PR and the Influence of Awareness Campaigns

The Girl Effect

Photo Credit: girleffect.org

Since we started our PR/Marketing program in September, we have literally watched hundreds of videos, read dozens upon dozens of case studies, discussed current events, and learned both theoretical and practical applications of a vast array of Public Relations tools and techniques.  Now that we are nearing the end of the program and I reflect back on everything we have learned, I find myself particularly drawn to the awareness campaigns.

If you asked me to list for you the “7 C’s” framework of web design, which was heavily featured in a very recent course, I would likely stare at you for several minutes through confused, glazed eyes and refer you to my good friend, Wiki!  However, ask me about an awareness campaign that made an impact on me, and I could easily list 10 without any hesitation.

While many campaigns have a definite marketing slant (i.e.  Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign), the power of the message they deliver is undeniably strong.  Some campaigns, however, are pure PR…pure awareness building.  My favourite of the many, many we studied is The Girl Effect.

This video had such a tremendous impact on me when I saw it that I have never forgotten it.  I watch it regularly and have also begun watching the follow-up videos that feature different girls from underdeveloped countries who are making a difference in their communities.

The influence of awareness campaigns has made me really think about the power of story-telling in public relations.  How sending out a press release might be a tried and tested PR tool, but will never, ever be as impactful as painting a picture and creating an image in the minds of your audience.  Don’t get me wrong; of course I understand the importance of press releases and know they have a place in the industry.  However, there are so many unique and creative ways to get your message out.  Looking at ways to tell a story rather than just deliver facts will always be at the forefront of my mind as I embark on my new career.

 

Too Fat to Fly

Kevin Smith

Photo Credit: people.com

Photo Credit: swamedia.com

 

 

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I really enjoyed the case study that described Kevin Smith‘s experience with Southwest Airlines.  Having worked in the travel industry for many years and dealing with airlines on a daily basis, considering a situation like this from a PR perspective was an interesting change.

As a travel consultant, I was very familiar with the “passengers of size” policies as they began to be implemented by the airlines.  As the front line contact between the passenger and the airline, responsibility was left to the agent to make the determination of whether to suggest they purchase a second seat to account for their size.  Talk about an awkward conversation!  Nobody goes to the travel agent to hear: “Hi!  Thank you for coming in today.  Thank you for offering me your business and trusting me to make your travel arrangements.  Oh, and by the way…You’re fat.  You need to pay for two seats”.  Nope…nobody goes to hear that.  So no travel agent ever said those words.  Which, admittedly, was maybe not the correct action.  Perhaps if people were aware of the policy in advance of travel, these situations would not have become so heated with the airlines directly?  Or maybe it would have made no difference at all, and would have only served to damage relationships with travel agents as well as the airlines?

Either way, having a bit of insider knowledge about the sensitivity of this policy made the Kevin Smith case that much more interesting to me.  I can see the argument from both sides.  I completely agree that Mr. Smith was not treated fairly by Southwest Airlines.  Considering they were aware that he usually purchased two seats on this route, he should not have been given the option to fly in a single seat and most certainly should not have been allowed to board and be seated comfortably only to be embarrassingly removed in front of a full plane of passengers.  To add insult to injury, he was then directed to a later flight…in which he was seated in a single seat!!!  #fail #southwestairlines

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On the other hand, I have also had the experience of flying next to a passenger of size and, truth be told, I was not happy about being squished like a sardine into 1/2 of my seat because my neighbour could not comfortably fit into hers.  I paid my money for a full seat (such as that is on today’s airlines) and why should I lose out on any precious inches and be forced to fly in horrible discomfort for the length of my journey?  #insensitive?maybebutwhyshouldisuffer?

It’s a difficult call and one I’m not sure there is an easy answer to.  Certainly, the airlines have not been able to come up with any real answer for it yet.  From a PR perspective, I think Southwest made an effort to be proactive, take Mr. Smith offline, and deal with the issue in the best way they knew how.

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Unfortunately for them, they were dealing with a person who had legions of followers, a loud (and relentless) virtual voice, and a great deal of celebrity.  I’m not sure anything they could have done would have been sufficient.  Having said that, I also believe that there is a need for an airline to have a policy like this.  A need that Mr. Smith clearly believes in and understands – seeing as he regularly purchased two seats for himself on other flights.  The true PR challenge is finding a way of communicating this to the public in a way that will make them cooperate instead of attack.  The jury is out on whether this will ever be accomplished successfully!

