COVID19 and Public Relations: 4 Reasons Why PR is Vital for Business during a Pandemic

COVID19 and Public Relations: 4 Reasons Why PR is Vital for Business during a Pandemic

2020 will forever be remembered as the year of the pandemic. Effects from the year will undoubtedly have a lasting impact for years to come as every business has to adapt to the “new normal”. There is no business that has escaped unaffected. Therefore, businesses of every size globally have been forced to adapt, innovate and overcome the challenges this year has thrown at them. For many, this has been made possible thanks to the help of PR.

Here is just 4 reasons why PR is invaluable to businesses at the time of a crisis such as COVID19: 

  1. To Produce a Crisis Management Plan

Let’s face it, no one could have ever predicted a global pandemic and international lockdown. Coronavirus has brought new issues no one could have ever imagined having to face. However, a crisis management plan in place may have outlined the ways in which to overcome challenges in the event of the business having to temporarily close or reduce output for whatever reason. 

Now, more than ever, businesses need to put in place a plan or evaluate their current one to reduce crisis impact in future. With lives and livelihoods at stake, a crisis management plan simply cannot be overlooked. 

2. To Establish Trust and Integrity 

Inevitably, the global pandemic has created mass distrust. A good PR strategy can instil a  reputation of trustworthiness and credibility for a brand so that gradually consumers will trust the brand without question. 

One way of doing this is through a macro/micro-influencer. An influencer is a powerful tool to gain credibility. However important it is for the blogger to be admired and trusted, most of all the brand and influencer relationship must be genuine, otherwise it will have the opposite effect if consumers sense a false association or a feeling that the influencer doesn’t even use the businesses products/services. 

3. To Maintain a Positive Online Relationship

During the coronavirus pandemic it has been more important than ever before to maintain a relationship with consumers at home. Pre-pandemic business-consumer relationships have diminished especially for businesses that had no online presence or did not fully engage with consumers. 

As society becomes more physically isolated, engaging online with consumers will make them feel more unified in an online community. It provides a safe space where they can maintain a personal relationship to the brand in a time of so much tragedy and negativity. 

Many brands are using their online platform to spread messages of hope and the recurring theme of “stay safe” or “stay at home” which consumers engage well with when brands show they are connected and they care. 

4. To Promote Success

After time it can be extremely beneficial to promote how well you’ve responded to issues caused by COVID19. For example, according to Deloitte (2020), 39% of consumers say they will purchase more in the future from brands that responded well to the crisis.

Brands who highlight their success with steps they have taken on their part to control the virus or simply their role in “doing the right thing” are seen as more genuinely caring by consumers. For example, advertising store closures, social distancing measures, hand sanitising stations and new business practices not only provide information but show they are committed to the protection of the community.

Aveen Moore is a final year BSc student in Communication Management and Public Relations at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter

Why Does a Career in Public Relations Interest Me?

Why Does a Career in Public Relations Interest Me?

To answer the question why does a career in Public Relations interest me? As well as why did I chose a Public Relations degree to study? The answer isn’t as straight forward as the questions, there are a number of different reasons and answers, for how I ended up on this career path. In this blog I’ll be (roughly) explaining my story as to how I ended up studying and enjoying the field of Public Relations. I will start by explaining what interested and attracted me to the industry in the first place as well as, how I chose my degree and what I have learned over the course of my studies.

For another who doesn’t know what public relations is, it can often be confused with advertising and mis-defined as being just about promotion. Grunig and Hunt define Public Relations as “Management of communication between an organisation and its publics”. Charted Institute of Public Relations defines it as “the discipline which looks after reputation, “It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.” It can be argued that there is no distinct definition of  what Public Relations is, and in many ways it is so broadly scoped it is undefinable. Personally I believe it is about the management of multiple different relationships within an organisation/person of interest and how they use this to communicate, promote and attract attention in their interest across a range of multimedia platforms.

When leaving high school I initially accepted an offer to study Law and marketing, as in the past I had always been torn between what I wanted to study. Soon after beginning my Law degree I quickly became bored. The copious amount of reading, referencing and interpreting became boring to me. The only aspect of law I was interested in was the real life cases and how they were resolved. I was still curious about marketing and business but I had realised I was also very interested in social psychology. I decided to change courses and I began looking for something that would interest me more, within a number of universities. When I came across the course Communication Management and Public Relations I was initially struck by the many different areas of study that it involved. I wanted to learn more about communication and I also wanted to know more about how to use communication in a professional context. I also researched into the career opportunities and found them interesting. I have always been a very confident person and that is why I thought that public relations would suit my personality better.  

Originally what attracted me to Public Relations was its communication aspect, how fast-paced and current the industry is.  Another aspect of public relations I liked was that unlike marketing, they don’t push promotions in an informal fashion towards consumers rather convince consumers by creating connections and relationships that are mutually beneficial.  Take Edward Bernays as an example. Bernays is often described as the father of Public Relations and his work and campaigns were not only successful, but they changed the world that we live in today. For example Bernays was employed by American Tobacco Companies and in 1928 he created the revolutionary  “Torches of Freedom.” Campaign. Smoking at the time was a Taboo in America for women and “smoking by women in North America and Europe had long been associated with loose morals and dubious sexual behaviour.” Bernays thought he could change this idea and he believed “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.” Bernays organised multiple demonstrations of women smoking these women included debutants as well as prominent figures from the Women’s Movement and Churches. The demonstrations obviously attracted huge media attention and as a result newspapers across the country published stories on it. It’s crazy to me that through this occupation it was quite literally possible to change the world! 

