Monthly Archives: January 2014

Blog Assignment: Why Public Relations?

Image from the Christ Community Church of Omaha's website

Image from the Christ Community Church of Omaha’s website

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

                                                                                                          – Edward Bernays “Propaganda”

The Writer

If the two fundamental traits required for public relations are an interest in persuasive writing and an obsession with following the news, then I’d like to believe I’ve acquired these skills through fate.  When I arrived at the University of Waterloo I chose Rhetoric and Professional Writing as my major.  I really enjoyed my courses and one professor so much (the great Michael MacDonald) that I decided to continue on to earn my Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Communications.   Mainly due to the fact that Prof. MacDonald was teaching a course entitled “Propaganda: Weapons of Mass Persuasion”.  In that course we focused heavily on critical analysis of rhetoric, propaganda and information warfare.  During that course I read Propaganda and Crystalizing Public Opinion by Edward Bernays and I found the whole history of PR eye-opening.  Though my courses were focused on critical analysis more so than practical applications, nevertheless I wanted to become the invisible manipulator that Bernays wrote about.

The News Junkie

The other side of the equation didn’t happen in the classroom.  I can safely say that the events of September 11th, 2001 forced me to be interested in the news, politics and the larger world around me.  Of course I was only in grade 11 at the time, but the world really did change.  I was glued to CNN that day and have pretty much been a news junkie ever since.  Then the financial crisis of 2008 happened and I suddenly expanded my news interest into the economy, business and finance.  Naturally these interests are always filtered through the lens of communication.

The Communicator

Despite my keen interest in Public Relations, I didn’t really have the proper education to work at a PR agency.  I knew that a post-graduate certificate in Public Relations was a great way to break into the field, but after six years of University I didn’t feel that more education was the answer.  So I began working as a technical writer and found it as boring and difficult as I imagined it would be.  I hoped that pivoting to Marketing Communications would be more fulfilling at some level.  While it was certainly more interesting than technical writing, it still lacked the larger focus and context of either PR or Corporate Communications.  In the end, it didn’t matter how I felt because I was laid-off during company re-structuring.

I spent a long time looking for new work in a larger Communications role, only to find that despite my two degrees and work experience, I didn’t have the skills or connections necessary to land where I wanted.  Interviewers inevitably asked questions about my previous experience in: project management, media relations, social media and internet metrics.  I simply didn’t have what they were looking for.  Having neither a job nor money, suddenly going back to school was more palatable.

I chose Centennial College because I wanted to learn from real professionals with real experiences.  No more academics, no more theoretical analysis, no more knowledge for the sake of knowledge.  I first looked at the type of companies I wanted to work for: Edelman, Ogilvy, FleishmanHilliard, Hill + Knowleton etc. and I saw Centennial graduates among their ranks.  Then I looked at the type of Coordinators that ran the CCPR program:  Barry Waite had extensive PR agency experience, and Donna Lindell had extensive Corporate Communications experience.  Lastly, the courses focused on the specific skill sets that I knew I lacked.  Add all those factors up and now here I am becoming who I want to be.

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Investor Relations vs The Street

Apple's Macintosh Logo

Apple’s Macintosh Logo

First, let me say that I’ve never owned an Apple product.  I am not necessarily anti-Apple, but I do feel that their products are overly expensive and not worth the price.  However I realize that a lot of people LOVE their Apple devices and that they have fantastic customer retention in terms of brand loyalty.  It is because of these traits that I believe their stock is worth owning, especially when it’s under-valued.  Despite my neutral feelings towards Apple, I am deeply sympathetic towards their Investor Relations group.

Today after market close Apple reported their first quarter earnings for 2014.  Within an hour of the earnings report stocks were down more than 8% in after-hours trading.  Why?

Well before we get into that, let’s take a look at the guidance that Apple’s Investor Relations released back in October of 2013 during their last quarterly report:

  • · revenue between $55 billion and $58 billion
  • · gross margin between 36.5 percent and 37.5 percent
  • · operating expenses between $4.4 billion and $4.5 billion

Even if you don’t know anything about Apple, it’s pretty safe to assume that bringing in revenue of $58,000,000,000 in three months is impressive.  Of course big numbers aren’t impressive by themselves.  The whole idea of this game is by setting goals for the future and trying to meet them.  Getting back to today, let’s see how Apple performed:

Revenue of $57.8 billion  In line with guidance and actually on the high end of the range
Gross Margin of 37.9 percent  Margins slightly exceeded their projections
Operating expenses of 4.38 Their operating expenses were even less than they assumed

 Apple clearly met the expectations they had set for themselves when they were attempting to look into the future just over three months ago. Yet their market capitalization just dropped by approximately $40,002,440,400

So what gives?

