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The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (“WWF”) is a “privately financed conservation organization” (Pares, 2010, p.1). The purpose of this NGO is to safeguard nature and to stop the degradation of the planet’s environment and “to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature” (Parnes, 2010, p.2). It was founded in 1960 and yet after four decades it is not only going strong but has become a very influential NGO – its Panda logo is an instantly recognized icon all over the planet. The WWF succeeded not only because of good management but also of a clear understanding of the principles governing media relations. The WWF was able to use media to enhance their image, provide a better company profile and as a result they were able to change the way the world looks at them.
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature was established in 1961 by the first General Director of UNESCO, Sir Julian Huxley (Parnes, 2010, p.2). The organization was created after Huxley made a report regarding the wildlife conservation in East Africa, saying that the regions wildlife could disappear in 20 years if nothing was done to safeguard the environment (Parnes, 2010, p.2) As a response to Huxley’s report, a group of experts made a commitment to establish an NGO that will support conservation efforts and WWF was born.
The WWF made of national level organizations that are accountable directly to their own board and donors (Parnes, 2010, p.2). However, these national level organization must send two thirds of the money that they raised to the to their headquarters in Switzerland, nevertheless they are allowed to keep the rest of the money to spend it the way they see fit (Parnes, 2010, p.2). With regards to checks and balances the WFF international in Switzerland must be transparent when scrutinized by those under it – the national level organizations as well as their donors and the authorities based in Switzerland (Parnes, 2010, p.2).
The mission statement of the WWF, the fact that it is an NGO and by reason of its organisational structure explains why its leaders has to learn the intricacies of medial relations. The WWF does not only have to maintain a good image but it also has to make its presence known at a global scale, the motivation behind the need to use the media for the success of its programs.
In today’s marketplace any organisation – whether it is for profit or nonprofit – could not afford to continue its operations without a clear understanding of media relations. According to experts the proper use of media relations will generate the following results:
- improving company or brand image;
- better media profile;
- changing the attitudes of target audiences;
- improving relationship with the community
- influencing government policy at local, national or international level;
- improving communications with investors; and
- improving industrial relations (Bland, Theaker, & Wragg, 2005, p.55).
These are the things that the WWF needs in order to maintain its effectiveness as an NGO and at the same time to increase its capability to acquire more funding from aid agencies and private donors.
Furthermore, media planning is emerging as an important new specialty in public relations (Hallahan, 2001, p.461). This is evident in the way the WWF expertly handled new media as shown in their official websites and the way they communicate through them. But perhaps the deeper reason why the WWF shows great respect to the inherent power of newspapers and TV stations to create public perception was explained succinctly by Walter Lippman who said:
Every newspaper when it reaches the reader is the result of a whole series of selections as to what items shall be printed, in what position they shall be printed, how much space each shall occupy, what emphasis each shall have. There are no objective standards here (Cutlip, Center, & Broom, 2004, p.259).
Others are even saying that there is no such thing as objectivity in the media and the rhetoric about fairness and balanced reporting is just all myth (Cutlip, Center, & Broom, 2004). The WWF recognizes the fact that they cannot be at the mercy of journalists and so they need to be proactive with regards to making them allies rather than detractors. The WWF does not only make press releases or grant interviews, the organization has a full-time communications officer from Cambodia to Canada (WWF-Cambodia, 2010; WWF-Canada, 2010). This is a clear commitment on their part to work with journalist and news agencies.
One of the most important things to consider is the impact of the Agenda-Setting Theory. Everyone is aware of the power of the media to influence society but the Agenda-Setting Theory clarifies what it means. According to communications specialists, “While the news media may not be successful in telling the pubic what to think, they are quite successful in telling the public what to think about” (Carroll, 2010, p.3). This is the immense power wielded by the media.
The real extent of the media’s power to affect the success of an organization is magnified when the principles of Agenda-Setting Theory is applied to “corporate reputation” (Carroll, 2010, p.3). Corporate reputation is a complex concept with three dimensions and these include “a firm’s public prominence, its public esteem, and the series of qualities or attributes for which a firm is known” (Carroll, 2010, p.3). If the media can set the agenda and influence the general public on how to perceive a particular organisation, then it is all the more important for companies to pay attention to media relations and its capability to bring them up or bring them down.
The WWF also understands that the traditional role of media and their monopoly on information dissemination has been broken. Politicians, CEOs, celebrities, and other newsmakers “have discovered that they can circumvent die-hard journalists to take their messages directly to the populace via sprightly talk shows, satellite news, conferences, appearances on entertainment shows, sponsored programs on cable networks, and video brochures” (Hallahan, 2001, p.462). One mistake can be blown out of proportion if there is no clear idea on how to manage media.
It is not only enough to communicate; the WWF has to learn how. This is because, “Today’s postmodern media environment is filled with ambiguous formats where the intent of messages is not readily clear to audiences – advertorials, infomercials, video news releases, home shopping shows, product placements, and, and promotional events co-sponsored by media that are reported as legitimate news” (Hallahan, 2001,p.462). Modern usage of different forms of media is liberating but it can also be difficult to control.
