Here I sit in my local café, inspired by yet another online course, this time on making the business case for sustainability. The course takes us step by step through the calculations needed to prove the value of sustainability efforts. We carefully convert watts to kilowatts and then to dollar savings so we can then discount them into present value.
An important caveat: we can only include non-monetary benefits in our net present value analysis if we are to convert things like a healthier workplace, family-friendly employment policies, etc. into monetary value.
But how? And, perhaps more importantly, should we be putting them in monetary value in the first place?
Many corporations of large scale, and certainly those listed on the stock exchanges, are reporting their impacts on the climate etc. via the ESG reporting lens.
They have committed to bold goals in the short- to mid-term future. These are separate to their P/Ls and other financial reporting. Some might say, it is even more impressive to prove your results in terms of people helped, tons of CO2 reduced and level of transparency than attaching a monetary value to them.
In this day and age, for those who have money, making more money is ridiculously easy. What’s harder is to make a demonstrable difference.
So here’s my challenge to the instinct to quantify everything in terms of money: try not doing so and see what happens.
Criticism of ESG investing usually cite greenwashing and the inability to connect financial support of highly-rated ESG stock with actual environmental, social and governance benefits.
Those who take these criticisms seriously should then be prepared to take as much responsibility for the actual results of ESG programs, not just the financial aspect of them.
Ironically, while society benefits more from the actual achievement of ESG programs rather than the financial values placed on them, even the most “forward thinking” of our current capitalistic systems to incentivize this achievement comes back to money.
CEO compensation is increasingly being hinged on their company’s “ESG performance.”
May I suggest that this is akin to rewarding your child for good behavior with one chocolate chip apiece (a real-life tactic!) only to find that your child comes to expect them for any and every good deed, and won’t budget without them? It might even make them diabetic. I hope you see my point.
(Now that you’ve read this far, please let me connect this crazy loop by pointing out that the gap in CEO pay and employee pay may in the future be used as a factor in ESG indices!)
So the pattern becomes: ESG efforts → corporate and personal profits ↺
Will this whirling dervish bring us closer to the goals promulgated by national governments and the UN? And how will inflation, the continuing pandemic, necessary reskilling of the workforce, supply-chain problems and geopolitical instability contribute to this?
Or, how to pull off marketing communications in times like these
“Breaking borders. Connecting dots.” That’s what two young men in Shibuya, Tokyo aim to do. Many encounter barriers when they enter the Japanese market, when they rebrand, or even just launch a new product because it means the marketing, public relations and advertising functions need to closely collaborate.
This is when you need integrated communication and thoughtful design, say Kotaro Asano, communication expert, and Mio Sasaki, art director. They’re set out to provide exactly that.
Catching up for the first time since working alongside Kotaro at international PR agency MSL Japan, I asked the co-founders why they launched during a pandemic, about their advice for those considering going independent, and their “octopus model” of service.
In other words, we “talked shop.” Check it out below.
In the two years since the outbreak of the pandemic, what kind of changes have you seen in communications activities in Japan?
Kotaro: There has been some change. For example, press conferences and media roundtables have gone online, large-scale events have been canceled and channels you’d normally use to reach consumers have been cut off. So we’ve had to rework some of your tactics and approaches. On the other hand, the basics haven’t changed. You still need to think about how to create and maintain relationships with customers and consumers. So in that sense, much of my work has stayed the same.
Have you felt the need to learn new skills?
Kotaro: Yes, but not because of the pandemic. Communications professionals need to be able to look at the whole picture: sales, marketing, business development, etc.; not just PR.
Since working in an agency, I’ve realized that the marketing, advertising, PR, branding, inside sales and other functions are very “siloed.” As a result, in Japan, there aren’t many agencies that can holistically discuss and create the best strategy from the wide range of choices, at the right time, to provide the best service.
Advertising, PR, digital marketing and other functions tend to make decisions independently and pitch their own ideas. Many times I’ve personally witnessed this leading to underachieving or missing the mark.
That’s why Mio and I decided to tackle marketing communication from a bird’s eye view so that we can create lean and effective strategies and ensure they are properly implemented. To support that, we update our knowledge and skills flexibly and often.
Sometimes one agency will take the lead that doesn’t have the general expertise, or the client will try to coordinate each agency themselves internally despite lack of experience.
This can lead to problems and make it very easy to miss business goals.
I borrowed this graphic from your website. Honestly, it looks kind of like an octopus. Do you mind if I call it the “octopus model”?
Mio: “Octopus model,” what an interesting way to put it. That’s fair.
Lately, I hear a lot about how hiring experienced talent is difficult due to the labor shortage. Some might rush through the hiring process when they do find someone, but we offer a solution to this: instead, they can rely on us to work with them, as their team member.
With a pro on the team, it’s much easier to take advantage of the strengths of each agency in order to reach business goals cost-effectively.
What are the 3 most important points to forming a good relationship with a client?