Unfortunately it doesn’t matter how good Apple is at looking into their crystal ball and trying to see into the future of their business.  All one needs to do is look at the business news headlines to understand the issue:

Apple Gets iPad X-Mas but Shares Drop After iPhone Sales Fall Short – Forbes

Apple’s new products not good enough – MarketWatch (Wall St Journal)

Apple shares fall as bet on iPhone 5C market leads to earnings disappointment – Financial Post

Apple IPhone Sales Trail Estimates for Holiday Quarter – Bloomberg

Apple’s iPhone sales, revenue forecast fall short; shares slide – Reuters

Apple bruised by high expectations – The Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail hit it on the head: high expectations.

It doesn’t matter that Apple’s business drove results in line with their estimates.  What matters is that Apple didn’t meet the expectations of wall street analysts.

I am frustrated by the relationship between a company’s investor relations team and the equity analysts that cover them.  Apple still sold a record-breaking 51,000,000 iPhones during the last quarter, but analysts were expecting 55,000,000 and were unimpressed that their own target was missed.  As you can see, this really isn’t about Apple per se.  It’s about the relationship between a company’s ability to predict and communicate their own business goals vs the external expectations of analysts.  The analysts almost make the company’s own goals irrelevant.  What’s worse is that the stakeholders seem to get angry at the company rather than the crazy expectations set out by the analysts.

Imagine this wasn’t the stock market.

Let’s say that my new year’s resolution was to lose weight.  And let’s say it wasn’t merely an abstract goal, but something that I sat down to calculate.  Ambitiously I tell my friends and family that I have crunched the numbers and I believe that if I work hard, I can lose 12-15 lbs over 3 months.  All I need to do is lose four to five pounds a week.  Furthermore, let’s also say I hope to reduce my body fat from 13% down to 10%.  And on top of all of this, I have a strict student budget that limits me.

Weeks pass by as I work every day to reach my goals:  Going to the gym, eating healthy, taking the stairs etc.  Three months later I am proud to report I’ve lost 13.7 lbs, 18% stronger and spent less money doing it than I imagined.

The headline would read:

“Mancuso fatter and poorer than neighbour expected, friends and family disappointed”

Good grief.

Citizen as Propagandist

It’s remarkable that the protests in Kiev have been so neglected in the Canadian and U.S Media.  If the media are not interested in dissecting the socio-political and economic environment of the Ukraine—and Russia’s relationship with all former members of the Soviet bloc—then one imagines they would at least be interested in the spectacle of a city at war.  I understand their plight, after all they only have 24 hours in a day and there are too many other exciting things happening in Iraq, Syria and Egypt.  Wait sorry, I meant to type Bieber, Rob Ford and Award Season.

The real reason for neglecting Kiev is not that Bieber’s antics or Ford’s drunken patois are so much more important, but that the very idea of showing these images of revolt and rebellion are dangerous.  This isn’t some tinfoil-hat conspiracy about how the media tries to distract and pacify the masses; it’s actually what the who’s-who of the wold have been discussing at the World Economic Forum in Davos this past weekend.  Look at the top 10 global risks according to the WEF 2014 report:

World Economic Forum 2014 Global Risks

World Economic Forum 2014 Global Risks

Six out of 10 risks relate specifically to what’s going on in Kiev.

What the North American public needs is something that is digestible and easy to palate.  This Rise of an Empire video put together by Vladislav Sheremeta is exactly the type of media that is ripe for consumption.  Even if it doesn’t help clarify the pertinent details of the crisis, it does convey the size and scope of what’s going on.  It is a spectacle in the fashion of Michael a Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer trailer for the next Hollywood blockbuster and it’s eye-opening.  High definition mobile cameras and social media are the tools of the citizen propagandist and they can be very effective.