Max Clifford is probably one of the first faces that spring to mind when you think of public relations. He is often referred to as a PR Guru and seems to be an incredibly influential figure in the public relations industry.
Max Clifford’s success, reputation and constant media coverage ensures that he stays at the forefronts of people’s minds when they think of public relations; whether this is a good thing or bad thing is heavily debated.
Before undertaking my PR Masters at Westminster University, I often thought the whole PR world much like how Mr Clifford portrays it, but the more I learned the more I discovered that this is somewhat of a distorted view.
Max Clifford is usually the centre of a controversy even if it is not that obvious at first glance. Any high profile individual that has recently been involved in some sort of scandal or news story, Max Clifford is likely to be behind it, an example of late would be the Jade Goody cancer battle.
He is renowned for underhand tactics and ‘playing dirty’. Is this the figure we want to represent our industry? Perhaps he and others like him are often the root cause for the industries tarnished reputation of being one which is consumed with unethical dealings.
When reading up on Mr Clifford and whilst watching the documentary in last week’s class that Louis Theroux made about him, it struck me just how little of the industry he actually represents, but yet what a massive hold he possesses over the profession. It was quite shocking to see just how much power he has over journalists in getting them to write exactly what he wants. From a PR perspective, this is, I guess, what most people in the industry would love to achieve but it has to be said that it is alarming. The way in which he gets the coverage from journalists is questionable.
As a prospective PR professional myself, I recognise that it is my job to get as much positive coverage for my client as possible but at the same time I want this coverage to be impartial and informative; not a completely distorted or over-exaggerated account. Of course press releases should be eye-catching and interesting but it is imperative for the industry that they still retain the truth and reflect news not fantasy.
In Clifford’s own words: “Most journalists would sell their own mothers for a great story, but sometimes you’re able to make them an offer that they think they shouldn’t refuse. I’ll find them a job or I’ll come up with something that means they won’t lose their job.” - The Guardian 2009
Is this really the way in which we want our industry to be viewed or the types of people to be associated with? Should regulatory bodies be playing a more active role in policing this kind of underhand activity? I think so! Bodies such as the CIPR really need to step up and regulate. We all know that the public relations industry is fighting for its right to be considered a profession but for as long as practices such as dodgy dealings, poor ethical standards and general distaste continue it will never reach this status. These are not the qualities that should be associated with any profession, yet I think it is often the characteristics which first come to mind when describing PR. It’s a shame, considering that most who take the time and effort to study the industry and then go on to build their careers in PR are tarnished with the same brush.
Despite the lies Clifford might tell on behalf of his clients, it is true that from “the early Beatles to the tragic late pairing of Goody and Alfie, Clifford has had an extraordinary career. His ego is clearly massive, his will to win not is just confined to the tennis court, and his belief that he can manipulate we unswerving servants of the truth is disturbing.” – The Guardian, ‘The Circus Master’, 21st Feb 2009.
However, there are certain boundaries that a professional should never cross. Ethical awareness amongst the industries professionals should be a priority. Turning down business on this basis is not something that should be looked down upon, instead it will the one thing that will save the industry. However perhaps as a student of PR rather than a professional within the industry my view might be considered naive. I guess only time will tell.
The Independent; The 5 minute Interview: Max Clifford, PR guru
YouTube; When Louis Met Max Clifford (clips)
Max Clifford Associates; Max Cliffords Website
It seems that the role of the NGO is becoming increasingly important in the PR industry. The world is now beginning to consider and worry about the bigger picture i.e. the state of the planet rather than just ourselves and our businesses. As this trend persists, NGO’s are certainly picking up their pace in firmly establishing themselves as an important force in Public Relations.
NGOs now play a very important role in devising campaigns to keep the people of the world engaged about the state of the world they live in, whether its famine, pollution, human rights or child labour there is an NGO campaign out there to address it. They are playing the role of the ‘All Seeing Eye’, making sure that businesses and governments alike don’t lose sight of what is going on a global level.
The NGO is significantly growing as a powerful force in informing the public through their campaigns about current issues. An example of this would be the issue of climate change. Due to the PR efforts of NGOs such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, corporations and governments across the world are having to sit up and acknowledge what these organisations are saying and consider how they themselves, are impacting the world in terms of climate change.
