Tag Archives: social media

Worst PR Crisis of 2015: The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal


PR-online-reputation2015 has seen one the biggest cases of corporate fraud since Enron in 2001: the Volkswagen emissions scandal. By rigging the software system of their diesel vehicles so that they can successfully pass environmental tests, Volkswagen has not only broken the law in many jurisdictions but also blatantly lied to its customers and stakeholders. In doing so, VW tarnished two of the core values on which it had built its reputation since World War II: trust and integrity—technical reliability and safety being the others. Ironically, Volkswagen had been the least probable candidate in terms of corporate fraud in the public eye. Nobody would have expected such a breach of ethics from the German carmaker. The fact that recent news reports seem to confirm that the number of cars equipped with the test-rigging software system might have been overestimated does not lessen in anyway the initial intention to mislead. As a result, Volkswagen is facing its most severe reputation crisis since its implication with the Nazi regime over 70 years ago.

While there are too many facets to this scandal to be evoked in a single blog post, the Volkswagen story is sure to become a textbook example of what not to do—and what to do, if the recovery is well handled—in business management and public relations manuals. For us, public relations professionals, the VW story is interesting on many fronts: from crisis planning and crisis management to image restoration and the role of social media in fuelling and potentially helping to solve a crisis. Who hasn’t smiled at the joke circulating on social media platforms and turning the company’s well-known tagline “Volkswagen. Das Auto.” into a well-deserved “Volkswagen. Das Cheater.”? The story is also a compelling case from a professional ethics point of view. Public relations professionals pledge to never “knowingly disseminate false or misleading information.” Therefore, it must have been quite an ordeal for VW’s PR team to learn of their company’s breach of trust and to realise they had communicated information that was misleading all along—although unintentionally.

A recent Leger marketing survey conducted in October 2015 indicated that Volkswagen’s reputation score among Canadians (

) has dropped 61 points from 44 to -17 pre- to post-crisis—one of the lowest scores ever recorded in 18 years of Leger’s reputation index. What is interesting, however, is that the survey paints a different picture among VW customers. Despite a 32-point drop, VW manages to earn a score of 62 points (down from 94, pre-crisis). VW customers, (https://twitter.com/dave_scholz/status/657550765045784576) seem to be less affected by the emissions scandal than Canadians as a whole. One of the reasons for this put forth by some experts is that the German carmaker might still be viewed by its customer base as a safe and reliable carmaker from an engineering standpoint despite the company’s breach of trust and ethics on the emissions file. Above all, this survey reinforces the fact that the VW scandal is complex and that the company’s stakeholders have been affected differently as it is usually the case. The fact that Volkswagen operates globally only adds to the complexity of the story and makes VW’s road to recovery even more compelling to watch.

As Volkswagen sales growth in Europe and North America has stalled, only time will tell whether or not VW remains in the ditch and for how long.  The Volkswagen emissions scandal was most likely the worst PR crisis of 2015. What was the one that caught your attention and why? Tell us at #CPRSToronto.

Katia Collette, APR    CPRS Toronto, Treasurer

Archived tour of @RyersonDMZ: Soapbox (4:48)


Last week, Justin Trudeau was described as cultivating a digital-era image in a Maclean’s piece that also talked abut his use of an online platform for sharing ideas called Soapbox.

Part two of CPRS Toronto’s March 12 tour of Ryerson’s DMZ features Warren Tanner, co-founder and CMO at Hitsend Inc., creators of Soapbox.


Academics vs. Practitioners: Can Public Relations truly be in the public interest?


By Sana Ansari @sanaansariTo

The PRSA discussion around the definition of public relations has sparked debate well beyond the American borders. In Canada, the definition is unique in its mention of the “public interest,” and it was to this end that a panel of five prominent PR practitioners and academics came together on May 10 to debate the much talked about question: Can public relations truly be in the public interest?

The participants

The debate was moderated by one of the authors of the Canadian definition: Dr. Terry Flynn APR, FCPRS of McMaster University. Industry practitioners included Andrew Berthoff, APR, Senior VP at Environics Communications; and Diane Bégin, APR, Senior Consultant at Thornley Fallis. Among the academics present were Barry Waite, Professor and Program Coordinator, Corporate Communications & Public Relations at The Centre for Creative Communications, Centennial College; and Roger Clowater, Public Relations Professor at Seneca College.

