A week of Ethics and personal growth

This week has been a blast for me.

First of we covered one of my favourite topics in our communication class: Ethics!

One of the things we spoke about when things may be legal but may not seem ethical or may simply be neither.

It made me think of all the different dilemmas and all the different ways companies may dress up their decisions.

For an example back home, we have a big global manufacturing company. It’s situated in a small town where there wasn’t much happening. It came to Iceland as things like electricity is cheap there.

This factory really brightened the place up, young people started moving back home, people that weren’t from the area also decided to move there. The place was appealing to people as housing was cheap and all of a sudden there was a company there that needed educated people (engineers, HR, management, accounting etc.) and welcomed uneducated people to work in the factory. The employees would have a great opportunity to work their way up by working hard and even doing courses the factory provided.

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In no time this small town grew at a speed no one had seen for decades. A small shopping mall was built, there was a bar there and all sorts of companies and services wanted to be located there.

It all sounds rosy, doesn’t it? Well then there is the other side. The company doesn’t pay all the taxes it should in Iceland as it uses a loophole in the Icelandic laws to avoid to do so.

In class we were told that when we were facing an ethical dilemma, we should start off by doing a stakeholder map. In this case I find it a little troublesome as the stakeholders are many and affected in different way.

For an example the local people where the factory is are stakeholders and they can be divided into many groups: employees, spouses of employees, people that service the factory in one way or another, teachers (teaching all the children that now live in the area), people in companies that service this town that has grown so vastly etc.

The company uses the tactic of pointing at all these people and justify their acts on the grounds they are providing these people with jobs either directly or indirectly, some are even getting an education due to the company etc.

Then there are other stakeholders like competitors, who actually pay their taxes. Then there is the Icelandic public, as this factory is big on Icelandic scale, one can assume the Icelandic system would benefit massively by getting the share it should. If it would one could argue it could mean better service, roads, healthcare or whatever that money would go into. Some people even say that electricity cost goes up when a big player like this comes into the picture. That affects businesses and the general public.

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When I started thinking about this factories approach and it’s justifications I assumed they were using the “Common Good Approach” which means they are basing their decisions on what best serves the community as a whole, but there was something that was bothering me about that as a reasoning. Sure, they are serving the interest of the community they are in, but what about the Icelandic community, as a whole? The notes I took while I sat in the class read: “What is the community?”, “What is the community as a WHOLE?”.

After going over this in my head and by using the tools we were given in class it showed me one can dress things up in different ways. Which might support the theory of “Spin doctors”. This particular company focuses on the good it does in the community it is located in and addresses the tax thing as little as possible. Their communications and justifications all revolve around what they ARE doing and avoiding talking about what they ARE NOT doing.

Club7 : Being brave

This week I took a big step out of my comfort zone.

Masters students on my course organised an event which resembles a TED Talk. 8 speakers, 7 minutes each. It’s the second year this event has been held and this year’s theme was Be Brave. I submitted a two minute video as an application for a spot as a speaker. To my delight (and huge amount of stress) I got selected.

Therefor, last night, I stood in a big room and told them about the challenges I have faced (some of them) and how I gathered the strength and guts to follow my dreams and make the best life I could for me and my kids.

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I thought everyone could see how much I was shivering. I was sure I looked like a branch in a storm but as I have reviewed the video my fiancée recorded and spoken to quite a few people that were there I know it wasn’t visible.

As I finished, I felt so relieved that my part was over with but I also felt really proud of myself. I didn’t just talk in front of a big audience, I talked about something very personal.

But that is a part of my journey, to get to tell my story, with my words, from where I am standing as, unfortunately, I know there are people out there that are telling my story in a way that serves them and degrades me. I have finally found my voice and I am not going to hide anymore. At the same time, I have no need to put other people down in this process, as that does not make me any better than them.

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IABC event

As the Club7 wasn’t enough, I also applied for a spot in a committee that is planning an IABC event in Leeds in June.

I got the honour of being selected as Head of Logistics and Committee Secretary.

It’s a huge role and at the same time such a great opportunity. I can not wait to dive into the work that comes along with this task and meet the people that will work with us and the people that will attend the event itself.

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Seize the moment

As I told my brother I had been given the role in the IABC committee he told me he was really proud of me and happy to see I was using the time while I am at university to do more than just study.

That’s just the thing, when I decided to come to the UK to attend a university, I decided to make the most of it. I decided I would grab any opportunity to grow, as a future Communication practitioner and as a person and that’s just what I have done.

I entered a PRstudent blog competition, I have spoken at Club7 and I am now in a committee that is planning an IABC event. I have also made friends from all over the world. I have imposed Icelandic food on staff and students at the university. My kids are getting to do things I could not offer them in Iceland. Me and my fiancée are able to enjoy more time together than before.

It’s not like there hasn’t been ups and downs, as this is life, not a fairy-tale, but the ups and the positives outweigh the downs by far!

If you are a student I encourage you to use the time while you are at uni to grab every opportunity and ENJOY the journey!

asphalt road between trees
Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

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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