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The Conversation - August Edition

Aug

Sermelo News

Sermelo has joined forces with the PRCA to launch #PRBizResults, a campaign that will include a series of video interviews and blog posts from senior executives giving insights into how PR has helped their organisations.

The first entry for the campaign will come from Jonathan Dinkeldein , senior manager EMEA corporate comms at power management company Eaton.

Sermelo founder and senior partner Jonathan Jordan said: "The industry is very good at communicating the benefits of PR internally, but we wanted to find a way to show the impacts it can have throughout an organisation, whether it is in HR, sales, or supporting executives."

Sermelo has been shortlisted alongside International SOS for the PRCA DARE awards in the Corporate, Financial and Stakeholder Relations category. This is for some work we have done promoting the benefits of the company’s partnership with London’s Air Ambulance to clients and employees. We will be keeping our fingers crossed when the winners are announced on July 3rd in Brighton.

Sermelo was also shortlisted by the Holmes Report for EMEA Corporate Consultancy of the Year Award and for the B2B Marketing Award for the work we did alongside O-I launching HELIX, an innovation that allows natural cork to be twisted from the bottle without the need for a corkscrew. Although we were not selected on this occasion, it’s great to see that all our hard work for clients is being recognized.

We are thrilled to announce that Tom Clive has recently been promoted to Senior Consultant – a very well deserved promotion. In addition, the Sermelo team continues to expand with two new consultants to the team. Harriet Garner, recently graduated from University in Glasgow with an honours in History, and Olivier Milland, who has had extensive experience working for non-profit organisations specialising in international affairs. It’s an exciting time for Sermelo as the business, and the team, continue to grow and expand.

Client News

Ticino

We are very pleased to announce that Sermelo will be working together with Ticino for Finance in raising awareness and attracting financial journalists to the European Financial Association (EFA) to be held in Lugano.

The European Finance Association's (EFA) Annual Meeting attracts over 650 of the leading finance researchers from around the world. Out of the 1,793 research papers submitted for presentation, only 200 will be selected by a committee of academics from top universities around the world. This stringent selection process ensures the high quality of the finance research presented at the conference.

We are delighted to be providing media relations support for this important event in Switzerland’s third most important financial centre.

Mastercard

We are delighted to announce our new partnership with Access prepaid Worldwide (part of MasterCard) in an exciting new deal where we will support the launch of Access’s new product: The Cash Passport, a new prepaid card destined for young travellers. As well as launching this exciting new product, we will help to build awareness of the prepaid card sector amongst the youth market at the time of trip planning.

O-I

Sermelo helps promoting Owens-Illinois’s recent announcement of €30m in its Alloa plant in Scotland

We’ve been delighted to support Owens-Illinois, Inc (O-I), the world’s largest glass manufacturer and preferred partner for many of the world’s leading food and beverage brands, in securing UK national coverage of its recent announcement of investing of more than e30m in their plant in Alloa, Scotland, made on April 8th. This was intended to upgrade the production facilities to better serve the Scottish drinks industries, as well as secure the jobs in the Alloa factory.

As a first step, Sermelo organised a media roadshow in London with Erik Bouts, the European CEO of O-I , 2 weeks in advance of the Alloa announcement. Erik had the opportunity to meet journalists from high-level national publications, during which he could discuss his first year in the job, as well as the main objectives for O-I in 2014, which include creating more packaging solutions that meet drinks industry needs for segmentation, differentiation and premiumisation, with the innovation and speed to market they require, which all go in line with the new investment in Alloa.

The announcement event was attended by global CEO Al Strouken, as well as customers, employees, and government officials including Scottish Enterprise Minister Fergus Erwin.

Following the announcement, we were pleased to report that the investment story was covered in depth by national newspapers, which included articles in The Daily Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal and BBC News, as well as in Scottish Newspapers (The Scotsman, The Daily Record). The Alloa announcement also featured in 4 broadcast appearances, which included BBC1 Breakfast, Radio 4 Today program and BBC 1 Scotland.

Exploring the Perception Reality Gap

Humans seem to have always grappled with a perception and reality gap. What is real and what is falsely perceived to be real has dominated thinkers from Plato and his cave to Cartesian Reductionism through to Hume’s bent oar. All of them worked out that there was a problem but their solutions have been less illuminating – ranging from solipsism to ontologically-expensive and everything in between.

In a more practical setting, deliberate and accidental misperception have shaped the world we live in. In the UK in the 1950s, the British Government’s desperation to acquire a hydrogen bomb led them to build massive conventional A-bomb, detonate it and claim to the US that it was in fact the former. Entry into the Polaris nuclear missile defence system followed soon after. In the 1930s, the perception that the German National Socialist Party was simply righting the wrongs of the Versailles Treaty rather than pursuing militaristic expansion and genocide culminated in Chamberlin’s Munich declaration. Peace in our time unfortunately did not follow.

Contemporary European politics is also the victim of a profound gap between public perception and reality. Europeans have seen substantial and relatively rapid changes to their way of life over the last decade – which for many have proved alarming and threatening. Following the accession of Eastern European States in 2004 and the arguable mismanagement of immediate, sizeable inter-union migration, there has emerged a polemic, largely amongst Western-European, white, working class voters, that immigration is at the root of all economic malaise and poses a dangerous challenge to the homogeneity of the nation state.

