The Left and Right Hand of the Korean Media

July 24, 2008

Papers with agendas: this is by no means a shock.   However, I thought this article would be a good introduction to those less familiar with how the media lines up in Korea.  And here from the Korea Times also.

Editorial standards in Korea evolved from state-controlled media where standards for givens in other newspapers like three sources were overlooked.  The Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club published a great book for its 50th anniversary in 2006 called Korea Witness – it looks at how news has been reported in Korea over the last 100 or so years, written by various former and current members of the Club.  There’s some info here at SFCC legend Donald Kirk’s website.

The differing perspective of media, or perhaps what could be called ‘misreporting’, is illustrated by the recent MBC TV issue re: the misleading beef documentary that some believe sparked the beef protests.  I’ve experienced this distortion of factual information in the pursuit of the better headlines myself through work I’ve done with clients and how damaging it can be.  That said, I’ve experienced it first hand surrounding issues clients have faced in Ireland and England, so it’s nothing unique to Korea – journalist and the media are by no means infallible.   To be honest, it comes down to whose the most trusted source of information and is why organizations need to engage media in order to disengage.  A paradox that escapes some people!


Ignore Online Media at Your Peril

June 13, 2008

It was no shock to read that Korean protestors have been leveraging the web and digital tools to aid their efforts.  Even water resistance cameras have come into play!

Online media in Korea is a medium that cannot be ignored.


Kick the Habit! World Environment Day

June 5, 2008

I’ve always enjoyed eating meat but have been consciously cutting down my intake not because of some ethical notion nor equally through fear of contracting CJD from imported US beef…  My reason for reducing my meat intake is partly health based but also loosely based on the environmental argument.

Likewise, I now turn off the water when showering as I put on shampoo or lather.  However, I started to do this not because of environmental concerns.  The shower room in my new apartment in Korea actually leaked into my living area.  So to avoid flooding, I avoid the water running too long.  This habit has changed the way I shower everywhere.

Today is “World Environment Day: Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy”.  What creates change; what is the incentive?  I previously worked with Repak, Ireland’s packaging recycling body, for three years and remember attending a breakfast seminar on social behavioural marketing with my former colleague who I worked with on the account.  Our client had informed us that only about 10% of people will ‘do good’ as they see it and recycle without any financial incentive.  With Ireland set targets of recycling 50%, our communications strategy quickly evolved into using social behavioural marketing techniques and articulating the personal financial incentives to encourage the general public to recycle more.  The focused campaign was successful and Ireland met and exceeded its tough targets a year ahead of schedule.

Germany is an acknowledge leader when it comes to the environment and propogating the movement over the last 20 years.  This is because of bottom-up people power.  This is less visible in Korea, and in other Asian countries according to my colleagues in Edelman’s Clean Tech practice.  I was warmed today to see entire pull-outs in both the Chosun Ilbo and Joongang Ilbo, two of Korea’s biggest newspapers who have also recently taken up environmental campaigns themselves, the Chosun focusing on ways to reduce packaging and sporting a new green logo on its front.  Conergy (disclosure: current client) is building Asia Pacific’s biggest solar power plant in SinAn, Korea and POSCO announced yesterday (see and search for POSCO Taps Solar Energy for the article) that it is using its roofs for generating solar power also.  This is all down to the feed-in-tariff structures the government has established and there is real momentum appearing to happen within industry, at least. 

The next trick, however, is to articulate the incentives to the Korean public in a language or in the terms that are relevant to them.  What’s their leaking shower moment!?!  That’s how to kick the habit.


Responsible Conduct is a Basic Expecation

May 30, 2008

Interesting article — Does Being Ethical Pay? — in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal on corporate reputation, based on some simple but decent controlled research.  It concludes:

“Companies should segment their market and make a particular effort to reach out to buyers with high ethical standards, because those are the customers who can deliver the biggest potential profits on ethically produced goods.”

The article also points out what our global CSR lead, Chris Deri, would call an “Irresponsibility Discount.”  His view is that the research seems to identify a material discount and negative correlation between irresponsible company conduct and consumer consideration and purchase behaviour.  He would also point out that the research, however, doesn’t actually uncover a significant halo effect for products considered ‘ethically sound.’  This seems to imply that responsible conduct has merely become one of the basic expectations for products, like quality, price and consistency. 


Social Networking

January 7, 2008

I’ve been part of an experiment in online PR networking since May last year and it’s beginning to gather pace with a few vocal people coming to the fore.  There’s still work defining what we’re trying to discuss or figure out the most optimum set-up but it seems to be taking shape as a place for PR pros to hang out.  There’s around 70 of us signed up to date.