Reclaiming PR

According to Diane Bégin, the definition of public relations needs to be reclaimed. As suggested by Barry Waite, people have been given a negative perception of PR because of political and celebrity scandals, perpetuating a “spin mentality,” and the stereotype that public relations involves just crisis communications or media relations. To change this requires extensive education not only for practitioners within the field but also the public so they can call out unethical practice through the adequate channels. The ecology of education in Toronto needs to develop as it has in other parts of Canada to create more awareness about what the PR industry really encompasses.

PR as a corporate tool

Dr. Terry Flynn posed the question: Is serving in the public interest an ethical obligation (for an organization) or is it because it makes good business sense? According to Roger Clowater, an organization that maintains transparency and an open dialogue would reduce the chances of a crisis arising, and therefore make good business sense. A responsible PR professional will always advise executive management to be socially responsible and transparent, especially about issues that are in the public interest. Andrew Berthoff quoted Mark Twain saying “When in doubt tell the truth.”

Effective public relations start with good employee relations

When all employees are on board with the organization’s goals and standards, they are more likely to provide customers with a level of service in line with the organization’s mission statement. It is the role of the communicator to organize how a message is to be communicated, and cite mutual interests between an organization and its various stakeholders – all while maintaining transparency and an open dialogue.

Social media as a double-edged sword

With the rise of social media it has become easier than ever for the PR professional to establish an ongoing dialogue and keep management informed about issues that are of interest to the public and the organization itself. However, with the emergence of two-way communications, it has become challenging for an organization to control its message.  If a good PR strategy is in place, the feedback from various platforms can be used by the organization to better serve its stakeholders and customers.

Conclusion: Licensing is key

The panel agreed that the role of public relations professionals as a collective is to maintain an ethical sensitivity in all their dealings, and strive to implement a code of ethics in order to best serve the public interest.  Dr. Flynn quoted Dr. Edward Bernays, who is also known as the father of public relations saying: “the only way this profession is going to serve the public interest is if it is a licensed profession.” Andrew Berthoff further suggested that “accreditation and licensing need to go hand in hand.” According to Diane Bégin the role of PR professionals is, “…to set the bar high and to become the role models.” Licensing the profession would help create more awareness about and adherence to ethics and standards in the public relations industry.

Stay tuned!

The debate has set the ball rolling for further discussions about Public Relations education, ethics and standards. Stay tuned for upcoming events from the CPRS Marketing, Communications and Education Committee!

Twitter: @CPRSToronto #EDtalks

Sana Ansari is a member of the CPRS Toronto Marketing, Communications and Education Committee and an Intern at Smitten Creative Boutique.

Sorry, can’t work. Tweeting.


By Miriam Fitting @miriamfitting

Admit it, you’ve tweeted at work before. Or checked Facebook for newly-tagged photos of yourself. I’ve done it.

It has become almost second nature for Generation Y’ers like me to pull out a Smartphone and share a funny picture with followers. This all happens much to the dismay of employers. Previous employers banned the use of Internet for personal surfing, but I couldn’t resist going on Facebook in that limbo time between 3 and 5 p.m.

In 2009, 54 per cent of employers cited these reasons for banning personal Internet use:

  • It’s a distraction leading to decreased productivity
  • It uses up precious bandwidth
  • The potential for legal liabilities
  • The potential for corporate information to be leaked
  • The risk of viruses


If you have never surfed the Internet at work or school for personal reasons, you might want to start. According to a Socialcast study, employees who engage in workplace Internet leisure browsing (WILB) are nine per cent more productive than those who don’t. (see the infographic)

“Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the Internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a day’s work, and as a result, increased productivity,” said Dr. Brent Coker, University of Melbourne.

New generation in the workforce

A classmate’s blog post mentioned the Cisco Connected World Technology Report and the importance of the Internet to Generation Y. Out of the 2,800 college students and recent graduates surveyed, 56 per cent said they would refuse to work at a company that bans social media.

This not only shows the changing mindset of young professionals, but it’s evidence that companies need to be more aware of what new employees expect from them.

Do you find taking social media breaks increase your productivity?

Locating Influencers Online – Without Third-party Paid Software


By Adam Weitner @AdamWeitner

Before you can dive in to an online influencer outreach program you obviously need to figure out who is influential and where they hang out online. Customers and potential customers read blogs and take part in discussions online every day, and online influencers are writing those blogs, and leading those conversations. If you can find out which blogs, and where these discussions are happening, you can begin to seek out, and build a list of online influencers. This can be done without purchasing third-party software such as Radian6 or Sysomos, though even with those programs some human analysis will be required for building accurate influencer lists.