Mio: This is a really basic skill, but I think the most important thing is to communicate at the right points with your client. The next most important is to listen closely to your client’s views and goals and present your expert opinion based on those. Lastly, is that you need to produce results.
Roselle: Before communicating for your client, you need to be effectively communicating with your client.
I think we’re all nodding at this.
Please share a highlight of your work this past year. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
We developed the rebranding plan for a flower shop that has been in business for over 30 years. This included redeveloping their logo, communication tools, the shop, website and more to broaden their appeal to consumers in their 20s and 30s who lived in the area.
They requested that we maintain their brand image and vision while also updating other aspects of their brand ― and at the same time appealing to new customers while maintaining a sense of familiarity among their established customers. It was quite a challenge.
First off, we made sure to understand all of our client’s desires but also assessed them through our own experience. By spending most of our time listening to our client we learned a lot about their vision, their priorities, what was going well and not so well with their business.
Thus, we were able to identify what to prioritize and move from there.
This led us to “top technique that always amazes” for the brand image, which we then wove through each element. Thanks to this, we were able to preserve their relationship with existing customers.
With this new brand image, we completely recreated their website, logo, etc., and were able to maintain the trust of existing customers while also helping acquire new customers. In fact, the launch was so successful that 80% of their new customers became repeat customers.
Roselle: It’s common sense that you need to retain existing customers because of their “customer lifetime value” (CLV), to borrow a bit of marketing speak.
It sounds like that need, and the need for new business informed your strategy.
Do you have any advice for companies or brands looking to enter the Japanese market or improve their communications there?
Kotaro: It’s critical to partner with someone who knows the local market because it is not easy to overcome the fallout from mismanaged communication arising from failed positioning, branding or messaging. A launch is the best time to use your resources effectively by leveraging a local expert, who can then help you continue to communicate well in the market.
You should avoid partnering with people who may seem like they know the market but turn out to be complete beginners. It’s a common case. Even if their background is impressive, they may not have had any major responsibilities in the projects they listed ― they were just on the team.
To avoid this pitfall, make sure to do reference checks with their former clients and services (whose projects they led), and ask the specifics of their achievements.
What kind of trends are you watching in the communications space? Why?
Mio: This might not be what you’re looking for, but honestly I’m just on the look out all the time. For example, I’ll check the newspaper, online news, magazines, social media, investment information, and long-tail content such as Pinterest in addition to gathering information from those around me. This includes those in Japan and abroad.
Please offer some advice to those who are thinking of starting their own communications business.
Kotaro: Not to emphasize the obvious, but it’s crucial to partner with good companies, products and clients. At each opportunity, you should get down in the trenches with your clients and teammates to ensure the success of each project. This will really guide your career.
Mio: You can only do so much by yourself. That’s why to achieve something big you need to find a partner(s), set a goal together, and move towards it step by step. To make this possible, of course, you need to be able to form business relationships and communicate well with your partners. Then, the rest will fall into place.
Roselle: Thank you very much for sharing your insights. I’m excited to see what’s coming for you and your company.
Serving on the teams of many global companies at a foreign-affiliated public relations agency, Kotaro has a wealth of experience in communications: from media relations to Japan-entry press conferences to strategic planning of PR activities aimed at increasing sales and awareness.
Several years ago, he went independent to support clients in both PR and marketing. After supporting multiple B2B clients (IT, manufacturing, materials) and producing TV ads and digital video ads, he co-founded Wonderhoods K.K. in 2021, where he holistically supports the marketing communications of global companies in Japan.
Wonderhoods Co-founder / Art Director Mio Sasaki
Mio studied design in the United States then worked as a designer / art director at a design company in Japan handling everything from product design to branding. He values “building work relationships where you can be open about your strengths and weaknesses.” By contributing his years of experience solving a range of business problems via branding and art direction, Mio hopes to help people all over the world.
It’s been almost two years since the start of the pandemic. You probably think you’ve got everything COVID-19 related down pat. But trust me, if you’ve never experienced it, a good, long hotel quarantine can make you second guess just how “resilient” you are on a whole ‘nother level.
Whether you’re single or not, have kids or not, at some point or another the COVID fairy will probably touch your life too and that’s when you’ll be glad you got these tips.
Those travelling to the U.S. can probably skip this article — for better or worse, the U.S. doesn’t require quarantine for anyone! Not even those who tested positive after arriving.
But all travelers to Japan will “enjoy” a hotel quarantine of anywhere from 3 days to two weeks or longer, depending on the complicated algebra of who in your party has tested positive and when. In any case, my big take away is to prepare for the worst before you arrive in Japan. Once you arrive here, you will have little freedom to make the preparations you wish you had.
Prepare for boredom
Being stuck in the same room for days will make you bored on a level you may never have encountered before. So whatever you did to prepare for that “long” flight? Do that, times ten.
Identify some of your favorite content and leave it untouched until you reach the hotel. If you’re not working, you’ll have way too much time. You’ll be thinking about how long you can sleep just the pass the time. Even if you sleep 10, 12 hours, you still have 12-14 hours left to fill.
