet for mobilisation, surely
The concept is no longer in vogue, given that, clearly, it was highly unrealistic in the first place: the assumption amongst a fair few PA pros was that there are people out there willing to be mobilised on any issue overnight as long as you looked hard enough.
This ignores the following:
- Many organizations are either too unpopular or too obscure to rack up support overnight
- Many regulatory issues are highly technical, making it difficult to create a “narrative” that makes mobilisation realistic
- What’s more, even with suitable issues, many decisions will likely be based on consensus rather than who has most friends, especially if the Commission is the key player, making the whole premise pointless in the first place
BUT (and it’s a large BUT) that’s not to say there aren’t instances where it can be very valuable to showcase support or that it can’t ever work:
- It can if the issue has a very clear public interest angle and the EP is a key player e.g. see the recent fish discards campaigns
- Clearly, if an organization is popular, it’d be easier to drum up support
- And in some cases, mobilisation can even work for an unpopular or obscure organization if it goes about it sensibly i.e. keeping expectations realistic and giving it time; and usually focusing on a single key constituency, rather than “general public”
As a side-note, personally, I’m pleased people aren’t seeing it as a silver bullet any longer. On one level, it shows we’re moving from hype to maturity. On another, it means investments in digital PA are being funneled into areas where it is more likely to provide a real benefit, such as analytics, content strategy and search.