Volkswagen Campaign in Oxford Street Station, London – December 2011

This campaign caught my attention because it extends over the entire length of a subway track in Oxford Circus station. The concept is to draw the story line of the company car evolution from its beginning to nowadays. The campaign is made of billboard and video projectors.

Enjoy the view!


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Global PR – a managerial practice between headquarter & local office

A few weeks ago I was participating on a debate about global PR for the course Theories and Issues in Public Relations @ Westminster University.

The class and the discussion were structured on the following questions and statement:

  • Global PR: does the PR paradigm work across cultures?
  • How does an International PR practitioner navigate difference?
  • “Good PR is always context and culture specific. The idea of a global PR is anathema”

In the debate, I had to challenge the point that global PR is anathema.

At first, I thought it wouldn’t be easy to find a logical argument to support the fact that global PR exists and it is actuated nowadays with successful results. After a few researches, I realized that it could be possible to organize a discourse against the statement by specifying the meaning of global PR and by giving a few examples to support my thought.

First of all, what does  global PR mean? If we don’t clarify it immediately we risk losing the track of the argument. Let’s use the definition given by Wilcox: “International PR is defined as the planned and organized effort of a company, institution, or government to establish mutually beneficial relations with the publics of other nations”.

In this context, International Public Relations must be seen as a managerial, rather than merely technical, practice. The nitty-gritty of this practice lies in the communication of PR strategies elaborated at headquarters’ level with the PR professionals who work in the foreign countries. This is where cultural differences may be identified and discussed to better develop targeted communication messages.

Actually, the profession of global PR started long time ago. We can think about in-house comms departments of international organisations such as the Red Cross (1863), the United Nations (1945), or Amnesty International (1965). On the other hand, global PR has been the main activity for western multinational corporations since Mid-20th century, helped in many cases by international PR consultancies such as Burson-Marstellar, Edelman, Hill & Knowlton, and Weber Shandwick.

Sometimes, the quality of being a multicultural and multi-skilled communicator doesn’t help in a global PR context due to many different variables. Many academics, have identified 5 main ‘environmental variables’ that a communicator must bear in mind when crafting communication strategies in foreign countries. A PR manager has to draft a situational analysis by identifying the political, economic, cultural and media systems, and the degree of activism of the country. Without doing it, the risk of communication and business failures is high.

Google China issue is an interesting example of global PR at corporate level! In these days, we are participating at the ‘defeat’ of the most popular American search engine that entered the Chinese market in 2006. Google China started a few years ago in order to provide a better information service to Chinese people who were experiencing bad performances from website due to the government’s filtering policy – better known as the “Great Firewall”.

Google’s decision to expand its business in the Asian country was in conflict with its ethical corporate principle: “don’t be evil”. However, with the statement “Testimony: The Internet in China” posted on the official Google’s blog, the American company  explained how Google China would increase the overall access to information for Chinese Internet users. At that time and today, there is a lot of criticism around Google’s decisions to enter and to leave China.

From PR Week, Ogilvy & Mather global CEO Miles Young, and Wolf Group Asia CEO David Wolf clearly state that Google’s motto will always create troubles in the way it clashes with the company’s will to become a Multinational Corporation. Wahida Ashiq, head of the London comms agency specialising in Chinese brands 931/2, believes that Google’s choice to leave China would be a second mistake. In fact, Google may risk to further damage its brand reputation “by appearing naive to have thought it could take on the Party”, after having compromised its brand integrity to enter in that market.

An even more harsh critic comes from the pages of USA Today. The front is made by the founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group, Shaun Rein and by Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer. Both agree on the fact that more Western competitors would provide more freedom to the Chinese people, and it will give “the chance to these companies to seat at the table to help push for reform”. Ballmer views on the possibility for Microsoft to leave China: “I don’t understand how that helps us, and I don’t understand how that helps China.”

Honestly, I have an opinion on the reason why Microsoft doesn’t want to leave China: profits! Nothing less, nothing more. Their principles are built on making money, not on giving freedom to people.  The freedom of Chinese people can’t come from Western businesses trying to make money out of China. Is it right to have big businesses seating at the table with Chinese politicians to discuss about the freedom of a country, or is it the duty of Chinese citizens to claim for their rights?

