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News Digests

Stay abreast of what’s happening internationally with developments in corporate public affairs. Here is news that you may find useful and interesting:

The era of fake video beginsND

Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, May 2018

In dark corners of the internet, ‘deepfake’ videos depict famous women performing sexual acts. The acts are real. The women are not. Instead, their faces have been digitally grafted onto the bodies of adult film stars. Such sordid use of technology is cause for concern, and the ability to manipulate consumers will only grow as VR, AR and AI become more prevalent – by design, these technologies create confusion about what is real and what is made up. Given that big technology companies control the most importance access points to news and information, they have an important role to play in this crisis, and could most easily squash such things as manipulated videos. To play this role, however, would require accepting roles they have so far largely resisted.

For more information see:

Why Mark Zuckerberg is embracing more regulation of political ads on FacebookND

James Hohmann, The Washington Post, Wednesday April 11

It’s long been a benefit for technology companies to be insulated from the sorts of trying government requirements that apply to other industries. So why would Zuckerberg support a new law that could hurt his bottom line? First, desperate times call for desperate measures, and Zuckerberg knows his net worth could be impacted by a few billion either way based on his performance before the Senate and the House. Second, there is value in regulatory certainty, and Facebook is desperate to avoid European style regulation in the US, which could undermine its highly profitable business model. Third, a new law would force Facebook’s competitors too to spend more on compliance. It’s no coincidence that Zuckerberg references all platforms in his prepared testimony. He wants Google and Twitter to be required to spend the same amount as Facebook for the same purpose. Fourth, regulations could make it harder for smaller companies to take on Facebook, as they usually favour big business when applied equally. Fifth, regulations could improve Facebook’s standing with customers – if people judge Facebook to be a ‘bad’ company, they will stop posting personal information to the site. Even if they don’t delete their accounts that would be bad for the business long term. Finally, embracing regulation could rehabilitate Zuckerberg’s personal brand, as he currently risks turning from a hero to a villain in the public imagination. Zuckerberg is reportedly so obsessed with how he’s perceived that he has had a full time personal pollster on staff to track even small shifts in his image.

For more information see:

Trump’s trade war could wipe billions from Australia’s economyND

Michael Janda, ABC News, Monday April 9, 2018

The first week of April saw much toing and froing between the US and China, after President Trump asked officials to look at the possibility of tariffs on a further $US100 billion worth of Chinese exports to the US. China warned of a “fierce counter strike” to any such measures. But what some conciliatory experts are calling simple negotiating tactics could significantly hit Australia’s economy should talk turn to action. Citi’s economic team estimates that three years after trade barriers went up, the Australian economy would be $21 billion smaller than it would have been otherwise. In turn, this would mean 70 000 more Australians unemployed and the Australian dollar falling six cents, with a combined hit on the average household of $1500 a year. Given already stagnant wage growth, high living costs and the continued struggles of retailers, a trade war between Australia’s biggest two trading partners could be disastrous for its economy.

For more information see:

Mark Zuckerberg admits Facebook played part in spread of fake newsND

Darren Davidson, The Australian Business Review, 29th September 2017

Facebook played a significant role in the dissemination of “fake news” during the 2016 US presidential election. Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of Facebook, initially dismissed the idea that Facebook influenced the US election as ‘crazy’. Former president Barack Obama has berated Zuckerberg, forcing him to acknowledge that the (at least) $US100,000 spent on election adverts by Russian accounts which could have reached ‘tens of millions of voters’ to take the issue of fake news seriously. Zuckerberg stated on his Facebook page that ‘the idea misinformation on Facebook changed the outcome of the election was a crazy idea’ but, ‘calling that [the capacity of Facebook to influence the election] crazy was dismissive, and I regret it’.

For more information see:

Trump's decision to allow plastic bottle sales in national parks slammed ND

Jessica Glenza, The Guardian, 21st August 2017.

The reversal of the ban on plastic water bottles in America’s national parks suggests “the corporate agenda is king and people and the environment are left behind”. The reversal of the six-year-old policy designed to reduce the level of pollution (plastic water bottles comprised of 20 per cent of the Grand Canyon parks waste and 30 per cent of its recyclable waste). The reversal of this policy allows bottled water producers access to the 331 million individuals that visit America’s national parks. For a President with an inability to immediately denounce American-Nazis, allowing plastic bottles in national parks appear to be a minor issue, yet it may provide evidence that the apparent ‘swamp’ of lobbyists and special interests has not been drained, but rather empowered.

