public relations, crisis PR, Human Resources

Pizza hut or Pizza hit (employees)??!!


As the US was bracing itself for the impact of Hurricane Irma in its east coast, one company was busy telling its employees to be ready… with all the caution – well, not to protect them or the community from the eventual impact of the hurricane itself, but to make sure that the stores of the pizza chain continue to be business prepared, will all the needed supplies!


Other than the cursory mention that employees must be safe, the focus of the internal memo clearly was to get the employees back to work in double quick time, despite whatever be the impact of Hurricane Irma.

“Give your contact numbers” so that we are sure of your safety after the storm, clearly is saying “forget your welfare, we want to know if you are alive and kicking to get back to work”?!

“But we also have the responsibility to be available for the community when they most need us” – aint’ like Pizza Hut is throwing it open for people to get to safety, but to be sure they don’t miss out of selling a few slices of Pizza, even if it means the aftermath of a deadly hurricane??

And nothing to beat this – “in the event of an evacuation, you MUST return in 72 hours”. Who on  earth puts such employment conditions, when you ought to be concerned about the safety of the employee and their family?

Best to conclude that Pizza Hut was bloody insensitive in sending out such a communication! and needless to say, revenues rule even at the cost of lives?

By the way, which sane manager writes such inhumane messages? Does Pizza Hut have any SOP for internal communication, and employee safety – real and not lip service??

Data theft, executive communication, public relations

Equifax data-theft and a pandora’s box!

Equifax response – throwing up a pandora’s box?

Equifax is one of the largest credit reporting companies in the US, and it had a fews days ago gone public that hackers had stolen data of sensitive personal information on as many as 143 million people from the credit reporting firm. That’s data of almost half of the US population.

This is by far the biggest data theft in recent times, by any standards, from any company across the globe.

Lawmakers in the US are now looking at how much more should such data driven companies be held accountable, given the sensitive nature of the information they store, and decipher.

But from a communications point of view, how pliable is the argument by Equifax, that they are reporting the incident of such humongous proportions,  almost late by 2 months or so?

Equifax learned about the breach on July 29 but didn’t reveal it for more than a month. The hackers stole credit card numbers of about 209,000 people and also got documents with personal information on 182,000 victims.

On the technical front, there are also so reports that Equifax’s data breach was the result of the company’s failure to patch a two-month-old bug in Apache Struts, despite multiple reports of the bug being exploited in the wild.

Equifax after the fall out of this incident, also offered a free year of credit monitoring known as “TrustedID Premier” to its consumers- but a careful read of the conditions revealed that those would be also giving up the right to sue over damages.

Some questions that come in mind in this issue are –

  • Was there a deliberate delay on the part of Equifax, in reporting the data-theft to the public at large and to the authorities?
  • If they say, they took time to discover the unprecedented volume of data stolen, what does it speak of the security systems the company had in place, that too, when the company’s business is on the bedrock of credit data of the public?
  • What kind of information security audits do companies like Equifax, who own public data, go through? and how rigorous are these I sec audits?
  • By having overriding conditions that the customer loses the right to sue, if he agreed for the one year credit monitoring, was Equifax  blatantly exploiting the misery of the consumer, and trying to protect it legally, than really wanting to do good after the data got stolen.
  • Can companies that thrive on data, not really be aware of such massive information leaks for more than a month? Is it really believable?

There are a volley of other such questions, that clearly point to, probably, a series of lapses on the side of Equifax.

crisis PR, executive communication, Media coverage, PR pitch, public relations

Risk taking in PR? like Bell Pottinger??

Ready to take risks in PR?

Again, another post on the never ending saga of how messed up things have become for Bell Pottinger.

Most industry leaders now opine that the agency I now probably on that last cylinder of oxygen, waiting to be pulled of.

Contrary to what most us thought – that it’s a crisis yes for Bell Pottinger, but they as a company will see through it to see another day, it now looks like the agencies survival is out of question.

Yet another big lesson from this, is that the so called agencies across the globe, that have a notoriety to take risks in the kind of business/accounts they  chose to work with must be more careful. Its clear and evident that such risks survive as great business opportunities, only, only when there’s none to expose the deeds or misdeeds of the company.

Like, in the case of Bell Pottinger – but for the South African political opposition, the Democratic Party, which raised the issue with PRCA, it would have been business as usual for Bell Pottinger.

The company, and its founder, Lord Bell, have a reputation in the PR industry for taking risks.

Some of the high risk clients they chose to handle –

  • South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorious  after murder charges were slapped on him.
  • Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko
  • Syria’s first lady Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian premiere Assad
  • Former Chilean dictator, General Pinochet (who was arrested in London, on a warrant from Spain on murder charges)
  • And now, the infamous work for  Oakbay Capital, a South African company owned by the wealthy Gupta family, was accused of inciting racial hatred.

Clearly, one big reason for the great performance of Bell Pottinger has been their propensity to work with such high risk accounts – places where PR angels would fear to tread!

(now, the PR world is delighted that with Bell Pottinger gone, they get a chunk of the business; well, what of the opportunity cost and risk taking involved?

