Show 23 – World PR Forum Pt.5: Transparency, Visual Comms, McDonald’s

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The second of two shows recorded at the World PR Forum in Toronto.

The PR event was organised and hosted by the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) on behalf of the The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, with the theme of ‘Communication Across Cultures’.

In Part 1, Russell Goldsmith was joined by Tor Odland, Vice President of Group Communications at Telenor Group, one of the top 10 global mobile carriers.

Russell Goldsmith (left) chats with Tor Odland

Tor had presented a fascinating session on ‘Transparency in the age of digital government requests’ and he set the scene by discussing his own personal experiences when working for Telenor in Asia.  He got involved in a situation where a government asked his company, and other mobile operators, to block access to Facebook due to political changes happening in that particular country. It was something Telenor decided to comply with but Tor explained that they did something that none of the other operators did at the time, and that was to communicate about it publically and how, as a company, they regretted the impact it might cause, particularly to the human rights of their customers.  Naturally, this resulted in disagreements between Telenor and the particular government and ultimately, the company had to take precautions to ensure staff, including Tor himself, were safe.

This story is of course a very different political situation to other issues the mobile carriers may face if, for example, they are asked for information from the network to help investigate a crime.

Tor explained that there are many ways that governments are looking at what’s happening in the mobile networks and they may often have a very legitimate need for data.  However, the question is whether they are doing it in a lawful and structured way.  For example, Telenor require a court order before they can hand out information, but Tor said that in some countries, as the laws are relatively out of sync with digital developments as an operator, Telenor have to set their own standards, which they apply globally, to do what they can do to mitigate the risk or impact to their customers.

Telenor regularly releases its ‘Authority requests disclosure report’, which details when Governments have asked for requests in each of the 13 territories Telenor trades in.  Tor explained that not all Governments are comfortable with. However, he agreed that it is also about getting a balance, as in the case of the shooting in San Bernardino, where Apple didn’t want to release the data from Syed Farook’s iPhone, there may be times when it’s important to allow governments access to data when investigating crimes.

Relating it back to PR, Tor believes the industry can learn from these experiences as it is transparency, particularly in a company’s value proposition, which will make it as easy as possible for consumers to understand what is going on within an organisation. 

Part 2 (from 10min 23s)

Russell was joined by independent consultant, Aimee Lewis and Mike McDougall, President of McDougall Communications, straight after their session on ‘Shaping the Future of Visual Communications’.

Russell chats with Aimee Lewis & Mike McDougall

During their presentation, Mike and Aimee shared 10 trends about content that the audience needed to be aware of, available on their presentation slides, and they discussed a few of them in this interview, starting with the need to plan your content for viewing on screens in the future.

To explain this Mike used the example of someone looking at shelves of VHS tapes and wondering what to do with them now!  Therefore, his recommendation is to not only prepare for the 4K visual revolution, but also 8K. Practically, this means if you are producing video content, then futureproof it and shoot it for those larger formats – and this is just in consideration of flat screen.  He quickly pointed out that this isn’t even taking into consideration 3D or immersive technologies.

When it comes to getting to grips with new technologies though, and how they may work for your brand, the concern for many communicators is in having to continually chase the next new platform.  Mike’s recommendation is therefore to look for what is showing a bit of staying power.

He explained that in his presentation, he showed a number of platforms that are nascent.  However, typically, 8 or 9 out of 10 of those will fail in their first year. He therefore suggests that communicators get familiar with them and that if you have a niche audience that is using them, then by all means get involved and perhaps use it to test and learn, maybe as a pilot, but not to sink a ton of resources into them.  If you then find you get some traction after a few months, then take a bet on a number of platforms and if one pays off, then you won’t worry about those that failed.

Aimee made the point that a number of the technologies that they showed are in fact free apps, or cost just a few dollars, and so, without spreading yourself too thin, you could try them out and it not be too expensive to do so.

A good example is Augmented Reality. The example that Mike and Aimee showed was by Simpson College:

Mike gave three bits of advice to adding to Aimee’s point about trying things out if time and budget was an issue:

  • Time is what you make of it – a lot of the work he does in testing new technologies is during, what he calls, ‘couch time’ – experimenting out of work, whilst watching TV at home, for example.
  • Set yourself up with a University or someone who is looking to pilot it – make a beta site and invite people to try it with you
  • Reallocate some of your resources – you may be spending money on techniques that were relevant five years ago but maybe they aren’t today, so perhaps experiment with some of that budget

Part 3 – (from 21min 55s)

The final part of the show featured an interview with President and CEO of McDonald’s CanadaJohn Betts, set up by Gordon McIvor, President of the Empire Club of Canada, who took part in the discussion too.

L-R: John Betts, Gordon McIvor & Russell Goldsmith

John talked about the challenges that McDonald’s has faced in adapting to local cultures as it has become a global brand (1967 saw Canada become the first country to have a McDonald’s restaurant open outside of the US), which he said is about remembering what’s important to the guests in a given market place around the world.  The key is to leverage the global brand’s framework, be that service or products that are being provided, but then to customise it so that it resonates in each local market.  In the case of McDonald’s, that could be on the menu – whether there are some nuances in terms of food offerings from either a cultural or local stand point.  Similarly, it could be the experience itself in how they deliver the service.  For example, John explained that in North America, Drive Through is the majority of their business, but in Europe it’s much less, as families tend to eat more together in Europe and therefore the McDonald’s have more seating inside their restaurants there than they do in North America.

What was interesting from John’s presentation at the conference though, was that there is one difference to McDonald’s in Canada, that hasn’t been adapted across the rest of the world and that’s the fact that the ‘Golden Arches’ in Canada have a small red maple leaf in them.

This was actually something that was done when McDonald’s first expanded into the territory, almost 50 years ago, and whilst John claimed he didn’t know how it happened back then, what he does know is that nobody has ever been able to change the logo since in any other part of the world!

Given the theme of the conference was ‘Communications Across Cultures’, John said that “you can’t translate culture”.  He used Quebec as an example, which is the only province in Canada to have a predominantly French speaking population, and highlighted that it’s not just about translating words as it’s about the food that’s being eaten or delivered from an experience stand point.

John also talked about successes and failures in adapting to local cultures.

From a success perspective, he cited the emergence of McCafé, as one of fasted growing and most successful brands in all of Canada over the last five or six years.  150m cups of coffee given away for free over that time have, according to John, really resonated with Canadians and helped changed the way they think about McDonald’s.

On the flip side of that, where John feels a global McDonald’s brand sponsorship hasn’t worked so well locally is with FIFA, as the format they were given didn’t resonate with the Canadian public when it came to aligning themselves with Soccer as he believes, in Canada, “Hockey wins, and Football stays home”.

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