To freedom distortion with love

Generally, I don’t find news trustworthy. As a matter of fact, reading newspapers has become an entertaining rather than an informative act I perform every morning, let alone watching TV news.Yes, I know my job, which involves media monitoring and analysis, is partly what causes this infinite criticism of mine and yes, I know I’ve blogged about media distortion before but yesterday I came across this webpage and I just couldn’t help it. Click on the link. That’s supposed to be live broadcasting from Syria. Amazing, isn’t it? Government attempts to impose censorship on media have backfired exactly because of such webpages, microblogs and blogs set up by fed up citizens who want to fight authoritarian regimes, protest or simply want to be heard. Remember the Iranian protesters who took to the streets in 2009 because of the apparent rigging of the elections. Then remember why Egypt shut down its internet and the following Middle-East awakening. Western media focused solely on their use of Twitter and social media in general as a main tool for organising the resistance. At first glance, these examples seem to prove the widely held belief that communication technology is a pro-democratic weapon to help dissidents to “leap the wall” of censorship and promote democracy and human rights (free speech in particular). However, the closer you look at it, the more it appears to be a double-edged sword. By believing that the internet-freedom utopia (or media in general) is an absolute, people actually make it easier for any politician to control them.

So, if you think authoritative regimes are clueless about the internet, think again. Governments have always used all sort of propaganda to justify their actions – going into war, fighting terrorism, destroying woodland, even concealing nuclear disasters (remember Chernobyl). However, before it used to be TV, radio or newspaper propaganda; now political bodies are using easier ways of sustaining their regimes: promoting internet/ media freedom and using it to their advantage. Youtube used to be banned in Turkey to prevent “the nation’s moral degradation”; now it is accessible, i.e. entertain yourself with free movies and music but do not mess with politics! China’s censorship went beyond surveillance cameras, dissident arrests and media control since the government has cracked down on social networks, using an army of spy bloggers and an internet police that has recently found a smarter way of blocking the VPNs and Gmail – it makes their use inconvenient. Israel’s media censorship is also notorious – remember why journalists were banned from Gaza in 2006? What about the hypocritical fight for democracy in Egypt: get rid of the government but do not blog about women/free speech/religious rights.

As Baudrillard would say, we live in a “simulated version of reality” indeed where the boundaries between real and unreal have blurred so much thanks to media distortion that they are hardly even spotted. Now back to the live broadcasting from Syria: do you now realise why I’m questioning its “reality”? How do we know whether it is or not? What should we do about it? I don’t really have great suggestions and I don’t argue that all media is distorted and untrustworthy. However, I do believe that we should keep in mind the political context in which technology communications could be used and simply follow Morozov’s call for “cyber-realism” rather than “cyber-utopianism” to draw the line between the right and wrong ways of promoting democracy.

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Posted by on June 16, 2012 in Media and Politics


Gender and Fashion: finding your voice through art

“It is evident that women’s “character” – her convictions, her values, her wisdom, her tastes, her behavior – are to be explained by her situation”

Simone de Beauvoir

I never thought I would ever blog about fashion. Not until recently when a friend of mine (actually a designer I often buy clothes from) made me look at it from another perspective and realise there is more to fashion than meets the eye: it could be a platform for free expression of political views, it could also be a way of breaking the glass-ceiling through art!

I remember reading about the television series Signs of the Times where cameras entered ordinary people’s living rooms and asked them to talk about their lives. One woman, an architect’s wife, shed tears explaining how she sometimes went to her children’s bedroom because that was the only place where curtains were permitted. This may seem absurd to many in today’s society. However, to me it turns out to be a yet another Gogol-like tragedy that repeats itself even nowadays describing the trauma of many women restricted by the patriarchal norms of their sometimes extreme societies to express themselves within the marginal spaces of their homes only. Although they are rarely spotted at a fashion show and are usually wrapped, women of the Middle East are actually the world’s biggest buyers of high fashion , and even more: recently they have started finding their voices through art and fashion.

I will skip discussing the well known haute couture designers from this region, such as the Lebanese Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad, and will rather emphasise on the unique rebellion art of a few Middle East women that has been flourishing after the uprisings.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Arab spring seems to have been transforming not only the political landscape of the region but also people’s mindset in terms of fashion. The recent revolutions have actually led to a new wave of art in the Middle East about politics. This is where the women, mostly seen as oppressed and powerless, are finding their voice through fashion and art. This is not, however, a yet another example of feminist designers to base your gender study on. After all, gender and fashion usually explore feminist cultural theories that champion the work of female designers in and out of the traditional “soft” areas of women’s production (like Friedan (1963), Millet (1970), or Lees-Maffei and Houze) or, as another feminist scholar, Attfield, puts it, challenge the patriarchal interpretations of design characterized by a “political position that seeks changes in the interest of women“. However, there is more to this than meets the eye when it comes to the new wave of Middle-East fashion and art. It is not just about what women wear. It is not just about the female vs. male world. Nor it is only about fighting for women’s rights or against the oppressive regimes. Rather, it is an apotheosis of individualism, of each and every woman’s unique inner world, passions and sorrows, and her desire to speak up and be heard.