For now, we will focus on finding potential online influencers and compiling a list.

Step 1 – identify keywords:

Since customers and potential customers will be actively seeking information, they will be searching for content based on keywords that are related to what they want to find. For example, your company produces and sells tablet computers – people who are interested in buying a tablet, or learning more about tablets will search the internet for more information. They will search for things such as “tablet computers 2011”, for example.

To determine which keywords related to your product type are the most commonly used, you can use a tool like the Google AdWords “Get keywords ideas” Tool. Once you’ve populated a list of popular search terms that are related, you can make a note of the most commonly used ones (between 5 and 7 should be plenty), which will come in handy in the following steps.

Step 2 – locate bloggers:

Now that you have identified the keywords that your customers and potential customers are using to find their information, you can search for blogs that contain those keywords and begin building a list.

A handy, accurate tool for doing this is also a Google property (oh how I love Google), called Google Blog Search. It works much the same way as any other Google search, but focuses on blog results only. You can search for both blogs and blog posts, or just one or the other. The advanced search function allows you to really narrow things down, if a broad search is turning up too many results.

Technorati is also a great tool for finding blogs, so be sure to check there as well to make sure you don’t overlook any major players.

Step 3 – find discussions on other social media

Forums are great for finding influencers as many of them will take part in online discussions as a means of driving traffic to their blog. Yet another Google tool (are you surprised?), you can use the same keywords identified in step 1 to search Google, then simply click on the “Discussions” tab on the left sidebar of the results screen.

Another place that hosts a ton of discussion that can in-turn lead you to influencers is Twitter. Try using Twitter Search with those same keywords to see if any discussion is taking place there. Though this will involve more digging than any of the other steps thus far, it can pay off large if you find one or two big influencers there.

Building your potential influencer list

Throughout steps 2 and 3, you should be compiling a list. I use Excel for this, but any charting tool or contact database you are comfortable with will be just fine. One thing to note with regards to your list is which information you should capture. Below is a basic example of the type of info I usually capture in a potentialinfluencer list:

Determining who is actually influential:

Once we’ve pulled together a solid list of potential influencers we can begin to determine which ones will become a part of our outreach and rank them based on a number of variants.

Before we can really even begin to judge whether someone is influential or not, however, we will have to look at some of the top-level data that is readily available to us. The first thing I always do is look at a few things that are easy to locate:

  • Number of Twitter followers
  • Number of times they are listed on Twitter by other users
  • Number of “Likes” on their Facebook fan page
  • Number of inbound links to their site. This can be found by searching “link:sitename.com” in Google (see image below). The number of results returned will give you the number of inbound links for that site

It is also important to note that some people who may not be overly active online can have a lot of influence offline. These people should not be overlooked! They can be found on LinkedIn, or through traditional news stories (among many other, more traditional methods – that’s for another post all together) and can play a major role in your online efforts, even though they are mostly influential offline-only.

Building your target influencer list

Using the simple methods listed above, you can start to eliminate bloggers from your list that don’t boast reasonable numbers (what is considered reasonable is, ultimately, up to you to decide). You will figure out what is average, and what is considered “good” after doing this with a few of your potential influencers. Take it from there…

In the chart below, I would immediately remove “The Tech Blog” from this list. I would also likely remove “TechABC” as well, though I would need to find data for a larger list of potential influencers before I would make that decision (to determine just how bad TechABC’s numbers actually are). Chances are that TechABC would be cut from the list as well.

If you want to get really in-depth and ensure that your influencer list includes only those that are actually influential, there are some ways to look beyond the obvious numbers (fans, followers, etc.):

  • What kind of content is the person creating and sharing (quality, focus/niche, credible and sourced, etc.)?
  • Of the lists that Twitter users have added them to, is there a common theme/niche? For example, have they been added to several lists focused on technology? If so, they are likely influential about technology, which is why people listed them in the first place.
  • How does the content they create relate to what you are planning to achieve? The most effective blogs are often tailored to a very niche audience – is their blog attracting the group of people you want to reach?
  • What kind of engagement does their blog receive – comments? Discussions between readers through the comments?
  • Are people sharing the content through their own networks? (Through Google +1, Facebook “Likes”, Twitter, etc. – this can most often be seen by a counter next to its respective button)
  • Is their content ever picked up, or linked to by other bloggers or even major news outlets?
  • Perhaps most importantly, are they seen as credible? (A look at the tone of the comments and the kinds of comments the blog receives should give an indication of this. People won’t be afraid to speak their mind if they think the writer is full of it).