During the course of my studies into to Public Relations, I have learned a lot about its uses in politics. I fascinated by the work of spin doctors and I was intrigued at how these people were able to take something that felt like bad news and turn it into something they could use for their benefit. While people often have mixed opinions over whether or not the use of spin particularly in politics is ethically correct Ludlam and Smith define it as “new strategic thinking”. I agree and, I think that there is an art to spin and it requires a great deal of knowledge as well as the ability to work on your own initiative. The labour party in England has often been accused of spinning facts to their own advantage, For example back in 2015 when Ed Miliband was the leader of the labour party, he took part in an interview which was held in the kitchen of his supposed £2 million house. These images then surfaced in an article published by the Daily Mail. The kitchen was in a modest state considering the price of the house, and the Daily Mail article compared it to a “utility room”. The article also went on to suggest that this might be the work of spin doctors as at the time Ed Miliband was running in the general election and he had just promised to introduce a mansion tax if he won. It was thought that by placing him in a less expensive looking kitchen it would favour the idea that he is a man of the people. Another example is throughout the course of Jeremy Corbyn’s time in office he was accused of spin multiple times. Back in 2016 when Owen Smith became the main leadership challenger for Corbyn. Smith gave a speech at the time condemning Conservative spending towards the NHS as well as accusing them of having plans to privatise the NHS. This was in order to present Smith as a socialist and an advocate for free health care, the only problem with this is that Owen Smith had spent five years working in big pharmaceutical companies as well as spending some of that time working as a corporate lobbyist. He also previously had the role of  head of policy and government relations for Pfizer. As this information was being brought to light in the press Corbyn timed a policy announcement well, which was to remove tax relief for pharmaceutical innovation. The idea was to frame Corbyn as someone who was anti/against big pharmaceutical companies compared with Smith the “lobbyist”.

From the examples I have given I can understand as to why someone would question the ethics of the use of spin. However, I believe that spin is a strategic thought process that involves a lot of planning, timing and driving of the news agenda. This skill requires a good judgment and knowledge about the industry you are working in.

Another aspect of Public relations that I find interesting is crisis communication. When an organisation gets into a crisis situation it usually contributes to public distrust. It is the PR practitioners job to ensure as little damage as possible is done to the firm. For example Pret a Manager dealt with a severe crisis in 2016. A 15-year-old girl died after having an allergic reaction to one of Pret a Manger’s baguettes. She collapsed on a British Airways flight and went into anaphylactic shock which caused her to go into cardiac arrest. Pret a Manager became the centre of the scandal as the baguette did not have any allergen advice on its wrapper. At the time food allergen advice was produced on site, and there was no legal requirement to provide it on the label. It was expected that staff deliver allergen information orally when asked. Pret a Manger received heavy criticism from both the press and the public. In this case Pret had to take some of the blame, in the beginning they tried to blame the British airways staff but in order to save company reputation the company CEO realised a statement saying that the firm was “deeply sorry” and that they were making “meaningful changes” to prevent something like this happening again. As a result Pret called for changes on the food labelling laws, gave the family compensation and encouraged other businesses to create change in their food allergens labelling. This is a successful example of the skill involved in crisis communication and how they were able to create a positive out of the terrible situation by getting the law changed.

A career in public relations interests me deeply. Although, I’m not entirely sure as to what direction or aspect of PR that I will end up working in. I feel safe in the knowledge that it always interests me, sometimes this is a quality I think people over look when planning a career. I think if you’re interested in what you do not only will you do well but you will enjoy your work as well.

Alicia Fox is a third year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at Linkedin and Twitter.

The Perfect Mistake?

The Perfect Mistake?

How KFC used a crisis as a marketing ploy by controlling the narrative.

Disaster struck KFC in February 2018 when supply issues lead to the fast-food giant running out of chicken. The fried chicken chain switched its delivery contract to another company which led to “operational issues” for the supply distribution. This meant that chicken couldn’t be delivered to restaurants across the UK and Ireland. KFC had to close more than half of its 900 outlets because delivery issues meant they had run out of chicken. Quite embarrassing when chicken is in their name (literally).

KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) is the world’s second-largest fast food chain (after Mc Donald’s) which specialises in fried chicken. The franchise has nearly 23,000 locations in 150 countries, 900 of which are in the UK. The company were suffering and were under a lot of scrutiny in the press and media. How could this have happened to such a global, successful chain? It was estimated that KFC were losing minimum of £4.2 million a week in supply chain debacle. The news was on every major platform and many customers were left disappointed and angry. 71% of the UK population visits KFC at least once a year, and nearly 24% eats in its outlets on a weekly or monthly basis. With the scale of its audience so vast, it required an efficient solution.

From the outside looking in, this looked like the perfect recipe for disaster. However, KFC saw an opportunity in this crisis. The spotlight was on them, so they decided to take control.