This is the perfect time to binge watch or read … anything.
Find joy in little routines
We all have our routines and hotel quarantine is a great way to ruin them. Instead, create new routines. Like to go for a run? Do one, or two, or even three online exercise classes a day. Not only will moving your body help cut through the monotony, it will help you feel better and give your day structure.
You can even *gasp* take a bath once or even twice a day just because you feel like it. For bath lovers, this might be one of the rare advantages of hotel quarantine.
Set small, achievable goals each day
Who says you have to put your life on hold because you’re in hotel quarantine? Actually, I’ve been keeping up my job search and professional studies during quarantine. It’s key to not set your goals too high so you don’t risk disappointing yourself but just high enough so they’re still motivating.
Connect with friends and family
The loneliness and isolation of quarantine, even just a few days, is real! Don’t hesitate to set up video chats with friends and family to connect and make your day a little brighter.
Get the good stuff
Love cookies? A particular type of herbal tea? Potato chips? Well, you most certainly won’t get them in quarantine. So whether you pack them in your bags ahead of time or order them through an e-commerce site, make sure you have some of your favorite comfort foods on hand just to get through the long days. This is doubly true on the days when meals are distributed late.
Mine are chocolate and coffee by the way. Yes, our hotel didn’t even have coffee ;(
Use new-found time to start a new healthy habit
Like working from home, hotel quarantine creates a lot of new time because, well, you’re not going anywhere. Is there a daily habit like yoga, writing or meditation you’ve been wanting to start? Now’s a great time.
If you are one of the lucky folks who get to quarantine with family, well, welcome to the club. Quarantining with small children who don’t understand boundaries, aren’t good at entertaining themselves and may not respect your need for relaxation time can make it even more challenging. While there is no perfect solution, doing some of these things can help make it better:
Find something you can both enjoy doing together. For my daughter and I, it is online dance lessons
Rotate toys and suggest things for them to do at any time of morning, afternoon or evening. Even a bath might keep them entertained.
Be willing to break rules about screen time, snack time, etc. Consider this an emergency situation with exceptions that need to be made to maintain everyone’s sanity!
Be ready to stop what you want to do to accommodate their wishes, though it might feel like the hundredth time.
Set up video chats with other family members when they can entertain the child by reading books, etc.
Time can pass slowly while quarantining, especially with family, so those who can master their mental state will come out of quarantine feeling much better. As the saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In other words, find ways to make quarantine work for you. Looking at it another way, is there any better time to create quality time with your children? Teach them how to read? Potty train them? Figure out a way to make quarantine work for you and you’ll be much happier.
Everyone’s quarantine experience is different, so these tips won’t work for everyone. The important part is to not give up in despair during quarantine. With a little flexibility, even quarantine can be a positive experience (even if barely!).
Perhaps the most important tip:
When entering Japan, there’s always the chance your hotel quarantine could be extended by an unforseen positive COVID-19 test. So plan and pack with that in mind.
It’s good practice not to promise to meet anyone in person for the two weeks after you arrive, but it will also keep you from having to change plans on the off chance you test positive at the airport upon arrival. This also goes for what you pack. Make sure you have whatever you might need to stay happy during a two-week stay, or that you’re willing to buy it online.
Have any tips from your hotel quarantine? Let me know in the comments!
I have a 9-months-pregnant tradition: watch one movie in a movie theater while eating a little too much pay-by-the pound candy. This might seems insignificant. After all, some of us see multiple a month. But for me, a “doer,” resigning two to three hours of my life to the dark confines of a movie theater is a rather major decision.
That a pandemic is raging around us makes this no less significant for me. I can’t even remember the last movie I saw in a theater. Despite this, I maintained the tradition this week seeing “In The Heights” (directed by none other than Jon M. Chu, who just so happened to direct my first 9-months-pregnant movie: “Crazy Rich Asians”).
Happenstance led me to this particular movie. My pregnancy-hampered brain mistakenly reserved a ticket for a different movie for two days before, forcing a sudden change of plans at the theater. Recalling that a friend recommended “In The Heights,” I sprung for it.
Admittedly, I have a musical allergy. This is what keeps me from watching the highly-rated “Hamilton,” which helped place “In The Heights”‘ Anthony Ramos in the spotlight. But the promise of Latin music, a diverse cast and the magnetic city of New York drew me in.
“In The Heights” places you right on the block from the very start. Happily, I realized it was set in Washington Heights – the very barrio I stayed in when attending the New York Salsa Congress in pre-children and pre-pandemic 2015. As a White West-Coast native, I am very much not the type of American depicted in this movie. Yet I felt so much nostalgia and connection to the characters and the setting. A good deal of my emotion throughout the two-hour movie was prompted by longing to connect to Latin culture and diverse neighborhood. The pandemic has kept me squarely in Japan for the past two years and the withdrawal is palpable.
