Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility, especially with regard to the environment, has become a major facet in surviving today’s green-obsessed corporate atmosphere. With global warming and the carbon footprint on the radar of every watch group, companies are trying harder than ever to create CSR campaigns that truly benefit their communities. Sometimes the campaigns win awards and audiences, but other times, they may be more of a formality than a movement towards change.

ExxonMobil, the largest integrated oil company in the world, releases a corporate citizenship report every year to let the world know what it plans to do in the global community. One of the biggest portions of the report is the environmental performance section. This section outlines various measures taken by the company to increase its involvement in environmental preservation and improvement. The 2006 report focused on global climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency, spill prevention and environmental management. Within the report, ExxonMobil promises to operate in an environmentally responsible manner in everything that they do. Sounds like the company grabbed CSR and ran in the right direction, right?

SourceWatch, a watch-dog organization dedicated to documenting propaganda activities in the PR world, has written extensively on the lies surrounding ExxonMobil’s CSR promises. Questionable increases in profits amidst soaring gas prices, the boycott against progressive radio station Air America Radio and the large sums of money going to political and lobbying campaigns top the list of allegations against ExxonMobil. Even the tiger mascot has been questioned by assorted NGO’s who claim the corporation destroys the environment as it claims to be saving endangered Bengal tigers.

The main accusation surrounding the company, however, stems from a study published by the Union of Concerned Scientists. This study offers insight into ExxonMobil’s alleged disinformation tactics, much like the ones used by the tobacco industry, in its handling of climate change. According to the report, ExxonMobil has spent nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 on organizations specializing in climate change denial, purportedly funding 29 of these organizations in 2004 alone. These organizations publicly disagree with the climate change theory, and many completely reject the idea of climate change altogether. ExxonMobil paying companies to discard climate change theories? Doesn’t sound very responsible to me.

So I guess the user-friendly website and optimistic report are a keeping-up-with-the times strategy – the company realizes that CSR is a necessary element in surviving today’s business landscape, but it has yet to instill this model into its own corporate culture. Until a company can fully embrace CSR as part of its business model, empty promises and broken pledges will set the backdrop for potential change.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Realizing Dreams

In an earlier post, I mentioned that social media belongs to our age group, that we are the ones who know it best, so we should be the ones to utilize and manipulate it. Well, it seems as though my opinions have turned into reality.

invite media, an online video advertising startup company, came out of the brilliant minds of four University of Pennsylvania students. Seniors Zachary Weinberg, Nathaniel Turner, Scott Becker, and Michael Provenzano started with an application for Facebook, but have now changed their game plan to a full-on online display optimization company with a social network component. The last few months have seen them move from a small studio apartment in North Philadelphia to an office building at the heart of the city. A management team, board of directors, statistics team and engineering team combine to create the brain-power needed to pull off such an impressive project. With the help of angel investors, venture capitalists, and a 2007 Wharton Business School Venture Award, the guys have been working hard to get the company off and running.

Such determined and skillful college guys don’t come around too often, so check back for updates on their progress – I expect great things to come out of that small studio apartment.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Back in the USSR?

Although China has been the main focus of debates on Internet censorship, it does not stand alone. There are many countries currently employing and exploring censorship of the World Wide Web and they offer many excuses to rationalize this infringement on basic human rights.

Rumors of Russian censorship of the Internet started back in 2000, when Vladimir Putin became the acting president of the newly democratic country. This article from early 2000 describes Putin’s use of secret service to monitor the Web, complete with the “stopping crime and corruption” excuse given for the crack-down. A Freedom House article also from 2000, talks of the Russian government’s apparent restriction of Internet use in the name of protecting the public. In 2002, Johnson’s Russia List portrayed a denial issued by the Russian Interior Ministry in response to an article about censorship published in a Russian daily. The author of the Russian article stands by his source and story and describes it as a “warning sign” of impending abuse. As the years go by, the censorship rumors have not waned. 2005 brought with it numerous articles on the debate, ranging from Russian newspaper Pravda to Radio Free Europe, both regarding censorship as a problem for the country.

But the biggest concern comes out of an article published in 2007 on the Russian News and Information Agency website. This short article quotes President Putin as he denies Internet censorship in Russia, but then explains that law enforcement officers should monitor the Internet to make sure laws are observed and crimes not committed. This glaring contradiction is the root of the censorship problem. Governments consistently declare that censorship is an act of protecting its citizens, and refuse to refer to it as censorship, per se. As in Putin’s case, he sugar-coats the problem by describing it as a “law enforcement” issue. Just last month, a Russian blog compared its Internet censorship to that of China; earlier this month, another blogger was quoted on Radio Free Europe as saying he believed censorship would continue into Medvedev’s term.

The problem with censorship is obvious: it undermines people’s rights in an undemocratic way. But Russia’s case goes deeper than that. Two decades have not yet passed since the end of Communist rule in the country, and democracy is still fresh in the land. This censorship, however, reminds the world of what Russian government is capable of doing. During Communism, censorship ran rampant and this new democracy doesn’t seem to be doing anything to stop that. It almost seems that little by little, Russia is reverting back to a time of oppression and unconstitutional rule. If its government wants to earn respect as a democratic nation, it should start by opening up channels of communication. Even the slightest bit of censorship reminds the world of what once was. In Russia’s case then, its censorship is hurting more than just its citizens, but what can be done to stop it in the face of great excuses reminiscent of the Big Lie?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Something to Think About..

