Cell C, the smallest of South Africa’s ‘big three’ cellular networks, has started a PR war against bigger rivals Vodacom and MTN by saying they have “declared war on consumer interests” in their efforts to have parliament regulate the activities of WhatsApp and other Internet players such as Twitter and WeChat. The country’s parliament begins hearing this week after Vodacom and MTN complained that these data-based services – referred to in the industry as over-the-top or OTT Internet players – are ‘freeloading’ off the expensive national cellular infrastructure created by the cellphone companies. But Jose de Santos, the CEO of Cell C, has taken an opposing stance and seems to be seeking to position Cell C as the consumers’ champion on the issue. In a hard-hitting statement released last week, he calls the two “an infamous duopoly” whose actions have “nothing to do with fairness, competition or the future of South Africa. To the contrary, it is all about maintaining their stranglehold on a vital artery feeding our country's economic and social future”. His statement continues: “Regulation would impose new costs. Costs that will either prompt OTT players to withdraw their services from South Africa or push up prices for the consumer; the very consumer that already pays for the data to use those services.” His company’s standpoint was that OTT services encouraged consumers to participate more, Dos Santos said. “The more they participate, the more they spend. Cell C is still a business and must make money. But good companies adapt and change to create new opportunities for themselves and their customers. Bad companies manipulate the system to only get what they want – the customer doesn't matter.” Dos Santos’ stance has found support elsewhere too. Writing in the latest issue of the ‘Financial Mail’ business magazine, industry expert Toby Shapshank notes: “These networks have missed the point … [they] need to refocus on their new roles in the larger ecosystem and become better at competing with each other as leaner, more efficient businesses.”
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South African public relations consultancy, Atmosphere Communications, and its partners from the King James advertising group have walked off with the international Grand Prix for Excellence award at the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) Award ceremony. The One Rand Man Campaign, for client, Sanlam, also won a Gold IPRA award in the Financial Services and Investor Relations category at the award ceremony held in Sandton on Monday. IPRA awards honour the best PR campaigns from around the globe. The campaign debuted during South African Savings Month in July 2014 as part of Sanlam’s brand refresh and followed one man’s journey as he lived an entire month on R1 coins. The aim was to re-connect consumers with their money and to encourage them to reconsider the way they spend and save – down to the last R1 coin. “It is great to see that an idea developed and executed in the southern part of Africa can find resonance on a global scale. The magic of this creative idea was that the insight was based on a universal issue – we’ve lost touch with the value of our money – which is applicable in any market. Our team developed an integrated creative campaign which used social media, webisodes, infographics, media partnership and traditional media coverage to drive the message,” says Nicola Nel, Managing Director of Atmosphere Communications. “The Grand Prix represents the industry’s highest recognition for outstanding, international standard of work,” says Johanna McDowell, former president of IPRA and one of the judges. The 2015 IPRA Public Relations World Congress took place from 27-29 September.
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Monday, 28 September 2015 10:26

Volkswagen facing a public relations crisis?