But this movie is more than just a good time set to music.
It’s practically a kaleidoscope of immigrant experiences. How, when and from where one enters the country plays a huge role in one’s identity, experience and experience.
Underlying their shared experience, each character deals with their own inner conflict:
Feeling stuck running the bodega, Usnavi makes the difficult decision to move away from Washington Heights to inherit his father’s bar in the Dominican Republic
Nina, the hope of her block, comes home from Stanford hiding her intention to drop out due to feeling “othered” and and more blatant forms of discrimination
Determined to “get out,” Vanessa struggles to get her foothold in Manhattan, where she is determined to prove herself as a fashion designer
Still a child but seemingly more mature than Usnavi, Sonny makes the devastating discovery that he is a “dreamer,” and his lack of papers will keep him from attending college
Abuela (grandma) Claudia remembers her struggle to adapt to the demands of life in New York just after moving from her beloved but work-poor Cuba
Without revealing too much about the climax, its tapestry-like plot shows us that immigrants cannot be lumped into one category or stereotype and yet, when they gather and unite, they are very, very strong.
At the risk of sounding naïve, I felt a bit of my own story in many of the characters. An American immigrant to Japan who immersed themselves in almost-completely-Japanese environments from 2011 until now, I keenly feel the dull and sometimes intense pain of being othered.
When you came here, and mom came here, you all had a Latino community ready to welcome you, open arms, babies and abuelas, and teachers and lawyers, first generation, fifth generation. There’s no community for me at school.
Nina Rosario explaining her experience at Stanford to her father
As kind and accommodating as some can be, there is a deep sadness in knowing you’ll always be put in that box – always treated differently – because of how you appear and where you come from. As a minority, your opinions and needs are devalued and categorized as such – “minor.” And always in the background is that quiet but patient longing for the comfort of your family, familiar traditions and hometown culture.
Immigrants are inherently torn between two places (or more): the place that formed them and the place they live now. This can be painful and sad, even if they, like me, made the clear choice to leave their homeland behind.
As life in the new land progresses and roots there grow ever deeper, so too do memories of what we left behind and a bittersweet longing for the old life. As much as we try to recreate the best of our homeland in our new land, it’s never quite possible.
We are stuck between the two – forced to make hard decisions and straddle the chasm that is our dual identity, our dual allegiance.
Usnavi: Best days of my life were there.
Sonny: That’s the corniest thing I’ve ever heard. You came here when you was eight. You got “island memories”. Not me. I was in Pampers on that plane. NYC’s my spot. I got my island, okay? Go get yours. Don’t forget how you got your name.
Usnavi and Sonny talk about go back to the DOminican Republic, their homeland
Out of this deep sadness comes an intense and palpable desire for connection. This is how the vibrant lifeforce of immigrant communities like Washington Heights originates, I think. “If I can’t bring the old life here and the new land won’t embrace me, I’ll make it myself!”
In this sense, “In The Heights” is a powerful story about the heavy responsibility and repercussions of decisions – decisions we make to better our lives, but that come with bitter compromise. At the same time, it is also a story of the freedom and joy of self-determination.
Any choice has its benefits and drawbacks. At least in the choosing we can be satisfied that our life is the life that we, ourselves, chose.
This I tell myself and the little life inside me who will, no doubt, also encounter the same or a stronger dichotomy in their own life. May he find his “home” wherever he determines it to be.
The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Domenico Tiepolo (1773)
A prominent senator, Matt Gaetz, and two other politicians retweet a photo of the famed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, with praise.
An outspoken vaccine naysayer, Naomi Wolf, tweets a photo of a well-known adult film actor presenting him as a doctor advising on the COVID-19 vaccine.
Ironically these errant retweeters have a history of accusing media of fakenews.
So what’s behind these gaffes?
It’s a new tactic emerging on Twitter, a platform where any information, including fake news, can spread like wildfire. And the man behind both incidents isn’t a figure shrouded in mystery as you might think. He’s an investigative journalist for The Intercept, Ken Klippenstein, with a side hobby of pranking prominent accounts. Using a verified account, no less.
So how does it work? First, find a target with a clear agenda. Then provide them with user-generated content that supports that agenda and wait for them to bite. But the content is a trojan horse ― inside the enemy is waiting in silence.
A self-proclaimed patriot retweets an enemy of the state on Memorial Day. A vaccine naysayer that regularly casts doubt on scientific information presents an adult film actor as a reliable source of medical information.
Neither has vetted the source nor the veracity of the information. Their itchy trigger fingers, fueled by a desire to pursue their narrative, betray them, ultimately revealing them as the propagaters of “fake news” and, ultimately, hypocrites.
These incidents crystallize the current American zeitgeist: “gotcha” tactics, strong antagonism between political camps, and the itchy trigger fingers behind Twitter accounts ― a platform that moves at the speed of light.
Public relations was born out of the American democratic political process, which relies on swaying public opinion through ever evolving strategies and tactics. Trojan horse tweeting is just the latest development born in the skirmish of the social media wars.
