Post no links

But sometimes I must.

From PR in Canada and the leading writer on PR research and measurement, Alan Chumley, a note about stakeholder relations research and measurement. We’ve talked a lot about measurement (and my own insistence that measurement really does not exist in a meaningful way for marketing communications) and Alan’s call to pay attention to research and measurement issues in “below the line” stakeholder relations exposes more holes in the current practices (and claims) in these areas.

On transparency and authenticity…

I lose.

For not contributing nearly enough to this precious weblog. But while the hours in a day seem to diminish with every new month and I’m not able to update as much as I’d like, I still keep a very active blogroll of PR and communications-type vehicles that keep me in the industry loop.

One of these blogs, PR in Canada, is local, regularly updated and phenomenally written by Christie Adams. Go check it out. Really! Then come back.


Okay, welcome back. If simply giving praise to a blog may be considered mere lip service, I’ll prove my engagement by taking issue with a couple recent points that came across my Google Reader (articles = good, articles that provoke discussion = stractical).

From“Does Transparency Mean Corporations Can Reform Themselves Without Changing? Thoughts From The Shel Holtz Dinner,” Christie recalls a debate with Shel Holtz about a company’s ability to avoid changing behaviour (due to mediated pressure) by practicing total corporate transparency.

I think it is fundamentally wrong to assume that transparency trumps action in resolving crises or issues.  The relationship between a company and an exterior stakeholder group (generally referred to as “the public” as mediated through mass media but really any group that does not have a vested interest in the viability of the company like a shareholder or employee) is forever tenuous because of the disparity of negotiated principles.

Whereas internal stakeholder groups have specific negotiated principles with respect to the company — increase the share price or produce a dividend — the public’s relationship is less clearly defined. The public generally accepts populist frames like fairness, equality, underdog triumphs and honest disclosure and rejects the opposites of these principles like hypocrisy, obstruction, or asymmetrical conflicts (like layoffs). If you’re representing an oil company that is making huge profits and there is an environmental or gas price crisis, the public is not going to like you.

Transparency satisfies one of these populist principles, especially in the tobacco and Wal-Mart examples since the contentious issue relates to ethics. Tobacco companies lie and sell people death sticks and Wal-Mart locks their employees in their stores overnight according to public lore.  Both are, in the abstract, bad. Using transparency to clarify so-called “bad” (unpopular) policies is better than letting the unpopular policies fester in the public’s mind. But honesty only addresses one of these principles. If your company’s ethics are in question, disclosing the questionable policies is better than hiding your head in the sand, but it’s only one level up. A commitment to transparency should and must include a willingness and openness to amend unethical or other secret behaviour.

Now, I’m not saying that corporate transparency is always the right move for every company and every reputation management initiative — I believe (and I’ll post about this in the future) that often some moves companies make would never pass the public’s populist principles, even with savvy public relations support — but if you have made the commitment to disclose, you can’t ignore the prerogative to change and adapt without drawing attention to the fact that you are refusing to change and adapt.

A quick note on: “Popularity Defines A ‘Real’ Online News Outlet”

I agree that the line between bloggers and journalists is blurring. But the important point for PRtists, when assessing an outlet is not merely popularity, it’s suitability. The internet has brought a level of specialization in journalistic content in that there are blogs for enthusiasts for specific models of cars. When considering suitability to pitch or engage in media relations with bloggers, popularity is just one of the factors that we must consider. The most important factor is credibility. Like trade print publications, online entities can have small audiences that deem the outlet to be so credible and trustworthy that a product review, spokesperson defence, expert comment or other PR-centred activity will almost certainly be well received. Now, judging credibility speaks to PR measurement which is, as discussed here previously, a black hole but we should still recognize that spikes and trends in popularity may not necessarily point to spikes and trends in credibility.

Thanks again to PR in Canada for getting the blog rolling again!

Big Tobacco

Can they be honest AND evil?