Surprisingly enough, art in those countries with severe regimes like Saudi Arabia or Iran is the most interesting and clever. However, nowhere has this flourishing of Arab women’s art been more evident than in Dubai. At the Lawrie Shabibi Gallery, for instance, work by Nadia Kaabi-Linke, a Tunisian artist, tackles the heavy topic of the clothes many women in the region are forced to wear. Have a look at the photograph of an Arab man pictured in the desert. Instead of wearing the typically white kandoura and ghutra, his clothes are made from the heavy black material normally worn by women. Here I should point out an interesting fact: the Muslim religious law specifically prohibits men from wearing materials like silk and doesn’t tolerate men dressed in a feminine manner. On the other hand, there are no restrictions on the fabric women wear, as long as they are all covered when in public. It seems to me that this controversy should be seen as a cultural rather than religious phenomenon, don’t you think?

The Arab spring has apparently inspired numerous Middle East artists and designers to take further steps towards breaking through the ominous system of policing (and self-policing) that has long hindered creative production. “Artwear”, “unwearables”, “conceptual clothing” are the forms in which designers, such as Milia M or Fares Cherait searched for a form to manifest their personal, social and political anxieties. Although Milia M produces high end haute couture collections, the hidden shades of rebellion spirit in them can be sensed easily. The beauty of Milia M’s collections lies in the designer’s ability to fully express her own intoxicating spirit, one of a kind, contemporary and culturally allure. A little bit modern, a little bit romantic, with hints of seductive Middle Eastern mystery, Milia’s designs are best suited for daring women, much like the designer herself. Playing with transparencies, folds, openings, and mastering the art of the body-hugging cut, Milia M reveals and accentuates what Middle East women cannot usually wear in public; exciting clothing that is bold, and always beautiful.

Throughout history the relationship between art and fashion has become even stronger and more complex. Constructivism, Surrealism and Conceptual Art are the art movements that offered a solid framework for flourishing relationship with fashion that are now evident in the work of many Middle East artists and designers. Kader Attia’s “Ghost” that was shown at the Saatchi Gallery is a vivid example of this relationship (see Picture 2).

From the gallery entrance, you can only see large aluminum foil. But if you come closer, you realise that you are actually looking at the backs of dozens of nearly identical life-sized foil figures kneeling in straight rows and facing in the same direction. Each represents a Middle Eastern woman covered from head to toe in a chador. It’s as though you found yourself in the women’s section of a mosque. But when looked from the front, you discover these figures are hollow shells – faceless, without identities, only recognised by their chadors. This work obviously addresses the clothing restrictions of women in the Middle East. Similar concepts could be found in Shadi Ghadirian’s replication of the inception photography popular in Iran during the Ghajar dynasty (it was presented in Saatchi too). In the surreal images we can see Iranian females dressed in antique costumes (see Picture 3). If there weren’t contemporary items interrupting the scene, we would think that these female Iranians were captured ages ago. The clash between tradition and modernisation in terms of clothing is apparent, as well as the author’s silent protest against restrictive regimes and attitudes towards Middle East women.

Such politics of identity could be found even in conceptual Arab fashion. Fares Cherait’s 2011 Autumn/ Winter collection (see Picture 4) echoes the uprisings’ spirit using black and red colours and leather accompanied by army accessories to complete the military outlook of the collection.

Such designers seem to deserve admiration because of their ability to retain the practical side of their clothes while using them to convey deeper social, cultural, philosophical and political messages in order to challenge the society’s dominant restrictive ideas of women’s fashion. These ideas strongly remind on conceptual and visionary fashion designers, such as Hussein Chalayan, as well as the above mentioned feminist artists, who make strong political statements via their work. Contemporary Middle – East fashion helps you really see how the dialogue about social problems in the region is opening up through art, evoking positive feelings of hope instead of anxiety.


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Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Middle East, Politics


Divide et impera: in king Smart Phone we believe

Who is the most popular celebrity ever? No, it’s not van Persie, Kate Middleton, Rihanna or Ronaldo. He has a never-beating popularity index of 4 million for His first weekend of launch and I think no one else could even dream of such success! Have you guessed yet? Yes, I am now pleased to announce His Majesty King Smart Phone!

Having this in mind it is perhaps easy to guess which items have been added to the basket of goods used to measure how quickly consumer prices are rising, e.g. the inflation index. I will spare you the wondering:  the iPad and the Galaxy. Common sense, right? Such tablet devices have made our busy lives so much easier – now we can shop online, book appointments, check the weather, stay in touch with everybody and it’s all thanks to His Majesty: The Smart Phone!

