Messaging and Communication Tools

Each slide must have at least 100 words speaker notes

In the following assignment, you are a public relations executive who must address an issue confronting the company where you work. Imagine what the scenario is and incorporate this into your presentation.

Choose three of the following five publics to address with specific messaging and communication tools:

Customers or clients


Internal employees of your company


Special interest group

Develop an 10- to 12-slide Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentation that discusses the following:

Describe the scenario in 1 or 2 slides.

Address your selected publics describing communication tools used, communication messages used, and the rationale for their selection in 6 to 8 slides.

Address how the Internet and social media tools affect your communication messaging in your proposed scenario in 1 or 2 slides.

Present your Public and Messaging presentation.

For Local Campus students, these are 10- to 20-minute oral presentations accompanied by Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentations.

For Online and Directed Study students, these are Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentations with notes.

I have attached the following:Ch 5; Ch 11; Ch 12; Ch 13.Ch 3; 4; 6 Public Relations Practice Week 3 Electronic Reserves Reading3 Video requirements.

Heinz: The Ketchup Kings
The Truth About Lies
Get Cartier! Defending a Crown
BSCOM385 Public Relations and Message Management

Week 3

Audiences & Messaging


· Antony, B. (2005). Acts, audience connect via text messaging. Billboard, 117(50), 20.

· Tindall, N. T. (2012). The effective, multicultural practice of public relations. Public Relations Tactics, 19(2), 6.


· Audience Evolution: New Technologies and the Transformation of Media Audiences



· Films Media Group (2004). Get Cartier! Defending a Crown (31:00) From Title: Get Cartier! Defending a Crown.

· Films Media Group (1999). Heinz: The Ketchup Kings (45:00) From Title: Heinz: The Ketchup Kings.

· Films Media Group (1989). The Truth About Lies (60:00) From Title: The Truth About Lies .
3 Employee Relations

The first public of any organization is its employees—the people who make it what it is. As management guru Peter Drucker reminds us, an organization is “a human community” that needs the contributions of everyone to function and be successful. Many times it appears that management does not recognize this fact. Sometimes managers act as if they are the organization and the others just an impediment. An interchange at the annual meeting of an auto company illuminates the truth of the matter. A shareholder asked the CEO why funds were being allocated to improve employee benefits instead of increasing dividends. “Because,” he responded, “you and I don’t know how to build cars, and they do!”

The situation is complicated by the fact that, in the overwhelming majority of business organizations today, managers and administrators are employees. They do not own the company, but merely manage it for the stockholders. Senior managers may own stock—but so may production workers, secretaries, and janitors. Executives can be hired and fired like everyone else. The true employer is the board of directors elected by the stockholders to oversee the business. In community hospitals, school districts, public interest organizations, government agencies, or membership associations, of course, there is no question of management ownership.


It is easy, and perhaps all too common, to view employees as a cost in a line-item budget determining the price of a product or service. This attitude fosters the idea that the less an organization has to pay its employees, the lower the price of the product or service and, therefore, the more competitive the product or service can be in the marketplace.

This one-dimensional view of the labor force provided fertile soil for the tremendous growth of unions, which fought to have labor seen in a multidimensional view. Throughout the decades, unions forced their way into the smallest and largest companies. They won concessions on wages, safety, medical benefits, and vacation and retirement benefits, to mention just a few. Unions became as big as big business. Their influence was reflected in national and state laws as well as in volumes of judicial and regulatory decisions.

The 1980s, however, saw a tapering off of union influence. Union membership dropped; part of this drop is attributed to the significant population move from the unionized Northeast and Midwest to the Sunbelt, which has significantly fewer unions. The impact of foreign competition—foreign cars, for example—as well as the exporting of jobs to countries where labor is cheaper are two other trends that have had an impact on the labor market.

And recently unions have been fighting for their very existence. Right-to-work laws have been passed in 22 states. These give an employee the right not to join a union or pay dues even if the workplace is unionized.

Another major change in the employer–employee relationship is automation. The computer radically changes the role of the individual in many workplaces. The individual now competes with the robot for a place in the assembly line; in most instances the individual will lose the contest. If the computer and the robot take on most of the heavy work in the steel mill, most of the positions on the assembly line, and much of the information gathering and dissemination usually associated with general office work, what is left for the current and future individuals who would fill those jobs?

The trend is to a downsizing of the work force and to a service-oriented economy. This movement creates major reshuffling of jobs and people, with all the emotional stress attendant on such upheaval and readjustment. Layoffs and restructuring of organizations also weaken the loyalty of workers, which can affect morale and productivity. Mergers and acquisitions can have the same effect.

Then there are legislative influences, such as NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allows organizations to move their production facilities around the continent, avoiding regulations and higher employee-benefit costs that impact pricing and profits.

Thomas Friedman, in his book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, writes at length about a variety of ways employees are being squeezed, including the two most prevalent: outsourcing and offshoring. Says Friedman, “No matter what your profession—doctor, lawyer, architect, accountant—if you are an American, you better be good at the touchy-feely service stuff, because anything that can be digitized can be outsourced to either the smartest or the cheapest producer or both.”

During this significant time of transition, employer-employee relations change, but they are no less critical than in the past. Indeed, most people would argue that they are now more important than ever.

In a very real sense, frontline workers are the organization. They produce the product, provide the service, operate support systems, count the money, deal with customers, work with vendors—in short, they drive the activities that make the organization function.


Because they are accountable to the board—the real and legal seat of power in most organizations—executives have responsibility as “the employer.” Others, those needed to carry out the operations, become “the employees.” Yet, if there is one significant trend in successful organizations worldwide, it is the melding of interests and heightened cooperation between management and employees. Recognition of several benefits from a united effort has brought this “workplace democracy” about:

1. As the founder of Honda puts it, just as cars are gauged by horsepower, so organizations can be gauged by “mindpower.” If only the CEO thinks about possible improvements, there is one mindpower. If only management, maybe 100 to 500 mindpower. But if everyone is encouraged to think about the company and his or her work in it, and then make suggestions, an organization can have 20,000 or more mindpower.

2. In a highly competitive economy, successful organizations are those that deliver customer delight. But customer delight depends on employee satisfaction; that is, dissatisfied employees are unlikely to delight customers, because their own irritations or feelings of abuse will get in the way. (The next time a retail clerk fails to give you delightful service, remember that he or she is probably the lowest paid, least valued, least trained worker in the store—and most likely part-time to boot. Yet the retail industry expects such employees to conduct the most important job, serving customers.) Success involves everyone—those who make the policies, those who design and produce the product or service, the sales personnel, janitors who keep the premises attractive, secretaries who answer the phone, and so on.

3. To build trusting relationships with customers, shareholders, communities, government, and other stakeholder publics, organizations need to speak with One Clear Voice. Management cannot say one thing in official pronouncements from the ivory tower and then have employees telling another story to the people with whom they interact. Achieving one voice requires shared values, which arise when employees are encouraged to participate in organizational decision making.

The benefits of mutually satisfactory employee-employer relations are significant. There are fewer work stoppages, less absenteeism, higher productivity, and fewer errors. Sometimes the benefits are symbolic, as when the employees of Delta Air Lines gave the airline an airplane during tough economic times. In a similar case, the 480 employees of Piggly Wiggly Carolina, a Charleston, South Carolina, grocery store and distributing business, conceived and organized the $40,000 “Rig for the Pig” campaign. Ninety-eight percent of the employees participated, voluntarily contributing two days’ pay. In the end, they raised $7,000 more than was needed to buy the tractor-trailer truck they gave to the company.


The public relations function, providing the communications channel between employers and employee groups, is important on both sides of the relationship. Practitioners are called on to participate more or less continuously in four phases of an employee’s work experience:

• The start. For example, recruiting programs or help-wanted advertising, orientation sessions, tours, or kits of information.

• On-the-job working conditions. For example, employee publications, bulletin boards, feedback systems, training meetings, morale boosters, surveys of attitudes, complaint sessions, and teleconferencing.

• Rewards and recognition. For example, award programs, implementation of employee participation in civic affairs, staging of political science or economic education events, old-timers’ parties, open houses, wage increases or bonuses, promotions, annual reports to employees, and so on.

• Work stoppage or termination. For example, communications during a strike, layoff, or boycott problem, news about benefits for retirees, a retiree publication, projects to help laid-off employees relocate, or exit interviews.

In carrying out duties related to these four phases, the public relations people are usually teamed up with the human resources department in a large organization. In small organizations, all the duties related to employee relations and communication may be vested in one public relations or human resources employee.

No matter who is assigned the duties, the responsibility is as communicator, interpreter, and persuader for the employer. The duties include feedback of employee opinion and ideas as a guide to management. So public relations practices are the fulcrum of a two-way relationship-building and communication system, and therefore must earn the trust of the employees.


Although a variety of tools are available to further employee-employer communications, five basic principles prevail as guidelines for the practitioner:

1. Employees must be told first. Employees should be the first to be told information affecting them and their jobs; the employer should speak directly to them. The relationship is adversely affected when employees learn from outside sources about matters that affect them. If this happens, two-way trust is jeopardized. As a practical matter, external sources cannot do as complete a job of informing employees as the employer can. The grapevine is one of the worst possible sources in the eyes of employees, even though it ranks as high as No. 2 in actuality, according to a recent survey. News media as a source are just as bad.

2. Tell the bad news along with the good. All too often, organizations exploit internal news channels to report only “good” news, usually complimentary to the employer. That practice wears thin. The tools and the messages lose credibility. Motives become suspect. Employees look to other sources, such as unions and the grapevine, for a more balanced, objective perspective. Revealing good and bad news, openly and candidly, builds trust, common purpose, and productivity.

3. Ensure timeliness. Information important to employees has the same obsolescence as news of other kinds. Getting it out fast and accurately builds dialogue and trust. Delay opens the door to sources with half-truths, distortions, and bias unfavorable to the employer. Delay is the cause of most rumors, and, once started, rumors are difficult to dislodge. The employer’s task is to be the first and most reliable source for employees. To do or be otherwise puts, and keeps, an employer on the defensive with those on whom the organization depends most for its success.

4. Employees must be informed on subjects they consider important. Years of studying employees’ views of communication within their organizations reveals specific items they want to know about—often quite different from what management thinks they want to know about (or ought to be told). The list has changed very little during the years such research has been conducted (See Table 3.1).

5. Use the media that employees trust. Recent studies replicate older ones about which sources of information employees prefer. Even in recent years, with the advent of e-mail and intranets, employees are still keen to get information face-to-face—from immediate supervisors, small group meetings, and top executives. In order, they prefer:

a. Immediate supervisors

b. Small group meetings

c. Top executives

d. Large group meetings

TABLE 3.1 Subjects of Interest to Employees Change Little




Organizational plans for the future


Job advancement opportunities


Job-related “how-to” information


Productivity improvement


Personnel policies and practices


How we’re doing vs. the competition


How my job fits into the organization


How external events affect my job


How profits are used


Financial results


Advertising and promotional plans


Operations outside of my department or division


Organizational stand on current issues


Personnel changes and promotions


Organizational community involvement


Human interest stories about other employees


Personal news (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.)

e. Employee handbook or other booklets

f. Orientation programs

g. Regular local employee publications

h. Bulletin boards

i. Annual reports to employees

j. Regular general employee publications

k. Upward communication programs

l. Audiovisual programs

m. Unions

n. Mass media

o. Grapevine

Employees were asked in the above study which were their actual information sources, as opposed to this listing of preferred sources. Two were far out of line: grapevine, last on the preferred source list, was ranked second as an actual source; bulletin boards, number eight in preference, in actuality ranked third.

Participants in a 1999 communications study by IABC and Watson Wyatt cite e-mail as the most frequently used communications tool now (90 percent). But it is not a magic communications pill, according to the study. It received a low (55 percent) effectiveness rating. Clutter is a factor in its ineffectiveness. Employees receive a significant number of e-mails each day, both business and personal. An organization cannot be sure its employees are really taking the time to process and understand their electronic messages.

Using a focused communication strategy that combines a mix of methods and tools brings the most success, finds the study. This mix includes in-person meetings, printed newsletters, intranets, open-door policies, and e-mail.

• Key strategy is face-to-face interchanges, with managers and supervisors seen as communication links first and foremost—not only from the top down and the bottom up, but also laterally (between departments and work groups). Consequently, public relations departments often must coach and train supervisors and managers in interpersonal communication skills.


The source employees most want to receive information from is their immediate or frontline supervisor—the most effective vehicle for communicating with employees, according to the previous list. Frontline supervisors are trusted and therefore more believable.

The communication process that passes information from top management down to employees through their immediate supervisors is sometimes called cascading meetings. It involves:

• Providing resources and training for frontline supervisors to relay information to their direct reports;

• Giving supervisors advance notice and in-depth and meaningful information to share with employees; and

• Making subject matter experts available to immediately answer questions.

This process helps relationship building within the management team. Supervisors get information in a timelier manner and feel more plugged into what’s going on. And messages are delivered face-to-face to all employees in 24 hours using this process—which beats both the news media and the grapevine.


Trust directly impacts an organization’s success and profits.1 It contributes to job satisfaction, which leads to effectiveness, financial strength, competitiveness, and productivity. Trust must start with initiatives from the top.

If we look at organizations realistically, it is apparent that the most important people are those at the bottom—the frontliners. They make the product, deliver the service, sell the goods, and provide essential support mechanisms. In short, they more than anyone are the organization.

If, as shown in the diagram, you draw a line above the frontline supervisors (whether called team leaders, managers, or whatever), everyone above the line is overhead. The top of the pyramid is cost, not income generating. Those positions exist to support what the frontliners do.

Therefore, if management wants to earn trust, it must acknowledge this, and then formulate policies and processes that prove and continually symbolize it to the frontliners.

There are six components of trust:

1 According to a study by the International Association of Business Communicators, “Measuring Organizational Trust: A Diagnostic Survey & International Indicator.” For more information, call 800–776-4222, or

1. Openness. Good news and bad must be shared with employees or they may suspect secrecy and conspiracy. Divulge plans in a timely fashion explaining the “whys.”

2. Shared values. Management must share its vision with all employees and encourage employees to offer theirs.

3. Consistency of words and actions. Consistent treatment of all employees as well as consistency between management’s words and actions are needed.

4. Appreciation. Management must show appreciation for employees’ commitment to the organization.

5. Feedback. Employees’ input must be solicited and considered, and they must be allowed to speak out with impunity. Often, trouble stems from executives believing theirs is the only workable way.

6. Autonomy. Management must give employees respect, allowing them to work independently and monitor their own performance without breathing down their necks.


The convenience and speed of technology make it an alluring communication medium, but it needs to be used wisely. Once awareness has been created—preferably by face-to-face communication where possible—technology (e-mail, the Internet, and intranet sites) is useful for reinforcing the message.

The advantages of technology include a quick way to give and get feedback, which shortens the communication cycle time, convenient information storage and retrieval, reduced communication costs, a flatter corporate hierarchy when an employee with an idea or concern can share it directly with an individual (from a senior manager to an immediate supervisor) without having the message reviewed and filtered by others, and the ability to collaborate with others. It allows people on different floors, different time zones, and different continents to have immediate access to working documents and data.

On the negative side, it’s impersonal and increases the risk of dehumanizing relationships; it’s generally done quickly, even impulsively, and thus increases the likelihood for misunderstanding; it’s a pull medium, which means the receiver must want it and seek it; information security is still a big concern for many; and often the information received is not information mapped (a visual layout that makes text easy to read and understand, reduces long paragraphs to bite-sized chunks bulleted for easy scanning, and offers a source for more details).

The main impact of technology, as one PR firm CEO put it, is “speed without analysis, data without wise interpretation.”2

Trustworthiness Now Means Holding Back Nothing

Public relations counselor Bruce Harrison advises that in dealing with key publics such as employees, it’s not enough to just communicate honestly. Organizations are finding that in order to foster trust, they must be entirely open and show all evidence, a method called “transparent communication.” Organizations need to let constituents know:

• Here’s how we’re making the decision. Here are the facts that led us to make this decision.

• Here are the options. Let’s look at them together so you can help us make the decision.

• We believe we’re being forthright and candid, but you judge for yourself. Here are the data. What do you think?

2pr reporter’s“ 30th Annual Survey of the Profession.” Vol. 41 No. 38. September 28, 1998.

Intranets are one way to implement this strategy with employees. Minutes of meetings, policies, plans and strategies, financial results, and other data are posted there for any interested employee.

This type of policy is the key for any organization to be considered trustworthy today.

Source: pr reporter Vol. 35 No. 36, September 21, 1992, p. 3.

References and Additional Readings

Bailey, John, and Richard Bevan. “Employee Communication.” Chapter 12 in Lesly’s Handbook of Public Relations and Communications. 5th ed. Chicago, IL: NTC Business Books, 1998.

Barr, Stephen. “Smile! You’re on Corporate TV.” Communication World 8 (September 1991): 28–31.

Beer, Michael, Russell Eisenstat, and Bert Spector. “Why Change Programs Don’t Produce Change.” Harvard Business Review (November/ December 1990): 158–166.

Brody, E. W. Communicating for Survival. New York: Praeger, 1987.

Casarez, Nicole B. “Electronic Mail and Employee Relations: Why Privacy Must Be Considered.” Public Relations Quarterly 37 (Summer 1992): 37–40.

Cutlip, Scott, Allen Center, and Glen Broom. “Media for Internal Publics.” Chapter 9 in Effective Public Relations. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Davids, Meryl. “Labor Shortage Woes: How Practitioners Are Helping Companies Cope.” Public Relations Journal 44 (November 1988).

Drucker, Peter. “The Responsible Worker.” Chapter 21 in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.

Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006, p. 15.

Herman, Roger, and Joyce Gioia. How to Become an Employer of Choice. Winchester, VA: Oakhill Press, 2000.

