Sustainability (and such)

Archive for the ‘Public Relations’ Category

CSR is dead.

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on December 6, 2012

Admit it:  We’ve been hearing the “CSR” death knoll for awhile now, that bleak march of an outdated effort.  And, according to a bevy of global experts at today’s Global Washington conference, it’s being replaced by PERSONAL Social Responsibility to better recognize our individual and collective interest in human rights and values.

I love this rebranding. (After all, corporations aren’t people, yeah?) We should be thinking of the actual faces attached to supply chains and such. Plus, increased corporate transparency is extinguishing smarmy greenwashing and other token efforts. Simply, the movement has expanded beyond slick reports to actual narratives, ranging from Northern consumers to the poorest of the poor who must survive beyond foreign aid.

Free of the corporate framing, we can more easily get to the nitty-gritty discussions of socially-oriented cultural, social and environmental business impacts.  Today, some of the best CSR insights came from a panel featuring Amir Dossal (Founder and Chairman of the Global Partnerships Forum), Raymond Offenheiser (President of Oxfam America), and my newest hero, Joe Whinney (Founder and CEO, Theo Chocolate).

“Companies aren’t just asking ‘How can we make profits?’,” says Dossal, but also, “How can we do good at the same time?” For Oxfam, it means a philosophical shift to trade show discussions and “quiet dialogues” with companies eager to move forward but not ready to go public with new social practices in “Globalization 2.0.”

Educate your consumers, argues Whinney, and they’ll pay higher prices for higher quality.  (In fact, he goes so far as to suggest USAID budget should be partially used to educate the global north in terms of responsible consumerism to pull future investment.)

For a great example of the new corporate leadership in terms of individual social responsibility, check out Theo’s Eastern Congo Initiative for organic and fair trade chocolate and vanilla.   It’s a daring business model for the private sector; that is, transparency and consumer engagement reigns supreme. And next time you hear about the latest CSR campaigns, smile just a little bit, because you’re already part of the cultural shift toward real change.

Posted in Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, Development, Public Relations, Sustainability | Leave a Comment »

Talking about my generation…Let’s be Thunder Buddies!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on July 6, 2012

Over the last week I’ve seen/read two surprisingly optimistic explorations of generational values and ethics. One,Ted, is the raunchy box-office champ about a generation that can’t give up its childhood security; the other, When We Argued All Night, is a sweeping new novel by Alice Mattison that also deals with human strengths and limitations. I recommend them both because they remind us about the messiness of loving each other.

I think we’re all identified by our birth dates, many times by hardships. My parents were part of the Veterans – born between 1922 and 1943 – who survived the Great Depression and World War II. If you’re a Boomer like me (born between 1943-1960), you’re shaped by social causes and politics such as Watergate and the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.  After that, there’s a huge shift in lifestyles and values, mainly because Gen X-ers  (1960-1980) and those in Gen Y (1980-2000) are defined by media and doting parents. As “Ted” points out, it’s easier to wax nostalgically about nachos and video games than ancient events. And then there’s Generation Z, aka the Net/Virtual  Generation of those born since 2001, who will be online curators with no memories of life before globalization and technology. These are tricky times, when we all sit next to each other at the workplace as well as the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Which makes the value of “Ted”  much more than just the newer version of “Beavis and Butthead”.  It’s a quick yet piercing look at culture-cling that allows us to root for characters despite frat boy stereotypes. Even though we already know how the film will end, Seth MacFarlane surprises us with his razor-sharp lens that maturity is meant to be delayed, at least by the alphabet generations. We don’t actually meet the snowplow parents who enabled a child-centered culture with talking teddy bears, but we do sense that hard work and discipline are fluid goals that are up for grabs.

And When We Argued All Night looks even closer at our personal development and social structures.  In focusing on a 65-year friendship of two men, Mattison helps readers mediate issues of aging as well as coming of age. Her words soar beyond Joan Didion’s finality of loneliness or Marilynne Robinson’s tales of survival amidst transience; instead, we are enmeshed in watching how, despite everything, we share common paths amidst lifelong struggles of heredity and happenstance.