Auto giant Volkswagen may be heading for a PR and reputation management crisis after its shares dropped nearly 20% on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange on Monday and Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn publicly admitted to having “broken the trust of our customers and the public”. VW has come under fire after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a US federal government body, accused it of intentionally deceiving the agency by using software to make the diesel engines of cars such as the Golf and Jetta appear to be more environmentally friendly than they really were. In its official complaint, the EPA details how a ‘sophisticated software algorithm’ was used to switch vehicles between different levels of emissions, depending on whether they were on the road or being tested. However, the charges have yet to be proven and the London-based ‘Financial Times’ newspaper has reported that VW could argue that it did not intentionally break the law. But the newspaper says Winterkorn’s admission of ‘broken trust’ is “sufficient to turn this into a serious crisis for the company that aims to overtake Toyota as the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer by 2018. … The last thing it wanted was an incident to tarnish both its brand and technology in which it leads. That is what it now faces.” According to ‘The Guardian’ newspaper, the German Economy Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, has also expressed concern over the impact of what he called ‘a bad case’ for the country’s vital car industry and urged VW to clear up the allegations. “You will understand that we are worried that the justifiably excellent reputation of the German car industry and, in particular, that of Volkswagen suffers,” Gabriel said.
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Could it be that widescale public apathy and lack of consumer understanding of the issues at play in the unfolding scandal around Volkswagen will cause limited long-term damage to the brand? ‘Automotive News’, a trade publication that covers the global auto industry, quotes unnamed car dealers in the US – which is at the epicentre of the diesel scandal – as believing that an inattentive and apathetic public with a short attention span will be the key to a relatively rapid recovery of public confidence in the brand. “These dealers believe if VW’s damage control is swift and aggressive, the public will quickly forget VW’s wrongdoings and its reputation will remain intact,” the newspaper reports. Volkswagen is facing a global scandal after admitting it cheated on its diesel emissions tests for cars being sold in the United States, which has stringent vehicle pollution laws. Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn has since resigned after the US Environmental Protection Agency said VW intentionally deceived it by using software to make the diesel engines of cars such as the Golf and Jetta appear to be more environmentally friendly than they really are. But, suggests ‘Automotive News’: “The severity of VW’s nefarious act is so far removed from most average [people’s] psyches and lives that it fails to resonate. There is nothing tangible to attach to it. There are no dead bodies, no sex scandal, and the smoking gun happens to be a complex software device that most people don’t understand.” While the publication says many people are angry at being deceived and outraged at the environmental damage, “VW stands a pretty good chance of saving its reputation if it’s smart and acts quickly”.
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Tuesday, 23 June 2015 22:00

Is it time to boost Brand Africa?

Despite the International Monetary Fund’s prediction that Africa will have the highest rate of economic growth in the world over the next decade, global perceptions of the continent are still tinged with negativity. Many experts believe it’s time for Africa to up the ante in executing an effective public relations and branding strategy.

There’s no shortage of bad news stories coming out of Africa currently: xenophobic attacks in South Africa against the citizens of other African countries; an oil crisis in Nigeria; political turmoil in Burundi. There’s more than enough ammunition for international media outlets to once again paint a negative picture of the continent.

In an column for the ‘IOL online’ news website, media relations and PR expert Rich Mkhondo commented on the renewal of xenophobic attacks in the continent’s most developed economy and explained the damage done to brand South Africa. The truth is xenophobia is hurting South Africa the brand. We cannot divorce the business and image of the brand from the look of the brand. At the moment we look like a nation of savages, with thugs running amok with machetes [attacking] fellow Africans,” he wrote.

“While it is difficult to put a [monetary]value on how much xenophobia is damaging the [national] brand, there is no doubt that there is a real link between the brand valuation and business valuation of our country as a [place] to do business with and visit.”  

Mkhondo continued: “We live in a branded world. Nowadays everything is branded; from soap to sport; from the connectivity of a country to its politicians. To brand a country is a natural progression – a bigger, more complex challenge. But branding a country is not only about pride, but profit too.”

Branding a continent means taking such challenges – and potential rewards – to the next level. The Africa Public Relations Association (APRA), which recently met in Yaoundé, Cameroon has echoed the need for a more effective PR strategy on the continent, reports the ‘Voice of America’ newswebsite.

The experts gathered at the APRA event agreed that Western Media largely portrays the continent in a negative light. Yet many argued that solutions to very real problems ultimately need to come from leaders on the continent. “Leaders must not sit back and assume that somehow [issues] will fade away tomorrow,” commented Charles Nklonzo from Day Star University in Kenya.

APRA’s intent is, therefore, to work together with governments – the continent’s most prominent brand ambassadors – to build a positive image of Africa.