Social media managers and PR professionals alike would be wise not to fall victim to the same tactics. That’s easily done. Just hold social media to the same standards of the PR profession: only relay information that you can verify and know who’s behind it.
Sounds simple, right? Make sure to remember it during your next tweet.
Very few people watch reruns of their own volition. There’s something about being made to experience the same exact situations, plot twists, and characters that offends the human mind. But sometimes, there’s nothing better on.
This past year is like a year of reruns. Each of its 52 weeks consists of 5 weekdays and 2 days on the weekend, more or less, with the same routine day in, and day out. At least, that’s been the experience of most due to lack of colorful punctuations that might break through the monotony.
Liking holding your breath through a long tunnel, at the start, you’re confident in your ability to ride it through. But as time passes and the light at the end of the tunnel remains infuriatingly small, you start to doubt yourself. “Am I really going to make it?” you wonder as your chest grows tense.
No need to beat the reader over the head with metaphors, I’m clearly referring to the global pandemic that has affected all of us to some degree. But there are some interesting dichotomies that make this all-encompassing bog all the more maddening.
While humanity has been plagued by disease since the beginning of recorded history, there’s something different about this time around. Or so my modern human mind leads me to believe.
Whirling news cycles, designed to keep us constantly informed, report the same thing day in, and day out.
Agonizingly connected via technology, we are, at the same time, kept separate from our dreams or our family.
We are told that remote work will allow us to operate “business as usual” and yet somehow everything is frustratingly different.
My daughter grows and learns while I feel unconsolably stagnate.
And despite our global supply chain and technological advances, the pandemic rages in some regions while others enjoy vaccines, optimism and reopening.
It’s groundhog’s day on a heretofore unseen scale.
Though we’re all “in it together,” somehow the long days and nights are forcing us to turn inward more than ever before. With so much and yet so little freedom, the quietness of the everyday can feel maddening.
This void has ironically been the only thing capable of inspiring me to write in these past few months. As the online conversation surges around me, nothing seemed necessary to say about this incident or that bit of uproar. Someone was already saying it better and faster.
But this frustrating feeling of sameness, has finally broken the dam where no other topic could, erupting across the page. A build-up of writer’s block has finally produced something.
When all this is said and done, hopefully we will all be a little more comfortable with the void – the prolonged companionship of ourselves. That is, after all, the longest relationship we will ever have.
I guess my ultimate message is to myself: “don’t hold your breath.”
Being “lost in translation” is a common experience for anyone learning a new language, or even trying to communicate in a familiar one to someone of a different background.
Trilingual in Spanish, English and German, Regina Schmidt Rio-Valle specializes in multilingual communication in Sports Law and the sports industry, having earned a Master’s Degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at Georgetown University, among other accomplishments.
I asked Regina about being trilingual, how it helps her in planning communication, and working with a diverse set of clients.
How did you become fluent in Spanish, English, and German and stay fluent?
Growing up in Spain, I have always been fascinated by languages, probably because my dad was German and most of my siblings are bilingual. I started learning English at a young age and soon after followed French, Portuguese and Italian.
Spanish, English and German are the languages I actively use every day, so they are the ones in which I feel most comfortable.
Maintaining proficiency in any language, even your own mother tongue, is hard work! You need to read, write and speak it on a regular basis. Particularly professionals in our industry must continuously hone their written and verbal communication skills.
Do you feel being trilingual gives you an advantage?
Working with several languages definitely has many advantages. First of all, it allows me to read and learn in different languages, opening up endless possibilities. Secondly, it gives me access to insights in many different cultural backgrounds, which is priceless if you want to reach target audiences in a way that truly moves them.
What’s the best way to create good business relations with someone of a different background?
My main advice is to not take anything for granted and to work with experts who know both cultures well and who can guide you through potential pitfalls. It is a wise investment.
If you are interested in operating in an international setting, you should definitely try to learn more about working with different cultures.
7 Tips for working with different cultures
become aware of your own culture first,
observe without judgement,
learn the language and always work with professional translators and interpreters,
if you have questions, ask colleagues or business partners who have more experience or are from the region you are interested in,
build relationships with people from different cultures,
read as much as you can, fiction and nonfiction. You could start with “Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures” by Brooks Peterson, or “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer.
watch TV and listen to the radio. But be careful! Do not fall into the trap of believing that a Netflix series depicts the reality of a country or region. Nobody likes to be seen as a cliché.
It is a life-long process that requires curiosity, open-mindedness and strong commitment. But it is also a wonderful opportunity to grow your business and to develop personally and professionally.
What kind of communications issues do you encounter in the sports industry?
How do you guide your clients?
Sports offer a universal language, but once athletes leave the arena, this industry is as dependent on effective communication as any other business.
I help clients in this industry reach their international, multilingual audiences by speaking the audience’s language, by crafting messages adapted to their cultural backgrounds based on an effective strategy and a standardised set of procedures.
