Strategic Communications

Site Visit To Ketchum PR: My Takeaways

In the first semester of my master program in Strategic Communication at Columbia, I took this “Evolving Industry” class. I personally found this class very interesting, since it intertwining the in-class experience and industrial inside-look. We got to visit several companies in communication field, from branding agency, PR agency, to corporates. We called this as Inside Look, and sure we do look inside! 😉

One of the best Inside Look I got was to Ketchum PR Headquarter in 6th avenue. Inside Look session to Ketchum PR office in New York City teaches me one important lesson in Public Relation field: rather than pushing a story, we should build a conversation. A short sharing session with Ketchum team has indeed changed my perspective entirely about Public Relation as professional work.

Ketchum Digital focus on a method they called Story Works. Here, their area of work is content marketing in digital media, which includes social listening. Personally, I found “social listening” as a new term in marketing creative process. It emphasized on observing audience behavior in the digital environment, which could be totally different with their behavior in the real world. It also interesting to know in the digital environment, 1% users create the stories, 9% users share the stories, and 90% users consume the stories. A proportion they called “Rule 1-9-90”.

A case study that Ketchum works on this Story Works method is the “Working Together for Patients” campaign launched for Bristol-Myers Squibb. The campaign uncovers the meaningful stories from employees about their personal life and its connection to the work they do. When an employee tells their stories about patients that inspire them to deliver the best service every day , they actually share a deeply personal reflection of dedication that becomes a company value. The audience would not only see a doctor, a nurse, or a technician, but a whole human. And at the parallel process, the audience also see Bristol-Myers Squibb persona as professional and caring.

I found this campaign interesting, therefore when I went home, I remember myself doing a Google search about it. It brought me to the specific website they created for this project. In this website, there is more than 1,000 photo mosaic of the employees with short story caption about their type of work and the role they play in improving the lives of patients.

These stories create strong employee engagement at Bristol-Myers Squibb, as they are taking a pride of sharing their stories and feeling heard by other people. It also shifts the corporate image and enhances their reputation, as the campaign was highlighted in their corporate annual reports. From employees’ stories that spark conversation in digital media, it becomes the “face of the company” that people remember.

This campaign resonates what I learned in Ketchum about Story Works.  They implement the social listening as the soul of their content creation. In terms of channel distribution, the agency did a very smart job by engaging employees, as they were naturally would belong to the 9% users that share the stories about their coworkers and the place where they work. The channel distribution through YouTube, website and other social media platform is neatly executed. Through this inside look to Ketchum, learned that digital PR also includes the creative, marketing, and branding work. Thus, a broader understanding of strategic communication is paramount to work at the agency at similar business.

Strategic Communications

Deepwater Horizon: A Lesson about Leadership Mistake in Corporate Crisis

A movie titled “Deepwater Horizon” has just released in September 2016. The movie is actually inspired by a true story. In April 2010, a huge explosion happened in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. As fatalities, 11 people died, 17 injured, and 205 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. One of the world largest industrial disasters in the history, charging British Petroleum (BP) as the company that operates in the oil rig. US president Barrack Obama signed an order to launch a criminal investigation on the case, therefore put BP into the worst corporate crisis they can even imagine.

Unfortunately, public opinion about BP bad reputation in managing crisis has long been shaped. This particular image referred to the CEO’s bad tactics in coping with the crisis. Instead of showing a strong leadership attitude that everyone in this world would be expected, Tony Hayward was repeatedly demonstrated insensitivity, arrogance, and denial upon the issues.

After the Gulf oil accident, New York Times reported that Hayward said to his fellow executives, “what the hell did we do to deserve this?” Responding to the Telegraph reporter’s question about the oil spill impact, he said, “I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest”. He has also triggered criticism as saying “I want my life back” after apologizing for the disaster.

For this leadership crisis that certainly put a severe headache for every PR practitioners, BP was certainly spending a huge amount of money to repair its image. BP launched TV ads featuring Tony Hayward apologizes and intention to take full responsibility for cleaning up in the Gulf. They also run the print ads in newspapers. The copy for both TV and newspaper ads conveyed the same message: “We will get this done. We will make this right.”

The ad contained a very vague message. They promise to get it done, but people can see that they can’t even get their CEO under control. I would argue that BP effort in managing communication in time of crisis was overshadowed by their leadership outburst.

Therefore, when BP replaced Hayward with Bob Dudley, they made up the earlier PR failure by putting special attention in social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, in order to get news out to traditional media and to make people feeling heard. BP also set up Youtube channel. They created The Gulf Stories series to share Gulf coast resident stories about their life after the explosion and citing testimonials about BP efforts to make up for their mistake. Compared with the Tony Hayward apology, This Youtube video is one of effective communication tools to repair the damaged reputation, where they admit their mistake and asking remedy by saying, “What happened here five years ago changed us.”

While it may be true when the expert said that even the best PR cannot solve the man-made disaster effect like this Gulf oil spill, they still can communicate better to their key stakeholders.  In my perspective, BP was supposed to have special spokesperson and lobbyist for each key stakeholder. This way, the corporate communication would be more targeted, especially in post-crisis image restoration.

