When studies hit home

I am afraid of flying… well I am VERY afraid of flying. I still travel but it’s a struggle. I do not fly within Iceland as I do not like to fly in small airplanes where you can feel every “bump”. I used to take anxiety pills before flying but nowadays I try to breath through the scare and do a bit of mediation. Which can be difficult if there is a lot of turbulence. Green meadows or the ocean might not be the places you want to picture yourself at as that’s precisely where you don’t want to end up in that particular moment!

When it comes to news about plane crashes and other flight related incidents, I try to avoid reading the news as it will only empower my fear. As someone said, ignorance is a bliss! Articles and studies on safety in air do not help me overcome my fear. People telling me statistics and information on safety while flying don’t help either, as if there is anyone who knows these things it’s the person that is afraid of flying, as that person has tried to know as much as possible to calm her fears.

I once had a rescue team member telling me that people at the back of a plane are most likely to survive a plane crash. From then on I always tried to get a seat at the back. Later on, I was told by a pilot that sitting at the back ensures that you will feel the most turbulence and in the case of a plane crash most people on the plane are almost certain to die. It made horrible sense. After that I have always asked to get a seat as far in front of the plane as possible as it’s the turbulence that stirs up my fears and panic.

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In the last week it has been hard to avoid news about plain crashes as Boeing’s 737 Max 8 crashed in Ethiopia. The second plane of that type to go down within 5 months of each other.

As I couldn’t avoid the headlines and the news I looked at the case with the eyes of a communication student and it was a big ,,aha” moment for me. I could connect so many theories and methods to the news. As horrible and sad as the news are, it is interesting to look at the case from that perspective.

First off, I started thinking about all the stakeholders involved, and oh my! There are so many! Boeing, airlines (that fly those planes and the ones that don’t), Boeings competitors, the families of the passengers, the UN (and other employers of passengers), regulators, the media, Boeing’s staff, airline’s staff, shareholders, the public, people that are afraid of flying and the list goes on.

When it comes to the stakeholders it was also interesting to see how their stakes changed with the blink of an eye. Just by voicing an opinion or by actions, players that might have been considered quite neutral became high power, high interest players.

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Boeing took it’s time when it came to action. However, certain airlines took the leap and decided to ground their 737 Max 8 planes while the accident was under investigation. By doing so other airlines were in a way pushed to respond in the same way. Other airlines didn’t react until their stocks started plummeting and then there were the ones that waited for regulators to step in and put bans/restrictions into action.

As we were taught about single and double-loop reputation-repairing activities at the beginning of the week as well I was all ears (as I am in communication classes, I just love them!). We were taught that the single-loop action entailed a short-term action where the immediate event is managed. In the single loop people are secured. The double-loop however is an action where a company changes it behaviour in order to avoid this type of a crisis in the future. To achieve that they find the root of the crisis and take proactive steps to make sure there isn’t more damage to reputation. We were taught that the best practice is to incorporate both single and double-loop reputation-repairing activities in a crisis.

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Watching Boeing gave me the feeling they wanted to skip the first step as they didn’t seem to see the importance of grounding their own planes while airlines took it upon themselves to do so. It was very interesting as I was learning this to be able to put it in perspective to a real-life crisis that was ongoing before and after this lecture.

Like it wasn’t enough to be able to relate the communication lectures to the Boeing crisis I could also do so in a Brand Management and Corporate Identity seminar. We were given random types of companies and told to come up with values for them. My group got allocated an “airline”. My first thought was safety.

Me and the professor debated for a little while whether that is something that was a given for an airline or not. I, being afraid of flying, told him it was incredibly important to me to know that was one of the values and that it would give me a larger sense of safety to fly with an airline that would emphasise on that as a value.

I would have loved to tackle a communication problem for Boeing, an airline or another stakeholder this week. I guess I did in my mind anyway.

It is a great feeling though when you can relate your studies to something that is going on out in the great big world (even though in this case, the event was very tragic). Boeing’s problems are just a fraction of where I, as a communication student can do so as I’ve seen through my studies and the media, communications are relevant in every aspect and I am yet to find a situation where it is not.

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Governed by fear or humour?

What happens when the general public gets fed up and thinks enough is enough?

A lot of people never thought Trump would be elected and many people also thought Brexit would never go through. But it shows you should never say never. People were fed up with the situation and wanted a change. That’s what they got. Without really knowing what sort of change they were voting for.