“What we want to do is to [move forward] together, telling our own story,” said Bogwa Djeroge, an APRA official in Kenya. “There are so many projects that are being initiated [and] our tourism industry is booming. If you look at our education system, it is superb. We are sending out so many graduates and these are the stories that we want to talk about. Stories of hope [and] stories of success, not stories of despair like have been [presented] by the foreign media.”

While there’s no denying the significant issues Africa faces, there are numerous positive stories in a continent that’s experiencing phenomenal growth.

The African consumer is on the rise and their spending power is increasing year on year as more and more households move into the middle-income bracket,” Loretta Ahmed, CEO of Middle East, Turkey & Africa for leading global communications network, Grayling, told ‘Forbes’ magazine recently. It’s up to communications professionals on the continent to market the [region] in a realistic yet hopeful way, emphasising its considerable achievements and the undeniable spirit of its people.

With PR professionals on the continent clearly on message, a positive move is the announcement that Africa will host the 2015 World Congress of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA). The event, taking place in Johannesburg from 27-29 September, offers the chance for African practitioners to set the record straight on the continent, with 800 delegates from around the globe expected to descend on South Africa.

Dr Amybel Sánchez de Walther, President of the IPRA, said in a statement: “We believe that this event will be important for the PR community in Africa, as well as in the rest of the world.”

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American-based fast-food giant, Burger King, has spotted the public relations opportunity of a lifetime and made a lucky couple a proposal they can't refuse: let us pay for your wedding! Joel Burger and his fiancé Ashley King are due to be married in the US state of Illinois in July and the fortunate coincidence of their surnames now means that their big day will be happy in more ways than one.

Already the news has become a PR-person's dream and is creating media headlines across the world, with a Burger King spokesperson telling the 'State Journal Register' newspaper: "When we heard about the happy Burger-King couple, we felt an overwhelming urge to celebrate their upcoming marriage. On so many levels it felt like fate; they found each other and their story found us."

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Sunday, 22 February 2015 22:00

Global PR professionals to gather in Africa

Public relations professionals from across the globe will gather in Africa for the second time when the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) holds its World Congress in Johannesburg in September. The last time the congress was held on the continent was in Durban in 1998.

Approximately 500 delegates are expected to attend the event, which is held every three years. According to Congress Chairman, Johanna McDowell, it is a highlight for the PR industry and the theme for the 2015 conference is ‘Leadership in Communication – the Way to Trust’.

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Wednesday, 04 February 2015 22:00

More recognition for African PR professionals

The annual PRISM public relations awards ceremony, which has traditionally honoured excellence in the Southern African PR industry, is expanding to have a greater pan-African focus. The vision is to “become an African celebration of excellence in public relations and communication” say the organisers.

Two new categories have been introduced for 2015: Best African Network and the Pan African Public Relations Campaign of the Year. The former is aimed at “consultancies working together on common clients [and] showing a clear African vision and plan, stature and presence of each in- market partner”. This is according to a statement from the Public Relations Institute of South Africa (Prisa), which co-ordinates the 18-year-old awards.

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Company executives need to be aware of three critical factors when it comes how consumer boycotts may play out, says new international research on the subject.

Writing for the Canadian-based Network for Business Sustainability, an organisation of global academic experts and business leaders aiming to improve the sustainability of business, Professor N. Craig Smith of Insead Business School notes that one of the key lessons from the research is that “any boycott, no matter how illogically conceived or badly executed, can wreak long-term havoc on a company’s reputation – even if it does not hit short-term sales”.

Smith says the following are the key factors company executives must be aware of when facing consumer boycotts.

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A four-month public campaign headed by environmental group Greenpeace has led to Lego, the international toy brand, ending a lucrative deal with the Shell oil company.

The two organisations have business ties dating back to the 1960s and, in 2011, signed an agreement whereby co-branded Lego toys are sold at filling stations in 26 countries. The deal is reported by Britain’s ‘The Guardian’ newspaper to be worth around $US109-million.

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