For more information see:

Impact of voluntary disclosures on corporate brand equityND

Soumya Sarkar and Titas Bhattacharjee, Corporate Reputation Review, 2017.

Sarkar and Bhattacharjee studied the effect of voluntary disclosures by Indian B2B firms on corporate brand equity. The corporate brand is said to be worth between 5-7% on average of stock performance. The findings of the study were that having greater numbers of disclosures and subsequent transparency with stakeholders led to improvements in reputation, while it had minimal effect on consumer decision making.

For more information see: Corporate Reputation Review

The 2017 Sustainability Leaders: A GlobeScan/SustainAbility SurveyND

GlobeScan and SustainAbility Survey, 28th June 2017.

The Sustainability Leaders survey has been running since 1997 with more than on thousand experts from 79 countries responding to the survey. Unilever has been ranked the global corporate leader in sustainability for the seventh year in a row, with the margin between it and the second and third placed companies growing ever wider. However, the private sector still preforms relatively poorly compared to NGOs (59 per cent of respondents rated the contribution to the sustainable development agenda as excellent), Social entrepreneurs (48 per cent of respondents rated them as excellent), while only 23 per cent of respondents rated the private sector ‘excellent’ in its contribution to the sustainable development agenda.

Most interestingly was the 3rd place company Interface which is the ‘worldwide leader in design, production and sale of environmentally-responsible modular carpet’, and is arguably not a household name. Its presence among companies like Unilever, and its higher ranking than Tesla, Nestle and GE arguably shows that it’s positioning as an environmentally responsible company has elevated its corporate positioning.

For more information see:

Delivering meaning in a turbulent workplace Disrupting the function of Internal Communication. A global perspective. ND

Marc Do Amaral, 2017.

The clear message throughout this chapter on how to approach uncertainty, and ‘turbulence’ is for communication professionals to embrace the chaos and accept it as a part of the function and to approach it through honest, tranquil and certain communication. Amaral argues creating a culture of authentic dialogue and feedback is key to create a communication strategy which will generate both trust, and support. Traditional top down corporate communication is becoming antiquated, at the same time the communication professionals role is moving away from imposing corporate truth and towards dialogue between stakeholders, this is partially the responsibility of the communications specialist to encourage, and also to assist.

For more information see:

How Should You Tweet?: The Effect of Crisis Response Voices, Strategy, and Prior Brand Attitude in Social Media Crisis Communication ND

Mi Rosie Jahng and Seoyeon Hong, Corporate Reputation Review, 4th June 2017

Jahng and Hong study the value of a human voice over a corporate voice in responding to crises and how this can be utilised to moderate the company’s presence on Twitter following a crises. The study found that a C-suite executives Twitter presence played very little roll on the overall success of the crisis communication, but prior brand attitudes played a large role in moderating public outrage. The study accepts that tweeting, and a good public face presented by C-suite before a crises will assist in its management.

For more information see: Corporate Reputation Review hosted on Springer.

Use of YouTube for Business Communication. Analysis of the Content Management and Level of Participation of Spanish Best Reputed Companies Youtube ChannelsND

Carmen Costa-Sanchez, Corporate Reputation Review, 31st May 2017.

Companies are increasingly integrating social media into their relationships with stakeholders. The article analysed the content of 454 videos from 20 YouTube channels. It found that YouTube is used as a promotional platform, rather than a way to inform stakeholders. The videos analysed had low levels of public interaction and a general lack of interest in the contents of the videos. The platform offers companies a way of publicising corporate social responsibility undertakings which received higher levels of interaction than standard promotional material.

For more information see: Corporate Reputation Review:

Uber has fired 20 employees after investigating hundreds of misconduct allegationsND

Oliver Stanley and Alison Griswold, Quartz, 7th June 2017

Uber is firing 20 employees after an internal investigation into the reportedly toxic culture. The #deleteUber movement and ‘exodus’ of top level executives has been furthered by an investigation conducted by the legal firm Perkins Coie which found its integrity hotline for employees receiving 215 claims of misconduct.