I sympathize for Google. Maybe they will end the Chinese experience and they will gain the title of the most naïve company in the 21st century. They thought they could change something, but they found a really though environment. However, leaving a blooming market to follow its principle instead of the profit will strengthen Google’s reputation among stakeholders outside China. Google’s retreat will leave an empty space in China market; but most of all it will generate a sense of ‘loneliness’ among Chinese Google’s users.

The importance of the decision of Google is in the way it will strengthen the feelings of Chinese people to claim the end of a state of censorship. Someone may not agree with me, but I believe in the power of a brand and in the loyalty of its costumers. I see Google’s choice far more productive in the long run for the freedom of China than the one of Microsoft to wait and hope to gain the privilege to seat at a table with Chinese politicians.

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Why Berlusconi doesn’t need PR!

In this last weekend of March Italians are voting in 13 out of 20 regions for the future governors. The battle is between the two major parties: center-right Popolo delle Liberta’ (People of Freedom) and the center-left Partito Democratico (Democratic Party).

Eventually, each party will be supported by third parties such as Lega Nord (North League) in coalition with PdL, Italia dei Valori (Italy of Values) together with PD, and Unione del Centro (Union of the Centre) which is supporting both major parties in different regions.

During the preceding 30 days of the election, Italian broadcast media follows the par condicio rules – similar to the American equal time – in which TV channels must guarantee each political party a certain amount of time.

Even if, par condicio is meant to guarantee equal political publicity in the Italian popular media, usually there are personalities that appear more often than others. Would you imagine who is the one who appears most during electoral campaigns? … I bet you know the answer!

In the last day of the campaign – 26th March, Silvio Berlusconi was interviewed by the following TV news:

18,30              Studio Aperto           (4’32’’)                Italia 1

19                     Tg4                                 (5’35’’)                Rete 4

20                    Tg5                                 (4’56’’)                Canale 5

20                    Tg1                                 (2’46’’)                 RAI 1

20,30              Tg2                                (1’46’’)                 RAI 2

In addition, he appeared also in the news of Radio 1 – the Italian radio station operated by public broadcasting company RAI, and in an hour-interview on pay-tv Sky Tg24. It must be kept in mind that there are 7 free national TV channels in Italy: 3 state-owned by RAI, 3 from the private company Mediaset, and 1 owned by the telephone company Telecom Italia.

Without any surprises, the next day all newspapers were filled with the same articles regarding the Italian Prime Minister’s thoughts about his strong leadership, the opposition, the magistrates, and his tireless irony.

Whenever you listen Mr Berlusconi talking on TV, you know what to expect. It’s the same story repeated time after time since he first came in politics in 1994.

  • He always shows questionable statistics on his popularity among Italians – the message is: “Italians love me and I’m right in everything I do”.
  • He then, harshly criticizes and blames the weak centre-left opposition for everything that is bad in Italy – he especially refers to them as “communists” or “soviets” who are the biggest threat for the freedom of Italians.

Berlusconi laughs while reading the news of the death of Stalin on the left-wing newspaper L'Unità from 1953

  • After that, it is the time to attack the “red” magistrates who in reality are politicians of the opposition masked as judges. The message is: because politicians can’t beat me with the votes of civilians, they try to stop me with the help of partisan magistrates. The underlined message is: I’m innocent; I’m a victim of law persecution.
  • Finally, he can’t resist to his Italian irony. It’s like a beast inside of him that is more and more excited when there are a lot of people to listen. He is at the center of the attention and he always does it. He particularly prefers double barreled jokes. The one of last Friday was about his “right” to have the ius primae noctis with all the young female candidates of his party.

If you know the Italian broadcast system it wouldn’t be too difficult to understand why the Prime Minister has the power to be in 5 out of 7 national TV channels the evening before the elections. First of all, Mediaset is a company founded by Berlusconi and it’s now ‘owned’ by his son Paolo. Thus, being broadcasted in any of the three Mediaset channels is not a problem.

