Navigating a Fake News World – APCO Worldwide csuitepodcast interview

Interview starts at 11:45

For the second interview of the csuitepodcast that I recorded at The Holmes Report’s In2 Innovation Summit, I spoke to the CEO of APCO worldwide, Brad Staples


Chatting with APCO’s Brad Staples (left)

Brad had earlier given a talk on how corporate communicators can best navigate a fake news world, a conversation that followed on nicely from the interview I did with Nick Barron of Edelman in the previous show, which is well worth a listen.

In that podcast, Nick said that fake news had always been around, and Brad agrees, as he said it’s the nature of human beings to, from time to time, tell lies and untruths.  However, he added that the power and presence of the internet and the scale and impact of social media has just meant the manipulation of the truth has an impact that far exceeds the truth itself and it has changed world events.

APCO recently carried out its own research on the topic where they asked a representative proportion of UK and US population a series of questions about fake news and according to the findings, people don’t know what to trust because there is so much news and information available.  However, Brad felt that people do want to trust the news. Everyone questioned in the survey trusted traditional media more than social media, but 18-34 year olds were twice as likely to support social media output than the over 55s. When asked whether they could distinguish between fake news and real news, 72% in the US and 67% in the UK said they could not.

Brad made a point that Julian Assange and Edward Snowden represent an aggressive movement for transparency, for clarity and for putting data and information out unencumbered to the world at large. Their choice to disaggregate traditional media that would validate that information paved a way for what we see now, i.e., a gap for those who will put out disputable data as news. These instigators created a sense that to get facts you do not need to go to traditional media, as in the past.

Brad said disruptors who saw this opportunity, i.e. Steve Bannon, a supporter of Donald Trump’s campaign and now the White House Chief Strategist, have been able to capitalise from this moment because there is a hunger within the population to hear what you want to believe created by like-minded people.

The beneficiaries of this fake news have been the politicians, not just Donald Trump, but also Putin, Xi Jinping, and other new nationalist leaders who manage the media, disaggregate the media or simply chosen to ignore traditional media and prefer to work with social media platforms.

Also in APCO’s research was the question of whether people felt they could distinguish between fake news and real news.  It turns out that 69% of the US public and 53% of the British who responded, thought they could tell the difference, but when given some data that included both truthful and fake news coverage, it turns out Brits were better at actually identifying the difference.

Referring back to the title of his talk, Brad said that corporate communicators need to use caution to navigate the world of fake news. They need to be alert, aware and informed as well as using all the resources they have in their communications departments and using their agencies to make sure they have the ability to engage quickly from a position of authority and to rebuff fake news stories when they appear. He explained that many of his agency’s clients are big corporations facing challenges and changes they can’t get to grips with – unfamiliar markets or dynamics – so the fake news aspect creates opportunities for his business. Of concern is if the guidance or advice being given is correct at that moment and in that context.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the websiteSoundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Purpose driven brands – Pizza Hut Restaurants UK csuitepodcast interview

Show 43 of the csuitepodcast was recorded at The Holmes Report’s In2 Innovation Summit in London and my first guest was Gareth Hopley, Head of PR and Communications at Pizza Hut Restaurants in the UK.

Chatting with Gareth Hopely (left) of Pizza Hut Restaurants UK

Chatting with Gareth Hopley (left) of Pizza Hut Restaurants UK

Gareth had earlier taken part in a panel discussion at the event on the topic of ‘Purpose driven brands in an era of PR nightmares’, which had centred on brands with a purpose behind what they do, how that purpose is found, whether it should start internally and then be used for external marketing or whether agencies can help find the purpose to give you a reason to connect with your customer base.

Gareth said that it was heavily agreed on the panel that it is best to start with an internal purpose, which helps define who the brand is and that it should be authentic and genuine to what that organisation believes.

According to Gareth, Pizza Hut Restaurant’s purpose is ‘to be the most loved place to eat and work’ and the motivation behind this is that, as a restaurant business, the organisation wants customers to love to eat with them and want its employees to love to work for them and to feel connected to the company. Gareth said that the belief is that you will never make the customers feel better than you make your own people feel.  He added that the broader reason for this as a mission statement is that customers choose to spend an hour eating at their restaurants, for whatever reason, i.e., they could be celebrating or commiserating, but they have chosen Pizza Hut to spend that hour and so to make that hour great.  He said that you therefore need to ensure the workforce want to be there and support each other or they will not deliver the necessary service and therefore the business would fail.

Pizza Hut employs 8000 people in the UK and Gareth said that given they spend much of their time at work, it’s important to ensure they love it and care about the company.  Looking after the workforce is therefore extremely important and so Pizza Hut has partnered with Mental Health UK and Rethink. These charities were chosen because people are at the heart of the business – added to those thousands of employees, Pizza Hut also has about two and half million visitors to its restaurants every month.

Gareth explained that, with 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem each year, this will mean a lot of people that touch the business are likely to be affected at some time.