P.S.  From a marketing standpoint, Generations X, Y, and Z have little brand loyalty and a hands-on presence that ignores broadcast spin.  It’s breathtaking to watch them identify as cynical, independent, and entitled entrepreneurs within today’s climate of global warming and economic chaos. And it’s a popular theme:  The New Yorker just ran a column by Elizabeth Kolbert about how spoiled rotten kids are turning into “adultesence” who expect elders to take our their garbage and tie their shoes.  While I don’t agree with all generalities, I do think it’s important we acknowledge our differences:  Here’s a chart that sets out the influencers, core values, and attributes of each group – and after you see “Ted” and read When We Argued All Night – let’s talk about how both work as social commentaries that condemn and celebrate demographics.  Oh, and let’s sing the Thunder Buddy song…together.

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GOTTA HAVE FAITH: and other review sites

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on June 20, 2012

A colleague recently asked if I’d ever posted anything to, one of those consumer review sites that’s a Word of Mouth force for potential employees.  It was new to me…check out the description:

“Glassdoor is your free inside look at jobs and companies.  Salary details, company reviews, and interview questions – all posted anonymously by employees and job seekers.”

Wow, who wouldn’t want to check out an insider’s view of how things REALLY are?   What great potential, this powerful, transparent tool! A quick spin through reviews about this particular employer turned up strong themes BUT such sites can, unfortunately, feature more fake reviews than genuine.  What, you say?  You mean every word you say? 

So who to believe? Over the last year, some firms have artificially boosted their scores by using bots or reputation management groups to post fake-positive reviews.  Some employers are literally demanding that workers write glowing posts to negate the biased, negative ones.  How genuine, indeed. (And doesn’t management have bigger things to worry about than what’s posted online?)

In the past, I’ve been mostly amused by such sites, mainly because I’ve seen how academics and students brush off – or buy into – weirdly stilted posts in  Especially horrific reviews are dated just before final exams, a prime time for students to insult everything from the physical appearance to the teaching styles of their instructors.  Nope, I wasn’t immune—One student who visited me after graduating confessed to writing a mediocre review of my class just before a final paper was due that he hadn’t started.  “It was just easier to vent on Ratemyprofessor than start my project,” he said, while also asking me to write a recommendation.  And I know all the games they play, because I play them, too.

“When did students start thinking it’s okay to always hide behind snarky reviews, especially when there are lots of opportunities for anonymous feedback during a semester?” one friend pondered.  And maybe that’s the point. Why hide online? After all, can’t people see through the artificially gleaming reviews as well as the beyond-belief horrible ones? This falls under a fact of credibility and appropriate response: if the content isn’t trustworthy, consumers will turn elsewhere. And how did this online trend pick up so much steam, to now slowly face deflation?  Side note:  If you’re offering any product or service, include possible responses to online reviews within your crisis comm plan.  While less valid than Wikipedia (cough, cough), online reviews can help spot trends that need addressing.

I suppose I see anonymous and sometimes fake reviews as symptomatic of a larger problem: whether in our work environments or in classroom settings, if we can’t talk face-to-face, if we’ve lost the desire and ability to negotiate – to talk out – what’s working and what’s not working between us, how do we find relief for the real dilemmas that face us? How can we communicate toward solutions to our problems if we don’t communicateBut I’ll wait for something more…

As George Michael might say:  Life isn’t a Journey lyric.  You don’t always get it any way you want it.  Because I got to have faith-a-faith-a-faith.

Posted in Marketing, Public Relations, Social media | Comments Off on GOTTA HAVE FAITH: and other review sites

NCA (and Orlando), here I come!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on June 15, 2012

Woot!   I am going to the annual National Communication Association Conference for a panel discussion entitled “COMMunities of Tomorrow:  At the Intersection of Physical and Digital Spaces”.  The panel abstract:  Digital and physical spaces combine to create communities in surprising ways. This panel investigates communities that exist at the intersection of digital and physical spaces. Papers theorize about the ways that these communities might impact the future of our interactions in physical spaces that are becoming increasingly digital and digital spaces that create opportunities for engagement in built space. 

Sounds a bit surreal, yes?  Panelists will talk about flash mobs, urban community development and mapping, and even Second Life.  I’m especially interested in surreal activism, especially the communities of today’s tech savvy activists involved in Occupy Wall Street and other protest movements.  Here’s my paper abstract:

Digital technology and built spaces have given rise to unique COMMunities as groups such as #OccupyWallStreet stream messages to global audiences from tent cities and community centers. This ongoing study of communication and #OWS since its September 17, 2011, inception examines how divergent technologies (such as social and traditional media) between multiple audiences (including government, grassroots activists, and locals) are creating and sustaining communities of spirit and engagement. By co-opting previously corporate practices and harnessing technological shifts, movement leaders have tweeted and posted 24/7 for each other as well the sprawling #OWS infrastructure. This strategic agitation, unity of effort, and collaborative action has plugged a New York movement into a global arena that questions previous models of leadership and communication amidst the blending of cyber – and physical – spaces.