Things are slightly different with the state-owned broadcast RAI. Hallin and Mancini (2006) describe the Italian public service broadcast as a Parliamentary/Proportional representation model – the control over public broadcasting is divided among the political parties by proportional representation.

For example, in the 80’s RAI was lottizzata as follow:

  1. RAI 1 linked with the major Italian party of the Christian Democrats
  2. RAI 2 had political affiliation with the Italian Socialist Party
  3. RAI 3 was ‘controlled’ by the Italian Communist Party

Today, RAI still has a proportional representation and the first two channels are in the ‘hands’ of Partito delle Liberta’, Silvio Berlusconi’s party. The only critics to the government come from RAI 3 – still centre-left oriented – and from a TV show called Anno Zero hosted by the journalist Michele Santoro on RAI 2. Even in this case, it’s easy to reach RAI 1 and RAI 2 at any time; and even if Berlusconi is not able to speak directly on TV cameras, TV news directors seem to have a ‘crush’ on him and his causes.

That’s how he managed to be on TV. He has the power to do it. There are no conflict of interest’s regulations and everything is pretty normal in Italy. Moreover, he is a professional communicator. He is an extrovert and confident in front of cameras, and he always takes care about his image – remember the bandanna to cover the hair transplant during the visit of Tony and Cherie Blair at Villa Certosa, Sardinia in 2004.

Cherie & Tony Blair together with the 'pirate' Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi likes to appear on public, he is good in showing his human side and most of all he is an entertainer. Many people who surround him are fans not simple voters. He enjoys to talk and to tell stories but he doesn’t like to be interrupted and questioned. That’s why he never appears on TV shows hosted by critical journalists – I still remember when in 2006, he left an interview on RAI 3 because he wasn’t allowed to talk as much as he wanted and about the issues he favored. He fears the loss of control on public debates, that’s why he prefers to participate in ‘friendly’ TV environments.

Berlusconi has always used TV to persuade Italians. He knows that TV is the most consumed media in Italy and, therefore the best way to convey his messages. National newspapers have always been the media for the elite of the Bel Paese, “mainly urban, well-educated, and politically active” (Hallin & Mancini). The press in Italy is not a channel where to reach the masses, as it is in other European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, or Scandinavia. On the other hand, Italy is at the top of the list of the European countries regarding the consumption of TV.

One of the biggest threats in the political communication of Silvio Berlusconi may come from the Internet. The characteristics of equality and democracy of new media clash with the Prime Minister’s idea of communication – strictly vertical and propagandistic. The Internet is also the media most used by younger generations and a free place where many diverse political views are exchanged everyday – which they couldn’t be expressed otherwise in any other media. I see a vigorous Internet ‘movement’ that is the result of the need of a part of the population to actively participate into the political debate.

Maybe the most effective attacks to Berlusconi will come directly from the Internet as it happened in 2009 when a secret group of people started to stick fake billboards of Berlusconi depicted as Al Capone in the “Untouchable” movie in different cities around the world: New York, Milan, Paris, and London. All the images of the billboards started to go online generating a ‘buzz’ that ended up in all the major national newspapers. The media is changing, the rules of communication too. Berlusconi won’t be able to be part of this change.


Comparing Media Systems – Three models of media and politics by Daniel C. Hallin and Paolo Mancini. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

The Joker effect: how participatory culturemay disrupt politics by Antonella Napolitano (Personal Democracy Forum).

The Prime Minister and the Press – The Berlusconi family’s impressive media holdings by PBS.

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Crisis Management 2.0

Crisis management is a fascinating field within the PR profession. During a crisis, the role of PR is enhanced by its ability in handling threatening media, and in safeguarding the reputation of a company.

Once a crisis ‘blows up’, an organization faces a growing uncertainty around its brand, the loss of control over the messages, and a consequent sense of isolation.

The direct consequences of this precarious status can be extremely dangerous for every company in this situation – from the small local one to the multinational. A loss of trust can easily translate into a loss of large amount of money.