Pizza Hut therefore want to create an environment and culture, internally, where people feel supported and can connect with each other.  The aim is to get to a point where all team members can raise their hand and say, ‘I need help’, without feeling judged and Gareth thinks that all Pizza Hut Restaurant’s employees have reacted positively to the charity partnerships.  Their management are therefore trained to help use emotional and behavioural skills, teaching them leadership and how to recognise how their behaviour impacts those around them, how they can empathise and support their team and recognize when their team members need help.  Of course you can teach them how to make a pizza, Gareth says, but he adds that it’s this management training that will ensure the customer gets the best service.

Gareth shared a story about a specific team manager who had been impacted by a mental health condition and recognised the stress of being a manager but he felt he couldn’t ask for help.  As he explained, at Pizza Hut, you can be running a team of 30 to 50 people and be responsible for a multi-million pound business at a very young age and the strain of that exacerbated this particular individual’s situation. He was therefore given the time off that he needed and returned to company as a team member when he felt ready, but has since re-joined the management program. Gareth was very proud of the fact that this proved this particular employee felt he could ask for help without the fear of being judged or treated badly.

Finally, as far as other campaigns that have inspired Gareth, he said liked Heineken’s ‘World Apart’. He felt the ad showed many similarities in what Heineken were trying to do compared with Pizza Hut’s purpose – just as a restaurant connects people so does going for a beer in a pub.

The campaign shows pairs of strangers who were shown videos about each other and realised they had contrasting and opposing views. They were then given the option to stay and discuss their differences or not.  Obviously they chose to stay but Gareth felt the way the campaign was shot and delivered felt very genuine. He thought that what it was communicating about Heineken having a broader purpose of bringing people together in the world resonated very strongly with what Pizza Hut believe, i.e. no matter who you are or what you are wearing or where you come from, everyone is welcome in their restaurants.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the websiteSoundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Relevancy in a post-truth world – csuitepodcast show 42

(Interview starts at 24min)

In the final interview of Show 42 of the csuitepodcast that I recorded at PRWeek’s 2017 PR360, I spoke with Nick Barron, Managing Director for Corporate Reputation at Edelman who had taken part in a panel discussion at the event on the topic of PR in the political landscape – how do brands remain relevant in a post-truth world’.

Nick has some very strong views on both ‘post-truth’ and ‘fake news’, phrases that are now being used with great regularity.  He believes that whilst they have some merit in terms of what they mean and stand for, they have become an excuse for the liberal elites (citing those at PR360, including himself) to avoid having to look inwards.  He said that post-truth has become a catch all phrase for anyone who doesn’t come to the same conclusions as those in the group he referred to come to when they look at a problem, and fake news has become a catch all term for any news source they don’t like very much!

He did caveat this with the fact that there is real fake news and indeed, it has always been a problem, referring to the Hitler Diaries and the MMR Controversy, although perhaps the volume of it had grown in recent years.  However, he stressed that the volume of all news that we receive has grown and so couldn’t be sure if the proportion of fake news had grown proportionately.

Fake News, for Nick though, is a distraction from what he sees as the real challenge, which is not so much that we don’t know who to trust anymore, but that we don’t care who we trust anymore. He said that as an audience, we are not looking for authoritative news stories but those which support our point of view – he said that we’ve all become propagandists and are happy to share information that supports our own politics and helps us signal our own virtue.  Nick believes we are less concerned than perhaps we used to be as to whether those stories are true or credible.

The issue of trust is something Nick said Edelman have looked at for 17 years across 30+ markets talking to thousands of people [see the Edelman Trust Barometer] and that the long terms story in that time has been the decline of traditional authority. He added that we do still care about truth, but no longer believe traditional authority sources, be that an MP, GP, Editor, or CEO.  Instead, we are increasingly trusting of people like ourselves, i.e. friends and family or an influencer that we identify with.  Nick doesn’t have too much of an issue with this though, as he says there is healthy scepticism in this as he doesn’t believe we should automatically trust authority as that leaves us vulnerable to exploitation, corruption and to being fooled. However, his concern is that over the last few years, we have tapped into an unhealthy cynicism, whereby we only trust our own side [of an argument] and are less and less receptive of the opposite point of view and so more inclined to share content that is narrative driven rather than fact driven.

When it comes to trust of brands, Nick confirmed the most trusted sources are those such as the Technical Experts because the audience believes those people are working for something other than profit, are dedicated to their particular field and are motivated by the pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, when these people talk, we imagine they have spent years and years studying their subject matter and are operating at the front line of an issue and we therefore trust their point of view.

Where he thinks Michael Gove was leading to, referring back to Gove’s comment during the Brexit campaign of having ‘had enough of experts’ (see clip below), was that many of the people who are put forward as experts on a topic by the media, political campaigners and sometimes by companies, such as Heads of Think Tanks or Super National Bodies, are not trusted by the public as credible experts, but instead viewed as elites, who are ideologically or politically driven and so don’t necessarily trust them to be independent experts on a topic.

In fact, Nick said that there is some evidence that this view is correct, as there have been studies over the years looking at the profile of an expert, how famous they are, and the accuracy of their predictions and he said that there is a direct inverse relationship between the accuracy of an experts predictions and how often they are on TV. This is why, according to Nick, ‘real’ experts are much more nuanced in their analysis and more guarded about the things they say but as a result, provide much less good copy!

