Ethics and why it should matter more than ever to today’s communicators

If there’s ever a word to kill a conversation, it’s ethics. Despite our job being all about reputations, we’ve not given ethics the importance and time that it deserves. This is changing, thanks in part to the efforts of a number of associations, including the Global Alliance, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ), the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO), and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), there’s a renewed focus on putting ethics at the heart of what we do and why we do it.

But why does ethics matter, really? Let me first state the obvious; communications has undergone a drastic change over the past decade, owing to the rise of digital channels and social media platforms. Today, it’s easier than ever to reach a global audience through the likes of Facebook or Google. And it’s also easier than ever to manipulate these platforms, to share messages that are false through personas which are fake.

I’m not talking theory here. We all saw the work that was undertaken by Bell Pottinger in South Africa, which led to its collapse. I live in a region which is being consumed by online trolls, botnets and other unethical activity, much of which is reported to be undertaken not by individuals but by organizations.

It is in this context that we need to renew our commitment to undertaking the best ethical practice, which will apply to every single one of us, no matter where we work and how long we’ve spent in the industry.

The sixteen principles which were announced this week by the Global Alliance are a guide that we should all use in terms of how we ourselves practice and represent our profession. We have a responsibility to society, to our stakeholders and to fellow professionals to uphold these principles in everything that we say and we do.

Looking back, what I’m most proud of when I read over the ethics announcement made by the Global Alliance today is that the taskforce that has worked on this represents the majority of associations and communicators worldwide. There’s a growing realization that we need to step up and not just demonstrate that we are against unethical practices as one, but that we’re adopting best practices. We want to be an industry that promotes positive messages, rather than a profession which is known by monikers such as ‘spin doctors’.

Jean and the other task force members have put significant thought and energy into this project, and this is only the beginning. You’ll find resources such as case studies, podcasts, newsletters and advisories that will bring ethics to life through storytelling. This archive will grow, thanks to you and your submissions from around the world. We have to ensure that ethics remains at the core of our industry, and that we feel able to stand up when we see or are asked to do something which is unethical.

I’d like to thank Jean, Jose Manuel and everyone who has given time to bring this project to life. We all owe them a debt of gratitude for their efforts to promote a stronger, more ethical communications and public relations industry. My last request is to all of you. Please use these resources, learn from them and let them guide you when it comes to ethical communications. Let’s be known as an industry that is one of, if not the most, ethical in terms of what we say and what we do.

This post first appeared on the Global Alliance website.

The Global Capability Framework and how it will raise awareness of our roles as communicators among our HR colleagues

The World Public Relations Forum took place last month in Oslo. The event, probably the world’s biggest gathering of international PR professionals, included an announcement by the University of Huddersfield and the Global Alliance on the launch of the Global Capability Framework (GCF).

I’m more than just excited about the GCF. This project, which took two years to complete, defines the capabilities of PR professionals globally (there are country frameworks too for Argentina, Australia, Canada, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States). It’s a design that we can all use to better career plan, manage our teams and their development, recruit for the right skills and develop curricula that will help those practicing PR.

The 11 key capabilities identified by the GCF are of universal value to everyone in the profession (image source: Huddersfield Business School)

What’s more exciting is how the team behind the GCF are bringing this framework to life. They’re working with a team of software engineers to create a tool that’ll enable us to assess both individual and collective capabilities and set developmental goals. A sample visual is below.

I’ll admit that a shot of how the tool works doesn’t do it justice. I’ve seen the tool in action, and the possibilities it provides in terms of not only mapping skills and future development, but also transforming development goals into a training plan are inspiring.

What the Global Capability Framework and the tool also provide is an ability to engage with and educate our friends in HR what communications is. To paraphrase Dr Anne Gregory, Professor of Corporate Communication at the University of Huddersfield and director of the project, we have a capability framework that can be applied globally; reflects cultural and regional variations in public relations as a profession; and is forward looking in its approach which can be used by both global academic and practitioner communities.

What this means is that for the first time, our colleagues in HR have a resource that maps out everything they need to hire communicators, to train communicators, and to develop them over the long term. They also have a tool which will measure progress.

Why does this matter? I’ve often found that the functions we work with, such as Human Resources, don’t know what we do well enough. And yet they’re defining our function for us, they’re writing our job descriptions, they’re involved in hiring, and they’re measuring our success. We’re now talking their language, with a framework which has been developed both both academics and practitioners. The GCF will also help to standardize teaching for future generations of PR professionals.

It’s always been a tragic irony that the world’s community of communicators have struggled to explain exactly what they do and how they do it to their colleagues, particularly in HR and also in management. We now have the means to educate the people we work alongside in Human Resources. Our next challenge is how to educate those above us on our contributions to the organizations we work for.