However, as every other king, Smart Phone likes invading too.Moving slowly, creeping, crawling…His Majesty is one of those smart generals who win battles following the old axiom: divide et impera. You don’t know what I’m talking about? You will be surprised, just keep reading. Thin and small (actually not so small – the Dell phone is as big as my hand palm) king Smart Phone and his endless iPad/iPhone/laptop army  have already invaded our personal lives! When was the last time you were on the tube without obsessively checking your smart phone or holding your iPad? How many of those devices do you actually have? Recently I have stayed over at a friend’s place and I felt as if I had a night watch: that friend actually has a two or three smart phones (maybe more but that was all I saw), an iPad and all sort of such things…even keeping some of the phones under the pillow! Do you call it a tech-lover or a tech-addict?

I personally call it obsession. I see zombie-like people tweeting, facebooking, e-mailing etc. every morning, then at lunch time, then pre-dinner, after-dinner and even when they go to the bathroom (this reminds me of somebody, hope they are not reading)! I thought the tamagotchi era was gone or that a lot of people would prefer to have real pets but now I see so many people suffering from the “Sleeping with your phone” syndrom 0 turning their phone into a  pet or even a girlfriend! Yeah, have you seen the episode of The Big Bang Theory when Raj’s girlfriend was actually Apple’s Siri? Funny and tragic, I would say! I do think all of us need to fight back! Or, as the Economist puts it, let’s do some Digital Dieting, pals!


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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in Uncategorized


Research Paper Measuring Sustainability: An industry case study of Maersk Line

How could I forget to blog about the CSR Academic Conference I was invited to attend in October! It was a great experience and an amazing opportunity to both  meet academics and practitioners and of course to present my research paper. Above all, it was an honour for I was the only undergraduate to attend and to even present a paper. Having been the youngest, I must admit I was underestimating myself. However, my attitude changed when I realized I was the only one to discuss the VMM and the Barcelona Principles which surprised me for this is a milestone that has changed the whole industry. Besides, linking it to another topical issue – CSR, added an interesting twist to the whole paper which in my opinion makes it a unique piece of work. There were also other things that sparked my attention during the conference. For example, after presenting I was sarcastically asked if I was trying to offer a way of measuring ethics. Well, I wasn’t even intending to because obviously there is no way to do it. Why? If we simply start our reasoning from the definition of ethics (moral philosophy) we would figure out that this is something personal, something that depends on one’s own views, something that is influenced by cultural/political/socioeconomic/ historical and even age factors. In other words, what is good for me might not be good for you and vice verse. Hence, it cannot be measured. Hence, the real purpose of my paper is not to measure an organisation’s ethics but its stakeholder relationships in terms of preference, attitude and engagement regarding the company’s CSR activities, as it is the case of my paper. That’s not are quantitative data which makes it hard to evaluate even with the VMM. It is easy to prove the first four boxes of the VMM (awareness, knowledge, interest and preference) but how do you prove the last one – action, e.g. behavioural change? This is what every communication campaign should be aiming at – a behavioural change in target audiences, not just creating of buzz and that is why it is very important to constantly measure and evaluate it. The VMM offer a way of doing it but it seems to me that there are still areas of improvement and this is what I argue about in my paper. I believe there is no (and should be not) a universal formula of measuring performance because each and every industry is unique and therefore requires evaluation techniques tailored specifically to the specific communication program and organisation, in the case of my paper Maersk Line.

I forgot to mention that this paper started as a uni project and  Maersk Line’s Head of Climate and Sustainability liked it so much that I was invited to their corporate headquarters in Copenhagen! Then their Senior Director of Sustainability was very pleased with what I did which led to another invitation which I am planning to do in near future. What is more, I was quoted in their global Group newsletter as a specialist! So, this is the paper I presented:



Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to prove that the new International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) measurement and evaluation guidelines (the Barcelona Principles and Valid Metrics Matrix) are useful tools for measuring ethical behaviour and they could and should be even applied to industries with specific requirements.

Design/ methodology/ approach – this paper evaluates the role of the Barcelona Principles and the Valid Metrics Matrix (VMM) as a useful platform for measuring the outcomes of Maersk Line’s efforts to showcase ethical behaviour .

Findings – Maersk Line tends to focus on the technical aspects of public relations; however, the new AMEC framework could further improve the carrier’s evaluation indicators by enabling the company to measure the combination of reporting its environmental footprint and its quality of building and sustaining relationships.

Originality/ value – Many companies focus their CSR efforts on customer satisfaction. However, little is done in terms of measuring performance. This paper provides an interesting perspective of this issue   and focuses on applying the new CIPR measurement and evaluation framework to sustainability business strategies.