I particularly enjoy making sure that their brand voice and messaging remain clear and consistent across cultures, so that we tell their story in their own voice but geared towards a particular audience.
What structure do you use in strategic communications planning?
I use many tools and skills that I acquired at the Public Relations and Corporate Communications program. I particularly like the Georgetown Strategic Framework (note: see this post for more on the Framework) to develop communications plans. I firmly believe that successful communication is based on the right combination of facts and creativity, and the Strategic Framework helps me access the facts.
Even if I know an industry quite well, going through the different stages of the Strategic Framework helps me organise my thoughts, collect essential data and get insights that I might have missed otherwise.
For example, as I was developing a communications strategy for a translation agency, I discovered that their main competitors could become strong allies in the face of technological shifts that are disrupting the market. I also identified employees and partners as a relevant public who needed to be engaged, something they had been ignoring for years. Taking those people for granted meant that their freelance translators, their most important asset, did not feel any commitment to the agency, were willing to work for other language service providers and in some cases, even preferred to do so.
The work we have been doing to engage freelance translators has helped the agency to improve its standing, regaining their trust and loyalty.
What are some specific problems you have solved with strategic communications?
I have had the privilege of working with amazing people and organisations. But every single project and client is exciting in some way. I love showing clients what a good communications strategy can do for them. And I definitely enjoy seeing my clients reaping the benefits of our work together.
One of my clients, a law firm specialising in sports law, was not sure about joining social media. They were concerned about appearing frivolous or too casual. After putting together a well thought out communications plan, I could show them that social media can also be used for serious businesses. You simply need to find the right tone for your business and make sure that you are communicating with the right publics.
In their case, it was particularly important to adapt their contents and language for each individual public, as they needed to connect with other sports law specialists but also with non experts. One of our great achievements has been ensuring that lay people understand what the law firm actually does. The firm has also been able to demonstrate the success of their work and to engage effectively with peers and current and potential clients.
Where do you see yourself going forward in your career?
Although I enjoy working on my own, in the future I would like to come together with other communications professionals, be part of a team and work toward a common vision. We are better professionals when we are part of a group of people who challenge and inspire us.
Regina is a public relations and communications consultant based in Switzerland, the heart of Europe and home to numerous International Sports Federations. After spending over 15 years in high level multilingual communications, she firmly believes that nuance provides added value to communication. She helps clients build trust and credibility with multilingual audiences. Regina is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Master’s of Public Relations and Corporate Communications program. rsrv.ch
“He just put his foot in his mouth ― don’t get upset.” “Don’t judge the forest for the trees.”
Anyone can have a slip of the tongue or fail to predict how someone could misinterpret your words. You might try to assure the offended person that you didn’t mean it that way. But deep down, you know that they’ve been hurt.
In a close relationship, our friends and family are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt because we have a long-term relationship that can assure them of our sincere desire not to hurt them.
But when it comes to public figures, we have no such relationship, and as such, no “benefit of the doubt.” Indeed, a public figure with a long record of ethical and conscientious behavior may ride out the storm more quickly. This type of social capital that is built up carefully over years and has managed to reach the public to leave enough of an impression.
How are we to be forgiven for our bad comments?
The degree to which the public can and will forgive public figures for their reprehensible comments or deeds seems to depend on a combination of their record up to then, their immediate reaction, and their commitment to addressing the cause of the uproar.
Rarely does a misstep or slip of the tongue garner sustained domestic or international attention, but when it does, one can be sure that proper and thorough crisis communications countermeasures should be taken.
Here are six principles, shortened for practical purposes, for an effective apology as outlined by Kešetović, Toth, and Korajlić (2014):
You have to recognize what has been done.
Others should also be given the opportunity to criticize the made mistakes, avoiding the preventive apologies.
An apology is not enough but the responsibility has to be accepted as well, avoiding the childish excuses.
The public has the right to know what actually happened.
An apology should be supported by the efforts to improve things.
Finally, the subservience and shame need to be shown as secondary equivalent to repentance.
Kešetović, Želimir & Toth, Ivan & Korajlić, Nedžad. (2014). Apology as crisis communication strategy-importance of cultural context. 38. 171-178. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292068291_Apology_as_crisis_communication_strategy-importance_of_cultural_context
These principles are presented as universal, but certainly the format and custom of an apology is highly dependent on the local culture.
You may have heard that Japan is a country that highly values apologies. Yet, it would be wrong to think that a Japanese-style apology would satisfy a Western audience.
Much of Japanese culture contains predetermined formats for social exchange. The words we use when we start a business relationship, meet people for the first time, have inconvenienced someone, express an opposing opinion, or even just email someone are, to a large extent, usually limited to formats. And this is satisfactory in the Japanese context.
At times, individuality of expression might even be derided. I remember when one non-Japanese coworker used an inventive metaphor to describe her new job at her resignation speech some Japanese coworkers snickered. I thought it was creative and memorable ― I still remember it to this day.