Strategic Communications

Expanding Cloud Footprint

One biggest challenge in the modern world is the overwhelming digital information to be archived. Many operating company’s databases are running out of space. To retrieve more data storages, the companies expand their data centers through cloud computing system.

Cloud computing is a virtual service that operates in computing resources, which provides users with a configurable network sharing. Instead of investing in building a new server for expanding corporate’s data center, corporates can contact cloud provider to get a personalized service. In daily life, we step into the cloud computing universe when sharing a file with friends in Google Drive, or when involving in open-source learning management system such as Canvas platform used by Columbia University.

As we can see more cloud footprint in our daily life, the future market trend is getting obvious. Gartner’s forecast for 2011-2017 in IBM website predicted that 50 percent of enterprises will have hybrid clouds by 2017. This shifting trend invites more big players to compete in cloud computing market. IBM, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, Rackspace, VMWare, Red Hat, and Oracle Cloud are the examples of widely-recognized cloud providers.

To market their product and services to the potential or existing clients, the suppliers of cloud services are expanding their footprints in a set of communication strategies. IBM, for example, is demonstrating their credibility by creating a specific press kit page on their websites. Under the “IBM Cloud Computing” category, their latest updates come in three communication elements: Flickr presentation, Youtube video, and news releases.

IBM also pays special attention in visual aids, particularly trough Youtube. Their official corporate account IBM has a specific category about cloud computing, with a short introduction statement about “how IBM is deploying cloud computing to rethink IT, reinvent and transform business.” Additionally, they created another account for IBM Cloud Computing to channel deeper explanation on expert advise, IBM Clouds marketplace, and IBM SaaS (Software as Service). As per this blog post is written, the account has already earned 9,316 subscribers.

IBM targeting business-to-business market segment to secure their private cloud computing system. Their clients vary from government services, private sectors, to nonprofit organizations.  In March 2016, IBM launched news release about partnership with Guiding Eyes For Blind, a non-profit organization focused on training and placement of service dog for people who are blind or visually impaired. The organization work includes a comprehensive data management to identify qualities in dogs such as medical records, genetic mapping, and questionnaire documents.

One of the Youtube campaigns for this partnership featured a story with titled “Jackson: An IBM data story”. In the video, a dog named Jackson were trained in a supportive and professional environment, as his learning development is recorded. Through its impressive and neat execution, IBM delivers the message about Cloud implementation in enhancing organizational interest to meet its customer’s needs. Since I think IBM did not get specific in highlighting their partnership story before 2016, this marketing effort with Guiding Eyes could be an exemplary good for their campaign in the future.

Strategic Communications

Brand Communication: SK-II’s Marriage Market Takeover

If you are a woman above the age of 25, well-educated, possessing A-level quality, living in traditional society in China, and unmarried, life might be a bit tough for you.

You might get used to the idea of being labeled as sheng nu, or in a universal term, a leftover woman[1]. Parents pushes you, trying to match you with someone, and start saying this “I won’t die in peace unless you’re married” magic spell to overshadow your mind for years.

Indeed, it is the worst feeling in the world.

Understanding this insight, a Japanese skin care brand, SK-II, decided to take side to support the voiceless outcasts. They reached out to modern women over their 25 age, who, despite of major accomplishments they achieved in life, still being perceived as unworthy before being someone else’s wife. Introducing a breakthrough documentary-style video, SK-II launched a commercial advertising with theme “Marriage Market Takeover”.  This video went viral, reaching over 2 million views on Youtube and almost 3 million on Youku.

Marriage market refers to Shanghai’s People’s Square market, place where parents comes to post their daughter profile, hoping find a suitable match. A number of Chinese women were interviewed. The women shared the same stories: a conflicted thought between stand up for their single life, versus agreed upon a marriage for the sake of family dignity.

 “Maybe I should give up on someone I love for someone who’s suitable.’

“Maybe I am being selfish, I want to say sorry to them (my parents).”

“I just wish my parents would understand my way of living.”

Obviously, Forsman & Bodenfors as the agency worked for this campaign, crafted a strong message about women empowerment as their strategic objectives. They tried to shift paradigm about women who portrayed society’s prejudice as leftover, are actually not. These subjects define what an inspiring woman does: having control upon their life.

And the story goes on. The women decided to take over their destiny, as SK-II took over the marriage market by marking their space with special installation. Hung in a huge spotlight, there were pictures of their daughters, beautiful and stunning after presumably taking good care of themselves by SK-II products. There was a slightly shocking pause, and then turned smoothly to a melting down moment when the parents gazed at their daughter picture along with personal message about being independent.

“My daughter is beautiful. Leftover women should be proud!” said a mother in the video, shed her tears.

For me, this campaign successfully delivered a strong and beautiful message about being a woman in modern world. An advertising that works by defying social norm must be anticipated to turn controversial. It involves a lot of risk, not only for the campaign objectives, but also for brand name and equity. However, the impact was a huge success. As a skin care brand, SK-II did not directly showcase their products in the advertising. Instead, they built an intense emotional connection between the talents, their aspiration, their struggles, and let the audiences assume that SK-II always be there for them to ease the burden. This advertising is easily creating mutual bond, everybody can relate to that.

After all, we yearn to share solidarity for each other. No more leftover, okay?