One of the recurrent thoughts expressed in the PR literature about Crisis Management is the importance of recognizing possible crisis in advance, and to tackle it when it’s harmless. This practice is also known as issue management.

Today, a lot of the work of the PR professionals is to identify issues related to a company and manage them properly. The management of an issue is more likely to be a long-term practice; on the contrary the management of a crisis is immediate and fast moving.

With the diffusion of the Internet, the pace of crisis is even more rapid and it can easily reach a global audience. In the past few years, many corporate crises started online as they found companies unprepared to deal with Web 2.0 technologies.

A famous example of online crisis is the one started in 2005 by the journalist and blogger Jeff Jarvis towards the computer company Dell. Writing in his blog BuzzMachine, Jarvis harshly criticized the company’s product and costumer service with a post titled: “Dell lies. Dell sucks”. In a few days, Jarvis’ blog became the most popular virtual place for sharing complaints among Dell’s frustrated clients. Eventually, the ‘buzz’ generated by the online community translated in offline media coverage creating a big negative impact on Dell’s reputation.

Dell’s primary fault was to not be able to monitor its online reputation. Secondly, Dell did not engage at all with its customers on the Internet. Finally, it took a long time to understand what happened and to change its online communication strategy. Only after a year, did Dell organize an online community (Direct2Dell) around its brand with several bloggers writing on its behalf and engaging with clients.

Dell’s case introduced the concept of the power of individual to effect change in the new social media contest. Since than, companies have perceived the Internet as a threat, “blaming social media for causing reputational crisis” – PR Week 19th March, Crisis comms moves online. The loss of control caused by the Web 2.0 applications has not been fully digested by many organizations.

Recently, many companies have been ‘forced’ to deal with the social media in period of crisis with varying degrees of success. For sure, crisis that starts online must be handled online. The video response of Domino’s Pizza CEO to the ‘prank’ video of two employees in 2009 on YouTube is an example of best practice of online crisis management. As the journalist Richard Levick writes in Business Week, the handling of the crisis was effective in the way it reached out a “target audience on its own terms and in its own preferred space”.

Even if social media “have really taken off in crisis management” – Andrew Griffin, Regester Larkin managing director, says at PR Week – every company must bear in mind that the principles of good crisis management still apply. Eddie Bensilum, director at Regester Larkin, explains how important the three C’s are in handling a crisis. A company must show Care and Concern, it must take the Control back, and finally it must show the Commitment to its stakeholders and society in general. Obviously, all these must be done in a very short period of time.

In my opinion, the use of social media facilitates the handling of a crisis. Given its popularity, new media has the potential to easily and instantly reach large number of audiences. On the other hand, it gives the chance to a company to directly communicate with its public without the filter of traditional media, increasing the level of control on the message conveyed.

For sure, social media will be used more and more in the future to monitor the reputation of a company. Thanks to free easy-to-use applications such as Google Alerts or TweetDeck, it is possible to track the majority of online conversations that are related to a brand or an organization. In this way, the transparency of social media allows companies to identify certain issues and to prevent potential pricey crisis.

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Viral Communications releases an engaging webcast on Social Media

LONDON, Viral Communications PR firm has released “Understanding Social Media from a PR perspective”, a webcast aimed at explaining the main characteristics of Social Media and analyzing the implications which it has on the Public Relations profession.

The electrifying webcast is a mix of images, videos and audio, combined together by the agencies digital media strategist, Filippo Ciampini. It offers current and perspective clients an opportunity to better understand the importance of Social Media.

The webcast addresses many key aspects and issues of Social Media:

  • Online conversations through Web 2.0 applications
  • Accessibility and usability of Social Media
  • Global Social Networks and local cultural conversations
  • The fall of the traditional media top-down model
  • From passive audience to active producers of contents
  • New key influencers
  • Open and transparent dialogue with the public
  • Crafted messages and key words
  • Human side of Social Media
  • Building and engaging a virtual community
  • Benefits and negatives of Social Media

Filippo Ciampini, Viral Communications digital media strategist, said: “When I was creating the webcast, I wanted to do more than simply describe how social media can be used for a company. I thought about a creative narrative that could inspire emotions in the watcher.
Social media is an excellent tool to reach diverse audiences and to engage with them in online discussions. It reduces the distance between a company and its public. That’s why it can be a great resource or, at the same time, a great threat. My job is to tell a client how they can benefit from it.”