But I digress. Apologies, which are expected in Japan for a range of things that Western cultures wouldn’t consider necessary (ex: arriving on time when your friend has arrived early, forcing them to wait for you), have become another formality (形骸化).
Kovacs asked the Japanese public what elements they expected at an “apology press conference.” The results show that the top three items required, ranked in terms of importance, there were:
Explain what happened in detail
Talk about next steps
Use polite language (closely followed by “Talk about next steps”)
“Bowing,” “resignation of the person responsible,” “tears” and “saying ‘I’m terribly sorry'” all ranked lower.
Kovacs, Emese. (2016). Apologies to the media as a social function. Musashino University. https://repository.musashi.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/11149/1800/10/03_Kovacs_text.pdf (Japanese only)
These press conferences, for the most part, are clucked over, processed, and eventually forgotten in Japan.
It’s when a Japanese style of apology hits the international stage that it can really cause problems.
The case of Japan Olympic Committee Chairman Yoshiro Mori
As you may have heard, Japan Olympic Committee Chairman Yoshiro Mori met with domestic and international disdain earlier this week after comments about women in meetings exploded in social media and traditional media.
While I won’t take the time to translate his comments in full, which were recorded word-for-word on video camera, the gist and nub of his statements were that he thought women made meetings longer because they were unnecessarily competitive and spoke too long. He added that he was receiving pressure to increase women in meetings from MEXT, the Japanese ministry of education.
Reactions to his comments, both in Japan and internationally, ranged from vitriol and outrage to “I don’t understand what the problem is. Isn’t he right?” It’s a herculean task to explain to anyone who didn’t immediately see the sexism behind the remarks, so I’ll leave that to more energetic people.
Just 20 minutes long (length is thought to indicate the apologizer’s willingness to be questioned and rebuked, AKA their level of sincerity), Mori’s statement lasted 3 minutes while Q&A time was 17 minutes.
This conference unfortunately reinforced the impression that Mori was unrepentant and failed to satisfy the six principles of apology:
You have to recognize what has been done. ✅
⇒ He read a prepared statement that he regrets and rescinds his statements, and apologizes for causing trouble. The meat of his apology focuses on causing trouble for people aiming to hold the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
2. Others should also be given the opportunity to criticize the made mistakes, avoiding the preventive apologies. 👎
⇒ Interrupts journalists. Is uncooperative in answering questions. When a journalist prefaces by saying he will ask “several questions,” Mori shoots back, “make it one.”
3. An apology is not enough but the responsibility has to be accepted as well, avoiding the childish excuses. 👎
⇒ Rejects the idea that he should resign and explains that he didn’t make statements at the Organizing Committee, but at JOC, and said that he made the offensive comments upon consideration. Says that foreign media are misrepresenting the fact that the comments were made at JOC, not the IOC, and that he made the comments as a closing greeting at the JOC (implying that this is an important distinction).
Mentions many irrelevant details, even explaining that people shouldn’t “worry too much about the figures (ratio of women on committee as recommended).” Explains that he was just repeating what was said to him about women in meetings in the other committees, though he didn’t have support for this assertion.
4. The public has the right to know what actually happened. ―
⇒ Explained why and under what circumstances he made the statement very well, but doesn’t support that his rescinding of the statements was based on a genuine understanding of wrongdoing. Explains that he feels his statement was inappropriate and that it is wrong to distinguish between women and men, but also says that he heard many subcommittees complaining they are being inconvenienced by women who speak for too long. Avoids clarifying if he believes this.
In response to Mainichi Shimbun’s question if he believed women spoke for too long (blabbed), Mori responded, “I don’t listen to women lately, so I don’t know.”
5. An apology should be supported by the efforts to improve things. 👎
⇒ No mention of an acknowledgement of his own attitude or an effort to meet MEXT goals for female representation on the committee or reassure current female members that he doesn’t consider their behavior to be problematic.
6. Finally, the subservience and shame need to be shown as secondary equivalent to repentance.
⇒ Throughout the press conference, he showed a confidence that he was appropriate for his role, that his comments weren’t actually problematic, and that he had no need to report directly to the IOC or speak directly to foreign media about the incident. (even forces journalists to take their masks off when questioning him)
Note that the Japan Olympic Committee had already issued a carefully worded written statement, which had it had a chance to stand alone, may have more effectively quelled the flames.
It bears noting that this conference failed to satisfy all top three priorities discovered by Kovacs (2016), by failing to “describe next steps.” It also rings as insincere, earning it the title of 逆切れ会見 in Japan, or conference where he “snapped back angrily.” This response shows that the 6 principles above can ring true in an international stage, including Japan.
More importantly, the communications takeaway is that when authenticity and genuine repent cannot be guaranteed, a spokesperson should stay out of the limelight.
Ultimately, Mori contributed to a long-standing perception of Japan as a country that won’t make progress on gender equality, to add further to the PR problems of a troubled Tokyo 2020 games.