The firm has approached Francis Frei to work for the Uber as senior vice president for leadership and strategy, and ultimately bring the PR nightmare CEO Travis Kalanick into line. Ubers corporate testosterone-fuelled culture is apparently similar to the now infamous video of Kalanick berating an Uber driver who dared to complain to the CEO about wages, and then as anyone else would, leaked the video of the exchange.

While hiring Frei and funding a report to be made by former US attorney general Eric Holder on paper appears to be the appropriate move, the way the results are utilised and acted upon will be the key to Ubers future.

For more information see:

Funeral pricing comparison website targeted with legal threatsND

Elle Hunt, The Guardian, 30th May 2017.

Colin Wong created a website to compare the prices from more than 600 funeral homes and get user ratings to try and limit the benefits that the funeral industry gain from the lack of transparency. Wong spurned by a terrible experience set up the website to protect customers from purchasing coffins which are already marked up by 400% which could be inflated to 1,000% if the client is perceived to be willing. The website is hoping to break the ‘opportunistic pricing’ utilised by funeral agencies which is poised to become a growing industry with the price of a basic funeral increasing approximately 21 per cent between 2009 and 2016 while Australia’s ageing population creates more demand for the services. Wong aims to create transparency in the industry, while also having plans to charge companies $29 per month to get preferential treatment on the site to create revenue.

For more information see:

Why Harvard Business School is under fireND

The Economist explains, 18th of May 2017

Duff McDonalds recent book ‘The Golden Passport’ argues that Harvard Business School has lost its place as the premier business school in America, and simultaneously become a toxic environment filled with conflicts of interest. While the influence of the school is undeniable with its MBA graduates filling Wall Street and having a founding place in 10 per cent of all Silicon Valley unicorns (private start-ups worth over $1bn). However, the prices of the MBA course has consistently grown (by around 30 per cent in five years) while companies have been given the ability to promote positive case studies in the MBA course, and veto negative ones.

Harvard Business School has two options, firstly focus upon its position as an academic institution or treat itself as a business and pursue its own self-interest.

For more information see:

Qantas boss Alan Joyce to press charges against pie-thrower opposed to same-sex marriageND

ABC News, 11th March 2017

A former farmer assaulted Qantas chief Alan Joyce who has been vocal about his support for various social issues, most recently the gay marriage debate. Proving the effectiveness and ability for corporate leaders to influence the political debate with the sixty-seven-year-old motivated by homophobia and irritation of executives ability to ‘bulldoze’ the opinions of middle Australia. Joyce was one of twenty CEO’s including Telstra, CBA, ANZ, Holden, AGL, KPMG, PWC, Lendlease, Wesfarmers and others, who signed a letter urging Turnbull to take legislative action on same-sex marriage.

Alan Joyce’s lemon meringue pie to the face and the sacrifice of a nice suit has given the bold CEO a legitimate platform to address social issues in Australia. His position and statements after the incident suggest that he will push assault charges and will not be willing to sit back and focus on ‘knitting’.

For more information see:

The Business Case for PurposeND

EY, Harvard Business School, 2015

The EY Beacon Institute funded a global survey of 474 executives to determine company’s willingness to embed ‘sense of purpose’ in the way they make decisions or determine motivations. The survey defined organisational purpose as “an aspirational reason for being which inspires and provides a call to action for an organization and its partners and stakeholders and provides benefit to local and global society”. Eighty nine per cent of executives surveyed said a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction, eighty four per cent said it can affect an organisations ability to transform, and eighty per cent said it can help increase customer loyalty.

The report determined that the companies surveyed fell into three categories prioritisers, companies that already have a clearly articulated and understood purpose (39 per cent); developers, companies that do not yet have a clearly articulated purpose but are working to develop one (48 per cent); and laggards, companies that have not yet begun to develop or even think about purpose (13 per cent).

For more information see:$FILE/ey-the-business-case-for-purpose.pdf

MPs slam ‘freeriding’ gig economy companiesND

Josephine Cumbo, Financial Times, 1st of May 2017

The Commons work and pensions committee in the UK have described companies who operate in the gig economy as “free riders’ on the welfare state. The committee singled out Uber and Deliveroo as drivers of the gig economy, which is seen as driving the growth of self-employment in the UK to 5 million (or 15 per cent of all British workers). This rise in self-employment has been combined with an overall reduction in the availability of benefits and tax credit income while companies operating in the gig economy contribute far less to the welfare state through national insurance contributions.