The first thing that KFC did was make a public announcement on Twitter to inform the public of their error. They owned up to the problem, even when they had an opportunity to blame their new distributors. KFC easily could have deflected blame, but they took full responsibility for the issue. They simply described the distributer complications as “having a few teething problems”.

KFC did this as they knew that by owning up to their problem their customers would respect their honesty. By doing this it also meant that KFC had full control of the issue as it came out. They made the announcement quickly before any rumours or speculation could take place. KFC were able to control how the message was perceived and illustrate the problem in their own words. Twitter immediately exploded with pictures and clips expressing the nation’s shock that KFC was out of its staple item.

KFC used humour in their messaging towards the press and on their social media accounts to deliver light-hearted and informative messages, to the public and their customers. “The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants,” KFC said on Twitter.

Humour was truly the coping mechanism to this crisis.

KFC knew that this crisis was a short-term inconvenience for customers. They knew that this wasn’t a corporate damaging scandal, which they could never recover. This was a was mistake that would be easily be fixed over time. So, their communication was light-hearted and used comedy to deflect the seriousness of the situation and maintain a positive public image.

In a business crisis, the press statements and crisis responses from the business will usually come from the top, e.g. the CEO or managing director. In this case, all of the responses came from “the colonel”. KFC was indeed founded by the colonel, but over 90 years ago and his face remains the logo and mascot of the company. By “the colonel” making these humorous announcements, KFC were able to control the narrative of their crisis in a humorous way. By playing down the crisis as a joke, it made customers relax and feel able to make a joke about it as well. While being humorous, they also provided a clear and transparent explanation of what was being done to fix the issue. The public responded positively to KFC’s approach, and gave positive feedback and online interaction and KFC responded to many of their comments. This humour created a sense of unity, as customers were missing KFC, and KFC were missing its customers. This led to humorous tweets from customers as well.

The crisis management was so successful, the crisis almost looked orchestrated. KFC used this time in the spotlight to engage with customers and get the public talking about the brand. They created the #wheresmychicken on their social media account, which created attention towards their restaurant’s products. On 21 February alone there were 53,000 mentions of KFC running out of chicken, alongside hashtags such as “#ChickenCrisis” and “KFCCrisis”. The media attention and positive response to KFC’s humorous messages to the crisis led to a huge increase on their social media platform.

Despite their confident and humorous appearance online, Meghan Farren, KFC’s chief marketing officer for the UK and Ireland, later in the year said that “At the time, our business was, to be honest, on its knees.” Despite the huge financial loss and customer dissatisfaction that KFC was experiencing, they maintained a strong relationship with the public, by constantly creating content and engaging with them. KFC updated their Twitter feed and their microsite constantly to keep the public and their customers apprised. Additionally, they created Q&As to address their audience’s most common inquiries. KFC also created a special microsite were customers could locate their nearest open store.

They even ran an ad that contained an apology, again using humour with mixing up the letters in their name to read “FCK” on an empty KFC chicken bucket. This was quite a bold campaign, which furthermore drew in a lot of media attention. However, this was well received by KFC customers and the public.

KFC used the crisis to their advantage giving their customers a reason to visit their restaurants once it reopened. The management of this crisis was used as a marketing ploy as it received such positive responsive online. KFC had the limelight and used the media interest and attention to create a customer desire for KFC’s products.

KFC successfully turned traditional crisis management on its head by avoiding a serious corporate apology and formal statements, and instead using their mascot to create a social media marketing poly. They turned their crisis into a perfect mistake by controlling the narrative through humour and honesty. They used media attention to there advantage by promoting there brand and creating a positive relationship between the business and the public.

Now that really is the perfect crisis.

Ciara Hughes is a final year student at Ulster University studying BSc Communication Management and Public Relations. She can be found on: Twitter, LinkedIn, and on her website: ciarahughespr.wordpress.com

The Not So ‘Perfect’ Launch

The Not So ‘Perfect’ Launch

Some background information

BPerfect Cosmetics was created by Brendan McDowell in 2013 and was situated in Belfast. In 2017, Brendan appeared on Ireland’s Dragons’ Den in March 2017 where his brand received praise from all 5 Dragons. Not only did Brendan receive praise from all 5, but he also received and secured an offer from two of them for his products that would “change beauty routines forever.” Brendan has now also been nominated as Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the year, this is an excellent achievement for Brendan as he has only been in business for seven years. The BPerfect Cosmetics range consists of not only makeup, but tanning must haves. BPerfect Cosmetics is now stocked in over 2000 stockists throughout Northern Ireland, Ireland, the UK and worldwide. BPerfect has been described as “Trend Setting, Award Winning, Ahead of the Game. Changing the Cosmetics industry since 2013.” However, has Brendan through all 7 years of his extremely hard work down the drain for the sake of one event?

The Launch

On the 1st October 2020, BPerfect Cosmetics megastore opened in CastleCourt shopping centre in Belfast. However, come the 2nd October 2020, the brand was being slated to the ground with abuse over multiple social media platforms by a large number of people due to images posted over social media and not taking corona virus health restrictions into place. Not only did BPerfect receive an endless line of abuse via social media, but so did the social influencers who attended and promoted the event. An example of this would include Ellie Kelly. Ellie Kelly was only back from a holiday in Greece and should have been in quarantine, but instead she was flooding her social media accounts with snapchats and Instagram stories of her at the opening of the megastore. Louise Clarke from iRadio even tweeted, “What’s with certain influencers thinking their above Covid guidelines.” This one tweet alone received over 200 likes and retweets. In the picture posted below, you can see that bPerfect have tagged all influencers involved in their launch.