Ever wondered why your family seems to have different information than you about important national news? It’s not just that the media they read are different — the way they access media may also be completely different to you.
First, please indulge me by answering a one-question survey:
Before you take me to task for my stereotyping, according to the Pew Research Institute, these are the typical media consumption patterns by generation.
It should come as no surprise that you and your parents have different information or even attitudes toward the same news in light of how differently we consume news.
Such a stark generational difference begs the following questions:
Do people who get their news on social media get more biased information?
How many people actually follow news organizations on Twitter/ other social media? Do they read the articles linked, or just the headlines and reactions? How many source most of their news on social media from non-news users who might further spin the information?
How do impressions of the same news differ depending on where it is consumed? Is social media news more effective at causing action? Does news on traditional media lead to more contemplation, with print readers being most contemplative?
Preference for simpler information to avoid overload
Influence from peers on how we react to information
Tendency of social platforms to promote high-engagement information
While social platforms pledge to crack down on “fake news” and critically misleading content, these three biases only show signs of growing.
Recent research by NewsGuard indicates that the amount and ratio of engagement on posts sourced from unreliable “red” sites is increasing in relation to that of reliable “green” sites. The 9 rating criteria, centered on transparency and credibility, are available here.
This may be caused by the election. Only time will tell.
But while many conclusions about bias of information on social media have been made generally, we have few public sources of thorough and specific examples of how information is bent. This area needs more rigorous investigation.
While engagement with untrustworthy content on social media is growing, It’s difficult to understand how each and every individual reacts to and, perhaps, spreads information. This comes down to what sources people trust. While many admit to sourcing their information from the internet and social media, what attitude do they have towards the different types?
The Edelman Trust barometer regularly gauges public trust in government, business, various kinds of media, etc., across the world. This year, as many might have predicted, trust in information sources is at an all-time low.
It should come as no surprise that trust in each actor varies across party lines in the United States, as “division” has become the word of the day, mentioned both by Donald Trump in his election night victory speech in 2016 and by Joseph Biden in his recent inaugural speech.
Trust in journalists shows the largest trust gap of a staggering 42, almost half of the scale. As a PR professional whose work is based on the premise that the media is a preferred and trusted source of information, this stark contrast should make you think twice about how to craft a communications plan that can successfully reach both red and blue voters.
Yet, there is a glimmer of hope amidst the rancour. “My employer” is more trusted across the world than businesses, government, the media, NGOs and anybody else. Perhaps this is thanks to the close relationship between employers and employees, which has grown more important during the pandemic.
Communications practitioners stand in the middle of the public and information sources, including but not limited to businesses, NGOs, politicians, governmental bodies, and more. We all have an anecdote or two about encountering a different reception than expected.
Mine is from a digital ad campaign for a Japanese electronics maker. We ran ads for a contest to win a cutting-edge product, whose details, including product name, were not yet made public. The campaign earned a lot of engagement on Facebook ― but not the right kind. Comments like “this is a Chinese product that’s going to steal your data” and “this is a scam” stood out.
The client was a start up connected to a respected and long-established Japanese firm, yet because the company name was so unfamiliar and the product name was omitted, Facebook users filled in information blanks with anti-China rhetoric they had been hearing in the news to draw erroneous conclusions.
No matter how we responded in the comments, similar comments popped up throughout the campaign. ( Like Huawei, I can only imagine the drone manufacturer DJI has met with much worse after being included on the Department of Commerce’s Entity List late last year.) The lesson here is that contests are best held after you’ve established a little bit of awareness.
While my example is merely an instance of a digital campaign being tinged by popular paranoia, it is also a clear indicator of how a void of information and touchpoints will lead consumers to fill information gaps with what they “know” to be true. Even larger companies are affected by this.
This is just another reason supporting proactive and strategic communication ― they are crucial to even getting off on the right foot with most consumers.
Some think that misinterpretation of messaging is inevitable. But any proper communications strategy is based on research about audiences from primary and secondary sources that enable you to anticipate their biases and psychosocial tendencies to craft an effective message with minimal confusion. One example of this is Georgetown University’s “RACE model” for strategic communication:
Some have given up hope on proactive control of their image, namely Elon Musk, who famously disbanded his entire PR team last year, preferring to close the door to traditional media and instead tweet to the public directly. Well, that same man is now attempting to hire an “Energy Customer Support Specialist,” a metaphorical fire engine, i.e. someone who would tackle the problems that pop up around his social media presence on a regular basis.
From the perspective of a comms professional, this is a rather ineffectual tactic as it attempts to sweep up messes in post that a properly functioning communications team could have prevented. But Elon is a serial entrepreneur at heart, so we wait on the sidelines and see if this new venture will end in success or confirm that the core of communications strategy is ultimately based on innate human traits, and as such not swayed largely by technological advancement.
I’d love to hear how you’ve been met with surprising reactions in your comms activities, how you source and vet information, your opinion on Musk’s decision, or anything else in the comments below.