This, has been hugely supported by the fact that the numerous layers of management in Bell Pottinger have been privy to this track record, and in fact have this as a style of operation.

Such handling shady and controversial accounts has been an avowed strategy, in the grand scheme of things within the agency. Many in the PR industry say  the willingness to represent controversial individual reflected the views of Lord Bell himself.

All this has worked well, due to the lack of internal resistance or in fact, the semblance of any ethics, whatsoever.

Even this fall has been due to an aggressive external whistle-blower, in the form of the main opposition party in S Africa, the Democratic alliance.

The PRCA launched an investigation into Bell Pottinger following a complaint from South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). The DA blamed the PR company of working to “divide and conquer the South African public by exploiting racial tensions in a bid to keep Jacob Zuma and the ANC in power”.

But for this huge act by the S A opposition, it would have all been well yet for Bell Pottinger.

The lesson in all this is – lack of ethics is always a ticking bomb. And such business will never ever be a high risk and always successful business model.

When the end comes, it comes brutally and decimates your agency.

Just remember that if you are in reputation management.

crisis PR, Media coverage, PR pitch, public relations

Bell Pottinger, and the PR ethics dilemma.

Better reputation, better results…. What about ethics?

The caption for the image above, may be in part from the PR agency Bell Pottinger’s tagline, and in part, the dilemma that the PR business across the globe faces today. Well, with what has happened, clients and governments will now ask for “Better reputation, yes, but with ethics and accountability’!

In swift and sudden developments in the global PR landscape, renowned European PR giant Bell Pottinger, is almost finished as an organisation, thanks to a purportedly racist campaign it had carried on behalf of a client (the Gupta family) in South Africa.

Acting on a complaint from the S African opposition, Democratic alliance to the PRCA (the UK trade association of PR firms), the body has suspended Bell Pottinger for a period of 5 years, from practising the trade. Bell Pottinger could for a name sake appeal to remove the ban, and ask for a reinstatement, but it looks like the winds would be against the embattled PR firm.

In some more revelations, Bell Pottinger also had been accused of being the PR face of the Rajapakse regime in Sri Lanka – a regime that was responsible for the purge of an entire Tamil population, in the north of the country.

The series of incidents that now look like will almost see the end of the road for Bell Pottinger, raise many interesting questions.

  1. Like the PRCA, how many PR related trade associations across the globe (including India) have the resolve and teeth to raise their voice and act decisively against unethical and unwarranted actions of member agencies? Looking around, it will be tough or next to impossible to find associations with such teeth.
  2. In many countries, including in Asia, PR trade associations are sheer memberships to the elite club, and its not even mandatory for agencies to possess membership. In such cases, where does the question of any ethics governance, and how are the agencies going to be asked to comply themselves to unwritten rules?
  3. PR and reputation management have become inevitable business sectors. Any country and those in the socio-political environment need such services, as much as they need accounting or any other service. That being the case, is’nt it high time that the government steps in a bit, and see how the business can be regulated, atleast from the ethics transgression POV. That indeed is the need of the hour.
  4. Given the size and scale of some of the global PR giants, and the diverse corporations they handle across continents, unless someone raises a finger to point out misdeeds, if any, how will be it possible to monitor such ethics violations which could be anywhere in their geography of operations. Unless there are whistle-blowers from outside, or agency appointed ethics ombudsmen,  it would be next to impossible to crack the ethics nut.
  5. Revenues are a key driver when it comes to how the agency conducts itself. While it’s all nice to have a loud statement adore the walls and the website of PR agencies, what they do on the ground is much different. Many large transnational PR corporations have global accounts that sort of are key revenue drivers. The revenues are so significant that some country operations become possible only with such global patronage. Won’t agencies buckle under pressure from such giant clients, and be willing to compromise their stated positions vis a vis ethics?

Offcourse, the aftermath of the Bell Pottinger saga throws up a whole array of issues, as to how PR agencies conduct themselves in their business of reputation  management for their clients.

Regulation is a tough to manage thing, given that there is’nt even a comprehensive list of players in every country, who are active in the business.

Unless PR agencies have a commitment to work on the basis of an signed charter of ethics, Bell Pottinger could be well just the beginning of a purge.

crisis PR, executive communication, Media coverage, public relations

New age PR….

News PR is all about co-creation!

This is an age of news-breaks round the clock… and news agencies around the world are in a frenzy to get what they perceive as ‘breaking news’ to their consumers — more fragmented than ever before, thanks to a plethora of choices. This is also the age where media houses are under intense scrutiny by their consumers, and also critics who are more informed and equipped by the social media to counter any misrepresentation or mistake in facts that come out along with the breaking news and views.

So, in this age of call it PR or social 3.0, where news and views are shaped by the minute, how does one serve as a better PR professional?

The PR pro serves his set of clients, equipping them with the right news to be communicated at the right time in the targeted media — conventional, and social. His expertise in the communication business is meant to serve the needs of the client who acts a consumer.