Despite the reality that such immigration has proved fundamental to expanding Western Europe’s service and retail industries and is an inherent facet of any successful society competing in a global market-place, fear of immigration and concern about the transfer of sovereign powers to an ill-defined, popularly alien power-centre in Brussels has become palpable – especially given the fact that the latter’s much promoted and much questioned currency union has been in free-fall for the best part of a decade.

The European political establishment is struggling to address this perception vs reality gap which parties such as the French Front National and the British UKIP are actively encouraging. Whilst improving economic prospects across the European Union will undoubtedly shift some of the current popular antipathy back into apathy this will take time, far too long in fact for leaders such as the UK’s David Cameron who faces what promises to be perhaps the closest general election in a generation a year from now. Across La Manche, the idea of a French socialist government moving to effectively compete on the far-centre right seems unlikely, with the potential caveat of the popular and charismatic chameleon Manuel Valls.

In contrast, the corporate world has stolen a march on the political in terms of addressing perceptions of themselves and how they are actually regarded by the public. McDonalds head of CSR Bob Langart commented that far too many people think that they know all there is to know about the fast food chain through documentaries such as Fast Food Nation or Supersize Me. Although the restaurant does of course continue to serve foods high in sugar, and saturated fat, they have made significant steps to provide healthier alternatives and have communicated this comprehensively and effectively. Whilst people on a diet probably still aren’t going to spend much time in the golden arches, the popular perception of McDonalds having no healthy options at all has, to a degree, been realigned with reality.

Having said this, proactive, effective examples of addressing the perception reality gap are still few and far between – with most organisations adopting reactive reputation management rather than seeking to shape an accurate public impression when the times are good and then utilising it when the times are bad. Perhaps the best example of this to date has been BP and the Deep Horizon disaster in 2010 where the internal perception of how they needed to engage with and communicate around the incident differed enormously with the reality of public expectations.

To be fair to both organisations and politicians it is often hard to see and understand how they are perceived from within the fold – which is why many rightly turn to the outside for external advice on how to bridge perception issues. The courage in taking such a step should not be underestimated however. To admit as a leader that one does not have all the answers and needs a (or many) fresh pairs of independent eyes to solve a perception and reality gap is a bold but often vital move.

Equally vital here is the ethical approach of the external consultant. In a competitive market place there are far too many examples of bad, expensive solutions being proffered to non-existent problems. In many cases, some of the best communications advice can be to do nothing! This unfortunately often does not chime well with P&Ls.

Key then is for communications consultants to speak truth unto their clients, and for the latter to have enough trust and proactivity to ask them how they are perceived. Together, reality vs perception can be mapped and a strategy to make the two match can be developed and implemented. In this sense, Plato would have been a crap PR.

The Forum

What happens when the perception of an organisation becomes misaligned with reality?


Tony Byng
Programme Director, MA Corporate Communications and Public Relations, University of Leeds

In my experience, organisations often create their own problems because they don’t actually understand how they are perceived in the first place.

Identifying a gap between perception and reality is one of the most difficult lessons my students have to learn.  So, to help them examine a case study or develop a campaign plan, I often quote Harper Lee, who wrote, “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Objectivity, critical reflection and the courage to question and, potentially, reject the internally accepted view of the world are vital attributes for both students and practitioners.  Perhaps organisations would be more successful in avoiding misalignment if they consider an oft-repeated question in my seminars…. “Are you thinking LIKE the organisation or are you thinking ABOUT the organisation?”

Steph Croft-Simon, founder of NOM foods

“She has created a business called NOM which is doing very well, and after one year, her products are already in the likes of TESCO and other big supermarkets.”

I make it my mission to make sure that the perception of my business is in line with reality. By this, I mean that it’s important people know the true story behind the organization’s mission, goals and motivations. The story of my business is being told all the time through various channels; to customers, retailers and observers. The transparency with which I portray my brand and tell my story, is key to this.

Nom Foods is an organic foods business, founded a year ago to fill the gap in the market for tasty ‘snacks’, which aren’t full of sugar. I started out making health bars in my domestic kitchen as a result of my own desire not to eat products which are full of refined sugar, GMO and chemicals. The snack market is full of businesses providing products which are merely posing as healthy. The mistrust around snack bars allowed me to create a new space for my bars on the shelves, by reassuring the consumer that my products are genuinely good. It’s easy to do this. My products are organic, ethical and vegan. Good for the body, good for the planet, good for the farmers who grow the ingredients.

When the perception of an organization becomes misaligned with reality, I believe that this trust is lost, leading to questions about motivation and integrity. Therefore the importance for me to prove to people that my brand is honest, open and genuine is vital – and is the differentiator between Nom and our competitors with a less authentic attitude within their business.

Blogs

Untarnished transparency is the only way back for energy companies: http://www.sermelo.com/news-and-insights/post/Untarnished-transparency-is-the-only-way-back-for-energy-companies/71

An examination of Britain’s railway system and how it can regain trust: http://www.sermelo.com/news-and-insights/post/Please-mind-the-communications-gap/62

How can big business regain trust with stakeholders: http://www.sermelo.com/news-and-insights/post/How-can-big-businesses-build-trust-in-todays-environment/40

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