Key words Corporate Social Responsibility, Barcelona Principles, Valid Metrics Matrix, AMEC, Maersk Line, Measurement, Evaluation

Paper type Research paper

1.   Introduction

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying”


 This quote perfectly describes the long journey that the public relations industry has started in terms of developing its measurement and evaluation framework. After more than a decade of learning and improving, the public relations industry is ready to embrace these new changes which allow every public relations practitioner to “fly”, i.e. to demonstrate their success through their ability to influence change and meet objectives. That quote may also be valid for every public relations professional: one must always upgrade their knowledge and skills to remain competitive and useful for their organisations or clients. In other words, customer satisfaction starts with improved quality. Stakeholders are adding CSR to the mix of their expectations for good services. As a result, measuring public relations’ impact on businesses has never been of such importance.

It is interesting to see how one particular industry has responded to the challenge.  For the maritime industry in particular, these new trends of measurement mean that their PR has entered new waters. Even though most of the concepts of Corporate Social Responsibility have been spreading through businesses in all sectors, some of the conglomerates in container shipping, like Maersk Line, are already far ahead in their proactive approach compared to other industries which is an interesting field to explore.

Back in 1994, the International Public Relations Association predicted the gradual priority of outcomes over outputs, but it took until 2010 to secure the introduction of a new measurement framework, i.e. the Barcelona Principles (INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS ASSOCIATION 1994; INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS ASSOCIATION 1994a). The Barcelona Principles marked both the death of the Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs) and the start of a new era in measuring public relation’s impact on businesses. Here we can ask: can we measure everything? Can the Valid Metrics Matrix (VMM) be applied everywhere? The new toolkit still does not provide all the answers but it is the backbone for showing the real value that public relations can bring to business quality.

This paper evaluates how the maritime sector has responded to the new CSR trends by examining Maersk Line’s sustainability agenda. The paper then applies the VMM to Maersk Line’s green strategy with the attempt to argue that definitive research needs to be done to prove to businesses that the new measurement and evaluation guidelines could and should be applied everywhere, even to industries with specific requirements like container shipping. Finally, the paper suggests that the VMM should be further improved in order to provide more accurate ways of proving public relations’ positive contribution to managing reputation.

2.    Corporate Social Responsibility and the Container shipping industry

Corporate Social Responsibility is one of the most important issues and developments of the 21st century. Within the field of sustainability two major CSR movements could be identified: environmental and social. Environmental issues are often the sole focus on sustainability programs (as seen in CLIFTON and AMRAN 2011; HOGAN 2010; DUCKWORH and MOORE 2010; HORRIGAN 2010; REGESTER and LARKIN 2008) with societal activities usually overlooked, especially in sectors that are hugely exposed to environmental disasters. Nevertheless, increased activity in environmental management can be evidenced by actions taken by both the government and private sector resulting in proactive or reactive management company policies (FISK 2010; HADDOCK – FRAISER and TOURELLE 2010; PEACH 1987; TENCH and YEOMANS 2009).  Where does container shipping stay on the proactive – reactive agenda axis? Unfortunately, the marine industry is one of the most passive sectors in terms of measuring and reporting its environmental footprint. Protecting the environment is the biggest sustainability challenge for container shipping and yet no international regulatory framework exists despite the fact that international shipping, according to recent studies, carries more than one third of the world trade with a rapidly growing demand expected to grow even more (WORLD SHIPPING COUNCIL 2011; INTERNATIONAL MARITIME ORGANIZATION 2010). Subsequently, it is further exposed to possible unethical practices (PRUZAN – JORGENSEN and FARRAG 2010; KANTER 2010).

However, this provides only a partial explanation of the whole problem. When the social CSR movement has started shifting from a mere “shareholder as stakeholder” concept  ( as seen in HADDOCK – FRASER and TOURELLE 2010) to a beware–of-the–activists one, i.e. emphasizing on the importance of end users in sustainability reporting (as seen in HADDOCK – FRAISER and TOURELLE 2010; JOHAR, BIRK and EINWILLER 2010), the marine industry still fails to make reputation and legitimacy within a society key value propositions, let alone measuring its performance and relationships with stakeholders.

 Against an obvious lack of regulatory standardization Maersk Line’s decision to become the first carrier to take actions of compliance and subsequently of adoption of a proactive sustainability business strategy seems to deserve admirations. World’s largest container shipping company measures, reports and reduces its environmental footprint and has recently started increasing its transparency  and end user engagement. But how does the conglomerate measure its performance?