The reason for posting about this now is that I came across what I think is a really useful tipfor Korean companies promoting themselves overseas, particularly considering the relative lack of awareness of Google’s attributes versus local search engines like Naver or Daum.   How many companies think about their text from a SEO point of view?


What is popular may not always be best

January 4, 2008

According to today’s JoongAng Daily, the new administration may revive the practice of having press rooms in government agencies.

I certainly don’t want to use this space to discuss politics, but irrespective of how you feel about outgoing President Roh Moo-hyun, his proposal to close down the press rooms and replace them with regularly scheduled briefings, while not popular with the media, was in my opinion one of his smarter moves.

The press offices were, ironically, originally installed to help the Japanese colonial government control the Korean media. With the journalists literally under the noses of the government it was very simple to apply the requisite pressure to ensure that the ‘correct’ story made it to the media.

As Korean democracy developed, the press rooms became a way for reporters to have almost unlimited access to lawmakers. That may seem like a good thing on the surface, but it is at least a part of the pervasive problem that Korea faces in terms of confidentiality. Essentially, any individual lawmaker could go to a reporter and discuss government policy – real or imagined – irrespective of how far developed such policy was. The press rooms, far from being a resource for media to understand policy, bcame a tool through which individuals could leak information for their own political purposes. They also became comfortable and very lucrative postings for Korean reporters.

Roh Moo Hyun’s proposal that the press rooms should be replaced with official briefings was greeted with outrage by the media because it cut at the heart of this cozy relationship. However, the proposal makes a lot of sense. All organizations benefit from a single, unified voice when it comes to dealing with media. A company would be insane to allow reporters complete access to everything that goes on internally. Many of the conversations going on in within a company are confidential, speculative, exploratory or just plain dumb. No-one would expect to see those conversations in the media. When a formal position is reached, however, then the company needs to speak with one voice.

Why should government be different? I’m all in favor of a free press, and I’m not suggesting that governments call a press briefing, hand reporters a story and then leave while the reports tug their forelocks, say “Thank ‘ee sir” and print the government document word for word. A press briefing should be a forum for debate and governments should expect tough questions.

Holding a press briefing has the virtue that whatever is being discussed is an official government position. It may not be law, it may not be policy, but it is at least an on-the-record statement of the direction in which the government is leaning. A minor politician discussing internal government issues with a reporter in order to raise his own profile is little more than gossip.

I’ve discussed in the past the danger inherent in the lack of a firm press policy. The Korea tradition of un-named sources coupled with a general lack of discretion in talking to reporters causes problems for Korean and non-Korean organizations alike.

Other developed economies get along fine without press rooms and enjoy a healthy and widely respected free media. Lee Myung Bak’s proposal to go back to the press room system, while popular with the media, ensures that the general public will continue to be fed a diet of speculation and internal gossip rather than clear indications of what the government is actually doing with their tax money. In my opinion, that it is a step backward, not forward.


Transparency and Trust

November 15, 2007

In The Strategic Benefits of Transparency on Harvard Business Online’s Conversation Starter, Dave Balter, founder and CEO of BzzAgent asks a question that should be top of mind for any business facing an issue – or even thinking that they might, one day, face one.

There’s a perception of risk that comes along with radical transparency. It’s the “what if” dilemma. Just before tearing open the corporate veil, most companies blush. Then blink. They think: What if we screw up? What if profits shrink? What if we have layoffs?

But what they should be asking is, “What if we never regain the public’s trust?”

At Edelman we call it the Paradox of Transparency.  Essentially, stakeholders are more likely to trust you if they get an accurate picture of what you are doing – warts and all.

It’s not always easy – our own firm has been burned for a mis-step in this area and we are certainly not alone.  However, the massive volume of public conversation today means that whatever your company is doing the truth will probably out.  Employees blog, or talk to friends that blog.

The Internet is a giant water cooler with millions of people standing around it and exchanging news and gossip.  Any company has a choice between being a credible voice in the conversation or being the opinionated loudmouth that skirts around the edge of the group trying to shout down everyone else.  Trust-based relationships will always win out over communications “campaigns” that put the emphasis on spin over substance.

Yes, it’s a tough decision to make, but companies have been doing it for years.  Look at Pepsi. Look at Tylenol.  Ultimately it happens when companies think “If I were a stakeholder in this company, how would I wish to be treated?”

One issue that I face all the time is the reluctance of clients to share information that is regarded as “confidential” with their communications team.  There seems to be a belief that anything you say to the PR folks is going to end up in tomorrow’s newspapers.  Of course, all companies have information that they need to keep confidential.  But that’s not the same as saying as saying that companies need to keep all information confidential.

Personally, I don’t like it when I beleive I’m being lied to and I don’t trust people who I beleive are less than honest with me.  I don’t know anyone who feels any differently.

So why to so many companies  seem to think that they can get away with it?