On the other end of the spectrum, the PR pro also serves the needs of the journalists. The well-equipped and informed PR pro is someone who can facilitate the journalist with the right bits of information and right facts, illustrate what will be trends in any industry in product, service or innovation, and beef up the journalistic armour of his consumers at the other end.

From being just release pushers or press conference specialists, the PR profession has completely morphed into a new avatar — that in which each PR professional or PR agency is co-creating and collaborating with their consumers — can be clients who want to manage their image or the media fraternity!

For well-meaning journalists and media houses, who want to be a credible source of breaking and shaping news and views, the need of the hour is people who can collaborate and co-create.

And the onus to take this place is on PR professionals who want to make a difference to their clients. The one question which a PR pro or agency must ask them-self every day is — ARE WE COLLABORATING AND CO-CREATING?

Co creation is the only recipe that can serve a winning media dish, now on

executive communication, Media coverage, public relations

PR musing – do press conferences work yet?

Press conferences – a PR tool yet?

Press releases, despite all the noise around if they are yet effective or not, continue to rule the roost… It’s one tool, that hasn’t faded in utility value – when the objective is to make an announcement on behalf of a client – could be on a milestone, product, service, feature upgrade… anything that’s perceived as worthy communication.

All said and done, Press releases are here to stay.

But, as a PR professional, would you say the same of press conferences?

Just to give a background, we had a few such press conferences on behalf our well known clients in the last year. The reasons were as varied as product launches, to feature announcements, to matter of fact tete a tete that the top leadership of clients wanted.

Confession – a chunk of these conferences hardly saw any attendance, but for the representatives of media, which our agency had relationships to leverage. A couple of these pressers where held against our express intent to the client, that having a press meet for the reason is ill-advised. Yet, the client insisted that they do need to have such events as the CEO ‘felt like’ he must meet the media.

The question that arose in all our internal confabulations was this – are press conferences any more relevant weapons in the public relations armor of a PR agency?

If you for a moment leave aside the financial result announcements pressers by most public traded companies, most other press conferences are seeing a waning importance, thanks to the advent of technology, and consequent utility of a host of other tools that will serve the same purpose.

Companies & PR agencies have the option of setting up video calls, or video conferences, where a set of invitee media can get logged in from remote locations, saving so much time and efforts, and also resources in hiring a venue, transportation and logistics.

The usage of appropriate technology serves the purpose of conducting elaborate press conferences; moreover, even from a PR ROI perspective, the return on press conferences from a perspective of media coverage is certainly much lesser.

The risk in conducting the same communication exercise using other remote technology conferencing tools is low, with a commensurate high ROI for the time and efforts on the part of the management of the company.

Considering such facts, must agencies and corporate phase out press conferences, from their PR armory? Or is there any way we can re-invent the manner and style in which such events are conducted?

What do you opine as a PR professional?

Media coverage, PR pitch, public relations

A bit of ‘how’ of media relations…

the how of media relations…

There has been a transformation of sorts, in recent times in the media landscape across the globe. Shrinking newsrooms, fewer journalists doing more beats and filing more stories is the new world media order.

That means less and less time for journalists for their in-depth research on stories that they chose to work or have been assigned and even lesser time for fact check. In many cases, when there are newsbreaks, all journalists get is just a couple of hours to file and detailed story, with all data, and industry reaction, expert comments etc.

It is here, that both clients and PR agencies handling these clients can step in, and be facilitators in the story telling efforts of the media.

It is in this backdrop, that all our media relations efforts assume more import and significance, and will continue to rule the roost, as long we PR can maintain information integrity, when helping media with story inputs.

Here are some fine points, which help in being better and more effective at media relations-

Once you send a mail (mostly a press note or release), never keep calling or texting again and again to check if your release has been seen. The usual story we give is to tell the journalist – “I just wanted to be sure, as there were server issues at our end”. You are the 5th person saying this, and the journalist well knows, and could be irritated. Besides that, what agency, if your server ill-behaves for every release sent out?

Never send a follow up email saying “Did you receive the email I sent you?”

If it’s a product related release, communicate loud and clear, what the product is all about, what it does, who it’s targeted to and how much it costs. That almost covers most of the information needed by the media, meaning, in case they need more, they would be in touch.

Always include images of your product.

Make sure when the journalist tries to reach you, you respond on the call or mail immediately. If you say you will revert in a certain time, do that come what may. Journalists, most times work on tight deadlines – if you don’t care for a revert, its in all probability, a missed story opportunity for you. Media doesn’t have the luxury of time to call you again and again.

If you say you’re attaching a document, please do it without fail; and don’t test the journalist’s patience by keeping a password protection for the document. Make sure you disable that, when you send out the mail .

Always include images of your product.

Know what you’re talking about. If you pitch a product, have some basic knowledge and be able to converse about it off the top of your head. Noone expects us to speak technology, and what goes into building the product, but one expects the PR person to know of all the product features and launch timelines.

Never ever send an out-of-office message after you’ve sent a pitch or a press note. That completely defeats the purpose,  and will put off journalists forever.

What else can you think of, as a PR pro?