This discussion lead to Nick saying that a lot of the reporting and content that creates problems for communications people is not necessarily a lie, as usually there is some basis in fact, but it is likely to be a set of facts presented in a very skewed or unreasonable way and so that’s what keeps the comms teams busy on the reactive side of their jobs, i.e., dealing with journalists who want to get to a certain story and will bend the facts to make them fit that story.  This is why, in Nick’s opinion, Media Relations, knowing how to craft a story and get your point of view across when your brand is being discussed and campaign on issues in an effective way, still matters and that there is still an art to it.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Virtual Reality for PR – csuitepodcast show 42

(Interview starts at 11.22)

In the second interview of Show 42 of the csuitepodcast that I recorded at PRWeek’s 2017 PR360, I spoke with Olivia Lory Kay, Strategy Director at INITION about how Virtual Reality (VR) is filtering into the marketing mix and how it sits with other visual technologies such as immersive videos and augmented reality.


Olivia believes that there is a real appetite for experiential content but the PR industry does need to be careful of not creating fatigue due too many ‘me too’ campaigns, particularly in the 3rd sector.  For example, following the success of ‘Clouds of Sidra’, she said that there have been a lot of other first person narrative examples, putting people into situations and allowing them to experience them in a first person point of view what it might be like to have been there.  She therefore feels that to get the real value of immersive technology, you need to go back to basics and try to understand what communications objective you are looking for the technology to solve.  Whilst the result may be to produce a first person 360 video, that wouldn’t be where to start.

An interesting aspect of producing immersive and VR content that Olivia talked about was the challenges for brands in this medium.  These technologies bring with them a new way of interacting and new protocols of how people experience content, which are primarily voice, gesture, haptics (touch) and sensor reach such as gaze control.  Similarly, with a 360 video, by definition, there is no one telling you what to look at next.  However, she encourages brands to get involved and experiment on how best they can use these technologies for communications.

Virtual Reality, 360 videos and Augmented Reality is all covered in our workshop on Using Video in Social Media. You can get in touch about booking a session for your team using the contact form.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Authenticity across Integrated Communications – csuitepodcast show 42

Show 42 of the csuitepodcast was the second of two shows I recorded at PRWeek’s 2017 PR360 and the first of my three guests was Stuart Jackson who is VP for Communications, Europe at Nissan.

russ-stuart2Stuart had taken part in a panel at the event on the topic of retaining relevancy in an integrated world and one of the topics that came up was the authenticity of brands, and how this is spread across different channels. To highlight this, he talked about his own media diet during the first couple of hours of that morning, where he had already checked his social media feeds on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, watched BBC News and had read the Metro newspaper on his commute. Stuart used the example of Lloyds Bank being a stand out story across three of those channels that particular morning.

Talking differently across channels can be a way of, as Stuart puts it, fooling people to think of the brand in a different way. It is not to say that brands can’t tweak their adverts, stories or news between channels.  But he believes the challenge for brands, as in that situation with Lloyds, is how they need to be credible, relevant and ensuring the brand DNA remains authentic across each of those channels.

Stuart calls communications the ‘conscious’ of the business as he feels it’s closer than any other department to the true feelings and understandings of the customers about the brand because the comms team has direct customer feedback relayed to them in real time every single day through journalists [and social media], who are very clear about what the customers are saying about the brand.

Stuart added that more and more, Communications is being trusted as a barometer of your customers’ feelings, and therefore being able to advise what actions need to be taken as a business to respond to that customer need by the CEO and Chairman.  He therefore sees Communications has its place on the Board, where they can advise, not just on a communications issue in terms of how to speak/respond to a customer or journalist, but actually on what action the business needs to take, or even the money it needs to spend to resolve a problem.

He used the recent United Airlines case as an example where a lot has been written about how the initial response wasn’t very well handled, but since then, the company has come out and said it will never happen again and that ‘these are the things we are putting in place’, offering $10,000 to any customer who wants to put their hand up and leave the plane.

Another recent PR disaster to hit the headlines was the controversy over the recent Pepsi advert that was criticised for exploiting the Black Lives Matter movement and subsequently pulled.

Stuart’s assumption in this instance is that Pepsi is a very marketing led business, and therefore, he questions how much weight is put on the idea of the communications team being the conscious of the business and challenging the business ideas. He said it’s very easy, when you are within the ‘planet of your own brand’ to think everything you are producing is great and all the data tells you it’s going to work and its tapping into the zeitgeist, but it’s equally easy to get that so wrong if you don’t truly have that real time customer feedback.

[If anyone from Pepsi is reading this post or listening to the podcast and would like to respond about this campaign with an interview on the show, please get in touch.]

To emphasise the point of listening to your customer, Stuart drew on Nissan’s recent campaign to raise the profile of their X-Trail, where their aim was to tap back into peoples’ passions, looking beyond the product itself, and focus on how their customers used that particular model.  As it turns out, one of the things they do, is use the car to stick the dog in the boot, take them down the park and give them a good run out!