“Understanding Social Media from a PR perspective” is available online on YouTube and on the agency’s webpage. All viewers are welcome to leave feedback.

Viral Communications is a PR London-based consultancy which specialises in Corporate, Consumer, and Public Affairs sectors. Practice expertise covers digital media strategies, government and community relations, and multicultural communication.

For any questions regarding the webcast or Viral Communications please contact: Filippo Ciampini


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Coney Island Affairs

Within the PR industry, the Public Affairs sector is one of the most fascinating and controversial at the same time. The “dark art” of lobbying, as it is often defined by the critic, is the practice of influencing politicians in order to gain favorable government’s policies. I particularly enjoy the definition by Mark Kober-Smith for its simplicity and frankness: “lobbying is a simple process – it is asking people to do what you want. Since they often say ‘no’, the trick is to turn that no into a ‘yes’” (Legal lobbying – How to make your voice heard).

Working in the Public Affairs industry, requires a wide knowledge of the institutional landscape, as well as a pretty good number of acquaintances in the ‘right’ government offices. For these reasons, many of the lobbying PROs come from a political background, i.e. MP or local councillor’s assistants, political party’s members, volunteers at election’s campaigns, etc.

Most of the lobbying practices are local; usually, ‘negotiations’ are concentrated in the capitals where the national institutions are located and where the policies are decided. On the other hand, there are many Public Affairs firms working on an international level for example in Brussels at the European Parliament or in the proximity of U.N. headquarters around the world.

Recently, UK lobbyists are facing a ‘challenge’ as the CIPR is trying to promote transparency by forcing each firm to declare their clients (PR Week article). Today, however I would like to talk about the lobbying practice in the US, in particular, I would like to describe an example of ‘lobbying game’ in the Real Estate sector within the New York City area.

The case is about the famous Coney Island amusement park and its tormented rezoning plan. As many of you may know, Coney Islandhas been the summer attraction for New Yorkers since the early 20th century. In its hey-days – 30’s & 40’s – Coney Island was the home of three main amusement parks: Luna Park, Dreamland, and Steeplechase Park. Unfortunately, after the Second World War Coney Island gradually lost its appeal and many of its original amusements. Nowadays, the peninsula is one of the poorest in the New York City Area.

Despite its decadent status, Coney Island is still the destination for New Yorkers who enjoy eating at Nathan’s Famous, the first popular hot-dog chain, or gazing at the panoramic view from Deno’s Wonder Wheel, or going for an extreme ride on the Cyclone, one of the oldest wooden roller coasters still in operation. Now, let’s have a look at what happened to Coney Island in the past few years..

The issue..

  • In 2003, New York City was bidding for the 2012 Olympic games and one of Mayor Bloomberg’s projects was to revitalize Coney Island with a multi-million plan. Foreseeing a new rezoning of the entire area, the developer Thor Equities started to buy portions of Coney Island.
  • In 2005 he came out to the public by showing his $2billion ‘Vegas By The Sea’ project to redevelop Coney Island with outdoor and indoor attractions. Joe Sitt, CEO of Thor Equities, presented the plan in public meetings within the Coney Island’s communities. Some of the locations were churches. At the meetings, Joe Sitt pictured himself as a native Brooklyner who wanted to bring Coney Island back to its glory. At first, both the community and the City seamed pleased by Thor Equities multi-million plan.