Thank you to Professor Anne Gregory, Dr Johanna Fawkes, Dr Elizabeth Montoya-Martinez and Dr Royce Turner at the University of Huddersfield in the UK, to Argentina’s Professor Gabriel Sadi, Australia’s Dr Marianne Sison and Dr Katharina Wolf, Canada’s Dr Amy Thurlow and Dr Alex Sevigny, Singapore’s Professor Gregor Half, Spain’s Professor Elena Gutierrez-Garcia, South Africa’s Professor Ronel Rensburg, Sweden’s Professor Jesper Falkheimer and America’s Professor Katerina Tsetsura for all the work and time you’ve put into this. I believe the impact that this work will have on the industry is immense. I’m looking forward to using the GCF tool and helping others better understand what we do.

For more information on the GCF, you can download the complete capability framework and individual frameworks from the University of Huddersfield here.

Can We Please Appoint (Qualified) Comms People to Comms Roles?

people talking

“Did you hear about the time they appointed a banker to head up communications in the White House?”

It’s rant time. I saw the news this morning that President Trump is expected to name Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director. This follows the move by United Airlines to promote its general counsel to effectively head/oversee global communications.

When is the last time any self-respecting firm went out and hired a CFO who wasn’t a chartered accountant. Or a legal counsel who was not licensed? And yet, despite crisis after crisis, firms and organizations are still appointing people to look after their reputations who are neither qualified nor have the necessary experience.

While I’ve written before about merit, this is different. As an industry and a function, we need to start promoting the idea of a global qualification that will be a prerequisite for stepping up to a certain role or responsibility. 

Organizations need to know that the person they’re bringing in is competent at all times (particularly during a crisis), is ethical in their behavior, understands how to listen to and engage with all stakeholders, and is able to show a proper understanding of how communications delivers organizational value through measurement. A certification should be able to prove this and more.

The CIPR has developed its accredited and chartered status labels. The IABC also has its CMP and SCMP certifications. As an industry, isn’t it about time that we come together, through a global body such as the Global Alliance, to push for certification for members and for hiring managers and organizations who are looking for communications professionals to favor those practitioners who are globally certified?

I’d say yes, it’s about time.

Join me and pledge to work with and hire comms people on merit

On merit

Merit. I just love that word and what it means. To quote the Oxford Dictionary, the noun merit is understood to mean, “the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.” Hence the phrase, to be deemed worthy of something on merit.

I was reminded of the notion this week, by a journalist who was Tweeting about being treated poorly by a brand. Her frustration was in part to her feeling that she was being mistreated by the brand’s agency due to her cultural heritage. I completely understood her frustration and her sense of injustice, hence why I’m writing this post.

In one sense, we’re lucky to work in the Gulf. It’s an up-and-coming region which has attracted some remarkable communications and media talent and experience from around the world. There’s a dynamic feel to working in such a multi-racial industry.

At the same time, I often get the feel of tribalism, of people in companies and institutions wanting to work with one of their own, not for any other reason than culture or nationality. It probably doesn’t surprise many of us that people stereotype (and if you don’t believe me, look at this research from Berkeley-Haas Asst. Prof. Ming Leung who analyzed 3.9 million applications), but there’s also official discrimination – the hiring of certain nationalities to fill quotas – as well as unconscious bias . Finding people on merit, who can do the best job, seems to be a challenge we employers often get wrong.

The question I then have to ask is what does bringing the wrong people do to our industry, or even people who are too junior or who don’t have the right understanding of the role or the audience? In my own view, it devalues the work of us all, pushes us farther away from the board room, and loses us respect from those we work with, be they colleagues internally, media professionals or other stakeholder groups.

We have to look beyond traits such as race, nationality, gender, and ask if the person you’re looking to hire and work with has the right attitude, understanding, skills and experience for the role. We need more diversity and inclusion in our industry which mirrors that of our audiences and communities, and that will happen by understanding our biases and looking beyond them to finding the best talent out there, who deserve and will succeed in a role based on their own merit. That includes working with representative bodies such as the CIPR, IABC, Global Alliance and MEPRA who promote skills-based learning and certification programs.

I’m willing to take a pledge now to work with and hire comms people on merit. I want you to join me in taking this pledge. Either share this article or leave a comment below. Together, we can and will change the comms industry for the better, to be a function that respects and promotes the notion of merit.

Stepping up with the Global Alliance: How do you want the Comms Industry to develop?

Global Alliance

I wanted to share the news here first. I’m honored to be nominated to serve on the board of the Global Alliance as a director. I’ll be taking up the post on a voluntary basis from July of this year.

The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management is the confederation of the world’s major PR and communication management associations and institutions, representing 160,000 practitioners and academics around the world.

The Global Alliance’s mission is to unify the public relations profession, raise professional standards all over the world, share knowledge for the benefit of its members and be the global voice for public relations in the public interest.

As part of this mission, I will be serving to represent communications practitioners in the Middle East. And I want to put a question to you all, my friends and colleagues around the region – how do you want the communications industry to develop?

I want to hear your thoughts. I’ll be working to represent the industry, and I care about your opinions. So let me know your response to my question, and let’s find the answer together.

What challenges will communicators face in 2017?

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It’s no understatement to say that 2016 was a shock to the system. We’ve faced political upheavals, the rise of populists and the proliferation of fake news, and that’s just for starters. The Middle East region has been impacted by continuing conflict as well as financial belt-tightening caused by low oil and gas prices. Needless to say, 2016 hasn’t been the easiest 12 months for many communicators.