Holtz, Shel. Public Relations on the Net. New York: AMACOM, 1999.

Pfeffer, Jeffrey. The Human Equation: Building Profits by Putting People First. Boston. MA: Harvard Business School Press, January 1998.

pr reporter Special Report: A Probing Look at Employee Relations Today: How to Shape World-Class Internal Relationships and Communications. Exeter, NH: PR Publishing, 1998.

pr reporter Vol. 42 No. 29 (July 26, 1999). “‘Are You Being Served?’ Study Finds Employee Politeness Is Huge Determinant of Customer Loyalty, as PR Has Insisted.”

pr reporter Vol. 42 No. 1 (January 4, 1999). “In an Era of Mistrust and Skepticism, Making Your Organization One People Can Trust Is the Ultimate Differentiator.”

pr reporter Vol. 40 No. 15 (April 14, 1997). “The Psychology of Customer Delight: PR’s Vital Role.”

pr reporter Vol. 39 No. 34 (August 26, 1996). “Some Metrics on How Well Employee Participation Pays Off.”

pr reporter Vol. 37 No. 21 (May 23, 1994). “Action Research Unites Staff and Management in Satisfying Customers.”

pr reporter Vol. 36 No. 40 (October 11, 1993). “Communication, PR Ideas Drive Unique Re-Engineering Plan”—An outstanding case study that puts all the organizational trends together.

pr reporter Vol. 34 No. 49 (December 16, 1991). “PR’s Role in Culture Change.”

pr reporter Vol. 32 No. 34 (August 28, 1989). “Survey Finds Trust in Management Translates into Quality.”

Skutski, Karl. “Conducting a Total Quality Communications Audit.” Public Relations Journal, April 1992, 20–32.

Smith, Alvie. Innovative Employee Communication: New Approaches to Improving Trust, Teamwork and Performance. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1991.

Case 3-1 Communicating through Acquisition: Southwest Airlines Takes on AirTran and Blends Employee Cultures

Often one of the hardest parts of a merger or acquisition is blending the different cultures so that employees are able to do their work to the best of their ability with the least amount of frustration and conflict. Those employees whose organization’s name and culture ends up subsumed by the new entity often feel a sense of loss and diminished loyalty. This fact is often overlooked, and a newly created organization can lose precious time and productivity trying to excise the resulting angst and conflict for years.

How SWA and AirTran Avoided Culture Wars

The Southwest Airlines (SWA) acquisition of AirTran became official in early May 2010. However, the SWA communications team began planning far in advance, knowing that a smooth transition to “one-department communications” would not happen overnight.

This was the first merger for SWA, and a lot was at stake. Over the years, it had carved out a unique niche in the airline industry and had managed to hold onto its passenger-friendly, employee-friendly culture, even through leadership transitions.

“We were fortunate that AirTran shares a lot of the same core beliefs in terms of the culture of employees first and treating customers right,” says Todd Painter, SWA communications manager.

Research First

The first step was to meet with AirTran’s communications team to figure out how it communicated to employees and compare that to how SWA was doing it. AirTran had a strong communications team, but the department structure did not line up exactly with SWA’s structure. At SWA, for example, media relations, employee relations, and social media were all in the same group, which helped them achieve One Clear Voice. They had also established an Internal Communicators Exchange (ICE) which enabled them to communicate with all professional communicators throughout the organization weekly.

Much of SWA’s communications program design was based on results from an ongoing, company-wide employee survey program. SWA began these surveys in 2006, and an outside firm still conducts them every two years. “We look at a lot of topics: leadership, direction of the company, morale, etc. Feedback from the survey is reviewed by different cross-sectional committees who then take action on the recommendations. The idea of having an employee blog and the ability to comment on podcasts came from feedback that we needed to increase two-way communication,” said Painter. The need for texting and a mobile app also came up in survey feedback.

Highlights from SWA Employee Survey and Quarterly Intranet Poll

• 80% say SWA provides up-to-date information on company happenings.

• 97% of SWA employees are willing to go the extra mile for customers.

• On the quarterly SWA Life poll: 90% of employees consistently say they are proud to work for SWA.

Integration Messaging Presented as a United Front

To make the transition, SWA and AirTran decided that all messaging on the integration would be shared and that both companies would continue using their own communication vehicles for at least six months during the transition. Bob Jordan, president of AirTran (and executive vice-president of SWA), established a weekly toll-free message for employees, and Gary Kelly of SWA also delivered a weekly message to SWA employees. The audio messages were then posted as podcasts. SWA continued its daily e-newsletter, “Today at SWA,” while AirTran continued publishing its vehicle “Aline” for six months before the two publications were consolidated into one.

“We also had to iron out some systems inconsistencies,” said Painter. “For example, all SWA employees had company-issued e-mail accounts but AirTran employees didn’t, so we had to get those lined up.”

The “publication of record” for SWA is SWALife, the intranet site that is refreshed with three to five stories a day. During the transition period, AirTran employees had access to SWALife, but they also kept their intranet, Sharetran. SWALife has a very interactive blog that gets monitored closely to get a sense of what issues stimulate the most responses and which messages resonate best with employees. “All comments are monitored by the communication team,” said Painter. “If we deny a posting, we’ll e-mail the employee back and let him know why.”

A little over a year after the merger (summer 2011), SWA launched its mobile app and AirTran employees gained access at the same time. Shortly before that, in April, SWA launched “opt-in-texting” for employees. This is reserved for breaking news such as the decision to fly to a new city or quarterly financial results.

In addition, most stations have their own Facebook pages that are fed by local employees, though, again, the communications department oversees them. SWA also developed a Corporate Social Media Handbook for all employees that provides background on SWA’s social media philosophy and spells out employee guidelines for social media use; it also includes FAQs on this topic.

SWA has some traditional communication vehicles like the monthly LUVLines newsletter for employees and their families and a special e-newsletter for SWA leaders. “We post our daily newsletter on bulletin boards in the field and have slots for every day of the week in which we can place a one pager—and we do get feedback that crews take the information on flights,” said Painter.

The Mission of Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit (Figure 3.1).


Culture Consistency

Part of SWA’s secret to maintaining its unique culture rests on the fact that leadership has had a consistent commitment to employees. Current CEO Gary Kelly spends a lot of time with employees in the field. He travels to six different locations to deliver his “Message to the Field,” an annual state-of-SWA speech, and encourages employees to participate in Q&A sessions. He is not the only visible senior leader. SWA does “organized leader visits,” during which three or four leaders go to a particular location and visit with employees. Throughout the year, every SWA city is visited. It helps that founder and Chairman Emeritus Herb Kelleher and President Emeritus Colleen Barrett are still involved. “Colleen was the person behind our customer service culture,” said Painter (see the box “Employee Focused Culture Has Deep Roots”).

SWA has a Companywide Culture Committee (CCC) made up of employees from all work groups and locations across the organization. Its main goals are to promote and foster a fun and healthy work environment, to help build morale, and to appreciate and recognize the hard work of fellow employees. The CCC includes more than 100 active members and close to 200 alumni members (after three years, a committee member becomes an alumnus). “This is the group that goes out and cooks with our ground operations employees… typically on the ramp where the planes are. We grill, play games, play music, and just have fun. We do the same for the mechanics. We also do a hokey day where we surprise flight crews with goody bags and let them have five or 10 minutes of down time,” said Painter. (Interesting observation: More than 30 positions at SWA have the word “culture” in their titles.)

Outside Expert Verification

External measures verify that SWA is doing something right when it comes to building and maintaining employee relationships. In 2011, it was ranked 17th by Glassdoor, a jobs and career community in its 4th annual Employee Choice Awards as reported by Forbes Magazine in their 100 Best Places to Work list.

Employee Focused Culture Has Deep Roots

The concept for SWA began in 1966 when Rollin King, a San Antonio entrepreneur who owned a small commuter airline service, and his banker, John Parker, approached Herb Kelleher, then one of their lawyers, with an idea for an airline that would introduce healthy competition to the airlines that serviced Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. King and Kelleher raised the capital to launch SWA but spent four years and nearly all of the funds fighting restraining orders and lawsuits filed by competitors in order to earn the right to exist.

By the time it was ready to fly, SWA had just four planes and fewer than 70 employees. It was forced to set outrageously low fares to attract customers. The competition, feeling the heat, matched SWA’s fares, forcing the new airline to reduce prices even more and putting itself in financial jeopardy. To continue, they needed to decide whether to lay employees off or sell a plane.

Management chose to put employees first. In return for not laying off a single employee, SWA asked employees to master the “10-minute turn” so the airline could keep the same flight schedule it had planned with four airplanes. By doing this, the company could manage more flights per day and ultimately lower operating costs.

From its earliest days, the company has incorporated a focus on fun and LUV (SWA’s ticker symbol on the NYSE)—for both passengers and employees—into its unique management style. Employees are comfortably dressed. Flight attendants use humor in their normally mundane announcements; one was even captured on YouTube “rapping” emergency instructions! This relaxed and open working environment has encouraged customer service agents to hold holiest sock contests and to encourage passengers to make faces at ground crews while waiting to board the plane. “We look for a sense of humor, a sense of service,” says Colleen. “We don’t care if you’re the best pilot in the USAF, but if you condescend to a secretary, you won’t get hired.”

Why Employee Culture—Not Just Communications—Is a PR Responsibility

Productivity is the lifeblood of an organization and it can be compromised significantly by a culture that blocks communication and cooperation, or one that is closed off or punitive. Whereas employee communications is a core responsibility of PR, employee relations has traditionally been the responsibility of human resources. But HR’s work has tended to focus on the huge responsibility of personnel management and compliance.

Gradually, public relations practitioners have been taking on more and more responsibility, not only for communicating to employees about organizational issues, but also for addressing bottom-up and lateral communications. This brings PR to the very feet of corporate culture. Managing employee relationships to enhance productivity is an integral part of our work since communication is at the very core of a positive relationship, work or otherwise. A practitioner’s skill in helping individuals or groups better understand each other can be invaluable. And helping senior management be aware of a problematic culture (that often stems from dysfunction right in the C-suite) can be among the most valuable tasks a practitioner can perform.

Case 3-2 Buffeted by Management Changes and a Rocky Economy, a Strategic Communication System Keeps Employees Focused

Located in the picturesque town of Bennington, VT, Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC) is a 99-bed hospital system serving an area of about 65,000 people. In late 2007, the Great Recession had yet to occur, but SVHC was feeling the impact of a national health-care funding system that was making it difficult to operate profitably. Complicating matters, this fairly remote and rural part of Vermont has few large employers, which meant that many of the approximately 1,200 SVHC employees had been working in the system for years. Hospital officials began to suspect part of the problem of operational efficiency and profits lay with internal communication.

Research First

After several employee opinion surveys indicated that morale could be improved, the public relations team commissioned an outside firm to conduct a communications audit that included 15 focus groups (approximately 150 employees) targeting all staffing levels (including day, evening, and night shifts) and satellite locations. To give all employees a voice in the process, a Web survey followed up on the focus groups. The survey was open to all employees, and 310 responded anonymously. The outside firm also conducted face-to-face interviews with senior managers and performed an expert review of all communications materials and the SVHC intranet.

• Findings pointed to a communication system that was both confusing and overwhelming.

• Employees were barraged with e-mail daily, much of it having little to do with them or their jobs.

• Supervisor communication was hit or miss—it depended on the skills of the supervisor and the structure of the department. Staff meetings occurred or didn’t; information was conveyed or not.

• The grapevine was actively filling in the gaps, often not accurately. Silos were strong and created roadblocks causing lateral communications to suffer.

• The intranet was accessed primarily for specific data (phone numbers, policies, etc.).

• There were a variety of tools for top-down communication but no formal, recognizable system that employees could count on.

• No formal system for bottom-up communication was in place, so whoever had the time and skill to find and talk with senior managers got their concerns addressed—often resulting in the appearance of haphazard planning.

A Strategic System Established

Systematizing top-down communications was the first order of business. The public relations team focused on how employees preferred to get their need-to-know information. Supervisors, staff meetings, targeted e-mails (with someone designated to posting them for those without e-mail), Town Hall meetings, and the intranet were channels adopted. Use of “Keep In Touch,” the monthly newsletter, was continued but limited to nice-to-know information. A “red-alert” e-mail was established for true emergency communication. The system therefore was self-reinforcing—the important items would end up in multiple venues for emphasis.

Systematizing communication was as much about reducing clutter that clogged communication channels as it was about adding new tools. Stopping “all-list” e-mails for non-emergency subjects helped reduce the number of unnecessary e-mails received. And though some senior managers agreed that others should stop sending unnecessary e-mails/all-list e-mails, it took some arm twisting to get them to see that they were culpable too. Engineered into the system was a rule that “all-list” e-mails had to be approved by the communications department or incident commander (administrator in charge at the time). This was a foot-in-door approach to changing an ingrained behavior.

Supervisors as Communicators

Supervisors were to be the main information source for employees, but supporting them and holding them accountable was going to be a challenge. A new daily bulletin was created and named “In Touch Today,” to link to the monthly newsletter (Figure 3.2). This one-page-only document covered system-wide news of need-to-know importance, left space for departmental leadership to include their need-to-know news, and included a few “passing parade” announcements and a “thought for the day.” Including general announcements here made it easier to eliminate overhead announcements throughout the hospital, which had been disturbing patients and interrupting staff.

“In Touch Today” also helped lay out for supervisors the talking points for their now required daily five-minute meetings with staff. Supervisors were tasked with forwarding questions and concerns that needed further action through the appropriate channels.

FIGURE 3.2 SVHC Red Alert Binder

FIGURE 3.3 SVHC Daily Bulletin “In Touch Today”

FIGURE 3.4 SVHC Monthly Staff Meeting Agenda

Lateral Communications

Getting departments to communicate across silos proved to be a harder nut to crack. A variety of ideas were considered, including reviewing standing committees to rotate members and establishing a process for how new task forces and committees would best be formed. Intervening events, however, stopped the train of progress.

The Economy Goes South and Turmoil Abounds

The Great Recession of 2008 came roaring in and the hospital system, already under duress, suffered significantly. Financial issues, seemingly greater than had been advertised, resulted in a sweeping change of leadership at the top. Many employees who had worked with the long-term CEO and members of his team were devastated and lost trust in management. The communication systems in place were used to keep employees informed as the ground was shifting underneath them. More than 100 positions were eliminated throughout the hospital.

Kevin Robinson, communications director, reflects back: “With major uncertainty among employees, having a single place to go for reliable information became more important than ever. With our communications system, employees could focus on their work instead of spending their time trying to figure out what was going on. It didn’t make them feel any less anxious, but it helped quiet the typical chaos and rumor mills that abound in these situations, especially when there is a communications vacuum.”

As the hospital system brought on new management, it continued to use the new system for communication to ease the transition. The communications systems allowed for ramped-up coverage without introducing anything new into the mix—something that would have been difficult and costly.

Evaluations Show System Working Well

Four years later, the system still works well. Regularly, PR staff conduct dipstick studies to see what employees know and to gauge communication effectiveness. In 2010, a formal survey found 82 percent of employees feel informed about what is going on at SVHC. They like “In Touch Today” and are interested in it covering more discussion of ongoing issues and the future of the system. Supervisors still need to develop more skills at running the five-minute meetings, and senior management needs to be more visible. In 2011, SVHC did another check by running focus groups. Earlier findings were reinforced.

As always, however, there is tweaking to be done. Robinson notes, “We continue to struggle with feedback as part of the monthly staff meeting agenda. When it comes in, we respond to it, but it doesn’t come in often enough. If we get multiple questions on the same subject, we send a response back to the individual directly who asked and include it in an issue of “In Touch Today.” If a handful of people are asking, it’s likely there are more wondering about the same thing.”

Supervisors, a key component of any communication system, constantly need training to be good in this pivotal role. Supervisors are often promoted because they “do their jobs well,” not because of their communication skills. PR and HR need to work together to assure that all managers understand their responsibility for good communication and how to glean what needs to be communicated up, down, and laterally.

Never a Dull Moment

With SVHC still dealing with economic issues, but working its way back, August 2011 brought Hurricane Irene through Vermont. Eleven inches of rain caused major flash flooding of a magnitude not seen since 1927. It washed out 500 miles of roads and a dozen bridges. Bennington suffered severe flooding, power outages, and destroyed roadways. But the hospital had to remain open. Whereas social media had not been a big part of how the hospital communicated with its staff on a daily basis, it now was the only alternative. “It was critical to helping employees get to work—where we needed them,” said Robinson. “Facebook was our best option; otherwise we would have had to call everyone—not something we could do easily (Figure 3.5). We posted all kinds of information on our Facebook page, and that served not only employees who were trying to get to the hospital but community members as well.” Red-alert e-mails were also sent to keep staff informed.

FIGURE 3.5 SVHC’s Facebook page

FIGURE 3.6 Economic Crisis

“Our intranet is the only unfinished piece of communication we have at this particular time,” says Robinson. “It needs a face-lift and a hard look at how information is organized. We occasionally get requests to deliver our daily newsletter by e-mail only. We decided against that for now because of the nature of what we do here. Everyone has an e-mail address, but despite the use of computers at the bedside, not all of our staff are able to check e-mail regularly. It is important to understand the behavioral aspects of your employee body and communicate to them in a way that puts their needs first.”

Economic Crisis Communication Strategy

Communicating during a severe economic crisis requires subtle shifts in how and when organizations communicate. Figure 3.6 gives guidelines for communicating during tough economic times.


Case 3-3 Establishing the Organization Culture under a New Leader Early: How 100-Day Plans Work

Leaders only get one chance to make a good first impression. It is well documented that new leaders receive a grace period, most often called a honeymoon, during which making the right transitional steps can enhance their general effectiveness and ultimately their ability to effect needed change. Wise leaders make the most of it.

