Pinkwashing and why firms in the UAE must do better on cause-engagement

WTCAD Photo

Does this image convey a message on breast cancer awareness to you? No, me neither.

October has passed, and I wanted to share a summary of some of the corporate outreach I’ve seen around the perennial cause of choice at this time of year, namely breast cancer. In many countries around the world, including the UAE, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease.

I’m writing this post in the hope that brands understand the need not only to raise awareness of Breast Cancer, but also to support charities either through direct contributions or through cause-related marketing, such as providing a percentage of revenues for a specific product to a charity.

Here are examples of how some brands are promoting themselves, whilst not doing enough in my opinion to support a charity cause.

Staying in The Pink of Health – Tea Time at Al Bayt, Palace Downtown

Honestly, I don’t know where to begin with this idea. Is it enough to create a tenuous link to breast cancer by the use of the color pink (in this case, afternoon tea with a pink theme), without supporting a local charity?

The palatial surroundings and views of Burj Lake at Al Bayt, our lobby lounge, enlivens the time-honoured tradition of afternoon tea. The experience takes on an even more special dimension during the month of October, where you not only savour an assortment of delicious sweet and savoury treats with an unlimited selection of premium tea and coffee, but also participate in the Breast Cancer Awareness initiative every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday with a special pink theme. We see it as part of our social responsibility, an experience we encourage you to share with friends and family.

Pink yoga session promotes breast cancer awareness at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi

While there’s a link between exercise and cancer, does a ‘Pink Yoga’ session warrant a media communication? Is this another unwarranted attempt to PR a charity issue, without enough thought as to what the call to action will be?

Hotel guests got in the pink yesterday in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi hosted a session of ‘Pink Yoga’ to promote the health benefits of regular exercise – with all participants asked to wear the color.

Admission was complimentary for people staying at the resort, members of The St. Regis Athletic Club, where the class was held.

People who visit the hotel on or before Saturday will be greeted by a floral arrangement of blush-hued blooms in keeping with the annual health campaign, which is held around the globe each October.

The flowers will remain in the building’s main entrance until Saturday.

Researchers have identified a link between the likelihood of developing breast cancer and being overweight or obese. Regular physical activity and the maintenance of a healthy body weight, along with a healthy diet, can considerably reduce the risk of developing several kinds of the disease, the World Health Organization has stated.

Go Pink This Month With Tweezerman

This announcement takes the prize for the worst possible communication on breast cancer. Whilst the company says that it allocates a portion of its profits to charitable organizations, while actively supporting local communities, there’s no mention anywhere in the communications of who these recipients may be or if my purchase during the month will mean a contribution to a local charity in the UAE. The communication is below:

Pink tweezerman

The beauty tool brand, loved by makeup artists and beauty enthusiasts alike, both locally and internationally, Tweezerman presents the Pink Slant Tweezer in honour of Breast Cancer awareness month.

Like every beauty tool by Tweezerman the Pink Slant Tweezer has a perfectly calculated tension and ergonomic shape for comfort and control and an award-winning hand – filled precision tip, the best for eyebrow shaping.

How To Get Cause-Related Marketing Right

There are so many more bad examples from October out there (including the featured image at the top of the post). Dressing your staff in pink, serving cupcakes and then communicating with the media/through digital channels doesn’t mean that you’re supporting the fight against breast cancer.

I’ve written on the issue of not-for-profit marketing right before, but it still seems that brands aren’t understanding that they need to put in more than a couple of hours thought into this type of exercise. Here’s a simple to-do list:

  1. Build your activity around a consumer insight.
  2. Make sure your brand aligns with the cause.
  3. Involve a charity partner and define your brand’s social responsibility.
  4. Develop a simple promise/call-to-action using clear messaging and accountable outcomes.

If you’re not getting these four steps right, then don’t jump in. The worst thing you can do for a brand is either pinkwash or greenwash. You’re eroding consumer trust in your brand, and your customers will move to another brand that they deem to be more honest.

Brands in the UAE, I hope you’re listening.

VMA Insights: CEOs and what they’re looking for in today’s chief communications officer

VMA picture

I’ve been doing some late night reading of a rather interesting piece of research. Commissioned by the recruitment firm, the VMA Group, the study reached out to business leaders across Europe to ask a simple question: What do CEOs expect of today’s chief communications officer?

The research looked at a number of key areas, and I’ll outline the key findings below.