The media is more and more interested in giving the topic of climate change more consideration due to the high profile NGOs involved, therefore raising its profile. When reporting on issues such as this the media is increasingly interested in talking to the leading NGO on that issue, it adds credibility to the story. This is because NGOs are seen as the the party in the ‘right’. They have the reputation of only wanting to do the right thing, unlike corporations or governments who always receive scepticism due to their end goal of making money. However the NGO has no other interest in the issue other than the ethical and just course of action.
The NGO has a fantastic reputation and so is extremely trusted by the public. This makes the NGO an incredible threat to corporations and governments. Through NGO campaigning public concern about issues such as climate change is increasing, this in turn puts corporations under a greater level of scrutiny – forcing them to react. Examples of this are M&S and Tesco’s implementing a strategy to deal with lowering their carbon footprints. Every corporation now has a green story; much of this is due to the power and the influence the NGO holds. Companies who do not act face the dreaded wrath of the NGO.
Therefore corporations have realised that having an NGO on board can be an asset to them. The once considered arch enemies; NGOs and Corporations are now forming unlikely partnerships. “Partnerships of various kinds between businesses and NGOs seem to be part of an emerging trend that seeks to foster corporate integrity. “ –George G Brenkert, Corporate Integrity and Accountability, p8” The corporation realises that by having a relationship with an NGO benefits them in raising their integrity amongst its stakeholders and the public. Being affiliated with a trust-worthy NGO rubs off on the corporation, making it a more trust-worthy organisation also.
It really seems that the power of the NGO has increased significantly over the past decade or so. They used to be a secondary mechanism in influencing corporate and government decisions and public opinion. This is no longer the case. NGOs are key players at the negotiating table. They hold the power to shape what we think and how we act on issues on every level, whether it be personal or corporate.
Corporate watch; Public relations and lobbying industry
Brendan May Planet2050; Change must begin here
Internal communications has many names. As well as internal communications, it is often referred to as; staff communications; employee relations; industrial relations (this is an old fashioned term) and more recently it has been called change management.
Internal communications is all the communication that an organisation undertakes with its closest stakeholders, usually employees. This can take a formal or informal approach. The purpose of it is to keep its stakeholders informed and up-to-date with the direction and performance of the organisation.
Case Study – Getronics
- Getronics is a Dutch Information and Communication Technology Solutions and Services.
- In May 1999, Getronics acquired Wang Global an American company.
- Wang Global, at the time was twice the size of Getronics with 22,000 people.
- The new company head-quarters were established in Amsterdam.
- Internal restructuring had created a unified global organisation employing over 34,000 people in 44 countries.
After acquiring Wang Global, Getronics faced the issue of getting its employees to buy- in to a new single brand. This was particularly difficult due to the fact that company operated in 44 different countries. Creating a unity between employees was a big task.
However previous acquisitions of both Getronics and Wang Global had left people leaving ‘change fatigued’. They were more inclined to wait for the next acquisition than to commit and invest time and effort into reinventing the business. This was further complicated by the difference in the national and cultural differences of the global nature of the company and thus the difficulties in communicating and interpreting the corporate messages and motives across the different nationalities.
Therefore Getronics took a people-centred approach to involve its employees into the integration process and the new vision of the company.
To achieve this Getronics had to;
- Support post merger integration.
- Create a new communication infrastructure.
- Encourage internal adoption of the new brand.
- Initiate the process of culture change.
There were several audiences that Getronics had to reach to implement the program successfully.
Firstly there was Senior Management. This was a multi-national group with different languages and business cultures. Uniformity in the Getronics vision had to be created amongst them in order to pass the vision down the employee chain.
Secondly there was the Marketing and Communication Managers, again characterised by different languages, communication style and practices, cultures and business history. As this group of people would be implementing the communication strategy and conveying it to all employees in their respective countries, a harmonised brand vision had to be established.
Thirdly, all employees had to be addressed. This consisted of 34,000 people located in 44 different countries. Many of which were previous employees of Wang Global. Thus they had limited Getronics knowledge and so had different loyalties and values to that of Getronics. Also they had received little communication about the merger.
Getronics realised that it had to involve employees in change to secure emotional commitment to the new brand, and so harmonise the way the brand was ‘considered internally with the way it was presented externally.
The objectives of the communication program were:
- Build understanding and support for the new vision, brand and associated values
- Increase pride and confidence in the new company among all employees
- Increase alignment between internal and external messages about the new Getronics
- Win the commitment of the top 220 management team, country managers and communication managers to their role in internal communication.