Since President Franklin Roosevelt’s plan to pass the majority of his New Deal programs within his first 100 days in office, the 100-day plan has become axiomatic for new leaders in business, government, higher education, and other sectors. This period tends to delineate the new leader’s honeymoon with the organization—a time when it might be easier to get things done.

Leadership changes are a time of opportunity, but also a stage when potential missteps could threaten to damage a new leader’s prospects before the transition is complete. A well-thought-out and thoroughly coordinated 100-day plan can mitigate the danger and maximize the opportunities for a successful transition and allow the new leader to get off to a great start, and be much more effective over time.

CNCS’s Past Along with the Present-Day Environment in Washington Set the Stage

Recently, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) faced a vitally important CEO leadership transition. CNCS is a small agency of the federal government with the mission to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering. It is primarily a grant-making entity that funds AmeriCorps members who serve with well-known grantees such as Teach for America, City Year, Public Allies, and lesser-known efforts such as the St. Bernard Project, which is constructing houses in areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the tornado that hammered Joplin, Missouri, in 2011.

CNCS also funds long-standing programs such as AmeriCorps VISTA and Senior Corps, which includes the Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions, and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). Senior Corps is the largest volunteer program for people over 55.

In total, CNCS engages five million Americans in community service each year, and national service participants serve in 70,000 nonprofits throughout the nation. Its stakeholders are many, are highly diversified, and are found in nearly every community in America.

While CNCS itself has existed for slightly less than 20 years, its antecedents have roots 50 years deep in President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, and before that in President John Kennedy’s iconic call to service, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

More recently, CNCS’s bipartisan supporters have included Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In 2009, Senators Edward Kennedy and Orrin Hatch teamed to sponsor the Kennedy Serve America Act, which called for a dramatic expansion of national service programs, but narrowed their focus to areas of significant community need, requiring rigorous performance measures to ensure high impact and effectiveness.

Many different circumstances merged to make critical the transition to a new CEO at CNCS. The agency had been without a Senate-confirmed CEO for approximately 18 months out of the previous three years. Beyond this, the bipartisan, presidentially appointed board of directors had dwindled to less than one-third of its full strength due to gridlock on Capitol Hill. More telling, just prior to the new CEO’s Senate confirmation, the “Chronicle of Philanthropy” published a five-part series on the future of national service that called for strong leadership at CNCS.

These circumstances, coupled with the head winds of federal fiscal austerity—the House of Representatives’ second attempt at eliminating the agency and the necessity of the agency showing unambiguous return on investment—only served to intensify the imperative that the new CEO make a strong start from day one.

Every leadership transition is unique, but the process can be researched on the Internet where a range of articles discussing 100-day plans and several transition templates can be found. This is a rich resource from which to draw. A number of these sources are footnoted, allowing for the development of an in-depth understanding of the process and common mistakes made, as well as for developing alternative approaches.

Research Helped Lay Out a Strategy

In CNCS’s case, research indicated that the new CEO—coming from the national service field as the head of a state governor’s volunteer organization primarily responsible for dispensing state AmeriCorps grants—was known to and would be well received by many CNCS employees and stakeholders associated with the AmeriCorps world. However, a number of employees and other stakeholder groups would not know her. Moreover, in Washington, as in any organizational setting, strong relationships with a broad range of stakeholders, peers, customers, regulators, the media, and others are a necessary condition of success.

An approach determined to be the most appropriate would build on the new leader’s high-energy and high-touch leadership style. A premium was placed on face-to-face meetings, a strong social media presence, and recalibrating relationships from her prior roles in the field, thus demonstrating accessibility and instilling confidence. A lot needed to be done in a short period of time.

The Plan Was Thorough, Straightforward

The plan was organized into actions and activities that had to take place upon Senate confirmation, on the first day; within the first week and month; and within the following 60 days, with easy wins and quick victories foremost.

Senate Confirmation

• Press release

• Acting leader all-staff message

• Acting leader message to stakeholders

• Acting leader message to board of directors

• Web updates

First Day-1

• Acting leader thank-you message to staff and workers in the field

First Day

• Press release

• New-leader call with board chair and message to board of directors

• New-leader Web and social media messages and introductory video

• E-mails to all staff, workers in the field, and stakeholders

• Meeting with direct reports

• Meeting with senior leaders

• Meeting with CEO’s office staff

• All-staff meeting with interactive streaming to employees in 50 states

• Meeting with the Inspector General

• Calls to key members of Congress

• Calls to key national service association leaders

• Calls to key White House staff

• Walkabout at headquarters to meet employees in their workplaces

First Week

• Meeting with CNCS political appointees

• Meeting with union leadership

• Walkabouts continue

• Meetings with employee affinity groups

• Meetings with key White House staff

• Meetings and phone calls with key members of Congress and staff

• Thank-you notes to supporters

• Media preparation and review of key messages

• Calls to leaders of partner federal agencies

First Month

• Begin contacting state governors and key mayors

• National service site visits

• Meetings with national service champions and ambassadors

• First board of directors meeting

• Meetings with members of Congress and key staff continue

• Begin meetings with key stakeholders

• Accept important speaking opportunities in Washington

• Begin deep dives into CNCS operations and cultural assessment

• ID quick wins for the next six months

• Develop supporting communications strategy

Remaining 60 Days

• Accept important national service speaking opportunities

• Attend National Conference on Volunteering and Service

• National debut speech in front of the entire national service community

• Featured panelist with the Secretary of Education during an education town hall

• Major speech at closing plenary session

• Networking strategy

• Remarks for at least a dozen stakeholder meetings

A New Direction Set Early and Successfully

In execution, the plan of action and more was accomplished in terms of the number of intra-governmental and stakeholder contacts and field site visits and of organizational morale building. The new CEO was willing to work diligently to move quickly. Within the first six weeks, the new CEO met and delivered speeches at events with four cabinet officers. The President of the United States himself joined a CEO conference call with members of AmeriCorps.

The new CEO worked to cement key relationships, making contact with 86 members of Congress and key staff members, 12 governors, and the chairman of the United States Conference of Mayors within the first two months, all the while ensuring that other stakeholders and partners had been touched. In addition, she joined with members of Congress to announce AmeriCorps grants awarded to their states. Simultaneously, she launched an aggressive social media strategy including tweeting photos and smartphone video vignettes from important site visits, thus gaining close to 1,000 new followers.

The evaluation of the 100-day program was informal and not tied to any qualitative or quantitative data gathering due to restrictions on government information collection. But in an environment that is not shy on expressing its approval or disapproval, reliable informal feedback channels exist. And all indications from leaders across the national service spectrum were positive. Loud applause and standing ovations at the national conference, plus an avalanche of enthusiastic e-mail and phone calls, were feedback that the new leader had established credibility. Feedback in print media, social media, and verbal feedback from all audience segments was universally warm and enthusiastic, reaffirming the CEO’s messaging and direction. The initial signs of buy-in and support from the national service rank and file for the new CEO’s leadership were overwhelming.

One of national service’s most visible leaders, who leads the field’s most prominent advocacy organization, offered this emblematic assessment at the 60-day mark: “[The new CEO] is a great example of having the right leader at the right place at the right time. [Her] combination of management expertise, deep knowledge of the field, and unparalleled ability to communicate the value proposition national service and community volunteering represent has quite literally transformed the agency and its positioning in a very short period of time. From lifting morale inside the agency and throughout the field to working on a bipartisan basis to educate governors, mayors, and members of Congress, [she] has put to use her talent, her intellect, and her leadership ability at a critical time for the agency and the national service and community volunteer movement.”

Left remaining are the staff adjustments, full articulation of adjustments in strategic direction, and adjustments to the communications strategy that are needed to achieve the necessary across-the-board buy-in. However, the stage has been properly set for a successful leadership transition.

This case was written before completion of 100 days.

Case 3-4 Producing Good Employee Ambassadors Means Educating Effectively: Kaiser Permanente Makes the Effort

Social scientists explain that “social behavior is the result of an exchange process,” typically between two people. They call this “social exchange theory.” They think that an individual will weigh the benefits and risks in a relationship, and if there are more rewards than risks, the relationship will thrive. If not, the relationship will end. Public relations practitioners believe this theory can be applied to the relationship between an employee and an organization. When there are “rewards,” a positive relationship will result, and that can benefit both the employee and the organization.

Rewarding employees is a tricky business. Monetary rewards, while greatly appreciated at the time, become drawbacks when they are not given again either because the organization has not been as successful or the employee has not been as productive. Frederick Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation holds that “hygiene factors” (pay, quality of supervision, job security, working conditions, etc.)1 can only increase employee satisfaction to a point. Herzberg and his colleagues at Psychological Services of Pittsburgh (1957) found other factors, “motivational factors,” that are responsible for increasing satisfaction past a certain level. These include such things as “career advancement, personal growth, recognition, and responsibility,” to name a few. So the “reward” in social exchange theory must be carefully considered when building an employee ambassador program.

Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest not-for-profit integrated health-care delivery systems in the United States, is headquartered in Oakland, California. It encompasses both a health plan and a hospital system and includes a 65-year relationship with the Permanente Medical Groups, which include more than 16,500 family practice physicians and specialists who deliver care to more than 9 million Kaiser Permanente members.

Kaiser Permanent’s annual employee research confirmed that employees—more than 170,000 staff in nine states and the District of Columbia—were a very strong part of the brand. Internal research showed that employees were very committed to the organization’s mission. The majority of staff were not only team members, but Kaiser Permanente members, meaning that they and their families receive their health care from Kaiser Permanente, which may provide additional reason to provide the very best care possible.

Through its Labor Management Partnership, the organization formed unit-based teams (naturally occurring work groups of frontline staff, supervisors and managers, and physicians) to allow for more input into problem solving and process improvement. As a result, employees were more eager than ever to talk about the organization because of their own role in its success. Therefore, Kaiser Permanente believed that using employees as “brand ambassadors” was a logical step in building strong relationships with all stakeholders. The challenge would be to support the work force in speaking with One Clear Voice on behalf of the organization and its members.

• Kaiser Permanente’s mission is: To provide high-quality, affordable health-care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve.


What Is a Brand Ambassador?

All employees are “ambassadors.” Each time they interact with a customer or tell someone where they work, they convey information about the organization—sometimes good, sometimes bad.

Employees are some of the most credible sources of information and perceptions for external stakeholders. And those who do not sit in traditional seats of power in an organization (secretaries, clerks, receptionists, tellers, technicians, etc.) have some of the highest credibility ratings, which has been demonstrated by a plethora of studies over time.

It behooves an organization to make sure employees are well versed in the vision and language of an organization when they do speak out, and that their satisfaction with the organization as an employer and product or service provider is as good as possible.

Feeding the System the Right Information

With such a sizable workforce, communicating to all levels consistently was critical to Kaiser Permanente’s success. It created an internal message architecture (complementary to its external message architecture for public relations work) to ensure that leaders and communicators were speaking with one voice. This included such specifics as providing phrasing for key internal messages that leaders used in correspondence, presentations, and department meetings.

How the messaging would be distributed required engaging frontline employees who did not have access to the Internet or e-mail at work. To find a way to reach them, they were gathered with communicators for ideation sessions. Ideas were generated on how to get to this difficult-to-reach audience. Some were pilot tested to see what might work—ideas such as digital signage boards and comic strips. Kaiser Permanente also did an audit of current systems, to not reinvent the wheel and to use systems that were already successful.

In addition, and probably its most innovative step, Kaiser Permanente engaged in video ethnography, following frontline workers with video cameras to see what a day in their lives really looked like. Using this behavioral method, they were able to analyze the video for any opportunities to connect with employees in their natural flow of work.

The Architecture Itself

Depending on their job, employee access to, and use of, information systems varied widely. Kaiser Permanente maintains both online and traditional communications systems to make sure everyone has access in a way that is both comfortable and convenient. Online tools include:

• A strategy Web site brings the mission and strategic imperatives to life for employees, so they can understand how their work contributes to the organization’s goals and objectives.

• Self-paced online modules for managers increase their business literacy and teach them how to communicate about the organization.

• Hundreds of courses help with professional development and support the culture as a continuous learning organization.

• E-mails are sent when information is important and timely.

• The intranet, customized by region, provides online news and information, features, and leadership columns that reinforce mission, brand promise, and the service credo, “We’re here to make lives better.”

• The external KP News Center Web site is accessible from work or home. Through the site, employees can get up-to-date information, read feature stories and blogs, and watch video blogs at their leisure.

Traditional methods of internal communication include:

• Group huddles: 15- to 20-minute daily sessions when staff gather at the start of their shifts in their units and talk about what is going on. Managers answer questions, and teams address problems.

• Monthly town hall meetings are available across the organization via teleconference and are recorded for future listening. One town hall is hosted by the chairman and CEO, along with The Permanente Federation’s executive director, at which they share information and update the priorities of the organization. Often, a guest speaker is featured.

• A print magazine, “Hank” (named for Henry J. Kaiser, the founder of Kaiser Permanente), distributed at facilities and placed in staff mailboxes and on newspaper racks in break rooms and lobbies. It is written in a frontline-friendly way and is filled with stories and examples that team members can easily relate to.

• For bulletin boards, “bulletin board packets” are distributed to facilities each quarter with headline cutouts, fliers, photos, and information that speak to business priorities.

One tool useful for this program is the “CEO celebration letter.” Once a week, the CEO personally writes about something that Kaiser Permanente should be celebrating and the people who make it happen. The letter is sent to all employees and physicians via e-mail, and many managers read or discuss it in group huddles. This weekly delivery of good news increases organizational understanding and arms each employee with tangible examples they can share with others in their role as ambassadors for the organization.

Social Media Is Incorporated into the Mix

Making ready use of a natural communication system that employees are involved in anyway, Kaiser Permanente has its own Facebook business page and is on Twitter and YouTube. The social media outlets are also accessible by other stakeholders, so they are used primarily for messaging that is applicable and interesting to all audiences. Kaiser Permanente’s News Center ( serves as an online hub for press releases, positions on hot topics, and more, and it links to other social media and owned media platforms. It is heavily used by community members and employees.


Key to making the system work is for all communicators to use the message architecture every time they are communicating information to the organization.

“Consistency, with customization for regional and local nuances, is key,” says Diane Gage Lofgren, SVP and chief communications officer. “Making sure that everyone is talking about our organization and our brand with one voice is of paramount importance for team members to understand our business and deliver on our mission. We work hard to provide clarity and avoid a game of telephone when communicating messages to the next level.”

Surveys are conducted after message series are released to make sure they reached all points of the organization. Feedback is provided on how conversations went in huddles. Surveys are completed annually to find out whether employees are having their information needs met and whether they understand how their work supports the goals of the organization. The intranet portal has been redesigned to easily give feedback on any article, ask a question, or request additional information.

Evaluation Is Ongoing

The communications teams in the various units are constantly checking the ongoing messaging against the architecture to see if they are in agreement and whether the messaging is being used. Teams measure message pull-through on a quarterly basis and track improvements on relevant measures in the annual employee “pulse” survey.

Research on external stakeholders and customers is carried out quarterly and shows a strong uptick in the understanding of the Kaiser Permanente brand, likely as a result of the brand ambassadors themselves—Kaiser Permanente employees.

Questions for Discussion


Do you believe employees should be responsible for being good brand ambassadors for their organization? How do you reconcile this expectation with our individual expectations of freedom of speech?


Face-to-face communication, directly from supervisors, has been proven to be one of the most effective communication tools in an organization. But in many organizations, making time for this is next to impossible. How else might you see structuring “face time” between supervisors and employees?


How might you recommend Kaiser Permanente use its brand ambassadors beyond what they are doing now?


Safeplay, Inc., has competed in the sports and recreation equipment market for more than 25 years. The market is hotly contested.

One of the programs for employee morale and productivity long used by Safeplay has been the retention of former athletes of national repute on its payroll at each of its five manufacturing plants. Although the athletes are part of the human resources department staff, the public relations department makes them available for news interviews, conducting sports clinics at schools, and sitting on committees for newsworthy civic events.

One of the Safeplay plants is located in the small city of Westward, which has a population of 20,000 and is located on the outskirts of a metropolitan city. This plant, with an average of 900 employees, specializes in leather items such as baseball gloves, golf gloves, basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, and leather carrying bags for sports clothing.

This plant has a former professional baseball notable on the payroll as an assistant HR director. He makes for good copy on occasion, can speak with authority about the products, and directs a recreation program for employees.

A Tolerant Attitude

At Safeplay plants and in sales offices, there is some pilferage of products by employees. Company policy is that any employee removing company property from the premises without authorization is subject to dismissal. So far, this policy has never been invoked where products are concerned. The unspoken attitude of management is much the same as exists in many consumer-product companies, particularly those that make food, confections, or inexpensive clothing items. It is tolerant, treats pilferage quietly as a minor cost written into the price of products, and looks the other way rather than confront employees, with the risk of possible repercussions if someone is falsely accused. Put another way, management reluctantly concludes that the cost of a baseball mitt taken home in a lunch pail or paper bag to a kid on occasion is not high if employee turnover is low and working enthusiasm is high.

As a means of trying to discourage pilferage, Safeplay offers employees a discount on any products they buy from the store in the personnel office, and on the 10th birthday of any employee’s child the employee can select any product priced under $20 and take it home free.

Tolerance Abused

Recently, however, the “mysterious disappearance” of sports items has gone beyond the boundaries of normal pilferage and management tolerance. Whole containers of items in the stockroom and in the shipping area have disappeared. Inventory records have apparently been doctored.

Obviously distressed, the home office has sent in a private detective agency. The agency’s preliminary investigation and analysis are disturbing. It appears that there is an organized thievery ring involving as many as 25 of the Westward plant’s employees. It appears, also, that the former athletic star on the payroll is somehow involved, but to what extent is not clear. Someone on the inside, not yet identified, deals with an outside “fence,” and someone else on the inside, also not yet identified, handles the payoff to all the cooperating employees. Some of the involved employees are members of the union, and some are in the office “white-collar” jobs.