Due to the fact that the communications team were given a very small budget of under 70,000 EURO, Stuart stated that they had to be ‘very agile creatively’ and can’t be ‘lazy’.  They therefore came up with a concept to create a prototype of the car, specifically focusing on the needs of the dog and actually then produced it! They then made a three minute film with a completely natural launch, with no additional paid media around it.

As the campaign was focused on the feedback from customers and had tapped into the passions of dog lovers, it was natural that they were extremely interested and Stuar said the video has now received over 110 million views, globally.  The prototype car is now being looked at to go into full production and it was recently showcased at the New York Auto Show.



However, one of the most important statistics for Stuart is that, since this campaign launched, the natural search online for the X-Trail is the highest it has ever been globally for five years.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

The Seven Sins of Change and how to avoid them – csuitepodcast show 41

In the final interview of Show 41 (skip to 36:35) of the csuitepodcast, recorded at PRWeek’s 2017 PR360, I spoke with FleishmanHillard Fishburn’s Deputy CEO and Senior Partner, Ali Gee about her presentation, ‘The Seven Sins of Change and how to avoid them’.

To begin with, Ali explained that in her presentation, as well as behaviour change, change can encompass anything from making people love a brand they haven’t loved before, to driving up share price, engaging employees, or delivering brand and corporate reputation – anything that makes a measurable difference to a business’ or a brand’s objectives.  However, her biggest concerns for the PR industry in general is that it can’t always prove what it is doing actually works and that, as an industry, whilst it’s increasingly focussing around creativity, great strategy and content, if the focus is on output and not outcomes, Ali believes PR has its eye off the ball.

In her talk in the conference she said that winning at Cannes [Lions], being in the [PR Week] Power book and pitching and winning is cool, but she asked the audience to truthfully answer what proportion of their work makes a real difference, arguing that in many cases, they won’t know, and in lots of cases, it makes no difference at all.

So below are Ali’s seven sins and how she explained them:

  1. Timidity
    In a new business situation, when a client brief lands in an agency, 9 times out of 10 you are trying to ingratiate yourself to the new prospect, rather than pointing out that often the brief isn’t totally clear in terms of what the client wants.  So the sin is that people don’t ask the client “Can I ask you to be clear?  What is the change that you want to see?”
  2. Assumption
    In situations where you’ve been made aware of what the change is that the client wants, often, PR people just go straight for it.  Ali used the example of helping people lose weight, where PR will think it needs to do is campaign towards that goal, when in actual fact, asking people for a much simpler behaviour change can still deliver that same outcome.  In her presentation, Ali used the example of two scientists at the University of West Virginia who, when faced with the task of reducing obesity in the US State, established that the one thing most Virginians had in common was that they drank milk most days.  They therefore concluded that if they could secure a switch from full fat to skimmed milk in these people, then the average Virginian’s diet would immediately attain the USDA recommended levels of saturated fat.  She explained that asking people to change from drinking full fat milk to skimmed-milk is totally different to asking them to reduce calorie intake, or eat their five a day or do more exercise.
  3. Greed
    Often a client side sin, where they ask for too much.  For example, if a client asks for a 25% in consumer behaviour or shift in attitude to a particular issue, that result is unlikely to be realistic.  Ali said that big scale behaviour change doesn’t happen in months and double digit behaviour change takes time and large budgets, usually requiring a multi-layered campaign
  4. Blindness
    Too many campaigns say they are based on research, when in fact they are based on what Ali calls, ‘sight’ research’, i.e., observations of what we see people do.  However, Ali believes what’s missing here is the ‘In’ research, i.e., what’s actually inside their heads, or hearts, and why it drives the behaviour you observe.  It’s her way of explain why the two elements make up ‘Insight’, and so without both, you won’t be able to deliver a strong strategy that will deliver change.
  5. Laziness
    Ali said that people don’t want to be forced to be different and are happy being in the status quo and that therefore, it’s important to make the ask of people small.
  6. Hubris
    Arrogance or overt pride.  In Ali’s opinion, as an industry, PR goes around slapping each other on the back for some great creativity, but sometimes that glamour and excitement of the work is allowed to get in the way of whether the work actually delivered real change.
  7. Finger-licking
    No, nothing to do with fried chicken!  Ali was referring here to people waving their finger in the air in lieu of doing real measurement.

After talking through the list, I asked Ali for one thing, and one thing only, that she would ask the industry to do to help her in her cause, ensuring she follows her own rules by not being too greedy and asking for a small change to start with!  Her response was to ask the judges and owners of awards in the industry to literally throw out any entry that doesn’t have proper outcome measurements or where the outcomes that are measured don’t relate directly and clearly to the stated objectives.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Influencer Marketing in the Fashion Industry – csuitepodcast interview with Levi’s

Show 41 of the csuitepodcast was recorded at PRWeek’s 2017 PR360 and the second of my three guests was the Europe and UK PR Director of Levi’s, Morven Mackinnon, who had just taken part in a panel discussion on influencer marketing. (Interview starts at 20min)

Russ-and-Morven-cutMorven has held her position as PR Director for around six years, and she explained how the nature of how we do PR has changed quite significantly, specifically on how social media influencers have become a more important part of the overall mix over the past few years, and how using these influencers takes a different mind and skill set to that of using traditional media.