  • The Value of Communications
  1. Although the value of communications as a central business operation is implicitly accepted by CEOs, many communications directors still need to make a more convincing ROI case for the impact of their own work.
  2. CEOs are still uncertain that the company’s social media activity is driven by either a strategic purpose or a clear sense of the desired returns.
  3. Reputations are more fragile than ever. CEOs frequently see this as the key value point provided by the communications director.

“We see a corporate communications director as the builder of the brand value proposition, the custodian of the corporate reputation – not in a reactive way but proactively. In order to sell our products and services, increasingly we first have to sell the company. Whether it’s government giving you incentives, or it is customers buying because they trust you. Unless you’ve got a meaningful brand proposition you can’t get off first base.

A strategic communications director understands that and understands that’s their role, and it really ought to have as much value on the balance sheet as other assets of the business because any strategic move will create stress points in the brand proposition that need to be managed.” David Lockwood, CEO, Laird PLC

  • Strategy: Is Communications Trusted
  1. Communications directors are frequently involved in strategy creation; almost always at least with some input.
  2. The Majority of CEOs actively involve the communications director when there is a demonstrably ‘communications-centric’ issue.
  3. Three core strategic viewpoints that communications directors bring to the discussion: how to translate the strategy into content and channels; and the reputational rewards and risks of strategic decisions.
  4. CEOs from multinationals see communications’ input more broadly and progressively – as a vital strategic voice in all business decisions, especially from the perspective of reputation and brand.

“I think it’s obvious that a communications professional needs to be closely linked to the strategy because what they work on – formulating the communications and regulatory environment – is of strategic importance. So communications and public affairs needs not just to be ‘part’ of the company strategy but actually linked to the strategy – wired into the board and well resourced. If it’s an afterthought you might as well save yourself the money and not do it.” Wim Mijs, CEO, European Banking Federation

  • All Change – The New Communications Culture
  1. The digital revolution has brought arguably even more significant changes to the approach and culture of communications than to the core skills of the job.
  2. The ‘message control’ model is over. Key challenge: communications professionals must somehow now find a new way to create alignment among audiences without ever dictating to them.
  3. Authenticity and transparency are the essential tonal cues today – otherwise your communications will be dismissed out of hand.
  4. Audiences expect evidence of a new type of business model – socially responsible, publicly responsive, democratically inclusive.

“We’ve noticed a big and increasing demand for transparency. Our consumers and stakeholders at Arla want to know where their food is coming from. They want transparency in the supply chain. And I would say that the balance between a ‘communications’ approach to stakeholder engagement and a ‘marketing’ approach is shifting in favor of communications. In my business, that’s manifested by an increasing preference for having very honest, authentic, transparent conversations, and moving away from grand claims, mass advertising and so on.” Tomas Pietrangeli, MD, Arla Foods

  • The Challenge of Filtering in an Age of Noise
  1. Discernment and filtering have become core skills – the ability to select from a vast and noisy information flow what is of actual value to the business.
  2. Communications professionals need to rise above the manias and mass panics the online world can create, providing a cool head in a crisis.
  3. A key, proactive part of filtering is to anticipate major disruptive events coming down the pipeline and to have a plan of action for how to deal with them.

“I don’t think anyone’s figured out quite how corporate communications works in a world where social media is on the scene before you are. Trying to control the message is really tough in that environment, of course. But it’s the speed with which other people out there react – with real-time messaging before you’ve even had a chance to get your messages out and establish the facts.” Mark Tanzer, CEO, ABTA

  • The Need for True Leadership
  1. Core technical skills are still important; they must now be supplemented by more core business skills.
  2. CEOs want more than support, counsel or executive ‘translation’ services. Businesses now need true leadership from communications directors.
  3. Proactive endeavour is the critical element – delivering new business growth, rooting out commercial opportunities, driving change internally.

“I find that communications people should be closer to the business. They should be able to understand the company figures properly – to understand the business, but also where it’s heading and what issues it’s going to face. In general, if communications people have sufficient insights in the business, I truly believe they are able to generate more value.” Paul de Krom, CEO, TNO

  • The Future: A Profession in Revolutionary Change

There’s no key findings here (I’ve highlighted the capabilities required by CEOs today in the image at the beginning of the article). However, I do want to pull up one last quote, as it’s particularly apt to the Middle East, where we have an issue with speaking truth to power and instead focusing on political maneuvering inside the organization.

