Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Friday, July 07, 2006

A Legitimate Protest: Jean-Marc Nicolle, the director of strategy at PSA Peugeot Citroën, is upset because British unions angry about a plant closure are calling for a consumer boycott of the company’s products, and is prepared to spend £1 million in advertising to persuade consumers to buy someone else’s products.

Nicolle says the “trade unions have no mandate [for a boycott],” and that “The boycott is ... against the open market in Europe.”

It’s possible that Nicolle’s comments lost something in translation to this Guardian piece, but in an open market, consumers have a right to consider all the facts about a company and its product before they make a decision, including its labor policies. And the union has a perfect right to tell consumers about those labor policies… and as much right to urge people not to buy a product as the company has to urge people to buy them.

Whether the union is smart to launch this campaign is arguable, but Nicolle is wrong to suggest it’s somehow not “legitimate.”
Still Not Getting It: Only 42 percent of public relations practitioners surveyed by the Dallas chapter of the IABC believe that media relations professionals should be expected to deal with blogger critics. Slightly more (46 percent) believe bloggers should be dealt with by customer relations departments. In other words, half of the PR people in Texas still don’t consider bloggers to be legitimate media. Hopefully they have CEOs or marketers or someone among their colleagues who’s thinking is not quite so mired in the 19th century.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Lay Down: I might consider this Slate article on the PR value of Ken Lay’s untimely demise in bad taste, if the same thought hadn’t occurred to me.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Phantom Row Over Pharma Trip: An article in the Guardian suggests that a “row has broken out” over a trip for British Members of Parliament and officials with cancer-related charities sponsored by pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis, which took several key stakeholders to Budapest and Paris to see state-of-the-art treatment facilities, including some prescribing drugs not yet approved or available in the U.K.

The article quotes a spokeswoman for the company (“’This is a purely educational trip. It enables the [participants] to look at best practice… I can’t see the harm in this.”); the head of the Lung Cancer Foundation (“’We’ve fully discussed this trip with our trustees and the board, and felt it was of value.”); and an MP who chose not to attend (“’I didn’t want to go because it was funded by a drugs company.”)

I’ve read the article three times now and I can’t see where the “row” is, unless it’s in the mind of the reporter, who ties the story to “concern about how ‘Big Pharma’ is influencing patients’ groups” and cites a story in the medical journal The Lancet calling for “greater transparency from the charities over where their sponsorship money came from.”

But if a “row” really had broken out, you’d think the Guardian could find at least one source who was prepared to criticize the trip, or tell its readers what was wrong with it.
Rudeness is Relative: A recent survey by Reader’s Digest to find the world’s most polite—and impolite—cities seems to have sparked controversy around the world. Most of the New Yorkers I know are outraged to learn that their city has been named the most polite (and horrified at the prospect that the news will attract even more tourists), while in India residents of Mumbai are denouncing—with some justification—the survey’s clear cultural bias.

Essentially, the problem is that the test of politeness is a uniquely American one. Three tests were employed: dropping papers in a busy street to see if anyone would help, checking how often shop assistants said “thank you”; and counting how often someone held a door open. Speaking as a Brit who has lived in New York for nearly 20 years, I can say that a conversation with a shop assistant in New York routinely consists of at least three “thank yous” each—a repetition that is annoying rather than polite.

One Indian newspaper article asks, not unreasonably, whether “these ritual forms of politeness [are] more important than the real thing? In which city would people go out of their way to help an outsider? The Reader’s Digest people, in fact, should have been in Mumbai on 26th July, last year. Did people loot and shoot as they did in New Orleans when Katrina hit that city? Or did they rescue people in danger, form human chains to save lives, give shelter and meals to stranded strangers even when it pinched their meager resources to do so?”

At worldpress,org, meanwhile, Prem Lal Joshi, raises several good points about the survey sample before pointing out the absurdity of the methodology and suggesting that the researchers “should had experimented its observations at the airports and then examined how the arriving passengers are given treatment, for example, in London, New York, Berlin, and other cities in Europe…. It seems to me that this may be a manipulated survey that was carried out purely from a Western/Caucasian perspective, with a faulty methodology, designed by Western minds for Western cities.”

I see this all the time, particularly in surveys that purport to demonstrate the superiority of the American economic system. They unfailingly measure success in terms that matter to Americans: usually disposable income or purchasing power. It is hardly surprising that the American system, which is designed almost exclusively with the objective of enhancing individual purchasing power, does so more successfully than the French.

But that’s not because the French system has failed to do what it is designed to do; it’s because the French system is consciously designed to achieve a different objective—one that includes a financial security net, more leisure time, superior access to healthcare, etc. And the French system is far more successful at achieving those objectives than the American system.
When you build your (often unconscious) biases into the questions you ask, don’t be surprised if the answers reinforce those biases.
Putin on the Ritz: Scott over at Media Orchard is not particularly impressed with Russia’s efforts to polish up its tarnished democratic credentials ahead of the G8 meeting in St. Petersburg and provides a hilarious riff on the brainstorming that came up with the phrase “sovereign democracy” to describe the current Putin regime..
Street Fighting Man: You can’t read Los Angeles Magazine’s profile of crisis public relations guru Mike Sitrick online, but you can read major excerpts via L.A. Observed.

One standout quote from Seth Lubove, the Los Angeles bureau chief of Bloomberg News Service, “Mike thinks of himself as a brawler. He’s the Jew with a chip on his shoulder. Whenever he goes up against a news organization, he sees himself taking on the goyim. He’s vicious, and he’s proud of it. He’s not literally a leg breaker, but metaphorically, sure.” In that quote, and many others, respect for the Sitrick approach—he doesn’t fawn over reporters like most of his counterparts—is evident, and suggests that a little more toughness wouldn’t hurt the profession at all.
Oil and Troubled Waters: Shell is, rather bravely, sending executives on a 50-city tour of the U.S. to discuss gas prices with the American public. The executives “plan to meet with everyone from average Americans struggling to pay rising prices at the pump to city officials and governors on their tour,” according to this Newsweek report.

“The industry and Shell has a responsibility to explain what we do, why we do it and how we do it to the American people, and we don't do enough of it,” says the president of Shell’s U.S. operations.

Meanwhile, as the FT reports, another U.K.-based oil company is struggling to mend its reputation in the States. After an explosion at a Houston refinery 18 months ago and a criminal investigation into pipeline leaks in Alaska, BP now stands accused of price fixing.
Sorry: For the prolonged silence. Problems with blogger and my laptop, and absolutely nothing to do with the fact that over a long weekend in Barcelona and Paris, a normal person might have better things to do than update his blog. Good news for our European readers, though: we selected The Arts in Barcelona for our third annual European SABRE dinner, which will be on May 24 next year. Come, pick up your gold award, then take it down the beach and stay there until you're the same color it is.