The Decision Process

At an executive decision-making meeting, you, as director of public relations, have been called in, along with the director of personnel and a company lawyer from the home office. The three of you have been asked to assess the repercussions if the town’s police are called in and legal action is taken. You are asked to offer any other resolution that would “better serve the interests of all involved.”

The lawyer says that as soon as an airtight case can be constructed, which would include photographs and eyewitness accounts of products being removed and being transported to a “fence” and an actual money transaction completed, she favors appropriate law enforcement action and legal redress against those involved.

The personnel manager says he prefers to bring charges only against the leader or leaders inside and all those involved on the outside. He prefers to handle the cooperating employees individually, possibly allowing some sort of plea bargaining to keep the employees the company considers of real value on the payroll. He feels this approach will adequately frighten all employees, halt the activity, and avoid having to replace some trained and competent employees.

It is your turn to speak, using whatever notes you have taken while the others stated their positions. What is your view, taking into account the impact not only on internal relations, but on other publics directly or indirectly involved—including families of employees involved, neighbors, local law enforcement, news media in the trade, the Westward community, and shareholders of Safeplay? Are there others?

What actions, and in what sequence, would you propose and why?

How would you deal with the recommendations of the lawyer and the human resources manager without setting up an adversarial situation?


You are the vice president of public relations for a computer manufacturing company. The CEO called you and the vice president of human resources in for a meeting. Your company is planning to merge with another computer manufacturer.

You are aware of the havoc mergers inflict on employees. You also know that unhappy, disgruntled employees don’t perform their tasks as well, can damage customer relationships, and can ultimately wreak havoc on a company’s profits. You are worried about how to present this merger to the employees.

Communication with employees currently is done through an intranet site called “What’s Happening.” It’s read by most employees, but not regularly, as not all have access to a computer. A newsletter goes out periodically—at least quarterly, but more often if needed. The CEO meets with upper management weekly to be informed of goals and how well they’re being met. He is a friendly, people kind of person, not afraid to speak before large groups, and thinks well on his feet. He enjoys the weekly meetings with upper management. He has from time to time thought about being more available to all employees but until now he hasn’t had the time or motivation to accomplish that.

The CEO has said he does not want anyone to lose his or her job. Some may need to be retrained but no one will be let go. The merger will take place in two weeks, but the timeline for blending the organizations will be over several months.

He is asking that you and human resources work out the employee communication details and report back to him in two days.

Put together the key messages you want delivered to employees, and who will deliver them and how. Also, plan the timing of the messages in conjunction with when the merger will actually take place. If you plan to use two-way communication, through what vehicles will employees communicate and with whom? Who will respond to their comments and questions? Is there a way to measure effectiveness? What programs will you recommend be put in place to blend the cultures of the two organization.

4 Community Relations

A community is a social organism made up of all the interactions among the residents and the organizations with which they identify. As a social organism, a community can take pride in its scenery or in its high school basketball team; it can be factionalized on the basis of who lives on which side of the railroad tracks, or who is well-off or poor; it can be a heterogeneous collection of suburban residents drawn together only by a common desire to escape living within a metropolitan area.

It is necessary for organizations to live by the community’s ordinances and social mores. Permits must be sought to expand facilities, dig up utilities, change traffic flow, or even to operate at all.

A neighborhood, town, city, or state is obviously a human community. Like organizations, they require positive interrelationships among all members to function smoothly and efficiently. Because a company, hospital, school, or other organization would have difficulty operating effectively in a community that is disrupted or inefficient, it is necessary for it to accept the responsibility of corporate citizenship.

Therefore, mutual trust engendered by positive public relationships is essential for both the community and organizations located within it to function in a reasonable manner. A community is not merely a collection of people who share a locality and its facilities.


Traditionally, employers have tended to regard their relationships with home communities as being extensions of their employee relations. The idea was that employees who were treated decently would go into the home communities singing the praises of their employer. In this traditional viewpoint, employers felt that their dollar payroll, their local tax payments, the occasional loan of a facility for a meeting, and the annual contribution to the United Way discharged their community obligations.

Their attitude seemed to say, “Look what we are giving: jobs, taxes, meeting facilities, and charitable donations.” Employers who held this view tended to assume that with little more than a snap of their fingers they would be provided the practical necessities for efficient operations: streets, sewers, water lines, power and telephone, police and fire services, recreational areas, health-care centers, schools, shopping centers, residential areas, cultural and religious facilities, and all the rest. The viewpoint tended to say, “These are what we are entitled to in return for what we give. The community owes us these.”

This attitude has changed. Employers now know that they must have more than a general concern for the efficiency and adequacy of community services for themselves and for their employees. They have learned that they must become involved in specific community decisions and actions concerning fiscal policies; honesty in public offices; attracting new businesses and holding older ones; planning for the future; and generating the enthusiasm of volunteers in charitable, cultural, fellowship, educational, recreational, business, and patriotic endeavors. In general, they must apply the collective talents of the organization to the community in which it operates. The combination of these concerns involves having representatives in the policy-making structure of the community, sometimes directly and openly, sometimes behind the scenes.

• Community relations, as a public relations function, is an institution’s planned, active, and continuing participation within a community to maintain and enhance its environment to the benefit of both the institution and the community.1


Community relations (CR) work is a dynamic aspect of public relations. If there were no other reason, the changing physical and social makeup of communities would make it so, but there are many other contributing factors. Among them: Few people stay in the communities where they are born. Families move not once, but several times. Community communications programs must deal with this constant turnover of residents. Also, employers move. Sometimes they move from a congested central city area to a suburb. When they move, both areas are disrupted. A manufacturer may move a headquarters or a manufacturing facility from one city to another, mortally wounding the economy of one and perhaps starting a boom in the other. Branches of businesses and institutions are opened in areas of growing population and closed in areas that are shrinking or that are poorly managed. A new interstate highway bypasses a community formerly dependent on travelers for its trade. Undesirable elements get control of government. A community also undergoes change when there is a movement for reform or rehabilitation.

Almost all the needs of a community as a desirable place to live and work can be placed into 10 categories:

1. Work for everyone who desires it

2. The prospect of growth and new opportunities

3. Adequate competitive commercial enterprises

4. Competent municipal government with modern police, fire, highway, and other services

5. Educational, cultural, religious, and recreational pursuits

6. Appropriate housing and public services

7. Provision for helping those least able to help themselves

8. Availability of legal, medical, and other professional services

9. Pride and loyalty

10. A good reputation in the area and beyond

1 Wilbur J. Peak, “Community Relations,” in Lesly’s Handbook of Public Relations and Communications (Chicago: NTC/Contemporary Publishing, 1998) 114.

A New Type of Community

Today we are in the advent of a new type of community, one that is not defined by streets or buildings but by the Internet. Virtual communities are springing up by the minute, on subjects close to people’s hearts—animals, illness, romance, motherhood, divorce, etc. And though these communities do not interact at the grocery store or the little league field, they operate in many ways similarly to the ones of old. There are opinion leaders whom others tend to follow and find credible; there are those who are more involved—interested members—and the casual observers. But they have all chosen to be a part of this community, opting into a group and showing an affinity for the subject. Whether they ever act on it beyond the click of a “join” or “like” may be up to us.


Public relations work of a basic nature is involved in at least nine areas of an organization’s community relationships:

1. Issuing news of interest to the community and providing top officials of the organizations with information on the status of community relations

2. Representing the organization in all sorts of volunteer activities, including fund drives—and getting employees to do likewise

3. Managing the contributions function—giving donations if a corporation, raising funds if a nonprofit organization

4. Counseling management on contributions of employees as volunteer workers or board members; arranging for use of facilities and equipment by community groups

5. Functioning as the organization’s intermediary with local governmental, civic, educational, and ad hoc groups concerned with reform, social problems, and celebrations

6. Planning and helping to implement special events such as ground breaking or dedication of new facilities, change in location, anniversaries, reunions, conventions, or exhibitions

7. Preparing advertising or position papers aimed at residents or local government as needed or desirable

8. Preparing publications for distribution to resident groups

9. Planning and conducting open houses or tours as needed or desirable

With the dynamics of change mentioned earlier, public relations work is becoming less concerned with the “routine” and more with the unusual: controversies between factions in the community; activism on social issues; and dealing with calamity, crisis, and governmental regulations as they affect the local community or as they are echoed in local ordinances affecting an organization.2


Yes, community relations can be the core of public relations programming because it sets the tone of what an organizations stands for—not in words (rhetoric) but in actions (behavior). Today, how organizations conduct themselves in the communities where they do business is driven by two factors that make it more than just “getting the house in order”:

2 For an example of a sudden and drastic change in local relationships, see news accounts of the oil spill of the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in March 1989.

1. Instant communication, encompassing burgeoning information networks that go far beyond news media data gathering. It has the capacity to capture and transmit home behavior far and wide.

2. Global competition and the “global village” have created interest in such information, at least by competitors, activists, government agencies, and others who have reason to broadcast it.

Three strategic levels need to be planned:

1. Defensive: guarding against negative acts, or acts of omission

2. Proactive: being a leader in positive acts that appeal to key publics

3. Maintenance: finding ways to retain relationships with publics not currently key, but still able to influence a company’s reputation by forthright expression of their perceptions of it

This approach is far different from “doing nice things for the community.” Assigning community relations to indifferent or inexperienced staffers because it’s “easy” no longer suffices—and of course misses the centrality of community relations today.


Standard community relations involves basic, arm’s-length, “good corporate citizen” activities that reach out, invite in, create awareness, and let facilities be used. For example:

1. Membership networking, assigning “official” representatives to all important community groups

2. Speakers bureau, placing talks to key groups on topics vital to the organization

3. Make facilities available

4. Open houses, visits, tours

5. Programs around holidays

6. Service on boards of directors

7. Take part in public events and back “must-support” causes

The second level of community relations involves becoming part of the fabric of the community by placing people throughout its planning and decision-making networks:

1. Ambassador or constituency relations programs

2. Hold regular opinion leader briefings or idea exchanges

3. Set up local community relations advisory boards

4. Employee volunteer programs

5. Community research, jointly with a college perhaps

6. Social projects that tackle the real community needs as seen by your key publics

7. Make expertise available

Neither list is exhaustive, but the two suggest the differences in the two levels of activity. In most cases, some of both levels are useful.

Other Considerations

Employee volunteerism has so many serendipitous benefits that it raises the issue of spouse, family, and retiree participation. Those organizations that involve these individuals and groups generally report expanded impact and a widening network.

Feedback data banks may provide the biggest opportunity, capturing what is heard and observed from opinion leaders and community members in a formal way. Use of data banks is really listening to the community for invaluable information, which is instantly actionable through community relations programs.


In community programs, five considerations should come into play:

1. Targeting

• Which groups in the community must be targeted?

• What behaviors need to be motivated?

• What specific activities will lead to this motivation?

• What information must be gathered and assessed before starting?

2. Participate or own

If your reputation needs improving, working on projects with accepted partners who can use their reputation to pull yours up; if yours is good, projects you can own offer more benefits and visibility without any dilution.

3. Here versus there

Should a program be based within the organization, or should it be an outside program? Should it take place on-site or off-site?

4. “Official” versus employee volunteer activities

If the latter, how will the organization get credit? Should employees be able to do some volunteer work “on the clock”?

5. Reaching opinion leaders

What design will assure that this critical goal is met?


People trust people, so turning employees into ambassadors within the community is an effective way to be known, spread goodwill, and develop relationships. Employee ambassadors can be used to build solid community relations programs in four ways:

1. Using speakers bureaus to get information out to local opinion leaders

2. Employee participation in volunteer or outreach programs

3. Direct opinion leader contacts, sharing news and gathering insight and feedback

4. Sponsored memberships (where employees are designated to belong to and attend a specific group’s activities on behalf of the organization)

Public Relations Role in Online Communities

The role of the practitioner in online communities related to our organization is twofold: (1) as a listening source to keep track of what is going on, what is being said, difficulties, frustrations, and potential latent crises, and (2) as a helpful, responsive purveyor of information and enlightenment. Because individuals typically feel a sense of ownership of their online community, too much input from the organization can feel overbearing and controlling. We must avoid our organization’s voice becoming the obnoxious acquaintance that dominates conversation and err on the side of the friendly, helpful, and objective touch.

References and Additional Readings

Arnstein, Caren. “How Companies Can Rebuild Credibility and Trust.” Public Relations Journal 50 (April 1994): 28–29.

Bagin, Don, and Donald Gallagher. The School and Community Relations, 7th ed. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2000.

Brion, Denis. Essential Industry and the NIMBY Phenomenon. Westport, CT: Quorum, 1991.

Burke, Edmund. Corporate Community Relations: The Principle of the Neighbor of Choice. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999.

Chynoweth, Emma, et al. “Responsible Care: Listening to Communities: What Do They Want to Know?”

Chemical Week 153 (December 8, 1993): 68–69. Corporate Community Relations Letter published by The Center for Corporate Community Relations at Boston College,

Cutlip, Scott, Allen Center, and Glen Broom. “Corporate Philanthropy.” Chapter 14 in Effective Public Relations, 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Frank, Helmut, and John Schanz. The Economics of the Energy Problem. Joint Council on Economic Education, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10022. Pamphlet, 1975.

Hunter, Floyd. Community Power Structures. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1953. A community relations classic.

Hussey, John. “Community Relations,” in Experts in Action Inside Public Relations, 2nd ed., eds. Bill Cantor and Chester Burger. White Plains, NY: Longman, Inc., 1989: 115–125.

Kruckeberg, Dean, and Kenneth Starck. Public Relations and Community: A Reconstructed Theory. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1988.

Lerbinger, Otto, and Nathaniel Sperber. “Community Relations.” Chapter 6 in Manager’s Public Relations Handbook. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1982.

Lundborg, Lolls. Public Relations in the Local Community. New York: Harper and Row, 1950. Continues to be definitive. By the public relations staffer who advanced to CEO of Bank of America.

Making Community Relations Pay Off: Tools & Strategies. Washington, DC: Public Affairs Council, 1988. Tells how companies are meeting the test of effective community relations.

McDermitt, David. “The 10 Commandments of Community Relations.” World Wastes 36 (September 1993): 48–51.

O’Brien, Paul. “Changing Expectations of Community Relations.” Executive Speeches 8 (October/November 1993): 33–36.

pr reporter Vol. 41 No. 49 (December 14, 1998). “Hyundai’s ‘Blind Date’ with Community Improves (Part 2)”: 2.

pr reporter Vol. 41 No. 48 (December 7, 1998). “ ‘Blind Dates’ with Communities Don’t Work; Steady Courtships Do”: 2–3.

pr reporter Vol. 41 No. 35 (September 7, 1998). “Even Superior Community Relations Not Beyond Reach of Entrepreneurial Trial Lawyers—But It Can Defeat Them”: 1–2.

pr reporter Vol. 36 No. 28 (July 19, 1993). “Can Community Relations Be the Core of Public Relations?”: 1–2.

pr reporter Vol. 36 No. 4 (January 25, 1993). “Model for Employee Participation and Outreach Programs”: 1–2.

pr reporter Vol. 35 No. 15 (April 13, 1992). “Inviting the Public Inside Is Effective and Unexpected Way to Deal with Community Issues”: 3.

The Public Relations Body of Knowledge. New York: PRSA. See abstracts dealing with “Community Relations.”

Rich, Dorothy. “Business Partnerships with Families.” Business Horizons 36 (September/October 1993): 24–28.

Skolnik, Rayna. “Rebuilding Trust.” Public Relations Journal 49 (September 1993): 29–32.

Case 4-1 A Classic: Chemical Industry Takes Responsibility for Community Concerns

Trade Association Takes the Initiative

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) is the trade group for the chemical industry. Its members represent 90 percent of the productive capacity of industrial chemicals in the United States. Dues are based on a percentage of a company’s chemical sales.

Chemical companies must be constantly innovative to remain competitive in today’s global marketplace. Like most trade associations, ACC helps members stay abreast of issues and techniques. It provides assistance in complying with laws and regulations. ACC also offers leadership training and task force groups to develop skills and knowledge in the managerial, legislative, technical, and communications areas.

“Many of the challenges that our industry will face in the coming years can best be addressed through the strong performance platforms that have been laid through Responsible Care®.”

B. Chuck Anderson, President, Occidental Chemical Corporation

As public awareness of environmental health and safety issues has increased over the past few decades, the chemical industry has been scrutinized by activists, regulators, and consumers more closely than ever before. As environmentalists make louder protests, legislators respond with more stringent regulations.

Since 1990, the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), also known as the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, requires chemical manufacturers and other organizations to inform employees and the community about the nature and hazards of the materials with which they work.3

As pressures from legislation mounted and NIMBYists4 began paying closer attention to environmental issues in their communities, the chemical industry realized that it needed to reach beyond one-way communication of its side of the story. It needed to do three things:

1. Listen to and recognize the perceptions and fears of the public, especially neighbors of chemical plants

2. Own up to any performance problems

3. Take action to correct problems and address perceptions

3 Bernard J. Nebel, Environmental Science. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990) p. 290.

4 “Not In My BackYard.” An update is NOPE (Not On Planet Earth).