So what do we have to expect in 2017? Looking into my crystal ball, I see  a number of issues that will grow in prominence. Here’s my take on them:

  • Political Interference and its Impact on Brand Values

The rise of populist politicians isn’t anything new, but their use of social media to communicate directly with their publics, eschewing traditional media, is something brands will have to deal with. We’ve already seen how Donald Trump is impacting brands in the US (examples include his tweets on Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which have wiped billions off company share values).

Communicators will need to work out how to deal with this new type of political interference. They’ll need to improve their online engagement, using the same social media tools as these politicians (Twitter, I hope you realize how much of a god-send Trump is for your platform), as well as espouse brand values that stakeholders believe in and want to defend.

There’s a danger here that brands will retreat into communicating in the same populist language as the politicians, or simply keep quiet and hope that the storm will pass them by. I hope that brand owners and communicators will instead engage on issues with a purpose and positive values.

  • Expect More Fake News

Whether we like it or not, fake news is here to stay. The year that was 2016 saw fake news become a cottage industry, with ‘content producers’ in places like Macedonia spewing out false stories which went viral through social media and which generated thousands of dollars of ad revenues. Much of this fake news was focused on politics; this is likely to change in 2017, with fewer key political votes. Instead, we’re going to see more fake celebrity news, as well as fake news in languages other than English. This may play into regional conflicts. Brands need to be aware of what is being said about them, especially in Arabic, Farsi and other regional languages.

  • The Continued Rise of Social Influencers

 

Whether you like it or not, 2016 was the year of Social Influencers. This trend is set to continue into 2017, particularly with Snapchat having opened up an office in Dubai, and with brands/organizations realizing that they have to do more to engage with stakeholders online. Expect there to be more questions around online metrics such as reach, engagement and, most important of all, return-on-investment. Also expect that the cost of working with social influencers will rise, particularly in locations such as Dubai, Kuwait and Riyadh.

I hope that brands will start to think differently about the type of social influencers they’d like to work with, and begin nurturing relationships with real fans with smaller followings rather than purchase engagement through influencers who have large followings but who don’t necessarily understand or love the brand. In other words, we need to rethink what social influencers are and what they mean to us.

  • The Urgent Need to Prove Our Worth 

This is a perennial favorite, but we’re going to struggle to underline the value that we bring to our organizations in 2017. Why? Because of an inability to link our outcomes to organizational objectives for many of us, partly due to a lack of awareness/understanding about the need to leverage measurement values. We’re also lacking a universal definition of what we do and globally-accepted certifications that prove we can walk the talk. The Global Alliance is working hard on the first issue, and others such as the CIPR and IABC are pushing ahead on the second. However, we’re still going to struggle with proving our worth to those that we work with and others that we need to work with.

There are a number of others who have shared their own views. Wadds has a longer list which is a fascinating read (you can see it here), and Omnicom’s David Gallagher has written down his own thoughts on the issues we will face in the year ahead.

What are your thoughts. What challenges will we see, and what are you looking forward to in 2017? I’d love to hear from you.

What makes an award-winning communications campaign?

There's nothing better than being recognized for your communications work. Just make sure you're focusing on these three key points.

There’s nothing better than being recognized for your communications work. Just make sure you’re focusing on these three key points.

I’m fortunate to have been asked to judge many communications campaigns, for the likes of the Middle East Public Relations Association Awards, the Holmes Report’s SABRES, the International Association of Business Communicators’ Quills, and the Global Alliance Comm Prix Awards. That’s many hours spent pouring over communications campaigns.

As a judge, what do I look for? What is, to me, an award-winning campaign? There are three basic points:

  • The reason why: Firstly, what is the logic behind the campaign? What is the organization trying to achieve? And is the why supported by research or insights derived from the stakeholders the organization is looking to engage with and influence. This could be as simple as focus groups, one-to-one interviews, or information derived from surveys. Too many campaigns aren’t supported by research, and as such there’s no logic or a clear, evidence-based objective underpinning the campaign.
  • What was done: We now come to the activation piece, both the strategy and the tactics. How innovative was the overall strategy in terms of its budgeting and composition. How effective were the tactics re stakeholder targeting and engagement. Were the tactics used suitable for the audience, and is there a strong enough idea at the heart of the strategy? How well has the strategy blended together different channels?
  • Where are the results: A well-executed strategy will show not only strong outputs but also clear outcomes and, ideally, business impact. An award-winning campaign will clearly demonstrate the impact their work has had on the organization and stakeholders. And here I’m not referring to AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalencies), but rather other measures such as sentiment analysis, awareness, recognition and credibility. If you want more information on what measurement means, have a look at this white paper by Ketchum’s David Rockland.

If you can get each of these elements right, you’ll stand a good chance at winning an award, no matter the competition. So go and do your good work, and be recognized for it. Good luck, bon chance and bil-tawfiq, especially to all those entering into the MEPRA Awards today and over the past couple of days.