According to another media expert an organisation will not get the desired result when it comes to media relations if the leaders did not prepare in advance a media relations plan (Henderson, 2005). He wonders why would any organisation “ever consider launching an outreach program, issuing a news release or making any public statement without some sort of plant that provides purpose, relevance and context” (Henderson, 2005, p.61). The WWF cannot afford to simply issue press releases there must be a general overview of what the organisation is trying to achieve. It is like shooting without a target and therefore nothing is expected to be hit.
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A media relations plan should have a situation overview that summarises in a few statements the lay of the land, the competitive environment and the challenges and the obstacles faced by the organisation (Henderson, 2005, p.62). There is also a need to know the audience, the objectives and a strategy for each objective (Henderson, 2005 p.62). Finally, there is a need for a position message that will clearly differentiate the organisation from competitors and as a result capture the attention of the target audience (Henderson, 2005, p.62).
Aside from having an effective media relations plan the most important thing for an organisation to accomplish is to endear itself to the press people. There is no better way to find out a successful media relations model than to examine the strategies and perspective of communications officers such as Press Secretaries. These people are not only aware of media-related concepts and theories on how media relations work, these people have real-life experiences and they know what works and what does not work. One good resource person in this regard is the former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry.
This is because he used to run a successful media operation and as a result of that experience he was able to develop a media relations model known as McCurry’s 4-C’s and this stands for: candour; credibility; clarity; and commitment (McCurry, 2000, p.4). He said that an organisation must consistently tell the truth in order to be credible. It should also be communicated clearly so that the media people will get a clear idea of what is being said. Finally, McCurry also said that there must be commitment on the part of the organisation to keep on telling the appropriate story because the media will appreciate this.
It looks as if the WWF as a media friendly organization has taken a page from Mike McCurry, the former White House Press Secretary under the Clinton Administration. McCurry said that it is not enough to have candour and credibility when it comes to media management he also said to include clarity and commitment (McCurry, 2000, p.3). Based on the steps made by the WWF, there is evidence to show that they want to be as clear as possible when it comes to communicating their views on environmental issues and they also are committed to keep on speaking out until communication between the WWF, their donors, partners, investors, and the general public is assured.
Thus, the WWF is not only content in reaching out to the different media outlets using a team of communications officers, the organization also hired media experts to help them create a workable strategy to manage the media. This is the reason why they enlisted the help of the Center for Development Communication, a firm specializing in the crafting of communication strategies to address social and development issues (CDC, 2010). Their expertise fits perfectly well with the needs of the WWF.
Media relations is of utmost importance because it is the only way that an organisation will be able to maximise the power of the media to enhance their image and change the way the whole world will come to perceives them. The use of media relations principles is the only way that an organisation will be able to endear itself to the press. For instance, if WWF will not use the principles of media relations then it is possible that the press will not give them a fair and balanced reporting. It has been pointed out earlier that mass media is being operated solely based on journalism principles alone. It is a business operated by business people and if they feel that an organisation is hostile to them then it cannot expect to be given glowing reviews.
If this will happen then the perception of the general public will be distorted and will defeat the purpose of using the media as a tool to enhance an organisation’s image. Furthermore, it is not enough to simply be nice to journalists. These professionals have a work to do and they are also accountable not only to their editors but also to the consumers of news materials. Thus, they need to be able to write a good material and this means that they must be able to get the truth. This is why candour and credibility was emphasized by McCurry. Journalists will not appreciate it if the story that they report is not accurate.
It is important to maintain a sense of professionalism in dealing with journalists but it is also necessary to be aware of strategies that can help the company establish effective media relations, build relationship with journalists and then to evaluate and monitor media and the effectiveness of media relations.
The first thing that needs to be done is to maintain awareness for the organization and this can be achieved by creating a media list. According to experts, “You’ll build your media list by consulting current directories…” (Hahn, 2005, p.98). After choosing the journalists and media entity that the company will work with the next thing to do is to contact them and make them partners in disseminating information regarding the company. From that point onwards the next thing to do is to maintain relationships by keeping them updated with regards to important developments within the organization (Hahn, 2005, p.98).
It will greatly increase the success of the partnership if there will be an informal media luncheon done annually or on occasion media contacts will be invited to lunch (Hahn, year, p.98). It is also imperative to write thank you notes to reporters after the company received a good coverage from them (Hahn, 2005, p.98). It will also help strengthen and maintain good relationships with the media people if the leaders of the company will familiarize themselves with the work of the media contacts and then compliment them if they filed a good story etc. (Hahn, 2005, p.98).
Finally, the organisation must show its commitment that every time it will collaborate with journalists and news agencies it must do so with consistency. It cannot be credible and truthful on a few occasions and then become unreliable the next time there is a press conference or press release. There must be a commitment to keep people informed. There must also be a commitment to bring out the best from each other. This can be achieved by giving information accurately. The WWF will benefit greatly if these principles are observed and followed.
The WWF understands the power of the media. Thus, it made critical steps to manage it and harness its power rather than to stand in its way. As a result they borrowed a page from McCurry’s playbook that says an organization must not only focus on candor and credibility but also on commitment and clarity (McCurry, 2000, p.3). They were also wary of the Agenda-Setting theory and the power of the media to set the agenda in news discussion and information disseminations. As a result the WWF does not only have communications officers working full-time but they also hired media experts to develop media strategies for them. This is a great factor in their success and thus they were able to influence international policies with regards to saving the environment.
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