Proactive Response to Public Concerns: Responsible Care®

For almost 25 years, since 1988, the Responsible Care® program has helped ACC member companies significantly enhance their performance, discover new business opportunities, and improve employee safety, the health of the communities in which they operate, and the environment as a whole. Responsible Care® is a global initiative that began in Canada in 1984 and is practiced today by 55 national and regional associations in 60 countries around the world. Although not established as a public relations program, Responsible Care® does offer the chemical industry the opportunity to highlight its performance-improvement successes. A pillar of the Responsible Care® program is environmental, health, safety, and security (EHS&S) performance monitoring and reporting, both for individual companies and the chemical industry overall. All ACC member companies are required to publicly report, through Responsible Care®, specific performance measurements in the following areas:

FIGURE 4.1 Symbol of Responsible Care®

Source: (Courtesy of ACC)

• Environmental metrics, including hazardous air pollutants released, SOx and NOx emissions, and net water consumption

• Energy metrics, including greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency

• Safety metrics, including number of process safety incidents, DOT-reportable distribution incidents, OSHA-recordable lost workday incidence, and fatalities

• Accountability metrics, including community outreach and emergency response initiatives

Some of these metrics are reported on a company-by-company basis, while others are reported as aggregated industry statistics. This public reporting is meant to enhance transparency and accountability and drive performance of ACC member companies. ACC uses these reported metrics to openly demonstrate the commitment of ACC members and their partners along the supply chain to continuous improvements in the EHS&S performance of their operations and businesses.

Responsible Care® is proactive public relations. Rather than waiting for an accident to occur, or the public to become fearful or upset, it actively invites people to learn which chemicals are produced at a plant, how the plant is operated, and what protective measures are in place should an accident occur.

Studies have shown that fear of an unknown event is more powerful than an actual bad occurrence. In a study of a group known to have latent tendencies for developing Huntington’s disease, the majority of those whose genetic tests showed they would most likely develop this incurable malady felt that knowing was beneficial. “Better to know than be always wondering.” Those who knew they were likely to get the disease reported their quality of life and psychological health was better than those for whom testing was inconclusive.

FIGURE 4.2 The six Codes of Management Practices turn guiding principles to practical application.

Source: (Courtesy of ACC)

This holds true for knowing and communicating about chemical risks as well. Most people can handle truth better than being left in doubt. Open communication shows respect for people by treating them like responsible adults. However, the Huntington’s study also indicates that all people do not react the same when learning of risks. About 10 percent had trouble adjusting to the news, even when it was good (i.e., they would probably not develop the disease). Apparently, for some, just handling the change or believing the test was accurate was of greater impact than the relief. As always, no rule fits everyone.5

Responsible Care® is composed of 10 elements:

1. Guiding Principles: followed by every member and partner company

2. Codes of Management Practices: environmental, health, and safety guidelines

3. Dialogue with the Public: to identify and address public concerns

4. Self-Evaluation (figure 4.2): annual reporting on a company’s implementation of the Codes

5. Measures of Performance: to view progress of Responsible Care®

6. Performance Goals: company-specific goals reported on annually

7. Management Systems Verification: independent review of companies’ implementation of Responsible Care®

8. Mutual Assistance: company-to-company dialogue

9. Partnership Program: helping companies along the value chain participate in Responsible Care®

10. Obligation of Membership: to participate in Responsible Care® and follow these elements

ACC member companies adhere to 12 Guiding Principles addressing product and process safety, sound environmental practices, and informative public communications. Figure 4.3 illustrates these principles.

5pr reporter 36, May 3, 1993, pp. 2–3.

FIGURE 4.3 ACC member companies adhere to a list of 10 guiding principles about safe plant operations and proper public communications.

Responsible Care®’s Target Audiences

The goal of Responsible Care® is to continuously advance the level of chemical industry performance, demonstrating commitment to a better, safer world. This message is targeted to:

• The chemical industry

• Teachers and students

• Employees

• Federal, state, and local officials

• The media

• The general public

• Plant neighbors

• Local and national interest groups

• Supply chain customers

Building Public Relationships

Activities to Reach External Audiences

ACC member and partner companies use a combination of one-way and two-way communication activities to invite external publics to communicate with their local plants. Oneway (or information-transfer) efforts include:

• Brochures featuring shelter-in-place messages and explanations of Responsible Care®

• Annual Responsible Care® reports that target the business community, as well as community stakeholders, and report on the company’s environmental, health, and safety performance

• The ACC Website,, highlights ACC member company performance in meeting specific metrics

• Advertisements at the local level

• Community newsletters sent to plant neighbors to keep them informed about the company and its activities

Two-way (or relationship-building) efforts include:

• Community advisory panels (CAPs), groups of citizens with diverse backgrounds and feelings toward the chemical industry. CAPs are sponsored by local chemical plants and encouraged to voice community concerns with industry representatives. Well-run CAPs provide dialogue between a plant and the community. ACC members and partners have sponsored nearly 300 CAPs across the country with great success. One example is the Le Moyne (Alabama) Community Advisory Panel, which works to improve emergency response service to the local community and sponsors an annual “Responsible Care® Night” at member company plants to help residents understand the initiative.

“If a company is a member of Responsible Care®, it lets me know that they are committed to communicating with neighbors more frequently, more sincerely and with more depth.”

Diane B. Sheridan, Community Advisory Panel Facilitator

• Hazardous material drills involving plants and local emergency responder groups. These exercises help improve knowledge and response time in the event of an incident. For more information, visit

• Responsible Care® fairs/days/open houses are sponsored by the plants or CAP groups. These events are opportunities for the community to tour a plant and learn about its operations.

• Inviting state legislators and local and national activist leaders to speak at association meetings and sending ACC delegates or scientists to meetings of environmental, regulatory, and community groups.

Activities to Change Behavior of ACC Members

To maintain ACC membership, companies are required to implement the Responsible Care® Guiding Principles and Codes of Management Practice. ACC sponsors regional workshops and an annual conference to educate company executives and managers about implementing Responsible Care®. In addition, many have found creative ways to reach their new objectives. For example, some have tied managerial bonuses to achieved objectives. Others use peer pressure or recognition to motivate and support the Responsible Care® initiative.

As codes are implemented, ACC requires every company to report its progress along the way. All of the more than 220 companies taking part in Responsible Care® in the United States undergo headquarters and facility audits to ensure that they have a structure and system in place to measure, manage, and verify performance.

Evaluation: External Publics

The National Association of Public Environmental Communicators commended Responsible Care® for its one-way and two-way communication vehicles.

Evaluation: Internal Publics

Reductions in Chemical Emissions

ACC members reported that Responsible Care® companies reduced hazardous emissions released to the air, land, and water by 75 percent from 1988 to 2010. Responsible Care® companies have improved energy efficiency by more than 10 percent and reduced greenhouse gases by more than 16 percent from 1992 to 2010.


The ACC Responsible Care® initiative includes a self-evaluation process. Member companies are required to furnish ACC with an annual report of their progress in implementing the Codes of Management Practices. They have shown significant gains in Process Safety, Distribution, Community Awareness, and Emergency Response.

Although these results show improvements, ACC recognizes that company self-evaluations are subject to challenges of credibility. ACC is now identifying additional code measurement systems that continue to meet objective public scrutiny.

Performance Measures

Performance measures exist to demonstrate the progress being made through Responsible Care® and are used to help drive performance improvement throughout the membership. The performance measures include Community Awareness and Emergency Response, Pollution Prevention, Process Safety, Distribution, Employee Health and Safety, and Product Stewardship.

Performance Goals

Member and partner companies are asked to:

• Establish at least one goal for a Responsible Care® performance result

• Make steady performance improvement toward that goal

• Publicly communicate the goal or goals and progress toward meeting them

• Annually report to the Council the established goals, progress, and public reporting mechanism

This case demonstrates the trend of public relations programs to begin with responsible action by organizations, with public relations practitioners playing a key role in design and strategy. The communications and relationship-building activities then follow, to gain recognition for the responsible action.

Questions for Discussion


To what extent can a voluntary performance improvement initiative by private industry forestall government legislation and regulation on environmental matters? Explain your position.


What else could ACC do to attain higher credibility for Responsible Care® with:

• The public

• Its own members

• Associated industries

• Legislators and regulators

• Activist groups


How could it measure an increase or decrease in credibility?


List other industries whose products or operations engender fear. What steps are you aware of that each is taking to allay public apprehensions? How does Responsible Care® compare with what these industries are doing?


Imagine yourself living across the street from a chemical plant. List all the feelings you can think of that you might have about the plant – positive, negative, or neutral. What specific actions would representatives from the plant need to take to address your feelings?


Draft a letter from a chemical plant manager to those living near the plant announcing introduction of the Responsible Care® initiative.

Case 4-2 Community Relationships Maintained During Hospital Closing*

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, business and the government began trying to trim whatever fat there was from the health-care system. In 1997, Congress passed the Balanced Budget Act in an attempt to reform Medicare and trim waste from the system. But cuts went billions of dollars beyond expectation. The health-care system was in a financial crisis. Health premiums weren’t paying for the cost of services. Hospitals were being squeezed by managed care companies having their own financial troubles. One consequence was the closing of hospitals.

Mercy Hospital-Detroit’s Struggle

The east side of Detroit is among the most troubled urban areas in the United States, struggling with a multitude of social and economic challenges. Mercy Hospital-Detroit was an important anchor in this neighborhood, not only providing access to health care, but also security, employment, leadership, and a place for social interaction. It relied heavily on Medicare, Medicaid, and other government sources for its business—nearly 80 percent of its total admissions.

In the early to mid-1990s, Mercy Hospital-Detroit found it increasingly difficult to maintain its fiscal health; operating losses were supplemented by the hospital’s parent company, Mercy Health Services (MHS).6 Then, in 1997, the Balanced Budget Reconciliation Act severely reduced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. The already struggling hospital was devastated by the cuts. Losses of $1.5 million per month began to mount. The federal and state funding cuts similarly affected operating margins at Mercy’s other hospitals. The MHS board was faced with systemwide financial constraints that put the system’s bond rating at risk. Operating losses at Mercy Hospital-Detroit totaled nearly $100 million from 1990 through 2000.

In the hope of finding a buyer, a series of discussions with major Detroit health systems ensued in 1999, but all were facing the same circumstances: increasingly ill patients with no health insurance and decreasing reimbursements from the government. The decision was made to close the hospital in December 1999. Mercy Hospital-Detroit quickly became a national example of the evolving health-care crisis in the United States.

Several Public Relations Issues Emerged

• How can the hospital close without giving the impression of abandoning the city and its poorest residents?

• Is it possible to close the hospital while still maintaining the excellent reputation of MHS and its sponsor, the Sisters of Mercy?

• How can Mercy coincidentally acquire a similar-sized hospital in a predominantly white suburban community without attracting major criticism and, worse yet, accusations of “racism”?

* Thank you to Stephen Shivinsky, APR, vice president of corporate communications and public relations at Trinity Health for this case study.

6 Renamed Trinity Health after a May 2000 merger.


Preparations began when Mercy Hospital-Detroit commissioned a research study to obtain community opinion and attitudes. The study showed that the parent company, MHS, was held in high esteem and that the local community not only counted on Mercy Hospital-Detroit but saw it as an entitlement for the community.

Meanwhile, the commitment to the community from the Sisters of Mercy and the MHS board led MHS management to conclude that it should donate the 10-year-old building to the community. Instead of simply selling the hospital campus to a developer for commercial use, MHS decided the hospital should be converted to a long-term community asset to enhance neighborhood revitalization, and the new owner or owners and users should share the mission and values of the hospital’s parent, MHS. Additionally, MHS decided to keep a presence on the hospital campus by earmarking $2 million for a primary care clinic for the uninsured. In doing so, Mercy supported its mission of “care for the poor and underserved” while seeking a new owner for the larger block of property and buildings.

The next step was a major study in early 2000—just after the announcement of closure—consisting of personal interviews with 198 Detroit community and opinion leaders, including elected officials, clergy, and major business and social service agency representatives, to obtain ideas about how to “do the right thing” and “give back” to the community, rather than simply closing the hospital and moving on. The personal interviews provided valuable input on specific community needs, possible organizations that met the criteria for a new owner, and communication tactics for most effectively reaching the important audiences of key community leaders and area residents, many of whom were without transportation or telephones. The interviews also helped crystallize other audiences to target:

• Mercy Hospital-Detroit employees, medical staff, board members, and volunteers

• Mercy’s leadership group (40 top management personnel nationwide) and other corporate office employees

• Community religious leaders

• Local physician leaders

• Regional and national partners

• Major insurers

• The Archdiocese of Detroit and bishops in all MHS markets

• Michigan’s governor and staff

• Detroit’s mayor and key aides

• The Wayne County executive and key aides

• The Detroit City Council

• Trade and health-care consortia

• 99,000 residents in the primary service area

The Public Relations Plan

A public relations plan was developed to reach these audiences using a variety of tactics—not relying on advertising—including specific ways to obtain their input and feedback. Tactics in the plan included using e-mail; a telephone hotline; staff and community town hall meetings; targeted letters to volunteers, community leaders, and others; the hospital newsletter; editorial board meetings with Detroit’s two daily newspapers, weekly business newsmagazine, and an African-American weekly; formal closure notices in community newspapers; direct-mail letters; and news releases, fact sheets, and backgrounders.

The key messages to communicate were: “Mercy can no longer tolerate this level of losses or be supported by others within the Mercy system,” “Mercy is ‘doing the right thing’ by donating the property to help meet community needs,” and “Mercy continues its ministry for the poor with a new primary care center for the uninsured—investing $2 million per year to make that happen.”

Plans Were Executed with Precision

Plans began with a carefully implemented effort to obtain balanced stories—as early as September 1999—about the difficult financial situation and the possibility that Mercy Hospital-Detroit may close. This was followed by a series of editorial board meetings with Detroit’s two dailies, the weekly business newsmagazine, and an African-American weekly. Similar meetings were later held with community leaders and the Detroit City Council. The generally fair and favorable editorials and news coverage resulting from the meetings helped educate Mercy’s key audiences and would later help them understand the reasons for closing.

Media coverage reached a crescendo in January 2000 and continued through March 2001, including NBC Nightly News and several national trades. A total of 10,000 letters were mailed to residents’ homes within three eastside ZIP codes. All audiences received the news of Mercy Hospital-Detroit’s closing and, although disappointed that Detroit’s east side would lose an acute care hospital, they were generally understanding of the situation.

Except for a “public notice” advertisement placed in local newspapers, a regulatory requirement, no other form of advertising was used to reach the audiences.


In late 2000, the Mercy Hospital-Detroit building was donated to a multiservice community organization (SER Metro) and a Catholic organization serving youths and families (Boysville). Other new tenants on the former hospital campus include Mercy Primary Care Center, to serve the uninsured, the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Head Start, Child Care Coordinating Center, the Detroit Fire Department, and McAuley Commons’ independent housing. The revamped campus promises to continue providing a positive, major impact on the community. Balanced media coverage told the story fairly. Personal interviews with a sample of 20 (from the list of those previously interviewed) were extremely positive. Internal meetings were equally positive. Employees from Mercy Hospital-Detroit, many of whom would be without jobs, gave Mercy-Detroit’s CEO a standing ovation after he explained the closing and transfer of the hospital.

The final test came when MHS announced the purchase of St. Mary’s Hospital, a 300-bed hospital in the Detroit suburb of Livonia, only four months after closing the inner-city Detroit hospital. Without the effective public relations program on the closing of Mercy Hospital-Detroit, the announcement to acquire a new hospital in a predominantly white suburb could have caused significant editorial scrutiny and community backlash that would surely damage MHS’s reputation (just one month after its merger with another major national health system to create Trinity Health) and hamper its future growth. With minor exceptions, all internal and external audiences met the announcement of the St. Mary’s Hospital acquisition with support and encouragement.

Today, Mercy Primary Care Center continues to operate in one of the most impoverished areas of Detroit. It provides a range of primary care services, regardless of ability to pay. In 2011, it served almost 6,000 patients, providing medication, lab tests, limited radiological studies, physicals, preventive care and health education, management of acute and chronic diseases, pelvic exams and pap tests, enrollment into medical plans, social services, and limited specialty care to uninsured, low-income patients. Mercy Primary Care Center also has a specialized personal assistance program that provides clothing, showers, and laundry services for homeless persons. It provided almost 77 showers a week in 2011.

Questions for Discussion


You are the public relations director of the closing hospital. Your public relations plan calls for a community town hall meeting. Some people in the community don’t have phones or computers. How will you alert everyone about this meeting? When will you hold it? How many times? Who will attend from the hospital? What is your goal for the meeting and how will you achieve that? Put together a plan addressing these issues.


Many depend on the hospital for their own and their children’s health needs. The plan calls for input and feedback from the community. What will you do with the feedback? What if your CEO is unwilling to listen?


Take as an example the hospital closest to where you live. Who do you think are the opinion leaders for that hospital? Make a list and identify them by their position in the hospital, how they would be contacted, and what their message strategy would be.


Ten years later, social media is potentially a useful tool. Analyze the pros and cons of using it with these stakeholder audiences and discuss how the approach might have been different today. Consider what protest groups might have arisen as a result and incorporate your insights into your plan.

Case 4-3 The Struggle for Nuclear Power

After a 30-year decline in the support for nuclear power, a combination of triggering events started to dramatically shift public opinion (soaring gas prices, Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the rise of China’s consumption of oil). Americans had become fearful that energy—a critical component of our own economic engine—would not be available or affordable in the 21st century.

Energy companies, seeing a softening of resistance, started once again floating the idea of building nuclear power plants. They felt that they could sell them now as a safe and reasonable alternative to oil from the Middle East.

And then, in the blink of an eye, the naturally occurring triggering event of an earthquake and tsunami in Japan stopped the growing public acceptance in its track. Nuclear power was once again persona non grata, the gradual shift in latent readiness erased in a flash as the world watched the Fukushima nuclear plant on the northeast coast of Japan become inundated with water and three reactors melt down over the course of days. Large groups of people, where possible, were evacuated. Food sources, fish, and land were contaminated for the foreseeable future. The impact on humans is still yet to be determined, and only decades will tell what the full effects will be. The New York Times reported that the plant’s owners and regulators were accused by insiders of ignoring “years of warnings that a larger-than-expected tsunami could take place.” These industry insiders attributed this behavior to “a culture of collusion in which powerful regulators and compliant academic experts looked the other way while the industry put a higher priority on promoting nuclear energy than protecting public safety.”*

This major disaster in Japan put an immediate stop to the revival of plans for nuclear power in the United States and refueled the concerns that drove the antinuclear movement at the beginning.

