Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Comment #4

Recently I came across a joke about PR. A mathematician, an accountant and a public relations officer apply for the same job. When asked by the interviewer "what does two plus two equal?" the mathematician and accountant say, '4'. The public relations officer responds: "What do you want it to equal?"

Here's what I've learned about relationship between PR people and their clients. There's several particular things clients want from communication agents. First, to be told what to say; even if they know what to say, they still want a second opinion and the way to clarify the message. Second, to get media coverage of course. Third, to have process details shared with them at all times. It benefits internal relationship and smoothes operations. Fourth, to deal with crisis situations, which require apologies and cleaning the mess up. Fifth, to generate cash back as the bottom line. Followers, likes, re-tweets, shares at the end must equal cash!  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My PR beginnings

As someone interested in the field of public relations and studying this for the past year I know there's a variety of aspects involved. I've learned some about different types of public relations interviews. The first would be the job interview. And of course I will have to go through it to be able to get a position in the field. As with any other career industry, I will have to prepare. Do my homework, as many say. Taking a good, relevant internship will be vital because employers are increasingly demanding that job applicants have related experience. And I'm excited do projects for Vine Multimedia, which I recently got internship at.

It was crucial to develop experience and skills that help me to prepare. Through university I've worked on a number of PR projects. Some of them were interesting, some were not. But the more challenging the project, the stronger you become: it worked exactly this way for me. I developed my public speaking, communications, copywriting and graphic design skills. And many more. But it's only the beginning, the development should not stop.

Speaking of representing a company, I'd note that corporations must be interviewed for their side of a story. For example, if a particular firm is receiving bad publicity on an issue, it is important to talk with the people running it to see what they have to say about their decisions and their involvement in various matters. Sometimes you have to get under their skin, which could be very challenging and uncomfortable for them. If it's a campaign to increase awareness for a company, I have to learn about them first. Research comes first, always; it's like a steering wheel in the car - you don't have it, you can't drive it. The main things here are the organization's history, mission, goals, and other supportive information. There's also a need for agents to help do an image makeover. Based on what I've learned in Case Studies and Issues in PR class and what I see in the news, they can be used to put a spin on issues for celebrities and executives, or to repair their images through interviews or press conferences. Clients are placing their trust in PR agents, who need to be sure to deliver on that trust in order to maintain a strong relationship. Doesn't matter who is a potential client or source of a future referral so the best policy is to find a way to make sure you follow up on any opportunity, even if the interaction seems to be small.

All of the above refers to people skills that open career doors. Quality of interpersonal skills is one of the important reasons employees are promoted to management positions. It is never late to learn to conduct productive easygoing conversations. I understand it's normal to be nervous when interacting with people for the first time, but I do not let anxiety or tension stand on my way. Reading body language helps a lot: expressions, gestures, posture, eye contact. I'm not afraid to seek feedback and criticism anymore, at the end of the day they make me think of how to improve my life. Those are the essential things that I defined for myself, they can help anyone  to be successful not only in the field of PR, but in everyday routine. I started with myself, I made change and now I see it. 

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Comment #3

A great way to put your personal resources altogether and to create your own history. At the end of the day we're all driven by our values, which should be aligned with the goals and be the core of all the beginnings. Do not forget to dream and picture yourself in the future. Have your opinion, let it be heard rather than staying neutral. Being proved wrong gives you the opportunity to learn, the more open you are the better your connection with the world. Proactive lifestyle keeps you fit both mentally and physically, balancing these two makes you stand out and be visible. Be true to yourself, know your weaknesses and share beliefs. Have the priority of things: the first, the following, the least. Become extension of your roots, it's certainly worthwhile; you are the master of YOU brand, YOU image and YOU style. Sky's the limit, time is joy when one does things the right way. Keep that in mind, always be kind and don't forget to smile!

Monday, July 15, 2013

The saga of the BlackBerry

Once known as the market leader of smart-phones, Research In Motion may have seen and touched the future of mobile technology a few years ago, but was bumped off by the introduction of Apple iPhone around 2007. At that time RIM was the master of the smart-phone industry having loyal customers who were dedicated to company's BlackBerry phones with the signature keyboard. It took them a couple of years to realize that the future was going to be different from what company had created. And they still didn't know how to reach it, an overloaded software platform could simply stop functioning one day. In addition, RIM's marketing strategy was a complete mess. Different agencies ruled their own versions of a BlackBerry campaign almost in every country or region. Even within the same region, campaigns would slightly change, which led to no lasting effect.

According to Kantar Media market research made in 2012, BlackBerry spent $41.3 million that year on marketing in U.S., while Samsung and Apple spent more than $400 and $333.4 million respectively.

The beginning of 2013 shed light on renamed as BlackBerry company's vision of the future. Still not clear, still distant and risky. Although, some of the core ways are determined. BlackBerry phones of the past were for communication, the future ones are for computing, commanding, controlling. New devices will be used to do business, command your car, or control your health. The launch of BlackBerry 10 signalized company's re-design, re-engineering and re-invention.