The decisions of the committee will have nock-on-affects to the continuing pressure for gig economy companies to recognise staff as employees or workers in Australia and elsewhere.

For more information see:

A lack of competition explains the flaws in American aviationND

The Economist Print Edition, 22nd of April 2017

Comparing US air carriers to European air carriers is clear cut with European operators gaining on average $7.84 profit per seat compared to $22.40 in the US, quality suffers as a result. Only one operator based in the USA can be found in the world’s 30 best carriers, compared to 9 European based carriers.

This is argued to be down to competition. The biggest four carriers in America control 80 per cent of the market, compared with just 48 per cent a decade ago. The top four carriers in Europe have around 45 per cent of the market. This is due to European regulators preserving competition between carriers for example blocking mergers between Ryanair and Aer Lingus and preventing single airlines from dominating airports.

Combined with the preservation of competition between EU-based carriers, the EU allows airlines with a non-EU owner that has a stake of up to 49 per cent to fly anywhere within the bloc, compared to America which caps foreign ownership at 25 per cent. The EU also encourages competitions between different airports and their operators, seen through London’s three separately owned airports.

For more information see:

Macron and Le Pen advance to the second round of the French electionND

The Economist, 23rd of April 2017

The French first round vote resulted in Emmanuel Macron (pro-EU centrist) and Marine Le Pen (far right member (or not) of the National Front) continuing to the final round of the French election. Macron is seen as pro-establishment serving the economy minister under Francois Hollande, but running as an independent, gaining 23.7 per cent of the vote while Marine Le Pen, the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen who previously made it to the final vote against Jacques Chirac and anti-immigration proponent gained 21.9 per cent of the ballot.

Macron goes into the second vote as a ‘firm favourite’ with polls predicting he will beat Le Pen by 20 points in a head-to-head contest. Although recent results (Brexit, Trump) show polls should not be trusted as an absolute.

For more information see:

Amazon breaks silence on Australian retail plansND

Sue Mitchell, Australian Financial Review, 20th of April 2017

Amazon will launch invitations for local retailers to join its global marketplace on Thursday, confirming the company’s goal to roll out a full retail offering in Australia over the next few years. The company is currently looking for a large distribution and fulfilment centre in Australia with the company already having close to 1000 staff within the country.

Amazon is predicted to gain a 44 per cent market share of electronics sold in Australia, 19 per cent of physical and electronic media, 11 per cent of sports and outdoors supplies, 10 per cent of clothing and apparel, 5 per cent of tools and garden supplies and 2 per cent of pharmaceutical products. The introduction of the service will disrupt prominent bricks and mortar retailers like JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, Myer, Dymocks, Super Retail, Big W, Kmart and Target and online retailers who haven’t experienced as much competition like eBay, Booktopia and The Catch Group. Citigroup’s head of research Craig Woolford estimates that Amazon’s Australian sales could reach $4 billion within five years representing about 14 per cent of all online sales and 1.1 per cent of total retail sales.

For more information see:

India’s ID system is reshaping ties between state and citizensND

The Economist, 12th of April 2017

The Aadhaar identification system utilised in India is becoming a crucial part of everyday life for billions of people. The scheme has amassed the fingerprint and iris scans of 1.1 billion people since 2010 representing 99% of the adult population. Visibility to the government is assumed in developed nations with personal details taken for tax or other reasons being very hard to avoid for the average citizen. The fingerprints and iris scans are taken and matched to a unique 12-digit identifying number which is a massive step forward when you accept that India registers less than half of all births. India is already benefitting from its system, with ‘leakage’ in subsidy payments resulting in only 27% of the money ending up in the right hands, discovering that the electoral role in Punjab had 800,000 fictitious voters and that up to 30% of driving licences are fake (many of them duplicates to avoid driving bans). The Aadhaar system has obvious downsides, including the author’s description of a potential Orwellian panopticon and the issue of labourers chafed fingers preventing proper fingerprinting. For more information see:

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