 3.     Measuring sustainability

 Most businesses still view and measure quality in terms of customer satisfaction and container shipping is no exception. Maersk Line has already introduced various programs and initiatives to both showcase best practice of measuring and reporting its environmental footprint and to encourage other carriers to follow this fine example (see Appendix…) However, this is the technical aspect of public relations – whether there are no errors, no pollution, delays, no mechanical breakdowns or no customer complaints (as seen in INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS ASSOCIATION 1994). These aspects are doubtlessly very important, especially for high risk industries like the maritime business. What about the managerial aspects of quality? Both service and process require quality. Service delivery is of course of greatest importance; however, process plays a vital role in terms of quality performance. Therefore, some marine companies, like Maersk Line, have realized the essential role of performance in achieving their goals.

 “The company has always had a good reputation of strong values so now we have a solid foundation to build on. However, 3-4 years earlier there was almost no communication to stakeholders but this has changed. The decision to communicate much proactively is a great opportunity to take the lead and win by doing so…We are trying to mobilise the whole company in order to meet our customers’ needs…We are going to develop a special training program for our staff that will be delivered this year”

                                                Maersk Line Head of Climate and Sustainability

 The key to understanding corporate reputation has become the measure of the relationships it is based on, especially with the rise of CSR. The world’s largest container shipping company has obviously become concerned about it, implementing it into its long – term strategy. The need for transparency, reliability and lower costs are already exerting pressure on International Maritime Organization (IMO) to eventually introduce a global regulatory framework, and thus on business operational models in the industry where customers are already greening their supply chains. As a result, the urge for proof of ethical behaviour has changed the perception about organisations. However, is it enough for Maersk Line to only measure its environmental footprint when it is now seen more as a strategic innovation partner rather than a mere cargo carrier? When the levels of communication channels surrounding sustainability have increased and altered the way businesses manage relationships with their various stakeholders? The result is an increase of the importance of these relationships. Therefore, building, managing and measuring them is fundamental to an organisation’s success. Thus, it could be argued that understanding how to measure should become a part of the sole focus of Maersk Line’s strategy: if relationships can be measured then they can be improved, and so could communication effectiveness and overall performance (PAINE 2011).

4.    The Valid Metrics Matrix

 According to Fraser Seitel, a former vice president for public relations for the Chase Manhattan Bank (as seen in INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS ASSOCIATION 1994), the underlying concept in all definitions of public relation is the word performance. In other words, performance becomes a communicative concept which in turns makes public relations the key to managing an excellent reputation. But what does excellent reputation mean for container shipping? How do we know it is well managed?

The recently introduced Barcelona Principles and VMM are a solid platform that could be used to measure excellent reputation and stakeholder relationships in a time of great uncertainty in the maritime sector. However, these guidelines are not the definite rules of measurement for public relation’s impact reaches different audiences and appears in a variety of forms, i.e. crisis communication, reputation building, community engagement. In other words, there is no universal metric for all PR activities, even though the industry was entirely used to the already doomed AVEs (CIPR 2010). Thus, to truly communicate the value that public relations activities add to achieving business goals, measurement was agreed to be seen as a continuum of metrics – a combination of outputs and outcomes that ideally leads to achieved business results tailored specifically to match the program’s objectives (AMEC 2011a)(Figure 1: A Very simplified way of how PR works).


Figure 1: A Very simplified way of how PR works

As seen in Figure 1, the Matrix is a simplified representation of how PR functions – starting with disseminating information (PR Activity) to third parties (Intermediary) which then communicate the message to stakeholders (Target Audiences). Generally, the philosophy behind the Matrix lies in the concept of behavioural change: moving from mere target market awareness and knowledge created by PR activities to preference and action amongst target audiences (Figure 2: The Valid Metrics Matrix).

   .Figure 2: The Valid Metrics Matrix (AMEC 2011)

This appears to be the focal point of every campaign for two primary reasons. Firstly, this very box shows the final outcome of any communication program, i.e. whether the business objectives were achieved or not.  Secondly and most importantly, the last grid is said to serve as a proof of the positive contribution public relations practitioners make to an organisation’s reputation management. Therefore, measuring the impacts of PR activities on target audiences is crucial. Demonstrating the shift from Awareness, to Understanding, to Interest/ Consideration, to Preference could easily be done through the application of a continuum of metrics which, most of the times, even overlap (see Figure 3: Reputation Building). How could it be proven that effective public relations activities were the heart of a company’s successful end results? Was PR the reason behind the increase in Maersk Line’s market share, profit, customer demand or cost savings in 2010 and if so could it be measured and explained using the VMM?


Figure 3: Reputation Building (AMEC 2011)

The launch of the first global standard for PR measurement allows a careful analysis and evaluation of the managerial impact of quality to sustain Maersk Line’s reputation. In 2010 A. P Moller–Maersk Group reported both record–breaking net profits and hitting of sustainability performance targets ahead of schedule (WRIGHT 2011; A.P MOLLER–MAERSK 2010). In contrast, demand rates have been continuously dropping in 2011 despite the expected demand in growth, the progression in creating sustainable shipping that led to customer satisfaction and increased visibility to end users (MAERSK LINE 2011). The VMM can easily illustrate public relations’ positive impact on the shift and increase in Awareness, Knowledge, Interest and Preference levels (Figure 3: Reputation Building). How can we demonstrate that behavioural change has taken place?