Morven talked about how important it is to get the balance between platforms and experience.  She said that whilst Levi’s may be using as many channels as possible, it is necessary to understand how they all link, as this affects the way in which products are marketed and how brands keep the support of their customers.  Looking further into social media marketing, she explained that using online influencers can offer a share of voice on a channel that perhaps you may not have had otherwise.  Therefore, when Levi’s are selecting social media influencers to work with, Morven stated that while obviously the size of their reach is important for getting the brand’s message out, there are other aspects that are important too. Naturaly, from the fashion industry point of view, visual channels such as Instagram and YouTube will feature heavily. Morven also mentioned Snapchat as a new visual platform, and whilst she feels its relevance is being questioned since the launch of Instagram stories, she feels it does still cater for a particular audience.

Morven also said that podcasts are becoming more popular in the fashion world as a form or marketing. However, she argues that the world of influencers is becoming ever more crowded and at some point they will need to find a way to differentiate themselves from everyone.

There are many things that go into choosing the right influencer to collaborate with, which Morven said is a challenge for the brand, but ultimately the audience must feel that the relationship that the brand and the influencer have is an authentic one. Factors include the number of followers, but also who is following them; social engagement levels in the form of likes or comments; and the fact that, as she previously mentioned, the fashion industry is a very visual market.  This led her to say that the aesthetics of an influencer’s profile is an extremely important aspect in the process of picking the right influencer. Morven also said that she also looks at what other brands an influencer is working with as that gives her the chance to see whether the influencer would also be a good fit for Levi’s.

It is also important to make sure the influencers that are chosen are genuine about wanting to be part of Levi’s and so they are regularly invited to events, such as those at their VIP gifting suites in Central London and LA, and encouraged to pick out products in order for them to understand the brand values.  This enables Levi’s so see if there is a genuine connection with them.  The key is that Levi’s are looking for long term relationships and do not want influencers who see the opportunity as, what Morven described as a short term pay cheque.

Whilst the world of marketing and PR is changing and influencer marketing is now the focus of what Morven is doing, she believes that traditional media is still important and critical in the mix as it gives credibility in the fashion industry. However, she said social media can reach a different and often younger audience.

Morven said that Levi’s was fortunate to have some great campaigns with some really good influencers. For example, they partnered with Chiara Ferragini (below) of The Blonde Salad, an Italian YouTuber and Instagrammer, to set up a capsule product collection that was sold in selective and exclusive retailers across Europe.


Levi’s took Chiara out to their Innovation Lab in San Francisco to create the designs, and so this collaborative collection allowed for Chiara’s followers to feel both part Levi’s community and Chiara’s.

The collection sold out everywhere almost instantly, which as Morven mentions, is a clear way of seeing how much influence such YouTubers have and how this can benefit brands.

Finally, Morven said that the world of influencers is becoming increasingly crowded and almost every influencer now has an agent. She therefore believes that while it is important to use social influencers, there aren’t enough ‘marketing dollars’ to finance everyone with an Instagram account and so it is important for the influencers to be able to differentiate themselves, potentially diversifying across different channels and standing out enough to keep their relationship with the brands going. She added that it is just as important for brands to keep on top of the changing processes too and therefore suggests that brands need to work out new ways to keep influencers wanting to work with them, asking “how can we offer unique experiences to influencers that will make them genuinely want to post about the brand, outside of campaigns”.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

PR with a purpose – Pearson’s Project Literacy – csuitepodcast show 41

Show 41 of the csuitepodcast was recorded at PRWeek’s 2017 PR360 and the first of my three guests was Pearson’s VP for Social Impact and Global Campaigns, Emilie Colker who had taken part in a panel session talking about campaigns that are driving social impact and community mobilisation, where she spoke specifically about ‘Project Literacy’, the campaign founded by Pearson.

Russ and emilie

Emily was the 128th person I’ve interviewed since launching this podcast series three years ago and I am not going to lie, this interview is my favourite one.  She is so passionate about her job, so knowledgeable about Purpose Driven marketing and basically, just a lovely person to spend 15 minutes chatting to.  Please read this post, listen to her interview on the podcast and share the links about her campaign.

Emilie explained that, like many corporations, Pearson used to have a foundation that was responsible for all of the company’s CSR activities, but in 2014, the organisation decided to close it and bring, what they consider Social Impact, in-house, so that they could align it with their commercial ambitions and their mission as a whole.  This enabled them to look at some of the types of thought leadership that they could take a stance on and the kinds of partnerships they would need to fulfil and important cause, and wrapping it all in marketing.  As a result, they founded Project Literacy, as literacy is critical to Pearson’s mission of learning. From there, they did a landscape analysis to understand where the gaps were in the market, and what the opportunity was in terms of solving the crisis that 758m people are subject to.  However, Pearson sees itself as the convener, as it relies entirely their 100 partners (literacy organisations, corporations, third sector and charitable, media, research etc.,) for the campaign because, as Emilie said, literacy is a very saturated space and they wanted to ensure they were doing more as a community, rather than simply replicating what others are already doing.