Many say the success in this market in no longer dependent on the device quality, it's more about ecosystem. 70,000 of BlackBerry's applications are competing against 775,000 iPhone apps and 600,000 apps for Android. Great product is not enough to regain lost ground, they need to grasp new opportunities. That's why this case draws my attention: BlackBerry has the potential to get back to its leader position if they make tough decisions. That refers to Thorstein Heins, CEO of the company, who earned the reputation for doing so: after crisis he laid off about 5,000 workers and focused on software development. Now BlackBerry makes both hardware and software just like Apple, but they can license the software platform for additional revenue, which Apple does not do. Owned by BlackBerry QNX Software company also developed a stable operating system to eliminate crashes and is going to improve it over the next few years.

Overall, BlackBerry's saga continues to gain momentum. They went back to basics by taking the focus off the growth only, moved quickly towards restructuring the marketing division under a centralized unit. Company's Live conferences were aimed to change the perceptions about them and deliver the message "We're back". Another way they intend to mainstream awareness is through the carriers, which have rich advertising resources. Operators want to create competition and variety in handsets and BlackBerry will launch more new models this year and next year at the mid- and lower-ends. Let's see who wins this race...

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Comment #2

Thank you for the insightful tips. I am currently studying PR at University of Winnipeg. I came to Canada less than 3 years ago from Belarus and of course felt the need to develop communication skills. My speaking wasn't too bad, but writing left much to be desired. At that time I had no clue that I was going to be Public Relations and Marketing student (my program includes both and is very intense). Working as a bartender I got to know many people in the neighbourhood. That certainly helped me to open up and not being afraid to speak up, even making mistakes or no sense at all. Anyway, the feeling of doing something better than just that did not want to leave me. I set up a goal - to become good at writing, be not only heard but read too. This summer I'm finishing the program with other 25 domestic and international students just like me. My class is very diverse in terms of backgrounds, countries, and age. We all were taught a handful of essential PR skills. And blogging is one of them. I must admit, for me it was a struggle at first as I had never done it before. I remember the day when I was assigned to write my first blog post. Inspiration left me for hours. Now those days are history. Blogging became an ongoing process for me. Thanks to Samantha Lapedus and her classes!

Occupy Wall Street Movement, where are you?

Occupy Wall Street unites people regardless of colors, genders and political persuasions as a leaderless resistance movement. The common thing between those people is that They Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. The official website states that movement is using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve their goals and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.

Up to this date, numerous debates on gathering in Zuccotti Park in September 2011 still taking place. While the first Occupiers had originally came to protest Wall Street, once the movement began their game plan was not very clear. What are their goals? How are they going to pursue them? Nevertheless, Occupy began to spread throughout the States and internationally, despite the lack of clarity. After a month there were hundreds of other protests, debates, critiques across not only American society.

Even though Occupiers did not issue clear demands, one thing became evident to me right away: they are aiming to reverse the agenda of global capitalism, which increases socio-economic inequality and originates in U.S. Among the key organizers there were Kalle Lasn, head of a small anti-consumerist magazine from Vancouver, Vlad Teichberg, former derivatives trader, and David Graeber, anthropologist at the University of London. They continue to build a movement even after violent evictions across the U.S. and other countries. Some people think it had come to an end. I don't believe that  protesters had an intention of abandoning a movement that had already bought out thousands of people to demand attention to the economic inequalities.

On the other hand, Occupy is not winning the war. No tangible results are seen, no real organizational policy, no legislation influenced, no candidates put forward. Nothing had really changed. Movement was set out to promote self-expression and did not focus on any particular goal. Occupy together with many labor unions could be a winning coalition of citizens, taking into account that even police is unionized in New York. Organizers probably didn't care about win-lose situations. They overly relied on viral effect of an idea. But even small victories in a movement, struggle, resistance, campaign can turn participants into fearless winners, who will feed off those win moments and get only stronger. First of all, Occupy Wall Street needs a mission, so people can relate to it and follow. Without it the movement has a risk to remain weak and uninfluential.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wal-Mart: "For" or "Against"

As the largest American multinational retailer corporation, the biggest private employer in the world with 2.2 million employees, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., or Walmart, has been running chains of large discount department stores and warehouse stores since 1962 (incorporated in 1969). Company is controlled by the Walton family with 48% stake in it. It is also the U.S. largest grocery retailer and the world's third largest public corporation after Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell. By the end of 2012 Walmart had 8,500 stores under 55 different names in 15 countries and is currently developping strategies for growth through the next 20 years. The company is proud of its strategy and even incorporates it within its moniker "Always Low prices, Always." While company's business in United Kingdom, South America, and China is going very well, German and South Korean ventures were unsuccessful.

