Liv shortlisted for Essay Prize

 

We’re incredibly proud – The Romans very own Olivia Butcher has been shortlisted for one of the most prestigious awards for young PRs, The Reginald Watts Essay Prize.

Her essay is below, take a read.

In an age of revolution in digital communications how would you describe public relations?

How did the CEO of John Lewis vote in the last election? What is your local supermarket doing to reduce plastic waste? These are questions that would have been insupposable to a consumer two decades ago. Yet following a revolution in digital communications, such considerations now form a huge part of what public relations represents in 2018. PR acts as the dialogue between brands and consumers and the advancement of the internet has provided an open and expansive platform for this relationship to develop. Both brands and consumers are more informed, better connected and further engaged in how one another behaves in the online world.

Brands find their voice

With an ever-increasing access to information and greater number of brands to choose from than ever before, competition for visibility has peaked. To cut through the noise of an increasingly crowded digital marketplace, brands must develop a clear voice, and a recognisable stance in order to be noticed.  A brand must cultivate an identity.

In 2016, a spokesperson for US trainer brand New Balance spoke out, describing Trump’s election to power as a move “in the right direction”. In aligning itself with a controversial political stance, New Balance risked alienating customers and briefly managed to become an emblem for White Supremacy. Yet this example of a brand engaging directly in political discussion reflects a broader trend in public relations.

However risky merging politics and business might appear, brands are becoming increasingly involved in social and political discussion, developing an identity whereby they increasingly behave as an active and opinionated voices in their own right.

The value of authenticity

Viral news culture has made it more strategically important for brands to become conscious of their online presence. This now stretches much further than a consideration of how a company’s image is perceived.

Wetherspoons chairman Tim Martin is prime example of the paradox that constitutes a company CEO in 2018. From his tongue-in-cheek Twitter bio (describing Wetherspoon as “a luxury business catering to bitter old alcoholics in the mornings and pissed up students in the evenings”), to his staunch support for Brexit, he is nothing if not controversial.

His company has swapped German beer and French champagne for non-EU alternatives, and even gone as far as introducing half a million pro-Brexit beer mats in pubs. These feature messaging stating: “The vast majority of the public strongly objects to the crazy Government plan to pay £39 billion to Brussels, with nothing in return.” The personal is political, and so is your choice of beer.

Whilst consumers trends show that people feel more comfortable placing their trust in a company that speaks out on important issues, there is no bigger turn off than a vapid newsjacking stunt. Public reaction to the recent McDonald’s campaign for International Women’s Day- where the company inverted their logo to show ‘solidarity’ with the event, aggravated discussion on Twitter, as people raised that point that Mc Donald’s doesn’t generally pay much attention to workers’ rights. Failing to pay their employees a fair wage and using zero hours contracts.[1]

Championing a cause, is no longer enough. Companies are expected to instigate tangible change. Good communications are built on trust, and in order for a brand to develop consumer loyalty, credibility has become a necessity.

Activewear brand Patagonia took this to the next level in December 2017, when it filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration after it announced it was revoking federal protection of the Bears Ears national monument.[2] The land which is of historical importance to Native American tribes, and is at risk of being targeted by mining, logging oil extraction. The decision by Patagonia to take such extreme measures to defend an important cause was widely praised across social media. It also boosted Patagonia’s online sales by 7% proving that being compassionate is both commendable and commercially viable.[3]

Fact Vs. Opinion and Corporate Responsibility

In a time where fake news culture has become so prolific, it is easy to argue the value of a brand forming an’ authentic’ identity. The question is, is this possible to achieve?

Journalist Roy Greenslade highlights how in today’s media “fanaticism has pushed the moderate centre to the margins. Opinions count, facts do not”.[4] If public relations mirrors the opinions people want to hear, can it ever surpass simply reflecting the status quo? There is evidence that this is possible. Campaigns such as World Ocean Day’s Trash Island, which drew attention to the dangers of pollution in the world’s oceans through the creation of an actual country in the space occupied by waste pollution. And Carling Black Label’s Song for Change, using the tagline #noexcuse to tackle the connection between alcohol and domestic violence. These examples demonstrate how brands are addressing major world issues with an inventive approach to instigating change. Companies are repositioning their approach to corporate responsibility.

So what will this mean for PR on the ground? Social media management will become increasingly important for brands. This will extend to media training clients, as the position of company CEO moves further into the spotlight of public scrutiny. Brands will continue to engage with their followers needs, interests and concerns. Most importantly, companies will continue to consolidate an clear identity, becoming increasingly involved in influencing the direction of social and cultural issues.

[1]Khomami, Nadia and Glenza, Jessica, ‘Try again’: McDonald’s women’s day stunt criticized as hollow gesture’, The Guardian,  https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/mar/08/mcdonalds-sign-international-womens-day

[2] Wolf, Cam, Patagonia Is Suing the Trump Administration, GQ, https://www.gq.com/story/patagonia-trump-lawsuit

[3] Wolf, Cam, Patagonia’s Anti-Trump Statement Was Massively Good for Business, GQ, https://www.gq.com/story/patagonia-trump-lawsuit-sales-uptick

[4] Greenslade, Roy, ‘Digital Revolution: Opinion is valued more than fact as we turn full circle.’ The Guardian, 30.07.2018, p.25