Communicating in a Small World Public Relations Across Cultures Wednesday, November 30, 2005 2:00 PM Eastern Panelists: Russ DeVeau, The Devcomm Group Kevin Cook, World Vision Anju Khanna, Global Accounts Manager, PR Newswire Facilitator: Gina Rudan, Director of International and Multicultural Markets, PR Newswire
It’s a small world....tracking coverage, building media relationships...
Events and tours – created and already in progress
Most “bang for the buck” – news services, global outlets (business, trade and vertical) and country-by-country coverage. What outlets matter most to realizing regional and/or global coverage and positioning objectives?
Media lists – newsletters, journals, blogs. Are you getting coverage you don’t know about?
Every opportunity matters – investigate non-traditional approaches for regional coverage – client partnerships, customers, case studies
Translations – critical for news and pitching
The pitch – always delivered in the language the influencer prefers
Kevin Cook Communications Director World Vision Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean
For most of the past 20 years I have worked in advocacy journalism on issues ranging from poverty, human rights and child exploitation to sustainable development, humanitarian relief and conflict resolution. In my current position as Director of Communications for Latin America and the Caribbean with World Vision International, I am responsible for developing and directing international communications teams and creative projects to raise public awareness, advocate issues, fundraise for programs and achieve organizational positioning. Some of my work involves writing and photojournalism in complex humanitarian emergencies – major conflicts and natural disasters – both here in Latin America and in other regions of the world. Sometimes I work alongside the international media, in the field, as and where emergencies are happening. Sometimes I am an information source for the media, and other times I seek to influence the media agenda in order to raise public awareness on issues and events of leading concern to my employer, World Vision, and also to me – on both a professional and personal level. The work can be highly satisfying as well as frustrating. Satisfying in the sense that it allows me to engage diverse audiences, donors and media on issues and events of global importance. Frustrating in the sense of the limited media attention that seems to be given to such issues and events, corresponding with and contributing to public apathy, lack of awareness regarding their importance, and even their existence . In the words of Susan Moeller, journalist and author of a provocative book entitled “Compassion Fatigue”: “The media seem to careen from one trauma to another, in a breathless tour of disease, famine and death.” Moeller goes on to argue that public apathy – commonly referred to in humanitarian circles as “compassion fatigue” -- is a modern syndrome that results from the media’s coverage of global events through the usage of formulaic chronologies, language and metaphors.
Moeller concludes that conflicts, disasters and other humanitarian crises in which the media’s home countries are strongly engaged – for example, the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina in the case of the US media – can absorb all the dollars, time and space that might otherwise be allotted for international affairs.I share this point of view, based on my own experiences working in places like Kosovo, Colombia, Liberia, Darfur (Sudan) and Liberia, as well as a host of countries faced with chronic crises and interrelated problems such as extreme poverty, civil unrest, violence, hunger and HIV/AIDS. I feel strongly that scarcely-reported humanitarian emergencies -- raging on in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Sudan, Niger, Colombia and Haiti -- require far more of the world’s attention and humanitarian intervention. The same holds true for the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS, world hunger and preventable diseases including malaria and tuberculosis which are catastrophic disasters in their own right yet such emergencies and pandemics are chronic by nature and therefore considered ‘passe’ and unworthy of anything more than superficial media coverage, if that. Unless, of course, there is some kind of “trigger event”, such as a bombing, a massacre, a government ultimatum, or a political agreement, that will suddenly shift the media’s gaze onto a specific conflict, disaster or issue. Resulting coverage can be white-hot at first, but then rapidly diminishing or suddenly diverted to something else – a new disaster, tragedy, scandal or controversy – the more bizarre, shocking and titillating the better. In the 24-hour, real-time and highly competitive information environment, I think that editors, producers and reporters have the strong tendency to cover only those events that they believe will appeal to their readers and viewers who seem to have an appetite for only one crisis at a time.Nevertheless, and as I have frequently seen, news journalists have much in common with humanitarian workers, identifying with us while seeking to expose the injustices that push journalists towards activism. As described by Martin Wollacott, former foreign editor of The Guardian newspaper, most journalists “come from countries with large ideas about how the world should be ordered. Many are interventionists as well as moralists at heart. They want things done – or undone. And they want to have an influence in shaping such decisions, via public opinion that can exert pressure on policymakers.” But Wollacott goes on to say that “the ambivalence of journalists in situations of war, revolution, famine and disaster is well known. One the one hand they react as human beings to the suffering they encounter and on the other they react to the story, sometimes finding themselves for purely competitive reasons searching out more suffering, or resenting the fact that they missed it – a truth illuminated in the old joke about the correspondent who “watched in horror as his colleagues saw atrocities .”