BPerfect documented the full opening of their mega store in CastleCourt through their Snapchat & Instagram social media accounts (where they have over 600,000 followers.) Was this really a good idea? As they were posting consistently throughout the day on their accounts, this allowed hundreds of thousands of people to see that there was minimal effort of social distancing taking place as there were thousands of people standing squished together in a line waiting to get into the store. BPerfect posted a picture of their queue for the store on their Instagram story and captioned it the “Walk of FAMEE” – however, is it really the walk of fame? Or is it more a walk of shame?

As the event progressed throughout the day, so did the social media posts, not only on BPerfects pages, but also on the influencers. Some of the influencers who attended the event were the likes of Emma Kearny, Olivia McVeigh, Louise McDonnell, Ellie Kelly and even a guest appearance from Dan Osbourne! These influencers are not all only from different households and parts of Ireland, but were also publicising the fact that they were mixing with thousands of different people which also then caused repercussions for themselves. For example, after the event, Emma Kearny announced on her social media accounts she was deeply sorry for not taking the current pandemic restrictions into consideration and that she will be isolating for 2 weeks now and her salon will be closed. Also, responding to the backlash, Ellie said on her Instagram story: “I sincerely want to apologise if I have hurt anyone’s feelings or annoyed anyone. I completely understand, I’m not even going to defend anything.”

What’s a launch day without an after party? As if the social media posts of the store opening didn’t bring enough bad publicity to BPerfect, this was then topped off by more posts of a large number of people all on a party bus together where they were not wearing masks or staying 2M apart. As if this wasn’t bad enough, when quite a large quantity of alcohol was consumed there was then more snapchats and Instagram stories of those at the event necking drinks together, kissing each other for selfies and no social distancing happening in the club whatsoever.

Before the day of the launch had even ended, hundreds and hundreds of tweets were posted throughout the day in relation to the scandal. I therefore certainly was not alone in thinking this launch was a disgrace in how it was carried out, publicised and showed off to the world. Susan Keogh tweeted “Unless there’s a cure for Covid in your BPerfect carnival palette there is just no excuse for that event last night. 424 confirmed cases in Northern Ireland on Wednesday. The company who organised it & all those who attended clearly couldn’t give a toss.” 934 cases where then confirmed just a number of days after the event (highest number in a day to date) is this a coincidence? I think not!

The Backlash

It didn’t take long before there was an uproar about the house parties taking place in the Holylands in Belfast, or the amount of those gathered at a local GAA match, so what about BPerfect? For up to 48 hours after, the Belfast telegraph was the only news outlet to comment on this shocking behaviour. For every other brand out there, they’ve had to conduct online, virtual launches so why should BPerfect be exempt from this? Where they selling the cure for Corona Virus? I most certainly think not. Brendan tried to make amends by saying on social media “We never ever in a million years could have predicted so many people to turn up. To anybody that we have annoyed or upset with the crowds and with the many people that couldn’t get into the store. I’m truly truly sorry from the bottom of my heart.” Even though he has said he’s sorry, this one event could cost BPerfect hundreds, if not thousands of customers shopping elsewhere. Was the launch worth it?

Robbie Wallace is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University.

A PR disaster for Oatly?

A PR disaster for Oatly?

The growing popularity of oat milk and dairy milk alternatives in the last few years is unquestionable. A third of U.K households (32%) now buy dairy free milk, according to a Swedish leading plant-based drink brand Oatly. Yes, I am one of those people! For around a year and a half now I have been buying dairy milk alternatives, with Oatly being if not, one of my favourite brands. I love everything about Oatly; The taste, the health benefits (most important for me) and of course, their sustainability.

 Speaking to leading food outlet, Speciality Food magazine, Oatly’s U.K general manager said that as a result of increased consumer awareness, they know they can have a direct impact on the health of the planet ‘through the products they choose to buy’. Before this he said that consumers mainly opted for dairy free alternatives for dietary or health reasons but now many choose them for sustainability.

So why have Oatly received backlash and are being ‘Cancelled’ by many consumers now?

Well, here is the run-down. Whether your vegan, vegetarian or a meat eater I am sure you are aware of some of the motives behind vegan brands; To be ethical, honest, totally transparent, and sustainable to name a few. Oatly have built its name around sustainable farming, low carbon, and ethical business principles.

“Our goal is to always deliver products that have maximum nutritional value and minimal environmental impact.” Their ‘Oatly Way’ reads.

However, they have recently been at the forefront of a PR disaster because of links involving their new choice of investor. The investment was part of a $400 million funding package in which half was secured through a green-deal bank loan which commits Oatly to ensure all its investors are in sustainable solutions.

The rest however, a 10% stake of $200 million came from private equity consortium Blackstone. In the past they have made headlines for its alleged involvement in the Amazon deforestation, and because, its founder Stephen Schqarzman has donated to Donald Trump and the republican party ( I think we are all familiar with Trumps views on climate change ) , and briefly served as chairman of Trumps strategic and policy forum in 2016. Yikes.