Project Literacy has three tiers of partnerships:

  • Community
  • Collaborative
  • Strategic Partners who often co fund programming or marketing through in-kind resources or cash donations.

What was astonishing was the fact that, as Emilie said, we typically think of illiteracy as a developing world problem, but in fact, it’s a developed world problem too.  For example, she said that 34m Americans can’t read above a 5th Grade level and in the UK, one in five children leave primary school unable to have the right level of literacy, with it being even worse in London.  Emilie also made the point that this is a critical issue that is linked to pretty much every other issue or cause that we think about.  The problem is that it’s a stigma that people are ashamed of it and also, it’s something that doesn’t seem urgent.

Emilie shared two examples of programmes that she has worked on recently.

The first involved multiple partnerships in the US including with Microsoft, Pro Literacy and the University of Pennsylvania (Upenn) where they have developed a platform, previously developed by Upenn, that evaluates literacy skills of impoverished youth, and then provides remediation for them to improve their literacy skills in the community.

The second programme that Emily talked about was an accelerator that Pearson run with Unreasonable Institute, where they are working with four social enterprises that are solving illiteracy in indirect ways.  One of a couple of examples that Emilie gave was in Tanzania, where they are working with a company that provides feminine hygiene products to girls because they don’t go to school when they have their periods as they don’t have anything to manage them.  Pearson support this by putting these social entrepreneurs in touch with mentors, hold workshops with specialists to help them with financing options and help amplify their potential to deliver.

Project Literacy has won a number of industry awards for campaigns such as the ‘Alphabet of Illiteracy’, launched in February 2016, which was about how illiteracy underpins nearly every other issue in the world, and the ‘Mighty Pencil Machine’.

However, for Emilie, it would be a failure if it was purely a communication campaign.  She explained that this comes down to their theory of change, within which they look at three specific pillars that they measure under:

  1. How are they advancing best practice – amount of research available, types of programming being scaled that has evidence of it working
  2. Innovating for new solutions – looking at the beneficiary population and how that is leading to literacy outcomes
  3. Mobilisation Action and Generating Awareness – impression and reach

Emilie stressed that underpinning all of these measurements is the promise of irradiating illiteracy, working with policy makers and looking at ways that they can help communities, societies and countries specifically make change.  So for example, they have created a cost-benefit analysis to show that when people improve their literacy, what the likelihood is then of increasing their income. When multiplied by the time they have left to work, Project Literacy can then demonstrate to Governments how much literacy is going to impact the Gross National Product of that country.

Of course, as Emilie said, Pearson are committed to the project because it is tied to the organisation’s mission, but it also has a strong brand benefits for it too because, as she explained, they know that when people know that companies are invested in social missions, they are more likely to recommend those companies and so there is a higher grade of advocacy, especially at times of risk, they are more likely to support those companies.

The overall campaign has benefited from some big celebrity endorsement, such as actress Julianne Moore, particularly during international literacy day, which they achieved by appealing to the causes those individual celebrities cared about and campaigned for.


Emilie gave examples such as Bono & Elton John caring about AIDS and poverty, or Emma Watson who cares about Gender Inequality.  So when Emilie’s team shared with them about how illiteracy fuels these problems, they are wanted to share with their networks ways in which they can help.

Of course, you can get involved too, either personally or through your business by:

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Attracting Businesses and Tourists to the UAE: csuitepodcast show 40

Show 40 of the csuitepodcast focused on the UAE and in particular, what’s being done to attract both businesses and tourists there. Via skype, I spoke to two guests based in the region, Hamdi Kulahcioglu, the General Manager of luxury store, TRYANO and Alex Malouf, P&G’s Corporate Communications and Reputation Manager for the Arabian Peninsula.


Hamdi Kulahcioglu, General Manager, TRYANO

Hamdi kicked off the show explaining that TRYANO is based in the Yas Mall on Yas Island, 30mins from Abu Dhabi and about an hour from Dubai.  The island is a huge entertainment destination, made famous mainly from the F1 race that has taken place around the marina each year since 2009.  However, further development is continuing in the area, including the building of more hotels and a Warner Bros theme park opening in 2018.  Next to Yas Island is Saadiyat Island, which is being designed to become a cultural centre with new museums and art galleries opening soon.

The focus of my chat with Hamdi though, was to look at the region as a destination for luxury shopping, referencing a new Global Luxury Retail report that was featured on the Retail Gazette.  The report said that London saw a total of 41 new luxury openings in 2016 compared to 36 in Paris, 31 in both New York and Dubai, and 24 in Milan and that this was off the back of a CBRE and Walpole report that named London as the world’s top destination for luxury retail, saying that it holds the greatest long-term potential for the sector compared to similar luxury hotspots despite the worries surrounding Brexit.