When journalists interface in the field with humanitarian workers, they are usually quick to acknowledge our expertise and experience “on the ground”. As we are operationally present in a given country and location for months if not years, our knowledge of the place and its people can far surpass that of a journalist who arrived only yesterday. As these journalists beat a path to our door, so to speak, they typically want a quick and comprehensive briefing on the key facts of a specific event or crisis – numbers of people affected, their locations, circumstances. Often they also seek my opinion on controversial political issues and questions linked to a particular situation. I can generally anticipate these questions, which I either do not answer or will answer only within very limited boundaries. And I will very rarely respond “off the record”. CNN, BBC and many other news agencies are watched and listened to by government officials as well as guerrillas, gunmen and other belligerents There are many examples of how a single ill-timed comment by an aid worker has angered a host government or rogue militia group, provoking a response that has jeopardized the operations of aid organizations, and imperilled the lives of their staff. Speaking the truth is no protection – quite the opposite, in fact. Having said this, my main interest in collaborating with the media is to give them a better picture of specific reality that is unjust and often unseen, and therefore needs to be brought to public light. As a representative and spokesperson of World Vision, I seek to raise the media’s awareness of a given situation, knowing that their reporting will influence public opinion which is so vital for ensuring appropriate humanitarian intervention and donor investment. I usually also hope that World Vision will be positioned within a news story, although this is not my primary motive, nor World Vision’s. While we are often an important part of a story, as a significant actor in the humanitarian community, the story that we want to be told is rarely about us. Nevertheless, I think that many journalists and media organizations have an overall picture of humanitarian organizations as being opportunistic and prone to exaggeration. “ Many journalists have relished the opportunity to debunk the apocalyptic warnings of the humanitarian agencies,” wrote Michela Wrong in the Financial Times (25 Nov. 1996). Although it is true that some humanitarian agencies from time to time have given less than reliable information to news reporters -- whether unintentionally or otherwise – I can honestly say that World Vision strives to be as accurate and trustworthy as possible in its dealings with the media. Our organizational credibility is of paramount importance. We realize that once credibility is lost, it is extremely difficult for any organization to get it back. And the consequences can be disastrous. Nevertheless, in the fast-paced, real time, global news environment, the management of information by humanitarian organizations can be a huge challenge in itself. Disasters and conflicts are highly complex. Facts must be distilled from rumours. The interventions of humanitarian organizations must be efficiently targeted, timed and explained. And various factions, perhaps especially the government of a country in conflict, may seek to discredit and undermine the efforts of the humanitarian community, as was clearly the case in several countries where I have worked during the past decade.
For its part, the media can also get the story wrong – stereotyping situations, embellishing facts and fueling false perceptions. I often fear that this will happen when I speak with the media, especially in a conflict zone where a single misstatement or misquote can get us booted out of a country, perhaps permanently, possibly along with our counterpart organizations. I seek to be as objective and accurate as possible – but I am rarely neutral. I do take sides, within clearly identified boundaries. For example, I will side with refugees who have been uprooted from their homes by armed militia sponsored by a rogue government. This does not mean, however, that I will express all of my opinions to the media. Far from it, in fact. Nor will I necessarily believe, write and tell the media everything that the refugees may tell me. I have found that some refugees – although not the majority – are prone to exaggeration, if not fabrication, when they tell me their stories. And sometimes they change their stories, after further questioning from me. Anyone who has spent much time speaking with victims of conflicts and disasters understands this dilemma. I and others in my chosen field must sometimes go to great lengths to ensure that the messages we present to the media are appropriate, accurate and substantiated with clear facts. So how do I manage to get “ink and air time” for World Vision in the national and international print and broadcast media, whether I am working in some remote location or at my desk in Costa Rica? First of all, the truth is that I often don’t. When I do, it’s mostly just a case of pointing the media towards a strong story that can shed light on an issue that fits with our organizational objectives for public awareness, advocacy, positioning and fundraising. As a child-focused Christian humanitarian organization, World Vision is especially concerned about the impact of poverty, conflicts and disasters on children, their families and communities. While civil conflicts have claimed the lives of more than than two million children within the past decade, hunger and malnutrition kills nearly 6 million children a year. Many more children die from diseases that are treatable, including diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria and measles. These are pretty sobering statistics, which I mention because I believe in the power of the media to make a very big difference. By impacting public opinion and political will, there’s no doubt that the media can help to change these statistics for the better. But I am also frustrated that such realities rarely grab the headlines. Perhaps the media is simply following the marketplace demand for tabloid-style international news. Or maybe they have created audiences that have seen too much – or too little – to care?
One thing I know for certain is that humanitarian emergencies – like the massive earthquake that hit Pakistan and north India seven weeks ago – continue on, long after they fade from the headlines. More than 3 million people were affected by the Pakistan earthquake, yet international relief and recovery operations in response to the quake have been woefully underfunded. Global media attention given to the disaster was quite strong initially but then tapered off rapidly, in highly predictable fashion. Now tens of thousands of people are at risk of starvation and hypothermia with the onset of winter, and the failure of the international community to respond with sufficient food, tents, blankets, other emergency supplies and logistic support. The largest media organizations have been watching the calendar and trying to best time their returns to the earthquake region to coincide with the most intense need, which can also read the most intense suffering and death. This isn't an indictment of the media. They simply know their audiences, which have already proven recalcitrant to the pleas of the biggest and the best of the humanitarian community. Finally, there are the chronic global emergencies of poverty, hunger and disease that rarely attract more than a superficial and passing interest on the part of the media and their audiences. At the same time, since the 1990s, an unprecedented number of countries have seen their living standards decline. In 46 countries -- 20 of them in sub-Saharan Africa – people are poorer today than they were a decade ago, according the 2004 UN Human Development Report, In 25 countries -- of which 11 are in sub-Saharan Africa -- more people go hungry than they did a decade ago. There are, of course, many positive examples that I could cite of how media reporting has impacted public understanding and opinion and influenced the way that people view the world. But such achievements simply aren’t enough, or good enough, in comparison to the scale and importance of the stories that aren’t being told. For its part, World Vision will continue to try to get important stories out to the public, via the media – even when it seems like no-one is ready to listen. For those like me who are privileged enough to observe and communicate these humanitarian issues and emergencies, we want to keep telling our stories with passion and integrity. And when no-one seems to be listening, we must try to tell them again in a new way.
Kevin Cook Communications Director World Vision Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean Office: +506-257-5151 Home: +506-273-4429 Mobile: +506-372-3744 Questions?
Anju Khanna Global Account Manager PR Newswire
Communicating in Continental Europe
44 countries in Europe with several languages
Each country and sector has varying preferred methods of delivery
Different mediums play more central roles depending on the country
Internet gaining momentum
As more countries join the European Union the need for PR grows
PR has become a legitimate communications discipline