The first stage of communications program was research. This consisted of interview with senior managers, site visits and an internal communications audit. This assessed;
- Audience attitudes
- Communication needs
- Currant communication practices in place
Communication During Integration
The second stage involved building an understanding of the process and communicating the global Getronics vision to all employees as research showed that very little about the company vision, merger and future had been communicated to employees.
Previously there had been little face-to-face contact with employees, as global emails were relied on. Getronics targeted senior managers to convey the message to middle managers and middle managers to pass the message onto their teams. Thus implementing a face-to-face strategy. Therefore giving the information more credibility as it comes directly from a manager.
A conference was held for managers where they were given communication packs, so they could form a united front and take the same message back to local management teams.
A regular 6 week newsletter was distributed to managers, keeping them up-to-date with the progress of the integration process. Managers were encouraged to discuss this information with their teams.
Building the Brand Internally
The third stage aimed to raise morale as research showed this was quite low amongst staff. This was done by increasing employee pride, confidence and sense of belonging to Getronics.
Awareness of brand values was created. This included understanding the new brand ethos, why it was chosen and the behaviours necessary to support the new brand values.
Then an employee brochure detailing Getronics business vision, strategy, role of the new brand and the need for all employees to contribute to it was issued to all staff.
Ongoing Internal Communication
Lastly an ongoing internal communication framework was put in place.
Due to Getronics acquisition it was in essence a new company, with few communication strategies in place. Therefore it was essential to put some in place. This consisted of:
- Central database of all communication contacts
- Regular email updates
- Conference calls
- Communication packs
- Communication guidelines
- Intranet site
Measuring and Evaluation
Several indicators were used to track the success of the program against the objectives set. They were;
- Performance against budget
- Consistence of internal and external messages
- Management involvement in communication
- Formal reports
- Evaluating managerial communication
Against the above criteria deadlines were met, the budget was adhered to and there was an increase in face-to-face communication.
The results of this was that a post merger questionnaire showed that
- 89% of delegates understood the business vision
- 97% of delegates understood the financial strategy
Therefore the internal communications strategy was a success, as all members of Getronics were involved in throughout the process. This in turn allowed staff to have a greater sense of pride, confidence and excitement about the new brand.
Peter Prud’homme and Martin Heijma; Getronics’ aquisition of Wang Global
“Political PR has undermined public trust in politicians and is the single biggest threat to our democratic health” – this was the motion of the debate in today’s class. I was quite surprised to discover that most of the class were opposed to the motion. I was in the minority today. I feel that trust in politicians has been undermined and PR has taken a significant role in doing so.
I say this, as over the past few years I have seen the growth of underdog parties such as the British National Party. This party has gone from strength to strength mainly due the role PR plays in promoting them. I wouldn’t be so concerned if the information their public relations team put out into the public was somewhat true. But it seems to me that this party is allowed to run its campaign by using public relations as tool to exploit fears, spread lies, and use spin to manipulate and distort the truth to covey its twisted message. You may suggest that all political parties can be accused of this, however the nature and extent of the BNP’s campaign is much more severe.
The slogan of the BNP is ‘Britain for the British’ the strap line of the party alone gives a pretty good idea of what the party stands for. The party has recently become a member of the European Parliament; this means that it has access up to £25,000 in public resources to continue its campaign.
The PR team behind the BNP are experts at exploiting fears of vulnerable communities. Their campaign is often based on fear mongering. One of the first statements on this political party’s website is, “On current demographic trends, we, the native British people, will be an ethnic minority in our own country within sixty years.” The website goes on to discuss how the “indigenous peoples of these islands” have become “second class citizens”.
By stating such ‘facts’ and using terms like “second class citizens” the BNP manages to evoke fear within white communities living in diverse ethnic societies. For example Richard Barnbrook, leader of BNP in Barking and Dagenham said “Can you believe it? Two of our schools are having Muslim days on 7/7. Its like chucking mud in people’s faces.” Remarks like this, which are probably drafted by one of their PR team insight fear, especially when emotions run high around this issue. The BNP regularly talks about the ‘islamification of Europe’ terms like this and statements of those of Barnbrook and alike are nonsense terms, they mean nothing, empty terms, yet they sound threatening and make people feel defensive. It encourages certain people within certain communities to place all the blame for the fears they and Britain face on all Muslims. Statements such as those discussed allow for all Muslims to be held responsible for the 7/7 and 9/11 atrocities. This is absurd but it works. The BNP are very inept in doing this. They manage through very clever communication to make people fear what they don’t understand and what doesn’t really exist. They promote intolerance.