Today I am mainly going to talk about examples from Iceland where the general public had enough and how it presented itself.

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Blissfully unaware

By the end of September 2008 I was in a hospital in the east of Iceland. I had just had my first child. My beautiful baby girl. She refused to come out naturally and therefore I was wheeled into an operation room and she was delivered by C-section. After the operation I had to recover so I stayed in the hospital for a week. Maybe it is just me but after having my first child all I talked about was how well she took the breasts, how many nappies we changed, how well she slept and whether she was getting air out by burping. I completely forgot there was a world out there. After 6 days in the hospital I realised this and decided I needed to ask people what was going on with them as well. I didn’t have a TV in my room. You  also have to understand that this was before the times of smart phones and people constantly being connected to the internet. That very same day my auntie called me and I blathered out this and that about my daughter, then I remembered my newfound realisation and therefore asked: “How about you guys, how are thing with you?

She angrily replied: “US!!? HOW are things with US??

Very confused about how I managed to insult her I carefully replied with: “….yes…

Again, very angry she replied: “EVERYTHING is falling apart! We have NO idea what is going on! ALL WE KNOW is that we are FUXXED like EVERYONE else!!

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After very cautiously asking her what she meant by that I got a little bit of the background to her reaction. Something had happened to the banks. I still didn’t understand what exactly had happened and asked my fiancé at the time to get us some newspapers. I could see in the papers all the main banks had gone bust. I still didn’t know what it meant but by reading the papers I understood it was not good.

Once I got home from the hospital, I turned the TV on and watched the news, the situation didn’t look good. Following the news was a comedy show. This was a weekly show that always made fun of the current affairs and what had been going on in Icelandic society since the last show. At this point Russia had offered Icelanders aid in the form of financial support. All the comedy sketches were tailored around that. In the show they pretended we had taken the support and Iceland had changed into an old time Soviet country. People were poor, they were begging and had food stamps. People were wearing worn out clothes and women had shawls on their shoulders and cloths on their heads.

Still not hormonally tuned I didn’t see it as a joke. I sat on my couch and cried, I hugged my baby girl and feared the situation I had borne her into.

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Protesting the Icelandic way

The financial crisis in 2008 hit Iceland very hard.

Icelanders weren’t happy. The government said too many people had bought flat screen TV’s without having the money. The people were blamed. Banks had behaved really irresponsibly but the general public had to pay. England invoked the Anti-Terrorism Act against Iceland due to Icesave and Icelanders were gobsmacked. A group called InDefence was formed and it fought against Icelanders having to pay for Icesave and tried to fight the image of Icelanders being terrorists. Pictures like this were posted on social media:

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Life quickly became harder and Icelanders were struggling. People were losing their jobs, homes and possessions.

It’s the only time I’ve been sincerely grateful for owning nothing and being relatively poor.  There was nothing they could take from me.

The society was boiling and ended up erupting like a volcano. Protests and demonstrations were planned. People flocked down to the city centre to protest the government. They felt like the government wasn’t taking responsibility or looking after the people of the country. The protests involved planned public speaking in front of the parliament and peaceful gatherings. Famous writers, journalists, business people and activists would lend their voice and join forces.

Thousands of people showed up every week and took part in what was called “The Pots and Pans Revolution”. It may seem harmless and quite comical, but it worked. People showed up with signs and whatever they could make noises with, they hit pots and pans with ladles and honked horns. Just whatever they could do to make noise and make it visible they were unhappy with status quo. It ended up escalating into a bit of a riot in January 2009, where windows of the parliament were broken, eggs were thrown, and 20 people were arrested. By April 2009 Icelanders got to vote a new government and the sitting right-wing had to resign and a left-wing government had a big job ahead of them as they needed to do a lot of cleaning up.

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Since then Icelanders have protested like that twice. First in 2016 when the panama papers were revealed, and the sitting prime minister was a big name in them. People called for elections, which they got and then again 2017 when the general public discovered that people in high places and linked to the governing party in the parliament had vindicated child molesters. They had declared these molesters were now all better and vouched for them behaving well and therefore they got a clean slate and a clear criminal record and could go about their lives as normal. This made people angry and they protested.

Influencing with fear

In both 2016 and 2017 the right-wing parties got to power again after being overthrown with protests. People were speechless. There was so much anger and turbulence but still the right-wing parties were going strong. (The Panama PM did not get voted back in and left politics for a while).

