Monday, March 27, 2006

PR Can Take You From Geek to Chic

Our most recent class assignment was to examine a case study and provide our own analysis. When I was looking through the Holmes Report, a Publicis Dialog case caught my eye.

At the turn of the century the United Soybean Board faced threats concerning the safety of soy products. The public became aware of risks involving trans fats (which are found in hydrogenated soybean oil) and agricultural biotechnology (which is how many soybean seeds are enhanced). Concerns about cancer and cholesterol were linked to soy products too.

Publicis worked with USB to create a program that dealt with issues management and the promotion of USB’s Better Bean Initiative. They targeted key people in the food and feed industry, influencers such as media representatives and healthcare professionals and consumers concerned about cholesterol and heart health.

In one analysis of the mainstreaming of soy, Publicis’ campaign was described as moving soy from “geek to chic”. Well, it worked.

Through trade shows, newsletters and websites Publicis helped promote the important role of soy in preventing and treating diseases as well as general awareness of soy products (e.g. soy milk, tofu, soy flour).

In turn, the volunteer farmers who comprise the USB and represent 600,000 soybean farmers nationwide benefited from the maintained market share, increased consumer awareness and increased use of resources.

As for the public, not only is soy a household name but less people turn their nose up at tofu and embrace delicious products like Soy Crisps. PR might have made soybeans somewhat chic.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Wal-Mart Bloggers Raise Issue of Transparency

Transparency—it’s a never-ending theme in public relations.

The New York Times published an article today (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/07/technology/07blog.html ) about bloggers posting pro Wal-Mart statements that essentially came directly from the company. As Wal-Mart faces public scrutiny for employee health care, bloggers have the potential to boost the retailer’s image and reputation.

Marshall Manson, a blogger and Wal-Mart rep, contacted bloggers who wrote about Wal-Mart and offered to send them emails about the company, kind of like insider tips.

Although “inside information” is not typically credited to a source, because it’s given inter nos, situations such as this make me question the integrity of some companies as well as the field of public relations.

If a company is feeding information to a blogger, but not paying them, what does that say about the company? What about the blogger? Sure a blogger must feel cool to be getting inside information about a big company like Wal-Mart but aren’t blogs intended for people to publish their own ideas in an open forum like the Internet?

I’m being naïve, I know. Since blogging is new to me, especially in the PR context, this simply raises an issue I haven’t thought about. Until I worked for a PR firm I didn’t know that often newspaper articles come verbatim from a press release—no questions asked. How do we distinguish the difference between a writer using a press release for their article and a blogger using insider emails and company documents for their latest blog topic? Especially when a big company’s image (read money) is at stake.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Chitter Chatter

Someone might be “listening” to the chatter on your blog.

The Washington Post printed a story relevant to my blog yesterday (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/02/AR2006030201829.html ). Really, this story is relevant to any bloggers. Nielson BuzzMetrics is a new company that uses technology to pick up internet “chatter” about various companies, products, brands and people. This can be very helpful for companies to determine which products are working, which aren’t and what they need to do about it.

As I noticed in the beginning of my blogging—though perusing amateur blogs out there much like mine—there is a lot of product promotion. What I didn’t realize is that it may unintentionally be strengthening or hurting a company’s image. Although chatter isn’t powerful enough to make or break a company, it can be a helpful resource to determine where they stand with the technology inclined public.

“It surprises me that it is possible to create something that can have that much impact on how people view what's going on in society,” said Jill Manty, an Olympic sports blogger, in the Washington Post article.

For many bloggers out there who want to get their voices heard, this might be their big break.