Was Occupy Wall Street a PR Failure?

While there is no doubt that the Occupy Wall Street movement created a huge worldwide buzz with tonnes of media attention, it was very short lived.  Those who were engaged with the Occupy movement became emphatically engaged.  While it was happening, there didn’t seem to be any middle ground.  People were either all in (either for or against), or didn’t know anything about it.  There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of neutral thought on the issues.  The slogan they decided on: “We are the 99%”, was very persuasive and concise and really served to deliver their message in a real and meaningful way.  On the surface, it seems as if the movement had everything going for it.  So why did it fizzle?

Ultimately, for any type of social cause, there needs to be a very detailed plan in place to ensure the efficient organization and execution.  Very similar to any other public relations plan, the RACE formula must be followed.  For an organized event such as Occupy Wall Street, the fundamentals of event planning must be considered and executed meticulously.  Any experienced event planner will tell you that there must be somebody in charge.  Someone who has his or her fingers in all the pies and is able to make decisions and modifications on the spot.  Someone to trouble shoot.  Someone to lead.

This is why Occupy Wall Street failed.  They operated under a communal decision making process which slowed their progress and diluted their message.  There was nobody to lead the initiative.  Because of this, it became more of a “hippy vs police” game of tug-of-war, as opposed to the powerful socio-political statement it was originally intended to be.

In order to re-gain that lost ground, someone needs to step up to become the voice of the movement.   Occupy Wall Street must develop consistent and strong key messages and tactics that will make their objectives clear.  Camping in a public park and carrying signs with a hand-written slogan is not going to cut it any longer.  They need strong messaging with a clear call to action.  That is the only way they will be able to get public support again and actually implement political change.

Persuasion & Public Opinion

I’m the first to admit that I have not been a devoted follower of Canadian politics. I tend to watch the debates prior to an election and hope that it a fairly representative view of the candidates so that I can make my election decisions.  It is something that I feel is my biggest challenge as I embark on a career in public relations.  Because of this, I didn’t have any strong knowledge of Justin Trudeau in the time leading up to his election as the leader of the Liberal party. Truth be told, my initial perception of him was that he was a young, inexperienced politician who would most likely win the leadership race by riding on the coattails of his much beloved father.  I didn’t have a lot of faith in his ability to lead our country.

Once he became the Liberal leader, my first real exposure to Justin Trudeau was as a result of his response to the attack ads launched against him by the Conservative party.

I watched in horror as our current government blatantly ridiculed and attacked this man in the name of politics.  Still, I had to admit that the comments about his inexperience still rang true for me.

It wasn’t until I viewed his response to these ads that my opinion of Mr. Trudeau changed.  And changed, it did…immediately and permanently.

I was so impressed with the approach that he took to respond to the attack ads.  He was never defensive, he addressed the attacks directly, and he was believable in his delivery.  Is Justin Trudeau inexperienced?  Yes, absolutely.  But does this mean that he can’t be a good leader of this country?  I don’t believe so.  In fact, I think Canada needs a change and Mr. Trudeau might be just the one to offer it.

 

There are many factors that influence my decision-making process.  These factors vary dependent on the type of decision that is being made and the importance and/or repercussions of my actions.  One example I can provide is related to giving blood to Canadian Blood Services.  Donating blood is not something I think about on a regular basis.  I am fortunate that I have never been in a situation to require a blood donation, nor has anybody close to me.  However, I am drawn to donate any time I see a clear and concise message which appeals to my self-interest.

If an advertisement for Canadian Blood Services resonates with me, I will immediately contact them and set up an appointment.  Sadly, this doesn’t usually last.  I have never just contacted them out of the blue to make a donation.  It is always spurred by a persuasive message that draws me in.  From another perspective, I suppose Canadian Blood Services can be proud of their skill at persuasive communication!

 

For me, thinking differently about an issue is usually fostered by a sense of credibility of the deliverer of the message.  Maple Leaf Foods drew wide-spread criticism immediately after the listeriosis outbreak in 2008.  Like many people, I was shocked at the deaths that occurred and was quick to blame Maple Leaf for poor quality control and an assumed priority for profit over consumer safety.  After watching the apology of President/CEO, Michael McCain, my perception of Maple Leaf Foods and their culpability in this tragedy changed dramatically.

Because of the heartfelt and very credible message delivered to the Canadian public, I believed that this was a company that deeply regretted the incident and was willing to take full responsibility for the deaths, even despite the very real possibility that the company had done everything it could to avoid such an occurrence.  This credibility made me think about Maple Leaf Foods and the entire listeriosis outbreak very differently.  The strongest proof of this is the fact that I continue to purchase meat products made by Maple Leaf.