The start of the backlash

Of course, this decision did not go unnoticed by vegan activists all over the world. The epicentre of the turmoil however began on Twitter. A thread was created by activist and influencer Laura Young, also know as Less Waste Laura.

Here is what she had to say:  

This thread created a huge stir across social media, and lead many to boycott the brand and find a dairy free alternative.

Oatly’s response

Oatly released an open letter in response to their PR disaster and posted this photo across their social media platforms. The letter was aimed at any stakeholder of the company which they upset in their decision. It was rather a sympathetic letter in my opinion, to win back the hearts of those consumers who turned their back on the company and to plead with them to understand.  They explained, “Getting a company like Blackstone to invest in us is something we have been working on to create maximum change to benefit the planet”  

They knew that they would not be able to please everyone in their decision, but they placed great emphasis on how Blackstone’s investment will bring them larger returns ( for example, more than the meat and dairy industry) by pushing the oat based sustainability movement across the globe. In turn, this may influence other private equity firms to make sustainable investments.

 Oatly also discussed that with the help of Blackstone’s capital base and expertise in the global market it would help them achieve their goals. These goals would see us having a chance of reaching the global climate goals of cutting the greenhouse gas emissions by 50% before 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Could this PR disaster see a decrease in their market share if consumers turn to alternative brands?

Will I turn to an alternative brand?

At first, I had considered it but after reading their letter I understand and accept the overall goals they are trying to achieve.  And, if you have every tried Oatly (barista version, if you know, you know) in your tea or coffee I am sure you will agree it would be a difficult product to depart with.  

You can read their full letter here: https://www.oatly.com/uk/climate-and-capital

Chanelle Quinn is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on: LinkedIn.

Coronavirus crisis; how brands are successfully addressing it

Coronavirus crisis; how brands are successfully addressing it

I know we’re all sick of hearing about Covid-19; I won’t bore you with statistics or point out your wrongdoings. Instead I wanted to share my fascination with the way in which brands, big and small, have reacted to the global crisis. Not only is it worth taking note of their crisis management but also their crisis communication and marketing. Sparks of creativity and brilliance were keeping us sane as organisations developed impactful ways to demonstrate how much they cared. They’ve been addressing customer concerns, trying to unearth solutions and attempting to create solidarity whilst promoting a physical separation. Others just graced us with humour during some of the dimmest days.  

Many would argue that brands were faced with a sink or swim dilemma. The options were to think on their feet; either physically changing the product or the service they provide, remaining relevant through crisis marketing or suffer irretrievable losses.

  1. Addressing customer concerns

By early March it became apparent that this virus was here to stay. Every day we were faced with unprecedented decisions taken by the government, impacting on every aspect of our lives and rapidly heightening our stress levels. Companies were keen to express empathy, acknowledging the impact Covid was having on so many. Stockpiling became a daily ritual for those fortunate enough to do so. Toilet paper became a hot commodity; I’m still unsure why. Panic buying led to stretched supply chains and the resultant shortages meant brands were faced with backlash from the self-same panic buying consumers. Cottonelle, one of the leading toilet paper brands, developed a campaign encouraging consumers to “stock up on generosity” and #shareasquare.     

2. Finding solutions

Companies quickly responded to the urgent requirement for medical equipment and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). The demand was for hand sanitiser, ventilators, scrubs and masks. Large brands, such as Smiths Group, LVMH and Brewdog, were in a strong position to pivot their manufacturing in order to develop prototypes or products. Smiths Group worked with the VentilatorChallengeUK Consortium securing a contract to produce 10,000 ventilators for the UK. Additionally, world renowned company LVMH converted their perfume factories to produce hand sanitiser. LVMH are famed for their high-end luxury products, however, we all learnt very quickly what the real luxury in life was; our health.

Closer to home, we experienced similar adaptations. Groups were popping up everywhere producing thousands of scrubs and other PPE. In fact, I do recall chuckling at the sight of doctors or consultants working in princess-themed scrubs made from children’s bedsheets. With regards to businesses adapting to the new normal and providing a new service, I am sure the majority of us jumped at the opportunity to pick up a takeaway from our local restaurant. For many restaurants this was a completely new experience and hiccups in services were inevitable. But let’s face it, at this point we had the time to wait for our dinner. Restaurants such as Shu in Belfast created an online menu of recipes and ingredients which customers could choose from, collect and cook at home. This ensured that they still managed to stay afloat in uncertain times and continue to provide a product and service to their loyal customers.

3. Sense of solidarity

Brands and organisations took responsibility for spreading awareness and encouraging people to observe social distancing. Brands wanted to demonstrate their understanding of our wish to remain united despite the physical barrier between us all. Coca Cola placed a billboard in Times Square which read “Staying apart is the best way to stay united”. Nike also jumped on the bandwagon, generating a catchy slogan “play for the world, play inside”. Portraying the world as a smaller place with a shared identity, and striving to engender a kindred spirit, became a common theme. The most touching one for me was the St Patrick’s Day Guinness advert. Despite gatherings and celebrations being slightly different this year, Guinness found a way to intensify our sense of camaraderie, yanking on the strings of our national identity.