The new framework improves the company’s evaluation indicators because it enables it to measure the results of its efforts in terms of building and sustaining relationships; in terms of improving its communication channels. To illustrate, Maersk Line has been awarded various prizes because of its investments in sustainable growth and transparency and has also won plaudits from their ethically conscious customers and media, including the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Guardian (; MAERSK LINE 2011; JOURNAL OF COMMERCE 2010; This certainly proves that the company has already entered the Preference Grid (see Figure 3: Reputation Building). The launch of Maersk Line’s various initiatives certainly proves that Awareness, Knowledge, Interest and Preference have been created:

“We see our customers putting more and more emphasis on environmental issues and now they started looking at transportation as well. We can choose to do nothing and risk losing out business but we can also respond. But we want also to help this trend grow, we want to drive that demand and create solutions…The decision to communicate much proactively is a great opportunity to take the lead and win by doing so”, Maersk Line Head of Climate and Sustainability*

Maersk Line manages successfully to combine corporate continuity and sustainable trends. It has already set a solid foundation for measuring and reporting its environmental footprint in order to develop a greener and more transparent company. Even though the world’s largest ocean carrier is a pioneer in adopting its ethical performance in a rather unethical industry, it still has areas to improve. It could be argued that Maersk Line tends to focus on the technical aspects of public relations, i.e. its carbon and C02 footprints or its supplier performance.  The complex and changing nature of relationships between an organisation and its publics not only requires measurement and evaluation of the outputs but also of outcomes to provide competitive insights. It could be argued therefore that the Barcelona Principles and the VMM could be a useful platform for measuring Maersk Line’s performance: a combination between the carrier’s efforts to showcase ethical behaviour by reporting its environmental footprint and its quality of managing relationships in and outside the organisation. However, it seems that the new PR measurement and evaluation framework proves to be insufficient in terms of driving behavioural change in target markets. Therefore, it could be argued that the VMM should be further reevaluated and improved in order to ensure more accurate measurement of public relations’ effective impact on managing business reputation.



Posted by on February 2, 2012 in CSR, CSR in container shipping, PR


To make a promise and to keep it…PRICELESS!

No, I’m not going to write about that cool ad from the UEFA Champions League. Now when I mentioned it I’m sure people would pay more attention to what I’m blogging about because I just referred to football. To me this is one of the greatest ads ever for it does more than just promoting a product: it reminds on that word of honour called promise.   I like writing about words, their use and their meanings and I think now it’s the best time to ask you: Do you keep your promises? Or if you can’t stick to them do you apologize or you just leave the other person/people hanging? What does a promise mean to you?

To me a promise means a lot. It means I put my trust in somebody, it means I rely on this person, it means I believe that person or in other words this person means a lot to me. So keeping a promise show you care, shows respect, shows your manners and attitude. Or at least that’s how I see it. When I say I promise I do mean it and I never promise something I can’t make. Or if I can’t make it I certainly do everything possible to inform the other person and I do apologize and try to make up to them. Many people, for example, don’t bother to call if they are late or they simply forget about it. OK, life happens: once you forget, twice you forget….n times you forget and it turns into a habit. Or it seems you just don’t really care, doesn’t it? Like we say in my country: If you want to do something you always find a way; if you don’t want to do something – you always find an excuse. Probably I would sound a bit too old-fashioned or sensitive but what’s wrong with that? Since when it’s become old-fashioned to respect people?

It’s these “little” things that make the big ones. Or like we say in my country: “A word given – a stone thrown” – you can’t take it back and you should stick to your word. That’s what I try to do. If you never do it then why do you promise at all? The word “promise” simply loses its meaning, it just becomes chit-chat and eventually nobody really believes when you say “I promise”. I’ve noticed, especially around New Year’s Eve, that many people say they will now change their ways and lives for better because it’s a New Year – it’s a new beginning. Well, my views are quite different than that. The New Year is just another year – from January to  December. Every year many people say they will have a fresh new start and then nothing really changes – it’s just another New Year’s Eve with celebrations, friends, family, food, music etc. and then it comes another one…and another one. Do you really need a New Year to change your life? If you want to become a better man – do it. If you want to be a braver kid – then be. If you miss somebody – call. If you want something – go get it. Why do you need another New Year for that? You live now and tomorrow starts today! Why do you need to do something special for your sweetheart only on St. Valentine’s day? Or their birthday? Do you need a reason to say “I love you” or “I miss you” or “I care about you”? I don’t! I know in many societies the New Year’s Eve is related to customs and hopes for a better, healthier and happier year but come on, is that the only time we are supposed to hope for that? Aren’t we supposed to also do something to achieve it?