Before that, I’d like to say thank you to the VMA Group for this thought-provoking report, especially the International Association of Business Communicators EMENA board member Willem de Ruijter, for handing the report out to IABC EMENA and pushing this onto the agenda.

“The communications director works in the same room in the building as the secretary of the board – in fact we are all now on one floor, we do not have separate rooms anymore. S/he has full access to everything, no restrictions. S/he is actively involved and is asked to stimulate and to give feedback. Her/his message should be frank when required… and provocative too. S/he needs to be able to tell a senior leader who has worked at KPMG for 25 years that he or she does not possess the correct KPMG vision. That takes a certain character.” Albert Röell, CEO, KPMG NL

For your own copy of the report please reach out to the VMA Group via this link.

 

 

Step up, support the Comms industry. Volunteer for the IABC EMENA Board!

Volunteer

I’ll be the first to admit it. It’s a well-known secret in the communications industry that we’re awful at PRing what we do. The public relations sector doesn’t engage enough with the outside world in terms of what we do and why we’re of real value to any organization.

For me it was exciting to see the turnout at the annual regional Eurocomm event in London recently. The number of professionals who cared enough to travel to London for several days, and engage in learning and debate about the industry, was inspiring. There’s a lot of good will and positive sentiment around the communications sector at the moment, which I hope will long continue.

But, I’m never satisfied. I’d like for us to build on that engagement, and ask you, the communications professionals who I engage with here online, or through social media, to put themselves forward to volunteer to support the industry’s growth and act as leaders and mentors to those who want to learn about and join the sector.

As a not-for-profit organization that aims to promote public relations both globally and throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, IABC works through volunteers. The Europe, Middle East and North Africa board supports activities across the most diverse, and most exciting region for communicators. Under the board, IABC has a host of country chapters that help with everything from organizing our large events (think Eurocomm which was held in London in March), to smaller activities such as media evenings, webinars and training. Volunteers can also help in research work and soliciting ideas and thoughts from our wider family of members.

If you want to give back and help, why don’t you step up and volunteer on the EMENA board? Volunteering is one of the most rewarding activities that I’ve engaged in, and I’m sure you’d enjoy working with a group of people who could not be more passionate about what we do and why we do it.

Please do drop me a line in the comments or send me a message through social media and we can take the conversation from there. You can find more details here on the IABC website. Nominations are open until Wednesday the 17th May.

So, what do you say? Are you up for it?

The Science of Reputation – What issues matter to stakeholders and why

As communicators, we’re often tasked with managing an organization’s reputation. While this may sound simple, the challenge is where do you start with an intangible concept? There are a number of frameworks around which one can begin measuring reputation. One is the RepTrak, a tool developed by the US-based Reputation Institute, which merges seven distinct organizational behaviours (called dimensions) with the behaviours that your stakeholders show towards your organization to create an emotional pulse. It’s an interesting look at how reputation is developed, which you can see below.

The RepTrak is a data-driven approach to understanding reputation based on a number of metrics

The RepTrak is a data-driven approach to understanding reputation based on a number of metrics

According to the Reputation Institute, organizational reputation is driven primarily by seven key rational dimensions of reputation: products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership, and performance. What this leads onto may be obvious; reputation matters in terms of business. And, the better the reputation, the more support an organization can count on.

Th Reputation Institute has also done a great deal of research here, including surveying hundred of thousands of different stakeholder groups in 40+ countries over a decade. Their studies underline why reputation matters when it comes to influencing stakeholder behaviour.

Reputation can both positively and negatively impact on stakeholder behaviour

Reputation can both positively and negatively impact on stakeholder behaviour

In the video below, Dr. Charles Fombrun, founder & chairman, Reputation Institute, explains the seven dimensions of reputation as defined in the RepTrak model for reputation measurement

While I have questions around these seven dimensions (do they remain constant for example, across geographies and stakeholder groups?), as well as the Reputation Institute’s global reach (it doesn’t monitor in the MENA region for example), it’s good to see one scientific model for measuring reputation and its impact. There are others in use, including those developed by Carma’s Tom Vesey. I’ll share more insights into reputation management and measurement as I have it.

The Role Communicators Have in Promoting Sustainability

ajman-sustainability-day

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have worked with some amazing brands and organizations. In particular, the most forward-thinking have focused on the issue of sustainability. It’s become a passion for me, as I want my daughter to inherit a world that is better than ours.