What had happened? Was it a loud minority or was there something wrong with the system?

I believe what happened was similar to what happened when both Trump got into power and Brexit became a reality.

When I did a philosophy course while doing my bachelors we had to look into power, power struggle and fear. I did a group assignment where we watched and analysed an hour-long interview with Teresa May and read loads of articles, just before the elections in 2016. We also had a look at how Corbyn conducted himself but not in as great depths as May was the focus of our assignment. While watching the interview and looking at the articles it dawned on us, she didn’t talk much about what she wanted to do to better the lives of UK citizens, she didn’t go into depths of her policies. She used scare tactics and fear. She focused on the fact the UK would sink without her as a leader, that she was the one that knew what to do when it came to Brexit and that other parties were not to be trusted.

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The same happened in Iceland in the elections in 2016 and 2017. New parties emerged and smaller parties were gaining support. The big right-wing parties have a lot of capital and therefore started a campaign where they focused on trashing the smaller parties, there were adverts on YouTube and other social media which dragged up negative stories about the other parties and played on fear. In interviews they kept telling people the other parties didn’t have the experience they had and that Iceland would go bust again without their leadership.

And the scariest thing about these fear tactics is that they work!

Hopefully however, the results in all these cases will wake people up and make them realise they need to vote! They also need to see beyond the crap, which can be harder, but being informed and not just believing the one whom is the loudest can make a huge difference.

The Best Party

I am going to end this post on an example, also from Iceland, which I find humorous and shows what happens when people get fed up but have better choices than Trump to show their discontent.

The year was 2010 and it was time for City Council Elections. Promises had been made for years and were never kept. People were getting tired and felt like no matter who they voted for they would always get the same kind of government.

A new party emerged. It called itself “The Best Party”. The leader, comedian Jón Gnarr, said he had always wanted power and money. He also said he had always wanted to be in a position to be able to help his friends out. He said he had nicked a lot of the material on his manifesto from other parties like helping old people, women and the Less Fortunate but he also said he didn’t mean any of it and it was just a cover up. He hoped people wouldn’t take any of it too literally.

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So, there was a party that promised all sorts but did it as a joke and was always upfront about the fact they didn’t mean to live up to any of their promises. The party also promised to be different from other parties as it would be openly corrupt.

Here are some of the promises on their manifesto:

  • To improve the quality of life of the Less Fortunate: We want the best of everything for this bunch and therefore offer free access to buses and swimming pools, so you can travel around Reykjavik and be clean even if you’re poor or there’s something wrong with you.
  • Stop corruption: We promise to stop corruption. We’ll accomplish this by participating in it openly.
  • Effective democracy: Democracy is pretty good, but an effective democracy is best. That’s why we want it
  • Free bus rides for students and disabled people: We can offer more free things than any other party because we aren’t going to follow through with it. We could say whatever we want. For example, free flights for women or free cars for people who live in rural areas. It’s all the same.
  • Free dental services for children and handicapped people: This is something that is lacking, and we definitely want to take part in promising it.
  • Free access to swimming pools for everyone and free towels: This is something that everyone should fall for, and it’s the election promise we’re most proud of.
  • Take those responsible for the economic collapse to court: Felt we had to include this.
  • Listen more to women and old people: This bunch gets listened to far too little. It’s as if everyone thinks they are just complaining or something. We’re going to change that.

They made fun of all the promises and phrases other parties used like “sustainability” and “transparency”, which were hugely popular at the time.

This is Tina Turners’ “Simply the best” which they made their own lyrics to, it has English subtitles, but I have also translated it and you can see it below:

They won the elections and the party governed Reykjavík for 4 years. The Mayor, Jón Gnarr, was open about the fact he didn’t know what he was doing and when he was interviewed, he always had someone close by to call if he got questions he couldn’t answer, and he wasn’t shy about it.

I lived in Reykjavík at the time and it was colourful, Jón supported human rights and was vocal about that. He dressed up every year for Reykjavík pride and took part in the parade.

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If you are interested in knowing more about Jón Gnarr, here is a documentary about him:

When Icelanders voted for a new President in 2016 there was pressure on Jón Gnarr to run but he decided against it.

All of this shows that one does not have to use fear, even though it is a powerful tool. One can use creativity to provoke the status quo. When I go out to the world and hopefully start working in Public Relations I hope I can do just that, be creative, think outside the box and have some fun while I am at it!

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What is the worth of a good reputation?

