Edelman’s Ethics Standards – Why Context and Oversight Matter

Richard_W._Edelman_-_World_Economic_Forum_Annual_Meeting_2011

Richard Edelman’s suggestions for how to rebuild trust in public relations are welcome, but will they work in the emerging world?

Richard Edelman, the head of the world’s largest independent PR firm, set forth his vision for how corporations and governments can rebuild public trust this week during a talk at the Washington DC-based National Press Club.

Entitled “The Battleground Is Trust,” Edelman detailed a number of steps. The first, “collaborative journalism”, would involve companies opening up to civil society and other stakeholders on issues they have detailed knowledge of (Edelman gave examples of Walmart on China supply chain or GE on wind power, according to the Holmes Report), as well as cutting down on corporate speak. He also spoke about the need for companies to “create a platform for employees and customers to talk openly about your company or brand. Provide the ability to rate and review the business. Allow users to voice the good and the bad, permit self-criticism, and encourage open dialogue. Listen to what they say so you can improve your products.”

While it’s good to hear an industry leader talk about the need for transparency to rebuild trust, corporates have been slow to respond to customer engagement on social media platforms and review websites such as Glassdoor. There’s already enough appraisal data out there for organizations to filter. The question is whether they’re listening or not.

The bigger issue for me is the disparity in cultures and in organizational ownership. Take for example the Middle East region, or China. In contrast to the United States or Europe and the separation between government and business ownership, many of the largest companies in the Middle East and China are government-owned. Would they willing to engage in “collaborative journalism”, and opening up their internal workings to the public? Would governments in emerging markets be willing to listen to views on how their businesses are run, views which may be contrary to their own. And who would the collaborators be? Government-controlled media? Would this engender public trust?

The first step to building trust is to understand that context matters. While I appreciate that Edelman was addressing a US audience, the PR industry must do more to better grasp cultural nuances, and adapt its thinking appropriately to serve different geographies, governance models and civil societies.

The other big headline which came out of Edelman’s speech was the idea for a “PR Compact” and mandatory ethics training. These include four tenets:

1. Insist on accuracy. Check the facts. Don’t just accept what a client tells you as the truth. Get third-party validation and cite sources. Correct errors quickly.
2. Demand transparency. Press clients to disclose their financial interests in advocacy programs and to reveal their role in coalitions. Advocate for laws that require more transparency in communications. Report on non-financial metrics in supply chains and hiring practices.
3. Engage in the free and open exchange of ideas. Create platforms that encourage and empower informed public discourse. Tell both sides of the story, and allow for dissenting views. This benefits business, shareholders, and society.
4. Require everyone to take universal online ethics training. Everyone must learn the same best practices—what is right and what is not. Tie advancement and promotion to successful completion of the course. This training should be free and accessible to all.

As a member of a number of different industry associations, I adhere to the ethical codes which these associations espouse. However, context is also key. It’s no surprise that Bell Pottinger was undone by work undertaken not in London, but in South Africa, for an entity which has close ties to the South African government. Bell Pottinger was undone by the excellent work of the South African press. In other emerging markets there is no freedom of speech (and definitely no dissenting views). And there’s no way to advocate for laws that promote transparency.

For me, there’s an urgent need to promote ethics not just in London or Washington DC, but in the up-and-coming PR hubs in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It needs a coalition of associations who have members from every level of the industry, who are international in their nature, and who can oversee ethical guidelines that are both universal and contextually-appropriate. It’s no surprise to me why this hasn’t yet happened. But I do hope someone will have the courage to push for a global ethical conversation soon.

 

The End of An Era as the D’Abo sisters and Jason Leavy leave Edelman Dabo

Dabo Picture

The D’Abo sisters, Jason Leavy and the whole team at Dabo took on, and often won against, global agencies in the region (picture source: Pinterest)

Many in the region’s PR industry will have learned over the past 24 hours that Camilla and Lucy D’Abo are leaving the agency they founded 13 years ago. Jason Leavy, who headed up the agency and then led the brand team after Dabo was acquired by Edelman.