I’m often asked to support events on sustainability. One such initiative which I’m very proud of being able to help is that of the UAE’s Ajman Center for Social Responsibility. Launched by the Ajman Chamber this year, the Ajman Center for Social Responsibility aims to promote the concept of sustainability for both the public and private sectors as well as create a resource for sustainability across this emirate. Assisted by the consultancy firm Sustainable Square, the team at the Center have set for themselves a vision of becoming the regional and global reference for social responsibility and sustainability practices. And, judging by the energy they have, I feel they’ll reach this goal.

For many of us communicators in the Middle East region, we’ve taken on the mantle of championing sustainability. Sometimes it’s due to reputational reasons; the need to be seen to be doing good. For others, it’s been about the willingness to tackle an issue that isn’t going away. There’s some confusion around sustainability and the role of communications in the Middle East; I remember well one senior comms professional erroneously commenting  during a public meeting that the function has always been with communications, despite all of the literature from the 1950s and 1960s by Bowen, Freeman and others which argues that organizations have a social obligation to “to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society.” In short, when it comes to sustainability in the Middle East, we can come across as a confused bunch.

For me, sustainability should be at the heart of any organization – it should be a part of every person’s job function. So, what is the role that communicators should play? We are the change agents, the people whose job it is to tell stories around purpose, and who can best use engagement to win over various stakeholder groups, be they internal (employees, management or shareholders), or external (government, NGOs or the public) as to why there is a need to become more sustainable and how we should get there.

Examples of good sustainability communications work are both global and local in nature. Take for example  the work done by Mars for its M&Ms brand. Mars reached out to the M&Ms consumer base in a smart way, by using the M&Ms characters everyone knows, to talk about initiatives around sustainable cocoa production and other CSR causes by telling the stories through the same M&M characters used to promote the brand.

On a local level, a good communications campaign can be something as simple as promoting safe driving, which environmental and engineering consulting services firm CH2M launched both globally as well as locally.

As communicators, our role is to understand our audience(s), know how to engage with them, and shape messaging that will impact both attitudes and behaviours. It’s never easy to change habits that have been ingrained for years, especially when it comes to sustainability (anyone who has worked on a recycling initiative will know how hard it can be to get people to recycle rather than throw materials into the trash).

However, that’s the beauty of our job as communicators. We’re the front line, the people who take a concept and make it happen with those groups whom we need to come on board. To quote from the United Nations Environmental Program:

Public communication has a key role to play to build on these emerging trends and to make sustainable development approachable and understandable. Informed, motivated and committed people can help us to achieve our sustainability goals. However, communicating effectively about sustainable lifestyles is a challenge. One needs to consider not only what to communicate, but how to communicate it.

Important factors of success include content, messenger, choice of media and tone. Experts are coming to realise that traditional messages from governments and green groups urging the public to adopt the environment into their day-to-day decisions need to be overhauled. Many of these messages are simply too patronising, guilt-laden or disapproving. Instead of turning people on to the environment, they risk switching
them off. The lesson to be learned is that communication styles have to be positive and tailored to different circumstances and cultural contexts.

If you want to know more about communicating sustainable issues, there are people who specialize in this issue. Sustainable Square’s Monaem Ben Lellahom is a great person to approach as he both understands the issue of sustainability as well as how to communicate around it; another person who focuses on sustainability is Stephen King, who focuses on the sustainable development goals. I’d urge you to reach out to either or myself to ask questions about how we can communicate sustainability better in this region.

 

How to fundraise in Dubai (legally)

Dubai’s fundraising law is meant to regulate giving in the Emirate. While the process is long, it is simple enough and will mean that you can fundraise legally (image source: http://www.thirdforcenews.org)

After a number of incidents, I thought it was about time that someone with experience of fundraising in Dubai wrote on how it should be done (I’ve been fundraising here for about four years, and applying for approvals every couple of months with different charities). While there are legal papers on the issue, most notably from DLA Piper, I’ve been through the process and know its ups and downs, which can be different from what is written in the statute books.

So, here goes.

  • Fundraising is regulated. 

Firstly, let’s start with the obvious. Fundraising is regulated in Dubai, and to fundraise you must do two things. Find a charity that is allowed to collect donations. Then you must submit a request to the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities (IACAD). Once this is approved you can fundraise.