Hamdi agreed that London is a very important destination for luxury retail.  However, naturally, he believes UAE, especially Dubai, is also a very important luxury shopping destination and that Abu Dhabi is on track to become the same.   He explained that the retail experience, in terms of shopping mega malls in the UAE, of which there are more than 50, is probably the best in the world and that the growth in Abu Dhabi is twice that of Dubai with regards to the number of tourists visiting – about 5m in 2016 registering around 12m guest nights – but with a new airport being built in the region, scheduled to open in 2019, this number will dramatically increase even further.

To attract these visitors to TRYANO, Hamdi said the store tries to create the ultimate experience for their guests – with a focus on the family.  For example, in their kid’s floor, they have a working carousel and a treehouse, amongst other things for the kids to be entertained.  They then have a restaurant called La Pâtisserie des Rêves, a concept imported from Paris, plus a photo studio, private make-up rooms and even a bag spa, to get your bag cleaned or repaired.

We moved on to the subject of how TRYANO is using social media and in particular, working with social influencers, to help attract visitors to the store and Hamdi talked through how they exclusively partnered with the actress Meryem Uzerli and six regional influencers to achieve this, by creating looks from Meryem’s new beauty kit.

He said that their audience is relatively young (median age in the region is around 27) and that they are highly connected using social media very actively.  Therefore, the direction of TYRANO’s marketing is going more digital, with a focus on the most popular channels in the region, Facebook and Instagram, more so than Twitter, where their followers are highly engaged with the brand.  However, partnering with Meryem was a great way to attract new visitors (she has over 4.3m likes on her Facebook page and over 3m on Instagram).


Alex Malouf, P&G Corporate Communications and Reputation Manager for the Arabian Peninsula

In the second half of the show, I spoke with Alex Malouf of P&G and we started off discussing how diverse the UAE is in terms of culture, language and religion.  Alex said that you have to bear all this in mind when you reach out to different stakeholder groups when creating communications campaigns and generally doing business across the region.  He added that you also need to look at the channels to reach your audiences, making the point that, whilst traditional media plays a part, social media is massive in the region.  Alex also said that it’s a major advantage if you can speak Arabic, particularly if going outside of a hub like Dubai but particularly if you are dealing with Government, where he said 99% would be native Arabic speakers.  Learning the language though, according to Alex, will give you a glimpse into the culture too and help you understand how people think and behave and therefore what you can do to craft communications messages to them.

As for British businesses looking to expand into the region, we talked about the findings of some research carried out in March across 500 UK business owners by the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), which found that since the Brexit vote, 42% of business owners have more of an appetite now to expand their business overseas, with the larger the business, the more that appetite increases – rising to 63%, 68% and then 72% for businesses with 100-250, 250-500 and 500+ employees.

Europe came top in the potential destination with 12% already operating there but a further 67% considering expanding there, but for the Middle East region, whilst 7% of businesses surveyed already operated there, a further 38% were considering expanding to the area, and of those, 75% would consider Dubai as their destination.

According to Alex, there are a number of reasons that Dubai is top of the list when it comes to businesses choosing a location in the region:

  • Logistics – there are a number of different options to get to Dubai, with the international airport being one of the biggest in the world
  • Culture and language – English is used widely in business and entertainment
  • Easy to adapt – whilst there is still a strong local culture, many people don’t engage with it and therefore it doesn’t impact foreigners to the region in the same way the Saudi culture may
  • Legal aspects of setting up in Dubai
  • Home comforts – you can still get a sandwich from Marks & Spencer at lunchtime!

There was one issue that I wanted to quiz Alex on though, and that was the fact that, whenever the UK looks to work with countries in the region, and the Prime Minister or any leading government official visits or is seen to be negotiating with a country there, such as Qatar or Saudi, there is an immediate backlash on social media, with comments being raised about issues such as Human Rights.

Alex’s response to this was that people have to strike a balancing act as the UAE and neighbouring countries are obviously very different to the UK and Europe and people have to be aware of that.  He said that people in the region will bristle when they are criticised, but of course these are important considerations for any business, and so it’s a case of being aware of how best to approach these subjects.  His advice therefore, is to, by all means raise those concerns, but in an environment where the person you are addressing doesn’t feel they are being insulted or offended.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Reflecting on Meetings, Events and Conferences sector: csuitepodcast show 39

Show 39 of the csuitepodcast focussed on the meetings, events and conferences sector and was recorded at the Meetings Industry Association’s (mia) Annual conference that took place in London in March.

The first guest of my three guests was by Trevor Williams (below) who is Professor of Economics and Finance at Derby University, but also a member of the Institute of Economic Affairs Shadow Monetary Policy Committee, where he has the role of a rotating chairman.russ-and-trevor2Trevor had opened the conference with a macro scene setting presentation on the wider UK economy, highlighting a number of challenges that the UK is going to be facing in the months ahead, which of course include Brexit.  However, he also raised concerns over President Trump’s threat of protectionism in the US, Russian adventurism, Political risks from votes in Netherlands, France & Germany, and concerns from China and the Middle East.