I’m not trying to change anybody’s habits or ways. I realized it is impossible long time ago. What I can change is my own ways. If more people do that then it’d make a difference. What about you?


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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Ethics and Philosophy


Eyeless in Gaza: the misuse of language in war reporting

Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting for about  century over land. The battles  – involving many other issues than just land, have been fought with tanks, rockets, aircraft, fists, stones, sticks, you name it. However, nowadays battles do not happen only on clearly delineated fronts. The battles of the 21st century are fought on editorial pages, TV screens and especially on the Internet. Satellites and cameras made transmission of text and visual context almost instantaneous so wherever we live in the world we stay “informed”. But is everything as “real” as it seems?This globalization and unification of communication have had a big impact on war turning it into a global spectacle, especially for those not directly involved in it.  Basically, if you can dominate world media and influence people’s opinions, you can defeat your enemy on this second “virtual” front by letting global levers like trade sanctions, decreased tourism etc. constrain him.

That is a good reason why media often reduce highly complex conflicts such as the Israeli/ Gaza one. Sweeping instances of media distortion – when big media report important war conflicts wrong – fascinate me. That’s why I decided to write my dissertation on this particular topic, using the Israeli/Gaza conflict as a case study.

Having witnessed the 2008/09 Israeli/Hamas war I had the chance to see how international, Arab and Israeli media reported the conflict. Being 20 km from Gaza I got pretty much real experience that I could compare with what was reported. You can imagine how shocked I was while reading and hearing different stories on the conflict from a variety of newspapers and TV channels. They were reporting the same subject but why did it sound so differently?

Words, words, words – “power of media is all about words and the use of words. It is bout semantics” Robert Fisk.

At the Independent Literary Festival in Woodstock 2010 I had the pleasure to hear Robert Fisk, the best journalist reporting on the Middle – East, speaking about the misuse of words by journalists.

It is about the employment of phrases and clauses and their origins. And it is about the misuse of history; and about our ignorance of history. More and more today, we journalists have become prisoners of the language of power’.
It made me think why is it so? Is it because journalists don’t pay enough attention to the words they use? Or is it on purpose? Sitting in the old Woodstock Church in Oxfordshire and listening to the discussion I was wondering why and I couldn’t give myself a good answer. I’m still looking for the answer but after hearing Robert Fisk’s lecture it became a bit clearer to me: power of media is nowadays all about words…
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Media and Politics, Middle East, Politics, PR


Becoming green: how small things can have a big impact

Sometimes small changes can make a big difference and Holland & Barrett are a good example. Nowadays Corporate Social Responsibility is becoming an important issue for all industries and that’s why it’s crucial for companies to take a lead on their support for the environment.

 Linking the banning of plastic bags into its 25-year of a butterfly conversation project positioned Holland & Barrett as the first high street retailer to lead the way on a major environmental concern. Under the banner “The Butterfly Effect”, Pegasus PR launched a campaign aiming to highlight H&B’s corporate responsibility, its 25-year sponsorship of the Large Blue butterfly conservation project and achieve significant media coverage. The campaign, launched at London Zoo reached an audience of more than 56 million and was featured in major press including the BBC and the Daily Telegraph. Through the PR campaign, H&B successfully raised the profile of its corporate responsibility towards green issues and its overall environmental credibility. It also won a Gold CIPR Pride Award for Corporate Responsibility and therefore I decided to have a closer look at it as an example of best practice. The campaign was quite creative employing the well-known “Butterfly Effect” theme to add an interesting twist to the story. The strategy was clear: to raise awareness of H&B as an environmentally aware retailer and communicate social responsibility to its eco conscious target consumer. What seems really interesting to me is the fact that they added a political angle to capture the attention of the business media by releasing comments from H&B’s CEO challenging the UK government to encourage other retailers to follow its positive lead by introducing a tax on plastic bags. Furthermore, this controversy was used to grab media attention on an old topic: introducing half measures such as plastic bag charges or a total plastic bag ban?

The campaign was measured by attendance at the briefing, number of press cuttings, total audience reach and equivalent PR value. In terms of their objectives it seems that the campaign hit its targets and even exceeded them. However, in my opinion measurable outcomes should have been set to make the campaign look even better, i.e instead of just aiming to raise awareness of H&B as an environmentally aware retailer a clear percentage could have been given and then compared to the initial perception of media and target audience.

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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in CSR, PR


All I want for Christmas is….BULGARIA AIR!

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, with every Christmas card I write may your days be merry and bright and may all your Christmases be white!”

Do you remember this song? I bet you do! Do you still want a white Christmas? I bet you don’t!