If you follow all of the steps outlined in this article and do your research, you should be well on your way to a strategically targeted online influencer outreach campaign. It is very important, however, that you recognize that checking online influence and building lists is an ongoing process, and it should be revisited regularly.

Have you already completed an online influencer campaign in the past? If so, how did you determine influencers? Please add your thoughts and tips in the comments!

October 2011 PD: Social Media Reality Check


By Cora Timofte @Cora_T

Members can view an archived webinar of this October 27, 2011 presentation (length 37:20) by David Scholz, Executive Vice President, Leger Marketing and Carolyn McGill, President and CEO, CNW Group in the members’ only blog.

Social media is the new normal, according to results from the Social Media Reality Check 2011, a unique study that looks at professional communicators’ use of social media in comparison to consumer opinions and the influence social media has on purchasing behaviour.

The study was first conducted in 2009 and reproduced twice in 2011. The results of all three sessions were contrasted and presented to an audience of communication practitioners, during the last CPRS professional development session, held on October 27, 2011.

A total of 590 communication professionals and over 1000 Canadian consumers were surveyed. According to Statistics Canada, 77 per cent of Canadians are online (connected to the Internet), with results of the survey indicating that 69 per cent of online Canadians use social media.

Social media tools and usage

The most popular social media websites among professionals and average consumers alike are Facebook and Twitter, followed by YouTube and Google Plus. Most people use social media at least once a day or more, but the reasons for use are different in professionals versus the general public.

Professional communicators use social media to find out news and information, share knowledge and ideas, keep updated with industry news and monitor talk about their organization.

A surprising finding indicates that only 40 per cent of practitioners use social media outlets to monitor their competitors or engage with journalists and bloggers. This is an area of downfall and in need of immediate update, according to David Scholz (@dave_scholz), VP at Leger Marketing – the company responsible for conducting the Social Media Reality Check 2011.

The majority of consumers use social media very differently compared to professionals, namely to keep in touch with friends and family, for entertainment purposes and to read about specific topics of interest.

Even though the study discovered a significant number of Canadians using social media to research information about various products and services, the majority of consumers don’t let this information affect their major purchasing decisions.

According to survey results, both communications professionals and consumers believe that social media can help shape opinions because people tend to generally trust information presented through social media channels more than information presented through advertising (46 per cent).

Social media in corporate communications

Carolyn McGill (@CarolynDavidson) President and CEO of the CNW Group, pointed out that with increased consumer demand for social media presence, senior management teams at most organizations are becoming increasingly supportive of online communication channels.

Most corporations still lack a proper budget for social media activities, but almost half of communications professionals surveyed expect an improvement in that area by next year.

The tools most commonly used by communications professionals, as reflected by survey results, include Twitter, blogs and multimedia elements.

More than half the number of Canadian organizations have at least one Twitter account, used to promote product launches and events, engage stakeholders and provide customer service assistance.

Blogs are becoming more influential and are recognized by communicators as an opportunity for opinion shaping, as a result of their seemingly unbiased structure.

Multimedia, as a communications tool, has seen increasing demand from consumers and the media, to increase visual interest, enable sharing and increase viewership.

Social media communication has increased from 2009 to 2011 in the professional and consumer sectors, with users discovering new ways to apply it.

Contrary to what most communicators believe, extensive social media exposure does not guarantee loyalty or a good reputation among stakeholders. Survey results show that consumers realize social media is just another communication vehicle and what they expect from organizations and professional communicators is more than just an online appearance.

Photos provided by CP Images

Archived webinar: Social Media Reality Check Findings (37:20)


Dave Scholz, Executive Vice President, Leger Marketing and Carolyn McGill, President and CEO, CNW Group presented on Canadian consumer and PR practitioner social media use on October 27, 2011. Data includes results from 2009 & 2011, with a consumer statistics updated as of October 27, 2011. Follow @Dave_Scholz & @CarolynDavidson

Press play beneath the slides to hear the audio. The screen can be enlarged in the bottom right corner. (Slides in PDF)