“If I was a CEO I would never pay my PR practitioner less than my lawyer, I would pay him even more!”

These words came from a friend of mine back in Iceland. She’s a law student, a mother and works as a team leader in a big production plant in Iceland.

As many people don’t really understand what it is a PR practitioner does they don’t understand the value they bring to a company. It can be hard to measure the financial value they actually bring, however, when a company doesn’t have someone to integrate their communication and respond professionally when a crisis hits, they can really feel the impact of not having someone trained in the profession at hand.

When I conducted my interviews with the PR practitioners in Iceland for my dissertation it blew me away how varied their job was. They were training CEO’s and spokespeople in how to speak in public, at interviews etc. and how to react when facing challenging questions. They were writing news releases, they were planning social gatherings for their costumers’ clients as even though they are not event planners as such. The whole look and execution of events has to echo the message they’re trying to send out.

An example of someone who would have benefited from some PR training is Barilla’s chairman in 2013 when he said on Italian radio: “I would never do a commercial with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect but because we don’t agree with them. []. Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role. If [gays] don’t like it, then they will not eat it and they will eat another brand.”

Barilla’s slogan: “Where there is Barilla, there is a home” Became a target for a play on words for those offended by the comment. Posts like: “Where there is my home, there is no Barilla” and “Where there is Barilla, there is homophobia” surfaced on social media.

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One person commented this on the company’s Facebook site: “I’m Italian, I’m gay, I’m married legally to a man, I have three adopted children. I had Barilla pasta for dinner last night. Today, tomorrow and forever more I will choose another brand of pasta. Good bye Barilla! You lose!”

My brother is gay. He made sure I knew about this. Therefore, it’s safe to say it hit the company at a larger scale than “only” through its gay customers. People conscious of human rights also boycotted their products.

2 months after the comments Barilla pasta was on 25% discount in the main supermarkets in my home country, Iceland.  However, it is hard to find evidence of how hard the comments actually hit the company as its privately owned and didn’t reveal how the boycott hit their sales figures. But it’s not only sales figures one has to consider, it also has to do with the brand and the brands reputation.

Barilla did bounce back and learned from their mistakes. Only a year later they featured a gay couple in an advert, they were donating money for gay rights causes and expanding health benefits for transgender workers and their families. All very positive, however good news seem to travel slower than bad news and until I started researching the case further for this blog post I hadn’t heard about this turnaround. I only heard the negative news back in 2013.

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Another company that could have hugely benefited from having integrated communication plan is United Airlines. This is a case I covered in my dissertation as it shows how by not responding a relatively minor event can spiral into something huge.

What happened was that the musician Dave Carroll and his band flew with United Airlines. When arriving at their destination he noticed that airport staff unloading the plane threw bags between them, including the bands instruments. Once Dave got his Taylor guitar he discovered the neck was broken. For 9 months he tried contacting the airline to get some compensation, he tried many different ways of communicating with them but had no luck. After getting nowhere he wrote the song “United breaks guitars”. He uploaded the song onto YouTube and when this is written it has been watched 18 million times. He wrote two more songs about his experience and went onto radio and TV to talk about his experience. On YouTube people have written comments about the songs and their own experiences with the airline.

( You can see the video here )

If the company had responded and shown some empathy, things wouldn’t have had to go this far but with social media and power of the masses things can quickly spiral out of control.

In both cases there are other companies however that seem to be quick to realize opportunities, companies that are indirectly connected to the crisis in question.

Barilla’s competitors Bertolli Germany responded to Barilla’s crisis by publishing an advert which they had published 2 years prior, which featured a gay couple. They also posted a picture with the caption: “Pasta and love for all” on their Facebook site.

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While United Airlines didn’t seem to realize how important it was to respond to their customers’ needs Taylor guitars did, even though they weren’t prompted. They compensated him by giving him a new guitar and they uploaded videos onto YouTube about their repair services and on how to travel safely with their guitars.

This shows that having a communication/marketing team on their toes can hugely benefit a company as they will seize the moment and grab the chance of positive publicity when it presents itself. As these two examples show, it doesn’t even have to be expensive, just seen and acted upon!

So, going back to the beginning of this post, I believe my friend hit the nail on the head.

A good PR practitioner is worth their weight in gold. If they listen to the market, are responsive, creative and on point they can in many cases avoid major upheaval. At the very least respond to it in the most efficient way. They will also be able to spot potential opportunities when a crisis hits someone else.

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