4. Humour

Humour effectively executed can reap excellent rewards for brands. It creates emotional arousal and promotes the release of anxiety or worry through amusement. Through efficacious humour, organisations can take important rules and regulations set by higher powers, make light of them but also inform their customers. When brands allow us to see their ‘funny side’ we open up more to them and, on occasion, their marketing ploys can become the most memorable to us. In keeping with Covid-19 guidelines, KFC removed the “finger lickin’” part of their famous slogan “it’s finger linkin’ good”, much to my amusement. Another which caught my eye was Connswater Shopping Centre’s sign, making light of the fact they were insisting on customers wearing a face covering.  

We will never forget the year 2020, each of us for slightly different reasons. Despite the difficult times we’ve faced, I know I’d be speaking on behalf of so many when I say it’s been a hugely insightful time. Particularly for me as I begin my career in communication and public relations. I have been inspired by so many organisations, watching as they harness their creativity in every aspect of business life. Learn from them, take chances, be bold, and prosper.

Lydia Killen is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram and Twitter

#CancelCulture: Should brands be able to bounce back from a PR scandal?

Cancel culture is a term that was virtually unheard of just years ago but now is a prominent feature of the digital age. So what exactly is cancel culture? It can be described as an environment that facilitates a form of public shaming, usually occurring on the Internet, where a person or an organisation is denounced for perceived misconduct. Every week, seemingly a new person or organisation is ‘cancelled’, from celebrities whose transgressions have come to light (think Kevin Spacey) to brands who have alienated or offended their customers (remember that controversial Pepsi ad?).

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The rise of social media has changed how brands interact with their publics forever, consumers can now share their positive and negative experiences in real-time at the click of a button. It is now common practice for companies to engage with influencer marketing in order to build up an increased presence online or to increase sales. Conversely, it can be difficult territory to navigate as a negative review or comment from one of these influencers can cause shockwaves for a brand. The crisis communications and reputation management aspects of public relations are therefore of increasing importance and brands need to have a firm strategy in place to rebuild trust with their customers. When a crisis hits and a brand is unwilling to acknowledge or apologise for their fault, it raises the question if brands can or should be able to resurge after a PR disaster.

When influencer marketing goes wrong: DOTE and their representation crisis

One brand that tried to utilise the power of influencer marketing had a huge PR scandal during the Summer. DOTE is a shopping app that primarily focuses on the Generation Z audience. To target this section of the demographic, DOTE created a community of influencers from Youtube and Instagram that were referred to as ‘dote girls’. These dote girls were sent on sponsored brand trips to promote their clothing and the lifestyle that DOTE was trying to sell. Two of these trips, one to Fiji and the other to Coachella, had huge fall-out and resulted in a PR disaster. It emerged that during these trips that the influencers of colour were treated differently from the other dote girls. Specifically, on the Coachella trip, DOTE segregated the group and placed the white Youtubers in the more luxurious section of the house whereas the people of colour had to sleep on couches at the opposite end of the accommodation. They were also not photographed as much as the other girls and didn’t feature as heavily on DOTE’s social media pages.

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What ensued from this was dozens of videos where the girls outlined their negative experience which resulted in thousands upon thousands of comments condemning the brand for their possible racism. How did DOTE rectify the situation and try to rebuild their credibility as a brand? They began to delete photographs on their social media that featured predominately white people and began to feature more people of colour in their posts with the statement ‘this is what dote looks like.’ Many people picked up on this and it further alienated their audiences with YouTubers like Tiffany Ferg commenting on how fabricated the brand now appeared. DOTE  released a statement apologising for their mistake and continue to be more representative of all girls, however, they have lost invaluable partnerships and will be hard-pressed to find an influencer who would now promote them on their channel. Could DOTE as a brand have done anything differently?

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Steps to take in a social media crisis

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Social media is now arguably the most important factor in crisis communications. In this smart-phone era, it is highly likely that a PR disaster will appear as a result of a blunder on social media or at the very least will be discussed in-depth online.  As the above infographic outlines, it is vital for brands to continually monitor the tone of discussion online. Only in this way can they be prepared when a social media storm hits. It is also important for companies not to be overly defensive and instead take criticism on board so that consumers can genuinely feel that their feedback may be able to make a difference.

As the DOTE scandal illustrates, one badly handled PR crisis can tarnish a brand’s reputation exponentially. What once was a thriving social-media focused company with a plethora of followers has greatly plummeted, this may be as a result of ignoring comments focusing on their representation issues in the past.  However, DOTE’s efforts to improve their representation along with their apology, although appearing fake right now,  may genuinely produce positive results as they move forward from this crisis.

Sarah Sweeney is a final year student BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-sweeney-ab6635143/  and Instagram @sarahsween3y

Tide Pod challenge creating brand crisis?