Lessons Learned…

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PR Fundamentals II is coming to a close and I find myself reflecting on the past 6 weeks with a variety of thoughts.  I am shocked at how quickly the time has passed.  While it feels like we covered so much material, it made me realize that there is still so much to learn.

I’ve learned that public relations is a never-ending education.  I don’t believe that you ever truly know everything there is to know.  Obviously, with time and experience, you gain an understanding and appreciation for the finer points; however, frequent changes in our culture mean frequent changes in the industry.  You must always be open to learning and must always be willing to accept and adapt to change.

PR isn’t just about the touchy-feely “earned media” aspect of the business.  It is, in fact, a business and that must always be remembered.  It isn’t just getting your companies name in the paper or on the evening news.  It involves crawling through the trenches to ensure you are doing everything you can for your agency and/or client.  It is ensuring that you sell your business and are compensated for the value that you provide to your client.

Group work can be tough; however, with open and respectful communication, it can also be extremely rewarding.  Learning from others who have different skills than you, sharing your own unique gifts, and coming together to create something unique and valid, is such an amazing experience.  I have cherished the time I have spent working with my CMHR group during this course.  I have nothing but respect for each of the amazing women I worked with and I know, without question, that I am a stronger person (both professionally and personally) after this experience.

I greatly enjoyed this course and am looking forward to applying the knowledge (both theoretical and practical) that I have gained as I progress in my new career.

Reflections of a PR Coordinator

This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking with a fellow student in the University of Winnipeg PACE program about his experiences as a Public Relations Coordinator. 

Manpreet Singh arrived in Canada from India last summer and is in the final stages of the full-time Project Management Diploma program.  Prior to coming to Winnipeg, Manpreet completed a post-graduate diploma in Marketing and International Business Management at the FORE School of Management.  It was during this time that Manpreet held the position of PR Coordinator for ANTAR, a student organization committed to social issues. 

ANTAR is a Hindi word meaning: “to make a difference”.  Manpreet and several other students founded the organization with the intention of drawing awareness to various social issues and instilling a sense of corporate social responsibility in the students in the Management program.   

Immediately after creating ANTAR, the founding members spent a lot of time researching the social issues that affected their country.  They discovered what the issues were, what kind of help was needed for each issue, the types of issues that were of interest to the students at FORE, and how they could use ANTAR to the benefit of these causes.  Based on this research, ANTAR organized about 5-7 events per year benefiting a variety of different social causes. 

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One of the causes that Manpreet was particularly involved in was a collaboration with an organization called Help Age India.  India has a population of over 100 million elderly.  The rates of isolation, poverty, and neglect are extremely high.  Help Age India offers support and advocacy to allow these marginalized individuals to live with dignity and independence. 

ANTAR sought to increase awareness of the good work that Help Age India was doing.  They contacted the organization directly and invited suggestions from them about what might help their cause. 

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Manpreet discussed the event that ANTAR organized and the success that they had in influencing the students at FORE.  They brought in front-line managers from Help Age India along with their “customers” – the elderly individuals who were able to benefit from the services that Help Age India provided.  They brought these people to the school to do presentations for the students.  They began with the front-line managers who described their work and the work of Help Age India.  These managers were able to describe their experiences working with the elderly and the types of programs they had to assist in their mandate of creating independence for this group. 

This was followed by discussions with the elderly clients of Help Age India who were helped by the organization.  They were able to paint a picture of what their lives looked like prior to Help Age India and how they were changed for the better with the assistance provided. 

The impact this had on the students was dramatic.  It brought to life the very real issues that the elderly faced in India and also gave the students an idea of how they might be able to help in the future.  In addition, they were able to see that their assistance can make a difference in the life of these disenfranchised people.  

Manpreet discussed the primary objectives of ANTAR being twofold:

1) Students as potential audience – they wanted to bring awareness to the students of FORE, and

2) Students as potential managers – they wanted to influence the students from very early on in their careers because they realized that as they progress into upper level positions in the corporate world, they will be able to assist Help Age India (and other social causes) and foster an ingrained belief in corporate social responsibility. 

Manpreet and his colleagues at ANTAR were very successful in meeting their mandate with this event.  ANTAR has now been a part of the FORE community for 4 years and has successfully organized and raised awareness for a variety of social issues in India.

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