If you don’t follow the above, you can face either a year in prison or a fine of up to 500,000AED. And when I mean you, I mean YOU! Even when fundraising is undertaken by a company, an individual must bear responsibility for the application.

  • You have to donate to a Dubai-based charity that is permitted to fundraise.

The number of charities who are licensed to fundraise is short, it used to be seven in total. These include the Dubai Charity Association, Dar Al Ber Society, Dubai Autism Centre, Beit Al Kheir, the UAE Red Crescent Authority, Awqaf & Minors Affairs Foundation, and The Relief Committee.

Other charities have been added to the list since then, including the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, the Al Jalila Foundation, and Friends of Cancer Patients. For a comprehensive list, do contact the Dubai Chamber of Commerce’s Syed Atif on Syed.Atif@Dubaichamber.com. The Dubai Chamber is particularly active in terms of promoting engagement with charities in the country, and they’ll be able to give you on who and which charity aligns with your cause.

Once you’ve found your charity, you’ll have to talk to them about what you’re doing and why, in order to get their buy-in and support. This may take time, especially when dealing with one or two of the charities on the list of seven above.

Any application through the charities above to IACAD will take up to one month. On the form you’ll need to state what you are doing, why, how much is being raised and how you are raising it. The form is simple enough, and I’ve include it below. You cannot funraised until you have permission from IACAD, who will also follow up after the fundraising, to ensure that the charity has received the money.

There’s another option, which is to support a charity based in Dubai’s International Humanitarian City (IHC). These include Save the Children, SOS Children’s VIllages and UNICEF. In this case, IHC will act as the charity and then route all funds to the intended recipient. This process will take longer than the month mentioned above, so you’ll need to plan ahead.

  • Online fundraising is not exempt from the legislation (and penalties).

Many people I know in Dubai used to fundraise through online sites such as http://www.justgiving.com when undertaking a charity drive. This isn’t strictly legal, as has been shown by a recent criminal case. If you want to fundraise online, then either do it through a registered charity as per the above, or don’t do it in Dubai (ie do it when you’re out of the country and not breaking the law).

To make it as easy as possible, I’m attaching an IACAD form which you can fill in either in Arabic or English. The form is here, and includes contact details at IACAD – Islamic_Affairs_Request_Eng_Arb.

I’ll end on an important note – this only covers fundraising in Dubai. If you want to fundraise in any other Emirate, there are separate procedures you have to follow, or you’ll have to partner with the Emirates Red Crescent, or the Al Jalila Foundation. These are the only two organizations which have the pre-approval to fundraise across the United Arab Emirates.

If you need more advice on fundraising, please do drop me a comment and I’ll help further. While the above isn’t easy, I don’t want people to think that they should stop fundraising. The procedure does take time, but it doable, so keep on fundraising and supporting good causes.

#AylanKurdi, the image that has defined the refugee tragedy and what you can do to help

There are moments when we come across an image that is so powerful that it can drive us to tears. Such an image can galvanize a generation, it can melt the coldest of hearts or it can create a well of emotion inside of us. Think of the Vietnam war’s “Girl in the Picture”, of the naked Vietnamese girl who had been burned by napalm and was in agony, or the picture of the lone student protester who held up a column of tanks during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

This morning, I saw another image that was so powerful it literally made me cry just looking at my screen. The images below are of a three year old Syrian boy whose name is Alyan Kurdi. Like hundreds of thousands of others from Syria, Aylan and his family sought refuge and a new home in Europe.

As a father of a young child, all I care about is her safety and well-being. I can not imagine the horror that Aylan’s father, who was on the boat with Aylan and who lost his other son as well as his wife, is now living through.

This image of three year-old Aylan Kurdi is the story of Syria’s refugee tragedy. Alyan drowned while his parents were trying to reach the Greek island of Kos from the Turkish mainland (image source: Reuters/The Independent).

My one hope is that this image and story will melt hearts across Europe and worldwide, and drive people to step up and help those from Syria and other countries who are fleeing violence and who want to make a home for themselves in a new country, a home that is safe where they can live far from the shadow of death.

For me, Aylan’s story and the images taken by Reuters are heartbreaking. I beseech you to take action, especially if you are European. You can either the suggestions from the Independent or donate to organizations such as UNICEF or Save the Children which are supporting Syrian refugees.

Let’s do more, let’s help those in need. Let’s join together to ensure that there isn’t another Aylan.