How the Antinuke Movement Began

The environmental movement had its beginnings in the 1960s and 1970s, originally in protest of the nuclear power industry. Since that time, the movement has broadened its concerns, becoming involved in efforts to curb air, water, and ground pollution; global warming; overpopulation; and more. Many of the tactics used today by the environmental movement are the same as those it used in the 1970s.

The building and expansion of nuclear power plants over the last 30 years had pretty much dried up for numerous reasons. Activist actions and demands had driven up the costs of nuclear power projects. According to the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, barriers to the deployment of new nuclear power plants included significant cost and schedule uncertainties associated with the new untested licensing processes for siting, licensing, and operating new nuclear power plants and the high capital cost of existing certified design. No new nuclear plants have been ordered in the United States for more than 30 years, but the strategies and tactics of the activists who protested these plants live on in most activist movements today.

Seabrook Station


Seabrook Station became a national symbol of the nuclear power debate in the 1970s and 1980s. Located in Seabrook, New Hampshire, 40 miles north of Boston, it was built on New Hampshire’s 17-mile North Atlantic coastline in an extensive salt marsh area. During the prolonged construction and licensing process, Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH)—the original owner—encountered persistent opposition from various sources.

• Initially, opposition came from environmentalists who were concerned about the potential impact a “once-through” water cooling system would have on ocean temperature. Among other issues, they were worried about possible irreparable damage that warming ocean waters would have on the biological populations in and under those waters.

• As plant construction progressed, a broader section of the community became increasingly concerned about the safety of the reactor and the proposed evacuation plans.

• The cost of the plant and its possible effect on the region’s electricity rates sparked additional opposition. Increased power costs were perceived as an obstacle blocking industrial development and the prosperity of northern New England.

Perhaps the first sign of problems for Seabrook Station occurred when the proposal to build came before various official boards. The builders showed an illustrated model with the containment unit at a proposed height of 250 feet, mostly hidden from view by trees. But redwoods don’t grow in New England!

• Some citizens protested the plant because they doubted New Hampshire’s need for a new power source.

Seabrook Station encountered delays as activists started demonstrating. The opposition intervened in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) adjudicatory review boards. The legal case was led by the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League (SAPL), while other grassroots activists spearheaded by the Clamshell Alliance led protests. Its activities ranged from peaceful demonstrations to forceful attempts at site occupation with mass arrests.

After nearly 18 years of licensing, construction, and regulatory review, Seabrook Station began regular full-power operation on August 19, 1990. Through the years, Seabrook Station has become more sensitive to the needs and concerns of its publics. Seabrook was focused on the sorts of things that don’t make electricity, such as community relations, public education, and environmental information.

The Opposition

After the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, safety became the main concern of opponents. Seabrook opponents did include many gate-bashers, the form of opposition that comes to mind where nuclear power is concerned. But many other activists sought a different route to get their message heard. The issues of the opposition ranged from complete rejection of nuclear power to concerns about the location of Seabrook Station.

To this day, some dedicate their lives to opposing nuclear power. SAPL still monitors Seabrook and other nuclear power plants in New England.

Construction ceased temporarily in 1984. Then New Hampshire Yankee (NHY), a division of PSNH, took over the project and with the Seabrook Joint Owners7 (other power companies with an interest in the plant) reaffirmed its determination to complete Seabrook. People from PSNH were moved into top position at NHY.

7 Originally, Seabrook Station was jointly owned by a large number of companies, with PSNH holding the largest percentage of ownership. In 2002, Seabrook was sold to FP&L Energy.

Developing Strategies

NHY’s community relations team focused on Seabrook’s publics in the seacoast area (see box Identifying the Seabrook Publics). The public relations team initially used reactive programming to address and resolve the opposition’s concerns and to resolve cognitive dissonance.8 They then used one-way and two-way communication techniques to address these goals.

Identifying the Seabrook Publics

The Seabrook communications staff identified important publics for Seabrook.

Internal Publics

• All Seabrook Station employees who live in communities around the plant site

• Employees who do not live in the area

External Publics

• Massachusetts and New Hampshire residents living both inside and outside the emergency planning zone

• Local and national news media

• The financial community

Seabrook community relations staff targeted—in 23 New Hampshire and Massachusetts towns—public and private schools, day-care facilities, police and fire departments, local officials and opinion leaders, local media, advocacy groups, large (over 50 employees) and small businesses, chambers of commerce, network organizations such as the Lions and Rotary clubs and the local United Way, and citizens living within a 22-mile radius.

One-Way Techniques

1. Created a series of hard-hitting ads featuring Seabrook employees offering words of reassurance.

2. Distributed a “safety kit” consisting of information on Seabrook, waste management, radiation, and safety systems.

3. Circulated “Energy,” a community-targeted newsletter, between 1988 and 1989 to all publics in the emergency area. The articles focused on issues related to energy.

Two-Way Techniques

1. In 1986, NHY formally invited the surrounding community to tour the nuclear plant. More than 7,000 people from the surrounding New Hampshire and Massachusetts communities attended this event.

2. Seabrook Station’s Science and Nature Center allows viewers to explore nature and science simultaneously. The Center displays information about electrical generation and contains an ocean aquarium 260 feet below sea level. A total of 30,000 people visit the Center annually.

8 The theory of cognitive dissonance, first put forth by Leon Festinger in 1947, suggests a human desire for consistency between what people know and what they do. Any conflict creates a disturbance. See Glen Broom, Allen Center, and Scott Cutlip, Effective Public Relations, 8th ed., Toronto, Ontario: Prentice Hall Canada, 1999.

3. According to NRC regulations, the state must inform the public in the 23 affected towns about emergency and safety procedures. NHY took this one-way task and made it into a two-way strategy. Public relations staff created a calendar decorated with photographs of the seacoast and mailed copies to all homes in the area. The calendars included public notification information, including which radio stations broadcast emergency bulletins and instructions. Employees hand-delivered calendars to approximately 4,000 of the 7,000 small businesses in the area. Only 2 percent of those businesses rejected the information. Seabrook did encounter some heated public opposition to the evacuation plan, and that attracted a lot of media attention. Some schools were unhappy with the proposed evacuation plans because teachers would be required to stay with their classes even though their instinct would be to rush to their own families. These perceptions of the proposed evacuation plan’s shortcomings forced many towns to reject the emergency procedures.

4. Communicators representing Seabrook met with school superintendents and business executives to educate them about emergency planning. They also developed relationships with Massachusetts emergency medical squads and fire departments.

5. NHY communications employees approached the media proactively. If a siren that had nothing to do with Seabrook sounded off in a surrounding town or if a rumor about Seabrook was circulated, NHY called the media before the media called them.

These efforts helped Seabrook Station achieve online status. NHY won its contested case before the NRC’s adjudicating boards.

The Need for Proactive Measures

Seabrook public relations teams did not stop once the plant was on line. “We did the things we needed to do to get our license according to the rules and regulations. And then we went a step farther to be proactive and adopt a policy of ‘management of expectations’ for our community relations efforts,” wrote Richard Winn, director of communications for NextEra Energy Seabrook.

Seabrook utilized a strategy to build one-on-one relationships. Now that the plant was up and running, those relationships needed to be maintained. According to Seabrook research at that time, the greatest percentage of people was not definitively for or against nuclear power. Therefore, public relations staff believed it was vital that the public feel comfortable about contacting Seabrook whenever there was a concern.

Reinforcing Relationships

NHY took measures to reinforce the relationships it had established:

1. NHY continued to send out an emergency plan information calendar to all of its external publics. The calendar consists of 33 pages of emergency planning and safety information.

2. The Science and Nature Center was made accessible for school- and community-based field trips. The Center provides hands-on exhibits featuring energy and environment and the Owascoag nature trail—approximately 1 mile of preserved woods and marshlands with a variety of plants and animals.

3. NHY established a local hotline for citizens in surrounding communities to call and inquire about specific problems and concerns.

Focusing on the Community

Seabrook Station employees and volunteers participated in several community-oriented events and activities. Each quarter, the community relations department initiated at least one new program encouraging community involvement.

1. Employees participated in Lions Camp Pride, a summer camp facility offering educational and recreational overnight programs to children with special needs. Volunteers installed docks, stained and painted buildings, and cleaned and set up bunkhouses.

2. Employees participated in the seacoast’s Seafood Festival. They raised money at the event by selling popcorn, and donated all proceeds to My Greatest Dream, an organization that benefits terminally ill children.

3. Volunteers participated in Coastweeks, a nationwide celebration of the nation’s coastal areas. NHY cleaned up Hampton Beach, a New Hampshire state park about 2 miles from the Seabrook plant.

4. Time and building materials were donated to Action Cove Playground, an innovative playground in West Newbury, Massachusetts. The children’s area was designed for explorative and imaginative play.

5. NHY founded a local Project Homefront, an effort to assist families whose relatives were called to serve in the Persian Gulf War. A total of 163 volunteers offered services and assistance in transportation; auto, electrical, and plumbing repair; carpentry; and babysitting. Employees also donated $1,135 to this project.

Other community endeavors aided organizations such as Wish Upon a Star, which provides anonymous Christmas gifts to needy children, and the Girl Scouts of America. According to Martha Netsch, Director of Communications for the Swift Water Girl Scout Council, the Girl Scouts frequently visit Seabrook Station’s Science and Nature Center, work with staff on scout education programs about solutions to today’s energy problems, and recognize the Science and Nature Center as support for young women interested in mathematics, science, and technology.

Seabrook encouraged employees to become involved in local civic organizations and in local government. Many are on town and city boards; on volunteer emergency medical squads and fire departments; in Rotary, Lions, and Kiwanis clubs; or are active in school organizations. Every year employees serve as judges at local science fairs.

Through the 1990s, into the 21st Century

In 1992, the control of Seabrook was bought by Connecticut-based Northeast Utilities, which earlier took over bankrupt PSNH. Legislation was passed in 2000 that deregulated the energy industry. It required those who distributed energy to divest themselves of energy sources that produce power. Thus, Seabrook was sold again in 2002 to FP&L Energy, a Florida energy provider that set up a separate energy-producing company from its delivery side. It promptly dismantled the second cooling tower on site. Although management has changed, very little else has. FP&L Energy was renamed NextEra Energy Resources in 2008.

Some activist groups continue to exist, though most are now peaceful in their approach. According to SAPL’s Joan and Charles Pratt, their mission is to make sure Seabrook complies with NRC regulations. The Citizens’ Radiological Monitoring Network acts as a support group that focuses on how to live with potential hazards. Its goals are to monitor every air and water emission from Seabrook, to hold Seabrook socially accountable for every emission, and to expect a responsible attitude from the station itself. All these awareness groups keep a close eye on Seabrook.

Despite the controversial issues, Seabrook employees, for the most part, maintain professional relationships with activist groups. A small number of people opposing the plant remain very reserved and refuse to speak to anyone who works at Seabrook Station. The plant’s community relations department believes it is in its best interest to deal cooperatively with these groups.

The Seabrook Station communications team noted at the time, “A subtle community relations shift occurred at Seabrook Station as the plant became more accepted and proved itself to be a good neighbor. Initially, the value of a solid community outreach program in large part was to help support the plant’s efforts to get licensed and begin generating power. Now that Seabrook has done that, our community outreach is just as important now as it ever was. In many ways, our community relations activities have become more of an extension of our own employees’ personal lives and commitments to their neighborhoods.”

The Seabrook Station Science and Nature Center, its “most valuable PR outreach vehicle,” continues its efforts to educate people about nuclear energy. The Center also informs visitors about the many initiatives taken by the Station that helped transform a town dump into a thriving ecosystem.


Has Seabrook Station prevailed in the court of public opinion? In one sense it has, in that it is now an accepted part of the community.

Seabrook Station continues its two-way communication efforts by upholding its good neighbor policy and offering ongoing educational information to the public, and through the involvement of its employees—becoming Seabrook Station’s ambassadors—in their neighborhoods and community organizations. However, according to the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, “Until nuclear power becomes an energy solution once again, we won’t know for sure if Seabrook and its string of owners have done enough with stakeholder education and relationship building to be successful in building new plants.”

Questions for Discussion


What responsibilities, if any, does a business have to the community?


Should a business that produces a controversial product or service have obligations that surpass legal and regulatory mandates? Why or why not? Does your answer depend on whether the product (or production of the product) is potentially hazardous or lethal to the environment or humans?


Develop some proactive and reactive strategies that Seabrook will need when decommissioning the plant, disposing of the spent fuel rods, and if the radiological emission risk correlations show that the plant has become dangerous.


After the problems in Japan, what messages or activities can the nuclear power industry use to revive what was the growing interest in returning to nuclear power in the United States?

Case 4-4 Driving Community Behavior to Save Energy and the Environment

By 2011, the general public had descended into two prominent camps—those who firmly believed global warming was a fact and those who did not. Little was being done about global warming itself because political forces couldn’t agree whether scarce money should be spent solving something that may or may not be happening. And even those who did believe couldn’t agree on what to do about it.

But a small town in New Hampshire, urged on by a swath of environmental programs around the state, had quietly started making changes. And this is the story of how their grassroots public relations efforts moved this community from its sleepy rural nature to something else.

In 2007, the town of Temple, New Hampshire, had little going on in terms of energy- and carbon-reduction efforts. Although it had a conservation commission that focused on preserving open spaces, preserving land, making woodland trails, and so on, the town never recycled at its Harvest Festival or other events, and people weren’t talking about energy savings, climate change, or lowering the town’s carbon footprint. An environmental scan at the time would have shown a small town (1,500 people) that leaned slightly more Democratic in the 2008 election. The median age was 37, and though most had a high school education, only a third had graduated from college. (See more Temple statistics at

It was in the year 2007 that a grassroots movement took hold across the state of New Hampshire. Its purpose was to have communities sign a New Hampshire climate change resolution prior to the 2008 presidential election. One hundred and sixty-four New Hampshire communities, including Temple, passed the resolution at their annual town meetings. This vote led to the appointment of a Temple town energy committee tasked with making recommendations to reduce emissions and save energy at the local level. The committee used the resolution’s passage as a triggering event to kick-start environmental-conservation and energy-saving programs within the town.

New Hampshire Climate Change Resolution

To see if the town will go on record in support of effective actions by the President and Congress to address the issue of climate change which is increasingly harmful to the environment and economy of New Hampshire and to the future well being of the people of______.

These actions include:

1. Establishment of a national program requiring reductions of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions while protecting the U.S. economy.

2. Creation of a major national research initiative to foster rapid development of sustainable energy technologies, thereby stimulating new jobs and investment. In addition, the town of__________encourages New Hampshire citizens to work for emission reductions within their communities, and we ask our selectmen to consider the appointment of a voluntary energy committee to recommend local steps to save energy and reduce emissions.

The record of the vote on this article shall be transmitted to the New Hampshire Congressional delegation, to the President of the United States, and to declared candidates for those offices.

The energy committee sought to build on their success, but with the 2007 through 2008 deep recession in play, getting the community to spend money to “save the environment” was a difficult sell. Committee members decided to work through a relationship strategy that built trust, gathered resources, and made connections. They connected with a myriad of other resources available outside of the town. And within the town they sought to teach through modeling behaviors and offering information—but not through preaching or pushing. The methods used included:

• Providing recycling at town events (role-modeling and foot-in-door)

• Free weatherization for low-income residents—relationship building and problem personalization

• Befriending naysayers—defusing the opposition

• Creating community celebrations—cheerleading successes

• Serving great food at all events—foot-in-door

A second major triggering event occurred in 2007—a hole and major leak developed in the Fire Department’s roof. When volunteer fire department personnel volunteered to fix the hole and replace the roof for free if the town supplied the materials, the town was ecstatic. Money was tight and the town couldn’t afford anything fancy. So, when the energy committee threw a wrench into the plans by advocating for energy efficiency being built into the structure, and that stopped the ongoing plan, feelings ran high. But relationships had been built and education done. The town’s residents were able to pause and consider without descending into chaos. The hole in the roof was fixed, but a new roof was put on hold. Early in 2008, the energy committee conducted an exhaustive energy inventory for the town’s municipal buildings, uncovering the bad news that there were three very energy “leaky” buildings. The committee recommended professional energy audits for those buildings to determine what could best be done to “tighten them up” and save the town money. When the audits were completed, the committee invited the board of selectmen and the planning board to attend presentations of the findings from the inventory and energy audits. The boards became convinced that energy retrofitting and upgrades were in order, to stop wasteful fuel expenditures. But financing was not in the cards during the recession.

A third major naturally occurring triggering event occurred that winter, the ice storm of 2008, which wiped out power to the town for 14 days just before the December holidays. The need for change felt critical. Suddenly, residents were looking for alternative power sources—renewables. One trigger led to the next. The planning board was now willing to consider the energy committee’s offer to write an energy chapter to add to the town’s master plan. After a year of arduous work with the board and many drafts, an energy chapter was added to the master plan. It included a land-use plan plus recommendations for zoning ordinance upgrades and policies that guide the town toward lowering its energy usage, reducing emissions, and supporting the installation of renewables across all sectors. It has become the town’s road map going forward.

Once public opinion and the energy committee’s actions moved in the direction of energy efficiency and environmental care, the gates swung open. Again, one trigger led to another. In this case, all the previous triggers, one way or another, led to a most pivotal event—the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) awarded Temple a $332,000 RGGI grant in 2009, to conduct a deep energy-efficiency retrofit for the three audit-identified “leaky” municipal buildings and for the expansion of the energy committee’s educational program. The stunningly successful retrofit greatly reduced the town library’s energy usage and improved its comfort level. It also resulted in an 81 percent reduction in the town’s municipal building and fire department’s heating fuel usage and CO2 emissions—lowering taxes for years to come.