P.S.  On a personal note, visiting Disney World has been on my bucket list since I worked at Disneyland in the early 1970’s and recruiters argued about why I should move to Orlando for the bigger, brighter experience.  One pitch that stayed:  Disney World’s Main Street is built true-to-life, while Disneyland’s is 5/8th scale.   And, while I would certainly never imply that I ever want to attend conferences based on the location, I should also add that the next ASPA conference is in New Orleans.

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Consequences of Our Clicks

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on February 1, 2012

Here’s my belated New Year’s Resolution:  I vow to stop knowing who and what the Kardashians, Lohans, and Snookis are doing in our world.  I’m pinky-swearing (with you) to stop letting the market think I crave the junk food of media.  And here’s why:

As Clay Johnson points out in today’s L.A Times article, we’re paying the price for random cruising.  “Each time you click on a salacious headline on the Huffington Post, you are not only consuming junk information you don’t need (how much more do you really need to read about J-Lo?); you’re also all but ensuring that the Huffington Post will continue to push that kind of story. Every search you make on Google is analyzed by news editors looking to see which topics are “trending” as they choose what stories to assign and put on their websites.”

SIGH.  He’s right, of course.  SO, I vow to steer clear of random clicks that might be measured as interest in what Johnson calls the junk food of media.  I’ll no longer care about relating to students and the marketing world when it comes to such poor media consumption.  And I’d better walk the walk — Back in my days as an Earth Mother, I even wrote a book about steering clear of sugar, fat, and artificial sustenance.   It’s time to alter my media diet, as well, from an obesity of ignorance.

Want to join me in creating new trending topics?

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Value of gaming, cont. (Wanna play?)

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on January 4, 2011

While this semester’s marketing class focused on gaming (such as Richard Muncaster’s presentation about KlickNation) as another layer in marketing strategies, we also touched on interactivity as an increasing force in behavior and philanthropy.  Here’s news about a new UNESCO online game that educates youth about HIV/AIDS; I wonder, when will the seventh MDG enter the fray?

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Walmart’s Emerging Role in Sustainability Consulting

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on April 2, 2010

Posted in Corporate Communication, CSR, Public Relations | Leave a Comment »

Tiger, Toyota, and relevance

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on February 27, 2010

A student recently asked why our class was spending so much time on these particular case studies; after all, do I really think THEY would encounter such crises?

Well, yes.  We may not face the woes (or have the deep pockets) of billion-dollar industries, but we’re one misstep away from having to tell our story, possibly apologize, and plan for a better future.  If we walk in this world, we are constantly deciding about issues of transparency and accountability, don’t you think?  So…why NOT plan for our credibility and reputation?

Three recent  tweets and posts include:  This from a New York corporate crisis and PR commentator in the Huffington Post <—my favorite.  “With bad news, the best move is to own up and apologize, the sooner the better,” says this business blogger.  “Think: would you rather be post-Watergate Nixon or post-sex scandal David Letterman? Only one of them was forthright, self-deprecating, honest and contrite about it.”

Whether Tiger restores his brand or becomes Barry Bonds has yet to be seen.  But his road to recovery — whether it’s on Oprah’s chair or out on a boat with buddies — is food for thought.  Sometimes just saying “I’m sorry” as soon as you realize your blunder goes a long way.  And that’s why we study such current cases,  to find a common language and also possibly help us determine our own path.

Posted in Corporate Communication, Corporate Social Responsibility, Media relations, Public Relations, Social media | Leave a Comment »

Harvard on foursquare | Harvard Gazette Online

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on February 1, 2010

Wow, Harvard uses the foursquare mobile app for student community…

via Harvard on foursquare | Harvard Gazette Online.

Posted in Media relations, Public Relations, Social media | Leave a Comment »

Welcome to FALL 09!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on June 13, 2009

Dr. VL What a great semester this is!  Together, we’ll explore great communication subjects within a framework of social justice, sustainability, and social media. 

Good to know ASAP:  How social media is changing communication:   Making History w/cell phones, twitter, facebook

Posted in Corporate Communication, Corporate Social Responsibility, Media relations, Public Relations, Social media | Leave a Comment »