Through its public relations efforts the BNP passes out deceptive information. They make claims that prey on people’s ignorance and lack of understanding, concentrating their efforts on the non-Asian and black communities living within and with ethnic minorities. An example of this is when leaflets were passed out in Blackburn stating that “Asians are likely to become the majority in Blackburn within in 10 year.” In fact the non-white population in the town stands at one-fifth. Therefore this is impossible. The BNP manage to make people believe that something is happening when it isn’t in order to gain momentum for their campaign via support and votes from worried communities. Their website makes sweeping generalisations such as “all asylum seekers are either bogus or can find refuge much nearer their home countries”. How is it that a political party in a democratic country such as ours (and I mean ours as a term inclusive of everyone) make such stereo typical remarks? Why is PR allowed to be used as a tool to produce this material?
Then we come onto the issue of spin. The BNP are certainly masters of this. To encourage more people to vote for them, the BNP recently claimed to rip up its racist constitution and voted to allow Black and Asian members into the party. Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP said “we are happy to accept anyone as a member providing they agree that this country should remain fundamentally British”. The BNP managed to position themselves so that it looks as if they are , re-thinking their policies and opening up, becoming more tolerant and changing their ways. When in truth this is a meaningless gesture, as the party were forced into a position where they had to do this as they were told that they could face legal action by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
After investigating how PR works in relation to the BNP and its political communications, it leaves much to be desired in our political system and politicians when such ‘information’ can be freely circulated with the aim to get a party elected to run this country. In this context, I would say that political PR has completely undermined public trust in politicians and it is the single biggest threat to our democratic health. PR has been used to insight fear, spread lies and use spin which has resulted in this formally unknown party gaining notoriety. If this is the trend for political communications, then we’re in for a bumpy ride!
BBC News; BNP: under the skin
21st Century PR Issues; The web suits the BNP better than the mainstream
The public relations industry is often considered one that is ‘pink’ of ‘fluffy’, so why is that women are still not calling the shots at the most senior levels of the profession?
“In the 1990s Professors Larissa Grunig, Elizabeth Toth and Linda Childers Hon followed up the ’ roles research’ conducted by Professors Glen Broom and David Dozier which showed discrepancies in career progression, salaries, and roles between women and men in public relations. Extensive research was conducted in the USA, mostly quantitative and operating on the assumptions of Liberal feminism (Grunig et al., 2001; Toth and Aldoory, 2001). Liberal feminism argues that through argument and lobbying women can achieve equal status in society.” - Jacquie L’Etang, Public Relations Concepts, Practice, and Critique, p254
The Grunig, Toth and Hon study, Women in Public Relations: How Gender Influences Practice (2001) is probably one the most comprehensive study on gender in public relations. They found that women prefer a career in the public relations field as the hurdles are too onerous and it is easier for them to retain professional status. Women view promotion in the industry more promising than others due to the fact that there are more women leaders in this field than others.
Public Relations is also considered an attractive career path for women as the skills which are needed to do the job are often attributed to females. Communication, empathy, net-working and multitasking is often encouraged in this industry, all characteristics which are typically afforded to women. However many feminist scholars argue that these positive qualities can be exploited by the industry and its male professionals. Women often perform ‘emotional labour’ listening, counseling and dealing with difficult people.
The more senior positions of providing counsel to senior executives is still more often left for the male colleagues. However when males perform this task, they do not have to subscribe to any gender-labelling; instead they are considered of the same status and stand along the legal and financial counselors. Therefore the work that women do is described as ‘soft’, whereas men are seen to be doing the more hard-hitting, challenging jobs within the industry.
However, as Grunig, Toth and Hon confirm, young women are preferred by employers as they are viewed as being more adaptable, less ambitious and cheaper compared to young males entering the profession. It seems therefore that women do face the glass ceiling in the PR industry. The types of positions they are concentrated in have very little chances for promotion or climbing the career ladder. Whilst entry level salaries are equal, the salary gap between men and women soon widens. Childbearing and rearing damages women’s career prospects. It seems then that women are ‘ghettoised’. Women do still face sexist attitudes and sexual harassment at work and can be particularly vulnerably exposed to clients.
As many gender studies suggest, it seems that more regulations and legislature needs to be brought in and enforced to make the chances for woman equal to that of men. Alongside this, employer’s attitudes must be changed. Also as Grunig, Toth and Hon conclude initiatives to tackle and improve women’s self-esteem and assertiveness at the workplace are needed.