The energy committee expanded their educational Web site, initiated a recycling and environmental program with the kids in Temple’s elementary school, expanded their free weatherization program for low-income residents, held several free weatherization workshops for residents, and inspired their community to win a four-town carbon footprint competition.

Compared to the other towns competing, Temple had the highest percentage of households to take new steps to lower their energy usage. Fifteen percent of its residents stepped up to the challenge, saved $35,484, and reduced emissions by over 255,092 pounds. Their victory was rewarded with an ice cream social, catered by nearby environmental steward Stonyfield Farm, which jumped at the opportunity to honor the town of Temple in its success.

The relationships that grew out of the friendly competition among the leaders of the four towns triggered an important next step for all of them. They joined with other environmental leaders in the region to form a nonprofit grassroots organization, the Monadnock Energy Resources Initiative. Its aim is to bring low-cost home weatherizations and solar hot water installations to the region, using the community-building models of neighbors helping neighbors and barn raisings. Weatherization trainings and solar installations are in the works.

Meanwhile, Temple’s Energy Committee continues to focus on helping their town become as adaptive and resilient as possible in the face of rising fuel prices and the approaching collision with peak oil.

Questions for Discussion


While Temple, New Hampshire, has been successful in its efforts, other communities still struggle to get environmental programs off the ground. A particularly difficult group to reach is wealthy homeowners. Many are not motivated by saving money. What strategies, tactics, or messages might you recommend for a wealthier town?

Installation of insulated R40 cool-vent roofing


What other methods could you devise to reach out to community members to get them to come and participate in town functions—particularly when it is freezing outside?


Discuss how these changes might have been achieved even if the ice storm had never happened or the RGGI grant had not been awarded.


You are a member of a civic organization that has 300 members locally and is the local chapter of a national organization. Most of the membership is well educated and falls into the middle- and upper-income brackets. The local organization has a reputation for civic involvement—working for better schools, increased voter registration, and equal rights for minorities and women.

About 18 months ago, the executive committee made a presentation to the organization on illiteracy in your city. Studies show that 25 percent of the adult population is “functionally illiterate.” By the year 2020, the number of functional illiterates is projected to reach more than one-third of the population. Although the problem is spread throughout the population, the percentage of minorities in this group is high.

Soon after the executive committee’s presentation, the organization voted to establish a literacy council for adults in the city. The primary function of the council is to solicit and train volunteers to act as tutors and match these persons with individuals wanting to learn to read and write. The organization is able to generate heavy news coverage of the council and public-service announcements about the need for tutors and students. Despite the coverage, very few persons have volunteered to tutor; even fewer persons have requested the service.

Because of your expertise as a communicator, the organization has asked you to become involved in this program. Your review of the program indicates there is general agreement among individuals that something has to be done, but no one is quite sure what. Your organization sets an objective of obtaining and training 50 volunteer tutors and matching these with 50 students in the next six months.

As a well-trained public relations professional, you recognize that your organization has fallen into the trap of believing that widespread and positive publicity will influence behavior. You agree to help the cause but stipulate that research is essential to discover why the program hasn’t taken off.

Describe how you will design and budget (in time and money) a research program to give you the information necessary to implement a successful recruiting program for students and tutors.


For 10 years, George Loyal has been a one-person public relations department at Siwash, a college of 3,500 students in Ohio. They have been 10 good years in terms of George’s working conditions. There has been plenty of publicity material to pump out, and there has been cooperation on the part of news media.

Of great assistance to George has been the attitude of the Siwash College president. He takes an open stance publicly. He is articulate, handsome, and personable. He has been effective in attracting quality faculty, activating alumni support, and adding notable trustees who have been important in raising funds and making sure that Siwash is favorably regarded by legislators in the state capital.

But all these good things seem to have come to an end. The president was struck down by a massive heart attack and suddenly passed away. The trustees moved quickly to name a successor, who turned out to be a senior member of the Siwash faculty. He is a professor of anthropology, a scholar who is well published, quiet, and nonpublic.

The new president, in the month since his selection, has informed George that he is not going to be active in alumni affairs, visible at sports events, or available to talk with news media whenever they want him to. He spends most of his time closeted with a few of the older faculty members. His secretary seems to feel that her job is to protect him from intrusions or outside visitors. He has not sent for George or sent him a memo about any specific job to do or any change in his responsibilities.

George’s work has almost come to a standstill except for routine news releases. He frankly is not sure where he stands. The cooperative relationship he has had with news media seems to be threatened. The director of alumni relations is as baffled as he is. Two trustees have quietly indicated that they are stepping aside rather than stand for reelection when the time comes. The local sports editor has tipped George off that the newspaper’s managing editor plans to ask for a meeting with the new president soon if he doesn’t “come out of his shell.”

The question before George is, What options does he have in trying to preserve the gains in public relations attained during the past 10 years?

1. What would be the most effective way of establishing a proactive relationship with the new president?

2. What would be your overall strategy for maintaining the college’s relationships with its important stakeholders?

3. Given the personality of the new president, what role would you allot to him in maintaining the college’s reputation?

4. How would you gain support for this strategy?


You are an employee of a public relations firm that focuses on raising money for the fine arts. A large client of the firm wants to find funding to relocate the city’s largest Center for the Arts within a yet-to-be-built state-of-the-art facility. You meet with your peers and discuss taking on this large assignment.

Several key factors must be considered; most important is how the community will react to such a change. The Center’s current home is legendary, dating back to when the city was first built. It has held many memorable performances. Parents love to bring their children to the plays and musicals that are performed there; many enjoy its opera and classical music performances. Film festivals and dance performances have also been presented there.

However, the Center is old and in need of repair. Estimates for the repairs and for long-term upkeep are high. This client feels it would be more financially sound to build a new facility than to pour more money into the old building. The advantages for building a new Center—state-of-the-art acoustics, up-to-date technology, expanded and more comfortable seating, etc.—weigh greatly against the community’s desire to keep the old building and find funding to repair it in future years. There is also the matter of convincing the board of directors. Some of the members are in favor of keeping the old building and feel that it is too valuable, historically, to abandon.

Knowing that you need to sway opinion within the community as well as the board of directors, how would you begin? What information do you need and how would you get it? What specific audiences would you target? Which audience must you reach first? How do you propose to reach all the various audiences? How would you use two-way communication in your plan? Would opinion leaders work here? If so, how would you find them? Consider also the future use of the current building. How can that become part of your plan?

6 Consumer Relations

“Who are the three most important publics?” asks an old trick question. The answer is “customers, customers, and customers.” If you don’t succeed in attracting them and then building continuing relationships with them, you’ll be out of business and nothing else will matter.

During the rise of marketing as a cure-all in the mid-1980s, this view frequently prevailed in corporations. Hospitals, universities, public agencies, and even churches adopted marketing as a response to the increasing competition for people’s interest and dollars. On balance, the marketing revolution was helpful to many organizations—particularly large or very successful companies, which had often forgotten that it is the customer who pays the bill, and to nonprofit entities, which often treated users of services as a nuisance to their routine, rather than the reason for their existence.

Ironically, while this trend reestablished a key point of public relations philosophy, it sometimes pushed public relations departments into a role secondary to marketing. A much-debated point was whether public relations is a part of marketing or vice versa or whether they are both essential strategic services and thus equal in importance.

The question was prominent because marketing became a part of organizations that traditionally did not use marketing concepts. Hospitals in particular began marketing their “products” in an effort to gain their share of the health-care market. Their patients began making it clear they did not want to be sold health care, and hospitals retreated—putting the function back into perspective.

Marketing and public relations share some fundamental concepts. These include analyzing market opportunities (research), selecting target markets (publics), developing a marketing mix (communication and action plan), and managing the marketing effort (evaluation).

The sharing of these concepts illustrates the close working relationship of the two fields. Despite these similarities, keep in mind that marketing is ultimately product-specific or service-specific. Public relations is a much broader discipline, pr reporter illustrated the differences, stating that public relations as a strategy does four things marketing cannot do:

• Public relations is concerned about internal relations and publics.

• Public relations cares about noncustomer external publics and the environment in which the organization operates.

• Public relations operates on the policies of human nature (what makes the individual tick), whereas marketing focuses on consumer behavior (purchasing and economics, often expressed in number-crunching research).

• Public relations may work to stabilize or change public opinion in areas other than products.1

In the 1990s and into the 21st century, the functions have come close together, as demonstrated by the dominant customer relations strategy: relationship marketing. As the name suggests, this approach adopts public relations principles such as personalized, one-on-one dialogue regarding marketing of products and services.

The buyer-seller relationship concerns every public relations department and every public relations counselor. Ideally, the role of the public relations counselor is to help create conditions of understanding so that the objectives of sellers can be attained by satisfying needs of consumers. As a landmark conference between public relations and marketing leaders concluded,2 public relations must both (1) help motivate purchases and (2) create a hospitable environment for the organization to sell product and services.


Starting in the late 1940s, following an almost universal base of hardship during the Great Depression, consumer “wants” were for material possessions, labor-saving devices, convenience, ease, and luxury. To producers and sellers, these were seen as consumer “needs.” In the succeeding decades of increasing prosperity and affluence, it followed that if a product or service could be sold, it “deserved” to be sold. If a desire for it could be induced, it was what the people “wanted.” Wants translated with adept interpretation into needs. A hula-hoop, a Frisbee, a pair of jogging shoes became “needs” for wholesome recreation or health.

For product and service sellers, the 1950s were happy times, as they were for marketing, promotion, advertising, and publicity personnel. The economy was based and dependent on increasing consumption. Trading in one’s car annually, building a summer home, discarding clothes for each fashion change, engaging in fads, buying on time with credit cards, maintaining a big mortgage, stocking a basement with appliances, using hair tonics and electric shavers—these were “marks of distinction.” Buying was promoted as though it were patriotic. Communications served these times well, especially when television came on the scene to give printed and audio media tough competition.

With this set of conditions, it was inevitable that sellers would stretch the boundaries of quality, service, and safety in products and services. They would exceed the limits of truth and accuracy in their claims and would abuse the privilege of using the public media. On occasion, through inadequate concern for quality, they would kill and injure some people and alienate many others.3

1pr reporter, Vol. 27, January 2, 1984, p. 3.

2“A Challenge to the Calling: Public Relations Colloquium 1989” held at San Diego State University on January 24, 1989, sponsored by Nuffer Smith & Tucker.

3 For further insight, see Earl W. Kintner, A Primer on the Law of Deceptive Practices, New York: Macmillan, 1971.

The first significant government restraint in the 1960s came in the Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendments in 1962. Through the decade, other federal laws were passed, involving abuses in packaging, labeling, product safety, drugs, and truth in lending. Regulatory agencies became more active and aggressive.4 A presidential assistant was appointed to represent and help protect the consumer. A tough adversarial relationship with business was established.

Meanwhile, business approaches to the consumer were shifting. “Share of mind” superseded “share of market” for many national product advertisers. Programs spoke more about “benefits” and “value.” Publicists were engaged more in concepts to sell “an idea,” “industrial statesmanship,” “a good company to do business with,” or the “philosophy” or “personality” rather than the sheer pleasure of owning the product or enjoying the service.

In public relations programming, public service was increasingly hitched to marketing. Recipes were provided for home economists; commemorative events were tied to products; dinosaur models went on exhibit; cars were tested by the loan of one to each family in a small town; a blimp roamed over public events, aiding national telecasts. The introduction of a new line of sports equipment endorsed by a celebrated athlete might be accompanied by a personal appearance. On tour, the athlete might sign autographs in stores, be interviewed by local writers on controversial sports subjects, be photographed at bedside in children’s hospitals or wards, and conduct free clinics on sportsmanship at a local school.

• Today, this approach has become the rule: People want to be served, not sold.

Further business response to growing consumer protectionism and advocacy came in the activation of ombudspersons, 800 numbers, understandable warranty statements, devices for improved listenership and response, calls to customers to check satisfaction after a purchase, quick settlement of injury claims, and product recalls. This attitude elevated the importance of public relations and its implementation, but it did not stop all the abuses.

Television commercials were louder by several decibels than entertainment broadcasts. Among the largest advertisers were makers of products that were the most profitable but among the least necessary to human survival or uplift—cosmetics, liquor, and tobacco, to name a few. Going into the 1970s, consumer disenchantment with sellers, their wares, and their words expressed itself as more awareness of alternatives and here and there a boycott.


In the 1980s, a new rash of crises shared the front page; they involved violence, drugs, greed, pollution, and lack of integrity. Business has adjusted to this situation. Advertising and publicity talk about reforestation, human dignity, education, rehabilitation, and “caring.” Projects and speeches focus on safety, health, and the minority, neglected, and disabled groups in society.

There are other problems. Conglomeration and divestiture tarnish traditional identities. What happens when Armour, not only a prestigious name on a pound of bacon but a landmark at the Chicago stockyards and a family intertwined for generations in the culture and society of the city, is swallowed into a bus company, also with a well-known name, Greyhound? Or when Twinkies becomes a product of International Telephone and Telegraph?

Multinationalism is another matter. Does anything significant happen in consumer relationships when a company that has proclaimed its “loyal American heritage” goes abroad to manufacture because wages are lower?

4 Early cases of FTC intervention and decisions include Carter’s Little Liver Pills in the 1950s and Geritol in the 1960s. There are many more recent cases.

5pr reporter, October 2, 1995, pp. 3–4.

Savvy consumers make buying decisions based on how companies run their businesses, according to a 1995 survey by public relations firm Porter Novelli.5 Five major influences on buying habits were (1) product quality, (2) the company’s method of handling consumer complaints, (3) the way a company handles a crisis in which it is at fault, (4) challenges by a government agency about product safety, and (5) accusation of illegal or unethical trading practices. Communication with consumers began moving from a product or service focus to information about how the organization operates and what values guide its decisions.

The first decade of the 21st century saw reputation become an even stronger element in the marketing mix. A sophisticated new generation of consumers, subjected to a constant barrage of marketing since their youth, now look intently for real distinctions between competing products.

Role of Social Media in Consumerism

This has exploded recently as social media has taken hold. Now the consuming public no longer has to wait for a mass media outlet to inform consumers about potentially dangerous or risky products. Anyone with an interest and passion can establish his or her own soapbox to bring change to a product or service (see Case 7-2, Web sites are devoted to evaluating products, and Facebook groups are dedicated to bringing the “truth” to consumers along with random e-mails. And then there are sites established simply to debunk urban legends (


Technically, both marketing and public relations support the sales function. “Nothing happens until a sale is made,” says an old bromide. The difference is that marketing is totally engrossed in selling, whereas public relations is more holistic. It supports sales to customers, but also is concerned with relationships with all other stakeholders of the organization.

Originally, public relations supported sales almost exclusively through media publicity, promotional events, and consumer information programs. The objective was to make people:

1. Aware of the product or service in the first place

2. Knowledgeable about the benefits and advantages of the particular product or service

3. Constantly reminded of their favorable feelings toward the product or service

Such activity ties in with advertising and authenticates product claims. Media used include newspapers, magazines, radio, television, features, photos, planned events, sponsorship of sports or musical activities, and many other venues for promotion. These are one-way communication vehicles touting the name and claims of the product or service.

Although the emphasis on marketing pushed some public relations departments back to this role, the changing conditions of the marketplace also brought forth several new activities, such as:

1. Forming user groups (as computer makers did) or customer service departments (as some automakers and utilities did) to personally build customer loyalty

2. Adopting customer satisfaction programs in which the entire organization is focused on delivering not just a product or service but also the quality and personal interactions consumers expect when making a purchase (as retailers, utilities, and brand manufacturers did)

3. Concentrating the publicity and promotion activities on taking customers away from competitors (which the beer and cigarette makers state as their primary reason for publicity and advertising)

4. Protecting the reputation of the product or service, and of the organization, in a period of consumer activism, government regulation, competitive predation, global marketing, and similar conditions that bring a continual bevy of public issues to bear on every organization and industry


Yet even as organizations trimmed and shaped themselves to meet their customers’ needs and values, two related challenges surfaced: (1) how to discipline and motivate the organization (and its employees) so it (2) delights customers who then become regular, repeat, and loyal.

The importance of customer service is shown in recent research of a major national company. It found that 64 percent of surveyed customers were perfectly satisfied with the product or service, but changed because of the way they were treated. Seventy percent chose a particular organization, not because of its product or service (which they knew they could also get elsewhere), but because of how they were treated.

Organizations that compete for customers know that the goal has shifted to delighting customers—which offers the ultimate competitive edge. Even if competitors satisfy customers, your organization can prevail by delighting them. Elements of a customer-delight program include:

1. The promise: A plainly stated vision of benefits for customers. Take care that these benefits are not undermined by employee actions or by ad copy that promises the moon.

2. Customer expectations: These arise chiefly from (a) your actual promise, (b) competitors’ delivery of delight, and (c) customers’ perceptions of service quality in general.

3. Delivery: The gap between promise and delivery is frequently huge. Management must recognize that frontliners—those who actually serve the customers—are not the bottom rung of the organization, but its most important resource. Keeping those frontliners motivated means using teamwork, continuous training, employee evaluation and reward systems, and a method for measuring customer delight.

4. Aftermath or maintenance: This is where reputations are solidified as shown by the classic study6 in which satisfied customers tell four or five others about their experience, while dissatisfied customers whose cases are not resolved speak to 10 others.

6pr reporter, November 9, 1981.

References and Additional Readings

Aaker, David. Managing Brand Equity. New York: Free Press, 1991.

Broom, Glen, and Kerry Tucker. “Marketing Public Relations: An Essential Double Helix.” Public Relations Journal 45 (November 1993): 39–40.

Crispell, Diane. “What’s in a Brand?” American Demographics 15 (May 1993): 26–32.