It’s fair to say that the D’Abo sisters and the agency which still bears their name transformed  the PR industry in the Gulf. Whilst Dubai has always been a hub for the comms sector – there’s at least a hundred agencies in the city – there’s always been a stark gap between locally-established firms and global names.

What the sisters were able to do, and what Jason Leavy was able to build on when he joined in 2010, was to establish an agency which grew in size thanks to the quality of the work produced by the entire team. Dabo regularly won business from and against global agencies, and the firm’s headcount grew to over a hundred. They showed that it was possible to build an agency from the ground up that didn’t compete on price, but on the quality of their work. Others have followed them, but they’ve always set the standards as to how an independent agency should run.

After the acquisition by Edelman in 2015, there was also going to be change; it’s rare for founders to stay on for a lengthy period of time. Likewise, Leavy will also be missed. His drive and passion, and his experience and knowledge of the publishing and public relations sectors set him apart from many agency heads.

I’ve leave the last word to one of the founders. I wish them and Jason all the best in their new adventures. “We leave a combined business that offers the very best integrated brand service in the market,” Camilla d’Abo told the Holmes Report. “Our teams and clients are in great hands. This is not a decision we have come to easily, but we both feel that now our commitment to Edelman is complete it is time we explore new opportunities.”

 

 

What does Authenticity mean in the Gulf?

Are you being authentic? And what does authenticity mean to us in the Gulf?

Are you being authentic? And what does authenticity mean to us in the Gulf?

The notion of authenticity, that feeling of genuineness, has long been an issue to us communicators. The theory goes that the more authentic we (or our clients) are, the more people will believe us and like us. Even the use of the word authentic has grown; in the US, the word’s use has grown 74.5% since 2012 according to the Holmes Report, to 8,069 press releases and 20,471 media stories.

Well, you’d think that being in a world where everything is online it’d be harder than ever to fake it. Well, an Australian teen with over half a million followers on Instagram has put the sword to that theory. Here’s an excerpt from The Guardian on Essena O’Neill and how she strived to be perfect online:

An Australian teenager with more than half a million followers on Instagram has quit the platform, describing it as “contrived perfection made to get attention”, and called for others to quit social media – perhaps with help from her new website.

Essena O’Neill, 18, said she was able to make an income from marketing products to her 612,000 followers on Instagram – “$2000AUD a post EASY”. But her dramatic rejection of social media celebrity has won her praise.

On 27 October she deleted more than 2,000 pictures “that served no real purpose other than self-promotion”, and dramatically edited the captions to the remaining 96 posts in a bid to to reveal the manipulation, mundanity, and even insecurity behind them.

At a recent event I was chairing, one of the speakers told an anecdote about a Saudi youngster who claimed to be an entrepreneur, partly because it is the popular thing to do and also because he was unemployed. The experience also reminded me of comments left on a popular website about two local entrepreneurs who have set up their own business. Three of the comments were negative, and called into question the ‘authenticity’ of the two young gentlemen. One person wrote, “I have also noticed many so called ‘Entrepreneurs’ are only ‘Instagram-perneurs'”.

The question then comes to mind – who is being genuine and how can we tell if they’re genuine? Will the media challenge people on their achievements? Will the public call out these people? We live in a region where social media is all pervasive and yet, due to various barriers such as culture, language and traditions, it can be truly difficult to know if someone is being genuine or not. For me, the best way to understand the true meaning of authenticity is to grasp its meaning – one who does things himself/herself.

What are your thoughts on authenticity and the Gulf? Do people live to a certain image, or are they true to themselves? And what does this mean for how we communicate? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue.