Do you ever just remember something that was popular or trending and just think wow the human race is just insane, like really really stupid? I mean how are we supposed to be the most intelligent mammals when things like this become a thing. Well this is exactly what I thought when I heard about the ‘tide pod’ challenge

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Basically, it became trendy to eat tide pods- yes as in the ones you put in the washing machine to do your laundry. Which by the way, contain ethanol, citric acid and other dangerous chemicals that are poisonous. The whole thing started when tide pods became known as a ‘forbidden snack’ online due to their colourful appearance making them appear like sweets. Soon after videos emerged of teenagers (yeah not toddlers) eating the laundry detergent. While it was later confirmed most people where only pretending to take a bite, a lot of people actually did. American association of poison control reported 86 cases of teenagers intentionally ingesting laundry detergent in 2017. I’d also like to highlight the point about this being teenagers involved, I mean I would of understand if my 3-year-old godson was fooled by this. The main problem was both social media and the headlines in the mass media. Social media is dangerous in that everyone seems to want to be famous on it these days so will do whatever to keep up. It also made the few serious incidents of actual ingestion look like a worldwide epidemic. Image result for tide pods challenge gronk video"

I also think the mass media look for any reason to blame the younger generation for all the worlds problems. They also in some ways fear the popularity of social media and so want to undermine its positivity. For example, headlines started along the lines of ‘teenagers eating laundry detergent pods and posting the videos online’ to ‘teenagers risking their lives for internet challenge.’

For Tide pods this was a serious PR disaster. Many headlines suggested that it was even time to ban tide pods for good. Whether people where really eating them or just pretending to it brought forward a real danger about the design of the pods. They have been known previously to confuse the elderly people with dementia and of course young kids with their bright colouring. Therefore, this viral trend had others thinking in this way and demanding something be done. The owners of tide pods could not in their right minds predict that teenagers would take up eating their products as a hobby. Due to this they were probably not well prepared for this particular PR crisis, however, their parent company Proctor and Gamble handled the situation quite well considering. They got American footballer Rob Gronkowski nicknamed ‘Gronk’ involved in the recovery. They uploaded a tweet of them asking Gronk should people ever eat tide pods to which he replies ‘no’ several times. He then goes on to say use tide pods for washing not eating. Teenagers today are obsessed with celebrities, so It was smart of Proctor and Gamble to use one promoting safe use of their products

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They didn’t really go crazy with their crisis management over social media. There was that video and one other tweet ‘Only things that should be on today’s menu: nachos, wings and plenty of team spirit. Save your tide pods for the stains later.’ This was probably the best thing to do as most parents will agree telling teenagers not to do something seems to make them want to do it a whole lot more. The product itself was already safe as it was properly locked so focusing on the social media craze was all they could really do. They also tried to get the videos removed to stop them from reappearing or becoming another PR crisis in the future. YouTube did eventually start to delete the videos however the jokes and memes will live on forever really

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That being said in a world where there are now apparently over 100 genders is it really that much of a reach that people would eat laundry detergent to gain internet fame. The real problem here is that teenagers need to learn the difference between famous and infamous.

Katie Doyle is a final year Bsc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: Instagram-@katiedoyle54 LinkedIn-https://www.linkedin.com/in/katie-doyle-9a0551195/ Twitter-https://twitter.com/ktdoyle6

A ‘Whale’ Big Problem for SeaWorld.

Do you ever find yourself about 20 videos deep from what you were originally watching on YouTube and have no clue how you ended up clicking on a video about how Doc Martins are made in a factory? Because same.

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Well, that’s exactly how I came across the trailer for a documentary called Blackfish. So of course I went online and seen that the documentary was available to watch on Netflix and that is how I found myself knee deep looking for information on the topic and the PR crisis that they were facing.

Now if you haven’t seen the documentary i’ll give you a quick rundown on what it’s about. Blackfish is a highly controversial documentary about the SeaWorld company that came about after one of their trainers Dawn Brancheau was sadly killed by Tilikum an orca whale in the Orlando park. However, this same whale had previously been involved in the death of two other individuals. The documentary covers the history of killer whales who were taken into captivity up until Dawns death.

Ever since the documentary aired SeaWorld have not only been under intense scrutiny by organisations such as PETA but also a rake of other people. In fact, Joan Jett who is famous for her song ‘I love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ demanded that the song be removed from the ‘Shamu Rocks’ show which displays these killer whales.

This was only the beginning of the roller coaster for SeaWorld. Sometimes the only way to learn a lesson is to be thrown in at the deep end and swim. Not Sea-World though. Oh no. They just sunk.

SeaWorld probably did the worst thing when it came to the backlash of this documentary. The only thing they did in this situation was release a statement essentially saying that the documentary was misleading and exploits a tragedy. They attacked the documentary company rather than fix incorrect information. Now if this isn’t the beginning of a PR disaster then what is?

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As another attempt at fixing this PR crisis SeaWorld also released an ad which could be found both on the televison and online. The main purpose of the advertisement was to try an express how much of an effort SeaWorld put in to caring for their marine life, particulary the killer whales. Once again the company quickly came under fire from animal activist groups claiming that it was a direct attack on previous campaigns made against Sea World.

For 2 years (yes, they really ignored this for 2 years) SeaWorld pushed this all to the side and didn’t break breath about the situation. Sometime later they finally decided to try and be pro-active and came up with the campaign #AskSeaWorld. Brilliant idea, eh? Wrong. All this done was give ammunition to everyone who had their backs up about the company being mute for 2 years and were finally able to give their honest opinion on what they thought of SeaWorld.

Would it have been better if SeaWorld ignored the whole situation? Is it true when they say all PR is good PR? I honestly don’t think so. 

Here are a few pointers I would give to any compny that may find themselves in a bit of a PR mess:

1. Honesty really is the best policy – Had SeaWorld been open and honest about what was happening with the documentary and the company they mightn’t have got themselves in the mess they did. Nobody likes a company who is so secretive. Whether or not they thought it was better to stay quiet, 2 years is quite a while and in the long run they just did more harm than good.