In terms of Brexit, Trevor expects us to have a ‘Hard Brexit’, which as he explained, would mean leaving both the customs union and the single market.  He therefore believes that the focus for UK policy makers must be to forge trade deals to replace those it had with the EU, which needs to happen as quickly as it can after leaving the EU.

With respect to the Meetings and Events sector in particular, Trevor said that the change in output over time is more cyclical and volatile than overall growth in UK economy and it appears to already be slowing and in fact has turned negative year on year, meaning there are fewer meetings and events of the same basis compared the year before.  This has been as a result of the uncertainty generated by the Brexit vote and that business investment in the UK has slowed.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though for the sector post Brexit and in fact, one thing the UK meetings industry has benefited from is the weakening Pound as it’s resulted in it being cheaper for people to visit.  Trevor said that this has meant that the foreign element of meetings and events has probably been holding up. He was also quick to add that the UK is a welcoming environment and that we’re seeing lots of tourist flows as a result in the fall of the currency.  However, he explained that the overarching growth in the sector is driven by what happens domestically, and that slowdown has already begun to show up and therefore the benefits of the fall in the currency are not enough to offset this.

Trevor does believe that ‘face to face’ and that the personal touch and human contact, seeing the white of someone’s eyes, can’t be beaten in any other way of communicating and therefore thinks the Meetings and Events industry is vital and is certainly not on the verge of collapse and that it does have a healthy future.  However, as he pointed out previously, he stressed that the volume is not as strong as in previous years.  Of course, he also pointed out that once Article 50 had been triggered, there may be a requirement for lots of events and conferences providing advice to businesses as what to do as plans for the UK leaving the EU begin.

In my second interview (starting at 10:59) I spoke with Jane Sunley (below) who is the Founder & CEO of Purple Cubed, an Employee engagement consultancy and tech provider.


Jane had been part of a panel discussion about industry talent and one of the key issues she highlighted is that she doesn’t feel that organisations are placing enough emphasis on nurturing UK talent,  She said that companies need to have a plan on how they are going to be an employer of choice and a best place to work so that people want to work there.

To highlight how Jane’s company helps their client’s in this sector retain their talent and improve engagement, she talked through some of the work they had carried out, using their bespoke software product ‘Talent Toolbox’, with Valor, a hospitality management company, that operate (according to their website at time of writing) 19 hotels including, 4 Holiday Inn’s and 5 Crown Plaza’s.  When the organisation employed a new CEO and new HR director, whilst going through an expansion plan, they ensured they put a plan to, as Jane explained, make sure the culture was very clear and engaged their people, ensuring their leaders were role model leaders and embracing and reinforcing the culture every day – see full story on Diginomica.

Purple Cubed Talent Toolbox:

My final guest (starting at 20:18) was the Deidre Wells OBE (below), Chief Executive of UKinbound, a trade body for approximately 370 member organisations involved in inbound tourism to the UK, such as tour operators, hotels, attractions and service providers to the industry, plus she also sits on the UK Government’s Tourism Industry Council.


Deirdre had been on a panel at the conference discussing life beyond Brexit in the Meetings and Events Sector and she said that what characterises the meetings industry is resilience.  She explained that amongst her organisation’s members, confidence is strong in terms of what the short-term opportunities that Brexit provides, mainly due to the fall in the Pound, resulting in the UK becoming a competitive place for inbound visitors when they’re hosting events, or coming for leisure purposes.  As for the long term, her confidence will be based on how the negotiations [between the UK and EU] will pan out and on this, Deidre made specific reference to getting the right support for their workforce, in particular, their migrant workforce, and continuing to have access to the Single Aviation Market, which she said is critical for the 70% of visitors to the UK that come by air, which she said would be a strong signal to the industry that the UK is going to get a good deal post Brexit.  However, Deidre also made the point on what the look and feel of the ports and airports will be for people visiting from overseas will also be important, both in terms of logistics, i.e., how easy for people to transit through them but also what the welcome will be like.

As an industry body, UKinbound lobbies government on behalf of its industry, and in that role, as part of their wider annual conference, the organisation hosted a round table meeting in February with CEOs of Inbound travel companies but invited Giles Smith from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to attend as well.  In the meeting, they raised three key concerns over Brexit and its potential impact on the industry, which Deidre said were:

  1. Employment – what’s going to happen to the 30% of UKinbound member employees who are migrants in the short-term, and how those companies can continue to replenish that workforce in the long term
  2. Access to the Open Skies Agreement – as mentioned above – ensuring there weren’t extra barriers to prevent people travelling to the UK as easily as they can
  3. Welcome on arrival – ensuring no changes to the transit arrangements to EU visitors, who make up 2/3 of visitors to the UK.

However, despite these concerns, Deidre made the point that the industry has dealt with 9/11, Ash Clouds and Foot & Mouth, and so Brexit is just another challenge.  Therefore, she said that her industry needs to ensure it is as resilient as possible and to keep calm and keep doing business through the [Brexit] negotiations as they pan out.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundcloud, itunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!