Shaping awareness on breast cancer in Saudi – how a local firm won globally for its communications approach

There’s nothing better than getting recognized for good work. What’s even better is to make a difference through your actions. We don’t often get to celebrate our local, Saudi-based public relations industry either because everything comes out of Dubai or our local agencies and companies believe that communications with the media and public begins and ends with a press release.

That doesn’t have to be the case any more in Saudi Arabia. One agency has been looking to change how communications is viewed in the Kingdom. That agency’s name is Adalid, and the founders are Saudi nationals who understand and know not only how the media works but also what communications is capable of.

They’ve notched up a series of impressive wins and campaigns locally since founding the agency two years ago. However, Yahya and Sohaib’s crowning glory is an event that has earned them global recognition. To quote directly from the piece in this summer’s edition of Gulf Marketing Review which can be found here.

“Saudi PR agency takes home two SABRE awards for breast cancer awareness campaign

Jeddah-based Adalid has beaten out 2,000 entries to become the first Saudi-managed and owned public relations firm to win a platinum and gold SABRE award for the one campaign. The much-coveted trophies, which were handed to Adalid’s top executives during the Holmes Group EMEA SABRE Awards ceremony in Prague this May, was in recognition for the success of A Woman’s Stand, a public relations campaign designed to raise awareness of breast cancer among females in Saudi Arabia.

The program, conducted by Adalid Public Relations on behalf of HRH Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud and the Zahra Breast Cancer Association was the unanimous first choice of the SABRE judges…

The campaign, which aimed at raising awareness of breast cancer among women in Saudi Arabia through attempting to create the world’s largest human pink ribbon, worked with traditional media channels such as MBC, women’s magazine Sayidati, and Saudi’s Al-Watan newspaper.

Adalid also utilized social media to both spread awareness of the event as well as mobilize supporters to attend the record-breaking attempt. Thousands of people subscribed to the campaign’s Facebook page and Twitter feeds.

“While this was a professional campaign, it is also one where the benefits reflect directly on my mother, sisters and every single woman, not only Saudi Arabia but across the world,” said Adalid PR’s Managing Director, Yahya Hamidaddin. “Now the Kingdom has demonstrated that there is enough concern to establish a world record and been recognised for its efforts to bring concern over breast cancer out into the open, I am sure we can move forward in the battle to overcome this deeply distressing affliction.”

Adalid was founded in 2009 in Jeddah by a number of Saudi nationals with experience in the public relations industry. The agency extended its geographic reach following the opening of an office in Riyadh last year.

SABRE awards are bestowed annually by The Holmes Group in recognition of a company’s superior achievement in branding and reputation. They are awarded to those public relations, reputation management and brand building campaigns that exemplify a strategic approach in research and planning, innovative thinking, integrity and effectiveness. Gold SABREs recognize the best programmes in specific brand-building and reputation management categories. Only one platinum SABRE is awarded by the judging panel for the best campaign in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. ”

Just for good measure the boys and their team of dedicated PR professionals not only won the European SABRE award in May, but topped it off with a global award for the best public stunt of 2011. Adalid’s A Woman’s Stand campaign also made the shortlist for the Holmes Report best global public relations campaign of 2011.

What’s amazing about this campaign is that it’s opened the doors for a comprehensive debate on breast cancer in Saudi. The disease, or more to the point discussion about the condition, is often considered a taboo in this conservative country. Since the campaign there have been calls for more initiatives from the public and private sector, and even an order for breast cancer to be a lead topic during Friday sermons (I still cannot imagine how most Muslim preachers would react to this, to discussing a topic that they’d most likely never thought about before, let alone preaching to their followers).

Thank you Yahya, Sohaib and the rest of the team for making this campaign possible, for promoting breast cancer awareness and for showing how good public relations can be in Saudi Arabia. You and the client have I believed made a huge difference to the women of the country and you’ve been awarded for that. Long may your success continue. I just hope the rest of the public relations industry in Saudi as well as Dubai takes note that we can do more than just send out a press release.