Cutlip, Scott, Allen Center, and Glen Broom. “Consumer Affairs and the ‘Marketing Mix.’” Chapter 14 in Effective Public Relations. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Davidson, Kenneth. “How to Improve Business Relationships.” Journal of Business Strategy 14 (May/June 1993): 13–15.

Degen, Clara, ed. Communicators’ Guide to Marketing. New York: Longman, 1990.

Feeman, Laurie. “Direct Contact Key to Building Brands.” Advertising Age 64 (October 25, 1993): S2.

Felton, John. “Consumer Affairs and Consumerism.” Chapter 16 in Lesly’s Handbook of Public Relations and Communications, 5th ed. Chicago, IL: NTC Business Books, 1998.

Hardesty, Monica. “Information Tactics and the Maintenance of Asymmetry in Physician-Patient Relationships.” In D. R. Maines and C. J. Couch. eds., Communication and Social Structure. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1988: 39–58.

Harns, Thomas. The Marketer’s Guide to Public Relations. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993.

International Customer Service Association (ICSA) has a variety of materials related to the total quality service process and encourages professional dialogue to achieve customer satisfaction. For more information, contact ICSA, 401 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611–4267;

Kotler, Philip. Principles of Marketing. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.

Lerbinger, Otto, and Nathaniel Sperber. “Consumer Affairs.” Chapter 4 in Manager’s Public Relations Handbook. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1982.

Mazur, Laura. “A Consuming Ambition.” Marketing (January 13, 1994): 23–24.

McManus, John. “Disaster Lessons Learned: Customer’s Lifetime Value.” Brandweek 35 (January 24, 1994): 16.

Murphy, John. Brand Strategy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Ott, Rick. Creating Demand. Richmond, VA: Symmetric Systems, Inc., 1999.

pr reporter Vol. 43 No. 46 (November 20, 2000). “Relationship Marketing: What Precisely Is PR’s Role? Creating the Environment, Counseling, Running the Show?”

pr reporter Vol. 37 No. 12 (March 21, 1994). “Elements on Making Your Organization Customer-Friendly.”

The Public Relations Body of Knowledge. New York: PRSA. See abstracts dealing with “Marketing, Marketing Support, and Consumer Relations.”

Rich, Judith. “Public Relations and Marketing.” Chapter 14 in Lesly’s Handbook of Public Relations and Communications. 5th ed. Chicago, IL: NTC Business Books, 1998.

Sanford, David, and Ralph Nader, et al. Hot War on the Consumer. New York: Pitman, 1969.

Wilcox, Dennis, et al. Public Relations: Strategy and Tactics. 6th ed. New York: Longman, 2000.

Zandl, Irma, and Richard Leonard. Targeting the Trend-Setting Consumer. Homewood, IL: Business One Irwin, 1991.

Case 6-1 Chevrolet Ditches the Traditional for Unprecedented Campaign to Attract New, Millennial Buyers

It’s not all the time that a company gets the chance to break down its traditional methods and challenge itself to think outside of its comfort zone. But with the Chevrolet Sonic, the company’s new subcompact, Chevrolet knew it had to deconstruct its systems and try something that would potentially reinvent the way automakers spoke to Generation Y, also called Millennials.

Sonic was due to arrive in dealerships fall 2011. The company was fighting a crowded, competitive market and had a run-of-the-mill reputation in the subcompact market. Recognizing the need for change, Chevrolet pulled together a new system to align its marketing and communication efforts that would, in the end, transform the way the company launched vehicles.

To flip this process on its head, Chevrolet implemented a new system in which the company’s agencies would be intimately involved with each other, working together for many months prior to the dealerships receiving the vehicles. This new process allowed the various agencies—from advertising to media buying to diversity outreach to social media to public relations—to pitch creative platforms and executions to Chevrolet as one integrated launch plan. This, in itself, was a new way of working.

Chevrolet was determined to get this right, which meant it needed a more strategic approach, ultimately linking the multiple agencies together as early as possible in the process. Previously, the public relations agencies would support the marketing plans after the decisions were made. In the new model, the public relations agency would be completely involved in the strategy and tactical decisions, which led to a more cohesive and well-thought-out launch activity. A new paradigm was created that rallied the supporting teams around one strategy.

With this news system, Chevrolet would attempt to stand out from the crowd and make a robust statement about its newest subcompact in a marketing effort called “Let’s Do This!”

Situation Analysis: It’s Going to Be a Tough Sell

From the beginning, Chevrolet faced some tough facts. Unfortunately, it wasn’t replacing a dominant Chevrolet entry in the small car market. Its previous small car, Aveo, was “midpack” at best in terms of sales and appeal.

In addition, the brand wasn’t very relevant to the buyers it needed to reach the most as new vehicles began rolling out of the company—cars such as the Cruze and the Spark—later in 2012. The company had to find a way to balance relevance and ability to relate in a way that would not seem overbearing or forced. It would have to fit with their customers’ digital, social, and fast-paced lifestyles.

Chevrolet had to overcome:

• A lack of awareness of the Chevrolet Sonic nameplate,

• Current segment avoidance of the brand, and

• Increased competition in the subcompact market.

FIGURE 6.1 © 2012 Chevrolet Motors, LLC

And it had to exploit:

• Favorable market conditions, including subcompact segment growth and rising gas prices, and

• A legitimate product that challenged segment sales-and-image leaders.

Chevy wanted to achieve the following objectives:

• Make Chevy relevant to small car buyers,

• Leverage Sonic to increase Chevy consideration,

• Earn consideration of 15 percent of potential buyers by August 2012 (one year after the start of production), and

• Support Sonic sales objectives.

To do all this, the company made the decision to aggressively go after the future of the brand—the youngest buyer group, Millennials. They are the men and women between the ages of 18 and 34 years in 2012.

Target Audience: The Elusive Millennial

Beyond studying the demographic data of Gen Y, Chevrolet also studied their media consumption patterns and lifestyle habits to understand not only who they are, but what they do and where they receive their information.

This targeted group’s biggest differentiator was how they consume media. Millennials live online. They watch less TV than their parents and read fewer magazines. Instead, they talk and text their friends; they swap videos with each other; they are constantly gaming; and they love connecting with their “faves.” So Chevrolet built a plan around their specific media habits and decided that the digital space was going to be where the brand connected with its new audience.

Using a psychographic analysis of its target, Chevrolet identified launch strategies that formed the basis for the integrated marketing and communications plan. Moreover, each tactic had to support one of the objectives below:

• Focus the work on the needs and habits of the customer

• Singularly focus on Chevrolet’s primary target

• Create a strong persona that complements positioning

FIGURE 6.2 © 2012 Chevrolet Motors LLC

• Tap into the experiential nature of the target

• Engage in out-of-the-box thinking

This led to the term “Getting Starteds” and the following definition:

“Getting Starteds” are excited and optimistic to launch into the next phase of their lives, thriving on adventure and new experiences. They not only want to find the next big thing, they want to be the first to share it with all of their friends. They are experiencing many firsts in their lives—getting their first real job, moving out and getting their first home or apartment, traveling through Europe with a group of friends, or even doing something as simple as trying a new cuisine at a local restaurant.

The bottom line was that Chevrolet wanted to capture the target audience’s optimism, spirit of adventure, and fun that the potential buyers exhibited in their everyday lives. The campaign was built around connecting to the emotion of experiencing something for the first time.

Strategy: The Risks That Are Worth Taking

Chevrolet had to seed a new name in a very crowded segment in a highly memorable way. With insights about the target audience, about how they consumed media and what they valued, Chevrolet launched Sonic’s “Let’s Do This!” campaign in September 2011 with public relations activities beginning a few months prior with exclusive media drives. The “Let’s Do This!” campaign would demonstrate how Sonic best fit the Millennial lifestyle by showing how it’s a “car for firsts,” and the “firsts” would be larger-than-life “stunts” that the car would perform.

It wasn’t easy to convince all of Chevrolet that a digital launch was going to more effective than a traditional advertising campaign with the “heavy-up” broadcast media they were accustomed to seeing. It would take time and some risk, but building a new image and reputation for Sonic wasn’t going to be easy. By creating several highly visible, first-time stunts, Sonic content would have strong potential to go viral and gain the attention of the target audience

Sonic was then personified and began performing its own impressive “firsts” to prove it was up for anything that the “Getting Starteds” were. The approach was direct. It would not feature Sonic with celebrities. Instead, Chevrolet wanted to make Sonic a cool car to own and drive. The car would be the star. But, by partnering with popular bands, Web sites, and celebrities engaged in certain lifestyle activities, Chevrolet would tap into existing fan bases to create unique content for YouTube, Facebook,, and more. Each “first” targeted a specific subculture, such as gaming, extreme sports, music, art, and more, and was paired with promotional efforts to encourage deeper engagement, including additional media buys, social media support, and media relations outreach, for a truly integrated launch activity.

For the media relations activities, the public relations team, supported by Boston-based Mullen, related the “firsts” theme to vehicle attributes that were a first for the subcompact segment, such as it being

• The first and only small car to have 10 standard airbags

• The first small car to have standard alloy wheels and standard OnStar navigation

• The only small car made in America

• The first vehicle in the United States to use a unique water-based “three-wet” paint process

• The first and only small car to offer a turbocharged engine and the most available torque in its class

• A segment leader in interior roominess and versatility

Tactics: Putting “Firsts” into Context

Chevrolet decided that for the first four to five months of vehicles arriving in dealerships it would begin with a strictly digital launch campaign with the traditional heavy advertising launch following. This digital campaign would rely on an integrated approach that would tap all communication functions to help extend the message further in the digital realm.

Before any activations or outreach, Chevrolet created an online “home” for the launch—a dedicated Web site for Sonic called “” On this site, the company housed all of the content created around the “stunts” as they occurred, giving a convenient destination for the audience to watch or relive Sonic’s activities. With every stunt, it was imperative that each communication effort—from a tweet to a Facebook status update to a media advisory—drive the audience to watch videos, view the photos, get more details, or see the behind-the-scene materials on this Web site.

Chevrolet also ran contests for the target audience challenging them to create their own “firsts,” record them, and post them on the site. Participants would then be eligible to win a Sonic of their own during the first few months. Once the Twitter, Facebook and LetsDoThis. com sites were live and had an active community, Chevrolet began executing stunts.

The first stunt was a bungee jump off a 100-foot structure in Long Beach, California, where visitors were encouraged to visit and click on a special arrow. With every click, the Sonic moved closer to the edge. Finally, after nine hours and more than 2.5 million clicks, the Sonic took a dive into a pool of water at the bottom. This dive signified the launch of Sonics in dealerships and began the digital engagement with the target audience.

For the second stunt, Chevrolet performed a takeover of the YouTube home page by placing an obvious red button with the words “Do Not Press” on screen. Anyone seeing a button and those words would want to click on it. Once they clicked, they would activate a video of the second Sonic stunt—a sky dive.

The Sonic and a team of the world’s best skydivers went up 14,000 feet over the Arizona desert and let the Sonic drop from the plane’s cargo area. Dozens of cameras recorded the event, and the video received nearly 500,000 views on YouTube.

Next, Chevrolet teamed with 20-year skateboarding veteran, television star, and entrepreneur Rob Dyrdek, who performed an incredible skateboarding move, called a kickflip, with an actual Sonic. Rob featured the kickflip in March on his Fantasy Factory MTV show, and the stunt generated nearly one million views on YouTube.

On the same weekend, Chevrolet created and projected a 3-D interactive claw game on the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles. Observers and passers-by were allowed to play and, using a gigantic shift lever, pull prizes from the 3-D digital machine image, until one lucky winner found and extracted a new 2012 Sonic.

After the first three stunts, Sonic rose to number two in sales in the small car segment without running a single broadcast or print advertisement. The public relations team supported the stunts via media invitations and storytelling.

Possibly the biggest stunt of the campaign was Sonic performing the first-ever music video by a car with the “viral” group OK Go. It included nearly 2,000 instruments laid out over a gigantic musical road course. The band activated instruments by extending their arms from the car. And the band’s official online video of “Needing/Getting” received five million views and was the number one YouTube video on day one. Within the first 10 days online, the video hit a high of 15 million views. As of June 2012, the video has had more than 20 million views on YouTube.

About this stunt, AdAge asked the question: “Is OK Go’s Chevy-sponsored music video one of the best product placements ever?” Music Editor Simon Dumenco said, “The reception has been wildly positive, with even the blatant product placement being warmly received.”

One of the most up-voted comments on the Reddit site said, “I think this is a great use of corporate funds/product placement. The band gets an amazing music video that would be prohibitively expensive without Chevy’s money, and Chevy reaches their 18–34 demographic with a spot that has the car as a central figure.”

It was clear Chevrolet was beginning to get some buzz online for Sonic because the Millennial target was talking—both digitally and IRL (in real life)—about the launch. But the company needed to use the Sonic and the new campaign to help change the perception of the brand with a broader audience. So it expanded its launch into traditional media, as planned, by putting together highlights of all the stunts into one 60-second commercial “Anthem,” which debuted on the world’s largest broadcast platform, the Super Bowl. As of June 2012, this ad has had more than three million views on YouTube.

“Anthem” was one of the highest rated Super Bowl commercials. One reason was the music track, the song “We Are Young” by the group Fun. The song was originally covered on an episode of a major prime-time television show, and Chevrolet leveraged it for the first commercial spot for Sonic. The combination was powerful: The song rose from number 38 on the Billboard charts to number one within four days of the ad airing during the Super Bowl. The song stayed number one for seven weeks.

The next stunt tapped into a specific lifestyle interest toward which the Millennial audience has begun to gravitate. Sonic created its own street art scene—the first ever painted by a car. Teaming with urban street artist Jeff Soto, Sonic painted a mural on a wall in Northern California using an iPad controlled by Jeff and robotic arms with custom controls. This stunt was documented and added to and promoted on YouTube.

Sonic had an additional television spot, “Night Swim,” that began running during the 2012 Billboard Music Awards. It tells the story of five college-aged kids who push the envelope a bit and go for a nighttime dip in their skivvies at a lake. They realize the keys were locked in the car and use the myChevrolet app to “remotely” unlock the car. Directed by Jason Reitman, a Hollywood high-flyer whose film credits include “Juno” and “Up in the Air,” the commercial was received with great reviews.

Results: How’d They Do?

The campaign proved successful, especially when comparing sales of Sonic to Aveo. The difference was dramatic. Compared to Aveo, Sonic had a 33 percent higher transaction price and 90 percent less incentive spend, and Chevrolet’s conquest rate (buyers from outside the GM family) was near 50 percent. In addition, nearly one-third of the buyers were under age 35, which was 50 percent more buyers under 35 than Aveo had.

By June 2012, Sonic was firmly established in the segment as the second-best-selling car with hopes of becoming the best-selling. Sonic also became the most popular small car on Facebook as of June 2012, with nearly 440,000 fans, which were nearly 180,000 more than any other small car. The sales of the car were matching expectations, and the Sonic community was engaged.

Summary: The New Public Relations

The role of the public relations practitioner changes every day as technology continues to change the way messages are delivered. The

lines are blurring between advertising, marketing, and communications, and the modern practitioner needs to remain malleable and strategic. In the case of the Chevrolet Sonic launch, media relations efforts supplemented the program through automotive media drives, target lifestyle outreach aligned with each stunt, and custom stories related to the product and company.

The public relations practitioner was also relied on by the larger integrated group as a trusted advisor in the planning stages. Because public relations professionals can foresee how the target audience will perceive a brand, they are often the most valuable people at the table, helping to shape the messages and programs.

Questions for Discussion


What would you recommend Chevy do to tweak this campaign for your generation rather than the Millennials?


What might be some fallout issues from this campaign? How might GM and Chevy prepare for them?

Case 6-2 Firestone: A Recall Revisited *

“Those that fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it. “

—Jean Jacques Rousseau

Large production companies are in business to make a profit. However, when products fail and lives are lost much more than profit must be considered. In August 2000, Ford Motor Company took on the largest recall in history because of Firestone tires failing on the road. Many deaths and injuries were caused by the bad tires, and many lawsuits were filed against Ford and Firestone, but the greatest impact of the fiasco was on the public reputations of the companies involved. The media coverage was sensational, and everyone who owned a Ford Explorer was taking a close look at the tires. The situation was in need of a strong public relations response, but there was none to be found.

A Little History

In the early 1970s more than 20 million Firestone 500 radials were sold to customers who then experienced problems and failures with the tires. They registered their complaints with Firestone.

Two years later, Firestone’s director of development reported to top management that the design of the radial 500 was of “inferior quality.” In 1975, Firestone did some “severe torture” tests in its R&D division and found that half of the tires did not pass the test. No report was filed or made public, because the government did not require one. Firestone kept the information to itself and sold millions more 500s.

In 1976, numerous consumer complaints about tread separation were sent to the Center for Auto Safety. The complaints were then sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Finally, in 1977 Firestone recalled only the 500s from the years 1973 and 1974. It stated that one of nine plants was having problems on the production line and that this was the cause of these failures. Firestone said that the 500s were a good tire and that only the ones from the specific plant were faulty. Company officials also said that any other problems with the 500s were due to improper inflation or abuse by customers.

The NHTSA decided to do some tests of its own. Random tire brands were tested for blowouts, tread separation, and distortions. The results showed that 46.4 percent of problem tires were the Firestone brand. The NHTSA planned to release the information to the public, but Firestone obtained a restraining order to prevent the release of the news. This caught the attention of the national media. Everyone wanted to know what Firestone was hiding.

Test results from the NHTSA were leaked to the Center for Auto Safety, and in March 1978 the Center released the information to the media. It became a media frenzy, with nearly every paper covering the story on the front page. In August 1978, Firestone was forced by the government to recall all the 500s. In the end, the 500s caused 29 deaths and 50 injuries.7

History Repeats Itself

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