2. Devise a plan – Some companies go a lifetime without having any PR issues. However, the best idea would be to have a process in place on how best to manage an issue. Don’t do the automatic reaction that SeaWorld did of jumping down someones throat and insisting that they are being misleading. What good is that going to do you?

3. Admit if you made a mistake – Some may not agree with me on this one. However, I think it’s better for a company to admit when they’ve made a mistake and are willing to learn from it. It almost makes the company look more humble.

After all this, there is one thing I hope SeaWorld actually did right and that is that whoever was in charge of their PR and marketing got the boot.

If you haven’t had the chance to watch Blackfish I strongly recommed you do. As someone who always wanted to go to SeaWorld (thankfully I never got) it gave me a real eye opener about what is actually going on in there.

You can still watch it on Netflix now. Pinch a pals password if you haven’t got an account. It’s okay though, I won’t judge. I still sponge off my sister for it but it’s allowed because we’re students, right? 

Courtney O’Neill is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @Courtneyon21 and Linkedin: @courtneyoneill

Pizza express? A great place for an alibi.

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Last week in the news was a certain member of the British Royal family, ohh yes, you’ve guessed it. It was Prince Andrew and he has had an absolute PR nightmare this week because of his relationship with convicted Human trafficker and sexual abuser Jeffrey Epstein. Once I heard he was voluntarily doing this interview I couldn’t actually get my head around it, Epstein has been dead for months and there was no noise at all from the Windsor’s no communication on the issue at all. What on earth made the Royal family who I would assume have a strict communication policy actually allow this to happen? I’m very sure an inquest into this will be held and someone will be held responsible.

The interview itself was one of the most uncomfortable and awkward things I’ve ever watched. Prince Andrew himself did not seem at all comfortable with the discussion as a whole. Surprisingly most of Prince Andrews Public relations advisers wanted him too to do the interview, however only one advisor Jason Stein was against the idea. Stein had previously been special advisor or “Spin doctor” to Amber Rudd and left the role by mutual consent because he knew how much of a backlash the Prince would face from the interview and he was correct.

The interview took place on BBC Newsnight and was approved by the Queen, every answer Prince Andrew gave seemed like even he doubted them. The reason for the interview was a picture of Prince Andrew with one of Epstein’s sexual slaves Virginia Roberts-Giuffre, she was a young woman who had been trafficked by Epstein and remained a slave. She stated that she danced with a sweaty prince Andrew and that they had sexual relations something he strongly denies. The answer Prince Andrew gave was the strangest response I’ve ever heard to a sexual allegation “I didn’t sweat at the time because I had suffered what I would describe as an overdose of adrenaline in the Falklands War when I was shot at and I simply… it was almost impossible for me to sweat.” He did not actually deny the allegation of sexual abuse but said he didn’t sweat instead, he did not have to worry because he had half the nation sweating for him.

He also stated that he had an alibi for the date that Virginia Roberts-Giuffre stated that they had sexual relations “I was with the children and I’d taken [daughter Princess] Beatrice to a Pizza Express in Woking for a party at, I suppose, sort of 4pm or 5pm in the afternoon.”.When asked by the BBC why he would remember a meal at Pizza Express 18 years later, he said: “Because going to Pizza Express in Woking is an unusual thing for me to do, a very unusual thing for me to do.” I think remembering taking your daughter for a party 18 years ago is most unusual thing, how could anyone physically remember this event, but I suppose Pizza express is as good as place for an alibi as any.

Once he had denied all of this there’s still the question of the picture of himself and Virginia Roberts-Giuffre together smiling while he has his arm around her waist, and it looks like a perfectly normal photo until you release the context. Of course, this was the response by Prince Andrew “Nobody can prove whether or not that photograph has been doctored but I don’t recollect that photograph ever being taken” from this I don’t think he can prove it’s a doctored photograph and not remembering something does not mean it didn’t happen. Who ever is advising on the wording of his script definitely did not read over it again. When asked about his hand around the young woman’s waist he stated “I am not one to, as it were, hug, and public displays of affection are not something that I do… I don’t believe that photograph was taken in the way that has been suggested. “He also added: “That’s me but whether that’s my hand or whether that’s the position I… but I don’t… I have simply no recollection of the photograph ever being taken”. At this point he seemed nervous by the questions and he actually stammered as you can see in the quotes, he wasn’t even convinced by the story himself. If you’re going to lie at least be confident about it, the entire episode reminds me of the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky case and unlike Bill who just simply point blank lied. Andrew has confused himself and his story during the interview and has not cleared a thing up in my opinion.

He did not even express regret or apologies to the victims of his billionaire friend Epstein instead he said, “The people that I met and the opportunities that I was given to learn either by him or because of him were actually very useful.” If this interviews purpose was to create a more positive public image of Prince Andrew and to repair the damage that his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein caused, it has done the complete opposite of this desired effect and quiet simply been a PR meltdown that the Prince may never recover from.

 

Jordan Arthur is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found at: LinkedIn – linkedin.com/in/jordan-arthur-864694173 and Facebook – facebook.com/jordanarthur.71