There are many types of PR disasters, but by far the worst is when you push out a campaign based on an idea that really hasn’t been thought through. Pepsi was under fire this month for its advert featuring Kendall Jenner brokering peace between protestors and police using Pepsi. Although the sentiment of unity, peace and understanding was good, the resulting advert “missed the mark” as Pepsi quite rightly put it.
Pepsi’s not the first or the last company to have a bad idea. But unfortunately for companies like Pepsi, there are few places to hide once the bad idea is out there and the backlash starts to flood the internet. Kudos to Pepsi for acknowledging its mistake – and if you want more on handling a crisis, do read this piece by our CEO Claire – but I ask, how could Pepsi have avoided this whole disaster in the first place? Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes!
For me the answer is two-fold: Diversity and the power to speak up.
Our client, Julie Chakraverty, is the founder of Rungway, which is a platform that helps people give and get help on work life questions. Julie is a huge advocate of diversity and is often speaking at events that can help companies develop a more diverse workforce. A story she told at one of these events caught my attention and got me thinking quite differently. She said that when you’re explaining an idea to a friend or someone from a similar background, you don’t have to explain yourself too much because they understand your context. But if you’re explaining something in a situation without likeminded people or people of a similar demographic around, you’ll often need to explain your thinking a lot more to justify it. It’s this dialogue that is hugely beneficial as it can often raise new views and opinions that can strengthen and/or develop an idea a lot further. Or – in this case, help you see that the idea isn’t a great one.
Diversity in any industry and in any department is a great thing – and it’s on the agenda for everyone. In marketing and PR specifically, the winners will be those who push for diversity more aggressively because their workforce will be all the more powerful.
That said, the other side of the coin is having the power to speak up. Having a room full of people with diverse views and backgrounds is great, but you need to give them the power to use their voice.
In a Ted Talk by Adam Galinsky, a social psychologist at Columbia Business School, I learnt about what makes people feel comfortable about speaking up. Adam talks about two motivators that compel us to speak up: having expertise, and having social support and allies. But more interestingly, we all have a range of ‘acceptable behaviours’ based on our experience. The wider the range, the more likely we speak up. This range is also not fixed, it expands and narrows based on context. Adam states that the biggest influence on that range is the individual’s power within the group. When someone has lots of power, the range widens.
And why am I telling you this? It’s because this background helps you understand how to create an environment that encourages everyone to have a voice.
In Adam’s Ted Talk he talks about ways to increase people’s power. He lists methods such as:
- Encouraging people to advocate for others. By doing so, they expand their own range and become more assertive, linking back to a key motivator in allowing us to speak up – making allies
- Avoiding looking at something just from your perspective – Adam says that “when we take someone's perspective, it allows us to be ambitious and assertive, but still be likable”
- Signalling flexibility by giving choices as this lowers others’ defences
By even pushing just one of the behaviours above, you’re more likely to have people speak out during meetings and sessions meant to drive ideas.
For marketers and communication professionals, a bad idea can cause huge damage to a brand’s reputation, putting the future of the company at risk. Pushing for diversity and creating the right environment gives brands a better chance at not ending up in Pepsi’s red-faced position. But also, we – the public – will get better and more thought-provoking ideas, improving the overall standard of publicity, advertising and communications across the industry.