Especially if you are stuck in Heathrow or another airport for a couple of days! As Western Europe was hit by an unusual amount of snow major airports were shut leaving hundreds of people stuck for a couple of days! What should airlines do in such a crisis? Some of them provided beds, food and even clowns to entertain their passengers in Frankfurt. Others, like BA, provided meals, hotel rooms, ticket refunds and ticket substitutes within the next 12 months. If only BA could postpone Christmas!

I’m lucky enough to be home watching all this on the news in my comfy living room in Bulgaria. Here there’s far more snow, temperatures are more freezing, weather conditions are generally bad during the winter, Sofia airport can’t be even compared to Heathrow and it’s still operating. So I’m wondering why measures weren’t taken on time? Was it that hard to predict this scenario?

Anyway, all this is not even surprising me. What really caught my attention was the kind gesture Bulgaria Air (Bulgaria’s National Carrier) made to all Bulgarian passengers stuck in British airports.

The number of Bulgarian citizens in the UK is large. Most of them are students, like me , who want to fly back home for the winter holiday.  Most of them booked their flights with a low – cost airlines like easyJet or Wizzair which means no refunds or entitlement of anything.

Fortunately they will be able to see their families as Bulgaria Air decided not only to save its own passengers with delayed flights, but also to send extra aircraft for all other Bulgarians no matter which airline they fly with! Airplanes were sent to Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton a couple of times and more airplanes are expected to fly to the UK these days.

I’ve never heard of another airline doing that and I think that’s very generous, humane and simply the greatest Christmas gift for all those helpless people in airports! What’s more, Bulgaria Air’s profile was definitely increased and I  think it should be an example of how to deal with such a crisis without causing a massive outrage and even keeping loyal customers and winning new ones!


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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in PR


Maersk: being ethical in an unethical industry

Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, has recently won an European Business Award in Paris. Based on its environmental agenda, the Group was awarded the “Environmental Awareness Award” in a field of entrants that ranged from skincare to aircraft. I was very pleased that a shipping company won such an award as this industry is generally very dirty business. I think Maersk deserved to be awarded for its integration of environmental sustainability into the business strategy, and especially Maersk Line’s commitment to transparency and open innovation.

Maersk proved that moving closer to customers can actually be beneficial! As shippers became more concern about their carbon footprints shipping companies had to make a move. Maersk was a pioneer in introducing slow – steaming and hybrid engines in order to lessen its environmental footprint. Since then the Group has been agressive in its efforts to reduce its vessels carbon emissions and to turn that reduction into a competitive advantage by differentiating itself as the greenest carrier.

For instance, the company announced it is getting independent third-party verification of its carbon dioxide emissions and introduced the so called CO2 Dial in its monthly customer scorecard, so each customer can see what its footprint has been by shipping with Maersk Line over the last month, and also can see how that compares to what it would have been if they shipped with an industry-average carrier.

Maersk also set three goals for reducing its environmental footprint: cutting CO2 emissions by 25 percent by 2020; eliminating sulfur oxide emissions altogether; and reducing the overall impact of its vessels on the marine environment by purifying its ballast emissions, using non-toxic paint in vessel hulls and making sure there are no oil spills, or having procedures in place to cope with them if they occur.

By doing so Maersk has not only reduced its customers’ carbon footprints, but it has also reshaped the whole industry! All other carriers have already started following this fine example. For instance, APL, the world’s sixth largest carrier by fleet capacity introduced slow-steaming in 2009. What is more, the company already has a separate website devoted to its environmental initiatives!

Ocean carriers are realizing that helping their big customers lessen the environmental footprint of their supply chains also can reduce ship costs and maybe even give them a marketing edge. The World Ports Climtate Initiative that will introduce the International Ship Index, the Clean Cargo Working Group of Business for Social Responsibility, the support of the Global Compact, the CO2 Dial are only a part of all initiatives Maersk started. I’m very happy that there is such a company that’s not “greenwashing” but is actually really “green” and good, especially in such an industry! I recently read that this month Maersk has donated 300 ships worth 500 000 dollars to help a charity called Advance Aid to ship emergency kits to Africa!

Maersk has been very proactive in its efforts to be ethical and I think companies from all industries should take this as a great example of how to be good! Recently I read a statement somewhere which said that a company can’t increase its profit being environmentally friendly. Well, by exceeding its previous $4bn forecast for annual net profit I think Maersk just did the opposite!


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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in CSR, CSR in container shipping


Strategy and Objectives: which one comes first?

Recently I had an argument in university with some of my classmates about whether strategy or objectives come first in a PR plan. It was a long argument, my classmates even looked at books to find the answer and interestingly enough there were different versions in those books we found.

I personally think that strategy comes first – it’s the whole lot, the meta message, isn’t it? It’s the big picture of everything, the whole sense. Every sense is formed by many little “senses” so to say and these are the objectives – things we want to achieve. What do you think?



Posted by on January 30, 2012 in PR