"The Incredibly Bold, Audaciously Cheesy, Jaw-Droppingly Vegasified, Billion-Dollar Glam-Rock Makeover of Coney Island" from NewYork Magazine

  • Then problems started in 2006 when Thor Equities’ architecture firm released on the website the final project revised with high-rise condos on the seaside and a small area for the park attractions. Immediately, watchful Brooklyners bloggers posted the new plan’s map and started to write negative comments on the new proposal. Joe Sitt defended himself by saying that the project wouldn’t be viable without the condos. The community started to perceive Joe Sitt as a speculator, a threat to their historical environment.
  • A few months later, Thor Equities announced the purchase of Astroland and started exerting pressure on the City forthe new rezoning by threatening to close the park, the next year. On the other side, the community started to pressure the City Hall with the activist group Save Coney Island and the Municipal Art Society in order to intervene against Thor Equities.

  • In 2007, the City Hall’s administration led by Mike Bloomberg stopped its dialogue with Joe Sitt, who was defined by a NY public officer as “a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing”. Mayor Bloomberg started to play the role of the saviour of Coney Island and engaged in a ‘fight’ with Joe Sitt. It must be remembered that in the same year there were the administrative elections for the Mayor, and Bloomberg found in this fight an easy support from New York City communities. At the same time, Bloomberg proposed a new plan for the amusement park opposing the one from Thor.
  • In 2008, Astroland was forced to close and NYC started to negotiate for the purchase of Thor properties inside the amusement park area but its offers were too low.
  • In the summer of 2009, the City Planning and the City Council approved the rezoning needed to revitalize Coney Island with the Bloomberg plan. The negotiations to purchase the land owned by Joe Sitt, started to intensify. Finally, in November NYC bought 7 acres out of 12 from Thor Equities and started to work on the new project.
  • A few days ago, NYC officially announced the engagement of Zamperla USA, the largest manufacturer of amusement rides in the world, which will rebuild the new outdoor amusement park that will be called “Luna Park”.

My point of view..

I was first introduced to this issue when I was interning in the Governmental and Community Affairs New York-based PR firm Geto & de Milly, in 2007. At that time the firm, was working for Carol Albert – owner of Astroland, and Dennis Vourderis – owner of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Both clients asked for help after Thor Equities started to raise their rents in order to pressurize the City Hall for a favorable rezoning of the area.

A strategy adopted by Geto & de Milly to sensitize the local communities of Coney Island on the danger of Thor Equities’ plan was to identify all the spiritual leaders of the area and talk with them clearly about the situation. I searched online the contacts of all the spiritual leaders within Coney Island and handed them to the senior executive. The strategy was to increase awareness of the community in order to build consensus against Thor Equities. Eventually, the community led by the activist group Save Coney Island and supported by the Municipal Art Society started to organize and demonstrate outside the councils of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

From my personal experience and from the articles found online, lobbying is the strategy to influence the actions of the institutions of government. To be successful, a company, corporation, or organization must have good connections with politicians in order to increase awareness on certain issues. At the same time, the message must be clear and well structured in all its parts to penetrate at different levels: government’s institution, the media, and the stakeholders.

Monitoring the media, and the Internet in general, is essential to be ready to react quickly against any inconveniences. To show transparency, it is fundamental for building a good reputation with the stakeholders who play an active role in the final success of the lobbying practice.

Time is another variable to take well in consideration. Often, lobbying is a long-term practice. Many changes occur during the lobbying period, for example in the Coney Island Development’s case the 2008 financial crisis and the diffusion of new media altered the dynamics of the political, economic, and cultural arena.

I would like to end this extensive post with a reflection matured at the end of my presentation in the Corporate Communications class, and after having talked with James O’Keefe, founder of TETRA-STRATEGY.

When the course leader Pam Williams asked me what would I do if I were interning on the side of Thor Equities, I answered as a joke that I would have made only coffees. The fact is that everybody has the right to hire a PR firm.

For example Thor Equities, the ‘bad’ in the Coney Island dispute, was represented at first by The Marino Organization, and later by Knickerbocker SKD – with my surprise, a firm who worked for many campaigns and congressmen of the Democratic Party.

Personally, I believe that the ethics of a client reflects also the ethics of an agency, not the other way round. Save Coney Island!

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Social media & PR

This is an assignment for the New media & PR module. Looking forward to make a lot of improvements in the next days!


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