Walmart is not the only store criticized for its policies, but it has become a symbol for much of what is wrong with employers. For the fiscal year ending in January 2011, Walmart reported a net income of $15.4 billion on $422 billion of revenue. It's obviously a lot of money to justify some questionable workplace practices; however, stories persist about wage law violations, inadequate health care, exploitation of employess, and the retailer's anti-union position. Some 5,000 lawsuits are filed against the company each year. Walmart is facing an enormous wave of negativity - from community activists trying to keep big retailer away from their neighbourhoods, to local governments mandating that Wal-Mart supply workers with health insurance, to opportunistic lawyers trying to get rich by bringing on endless lawsuits, to labor unions, grassroots organizations, religious organizations, environmental groups, and customers of course. Company is being accused in racial and gender discrimination, mistreating illegal aliens, denying overtime pay. Criticism also includes the corporation's foreign product sourcing, treatment of suppliers, compensation and working conditions, environmental practices, the use of public subsidies, and the company's security policies.

Walmart's SWOT analysis can help understand its internal and external potential. Among company's Strengths are: large scale of operations, extensive information systems, wide range of products, low cost leadership strategy, and international operations. Weaknesses include labour related lawsuits, high employee turnover, little differentiation, and negative publicity. Corporation's Opportunities are the following: retail market growth in emerging markets, rising acceptance of own label products, healthy eating trends, and growth of online shopping. Threats that Walmart is facing are: increasing competition from non-chain and online competitors, resistance from local communities, rising commodity product prices.

PEST analysis can help to define the areas of Walmart's concern which are important and necessary to activate immediately. This analysis also reveals the positive or negative affects to their business according to some factors. In political sphere, corporation is affected by policies on economy and trading agreements, such as NAFTA. Economically, unemployment rate and slightly increase in consumption are likely to influence Walmart. The U.S. government is planning to decrease the amount of supercenters to leverage capital assets through increase in returns and sales across the country. In socio-cultural terms company is affected by the faster pace of life where efficiency is the key. Social infuence pushes consumers to shop at Walmart to the point where it becomes a trend to use one stop service. Walmart uses IT technologies and online shopping opportunities for the core purpose of marketing, they rely on social media for advertising and selling their products.

There are many groups and individuals who have a stake in what Walmart does, the market and non-market stakeholders are among them. The first ones include the stockholders, company's executives, employees, consumers, non-profit organizations, online and gasoline retailers, and commuities where Walmart is located. Non-market stakeholders have a non-economic or political stake in what course the company takes, they are labor unions, international retail stores, and politicians. In public, Walmart uses top of the line Public Relations strategy firms to produce commercials for its stores and to portray the best possible image. Its relationships with key stakeholders are maintained as well by the communication of corporate statements on its Internet site and through other paper based corporate communications. Walmart's public message is consistent, and has been so over time. The core message is that Walmart is a "family friendly" store, and that it is good to its customers, and that it is an asset to the local community. The messages of selling for less, respecting employees and communities, and expanding are all echoed in company's Annual Reports.

According to company's reports, their sales continue to improve, but different measures of public opinion indicate that their reputation declines, which affects both ability to reach new shoppers and to build new stores. In order to further increase sales the company must either sell more products to existing customers or identify new ones. Recent public opinion surveys indicate that although people are shopping there, they are not happy about it because of Walmart's poor business practices. The Harris Interactive survey found that shoppers consider company's labor practices above all other social responsibility issues. In 2008, The Reputation Institute ranked the 150 largest U.S. companies based on "the overall trust, esteem, admiration and good feelings consumers have toward them." Walmart came in at number 136 out of 150 companies, dropping 76 places from number 57 in 2007. Walmart Watch 2007 Public Opinion Survey indicates the drop by 5% in overall favourability, 27% of respondents developed a more negative opinion on the company. It's clear enough that Walmart needs more than a logo or an advertising campaign to fix the situation.

After all this, we may be curious to see how Walmart's social media strategy addresses its online brand reputation issues. While being perceived as an "evil empire" by some, company does a lot of good for its communities and the world, for example providing 2,450 truckloads of supplies to Hurricane Katrina victims and donating more than $2 million to end world hunger. The brand developed the strategy to share corporate news and build public goodwill by sharing information about how Walmart is helping society. They created multiple Twitter handles, each targeting a different audience with the information and messages that pertain to them. Walmart's Director of Social Media, Umang Shah, also implemented a way to monitor social media conversations almost around the clock so that questions and issues addressed in social media are addressed as soon as possible. Before implementing that strategy company analyzed data by utilizing Social Flow tool.  Additionally, Shah stated that engagement online could be bought, but the true value of the content and the way of engagement is told by how much succeed without paying for it. Walmart constantly updates its Facebook feed, and created pages for each store across the nation. As was noted by Wanda Young, Vice President of Media and Digital Marketing for Walmart, company's marketing team asks questions to engage its customers on Facebook, and uses the answers to change the way it does business. Walmart understands the importance of building relationships with customers through social media platforms, let's see where this  path full of controversy and negativity will take them...

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