Today I read this very interesting post on the PR Squared website dealing with Social Media News Releases. The story includes links to some of the more prominent companies that have put out news releases online and commends them on their techno-savvy attempts. The greatest part about these releases, according to PR Squared, is the two-way communication between the company and its customers.

But this raises a controversial point - how do the customers know for sure that the news release is actual news and not just fluff that is commonplace on blog posts? We have heard stories of Coca-Cola and other companies writing fake blogs to promote a product or company, so how are we to know for sure that these SMNR's are coming straight from the source and telling us useful information?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Our Turn

Last week, Brandweek posted this article on its website, proving once and for all that the Millenials may actually be good for something. A recent TNS Media Intelligence /Cymfony study concluded that agencies (including advertising, public relations, design and creative) lack expertise in social media. They consistently come up short when their clients want to take advantage of new online tools and maximize their technological potential.

Many agencies continue to apply traditional models to social media when they should be seeking new models to fit these novel forms of communication; they need to move beyond the closed media model and implement strategies that fit the ever-open world. These days, clients need more than just representation, they demand professionals who can evolve with technology and agencies who will stay on top of trends.

What the article doesn't mention, but seems obvious to me is that aging agencies may be the problem. Sure, college grads are pouring into agencies of all kinds, but the execs keep getting older. Leadership roles demand experience (and lots of it comes with age), but our generation holds the key to a whole new level of experience - natural born gurus. Well, maybe not born, but definitely innate. We've grown up directly inside the milestones and advancements - our peers are the ones coming up with these things, including social media. So as scary as it may be, I think it's time that we take over.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Time to see KC

My travels took me to Kansas City over the weekend and I must say I'm impressed. I wasn't expecting much from the little town in the Midwest, but it sure proved me wrong. The Country Club Plaza offers beautiful Spanish architecture and even boasts a replica of the Giralda Tower from Seville, Spain. Walking around the shop and cafe lined streets feels just like a walk through a quintessential European town. And the steak, some of the best in the country, speaks for itself. I would go back just for the steak alone!

But the best part awaited me at the Nelson-Atkins Museum. This neoclassical building contains masterpieces inside and out. The new Bloch Building, pictured above, was just named Time Magazine's #1 Architectural Marvel. The building stands in stark contrast with the neoclassical style, but adds a new dimension to the establishment.

I just wish KC received a little more credit. I never expected such great things, but I will definitely recommend it to any traveler looking for an up-and-coming kind of place.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Not Just a Legend Anymore

“Technology has re-shaped the PR landscape and changed the way we communicate”: It sounds excellent and looks great on paper (or the computer screen), but without a practical application and real world example, the phenomenon is as obscure as the Loch Ness monster. And since I wouldn’t lead my readers to believe in mythical beasts, I won’t force them to believe my faith in technology without substantial proof, either.

LEGO, the toy company known for its colorful building bricks, has always been associated with creativity and imagination. Boys and girls have played with them for decades and developed important skills in the process. However, by 2004, the company was losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the high-paced excitement of computers and video games. But after hiring a new CEO and reorganizing the company, the people behind LEGO decided they would need more than just a company clean-up to get back in the game.

LEGO hired 360PR, a firm specializing in the use of online tools, to create a platform that would bring back the thrill of Lego toys amidst the constantly evolving world of iPods and game consoles. Together they came up with the “LEGO Builders of Tomorrow” campaign targeted at parents of the hi-tech robo-tots; it was used to remind parents that successful adults were cultivated with the help of creativity, and not the kind that gets your kid to the next level of Halo the fastest. After conducting the research, it became obvious that kids were not the only techno-savvy generation out there: parents were using the Internet for everything from diagnosing a runny nose to purchasing a playground set. So the best outlet to reach the web-surfing parents? Online technology, of course.

With that in mind, 360PR designed three devices to establish discourse with parents about the importance of imaginative play: a website used to deliver tips and stories from real parents, a LEGO Playtime Podcast and a blog. The site came complete with stories about “Builders of Tomorrow,” or the high profile fans of LEGO, ways for kids to become a “Builder of Tomorrow,” a scholarship contest, play tips for parents and links to the podcast and blog. Through this campaign, LEGO was not only able to boost its sales, but also spread a positive message to young kids and their parents everywhere.

But how can I prove the importance of technology without results? The campaign has been featured in dozens of media outlets, online outlets and audio releases, the site attracts 5,000 unique monthly visitors, the blog has been featured in a story called “Dawn of the Dad” in the Washington Post and the podcast has been picked up by directories including iTunes. As for the picture at the top of the post – it is the outdoor advertisement that won a Gold Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival in 2007 .

So now that everyone’s convinced that emerging technology is not just some phantom of the communication world, I’ll leave you with this: the word Lego (leg godt) means “play well” in Danish, so I guess the campaign comes pre-packaged right in the toy.

And just for fun - while keeping with the theme - here is a video of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” made entirely of Lego’s.