PrSpeak Pete Pedersen
Pete Pedersen
EVP & Chair - Global Technology Practice, Edelman
22 Nov 2012
For any company that is getting into social media anew is scary because you lose control. For companies that are used to having a didactic, top down method of communication, the idea of having rank and file employees freely blogging and tweeting their opinion is frankly terrifying. Our approach is first to understand what the guidelines are and set the parameters. These don’t have to be prescriptive rules that run into hundreds of pages, but common sense things.
Pete Pedersen, a 20-year PR industry veteran, currently helms Edelman’s global technology practice, serving clients including Microsoft, Symantec, HP, Adobe, Samsung, Juniper Networks, Motorola, RIM and countless other blue chip technology innovators worldwide. Additionally, Pedersen leads the firm’s Data Security and Privacy group, helping clients navigate the increasing complexity at the intersection of cloud, mobility, and social networking.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Shanta Saikia, Pedersen speaks about how social media is shaping companies’ communications strategies, issues regarding privacy and security and more...

Q. How do you view the market scenario in India – in terms of the PR market as well as the technology landscape?
The two are related in many ways as technology continues to be such a major part of the economy here that it obviously has impacted the PR industry not only in terms of size and growth and scale, but also in terms of the skill sets that are required. I think what we have seen notably since the last time I was here two years ago is some real sophistication in the application of social media and digital to our technology clients and we are seeing much savvier clients in terms of their perception of what PR is and how it can drive their business. Clients are looking at us to help them engage with a broad set of stakeholders, in addition to doing more traditional media relations work.

Q. How much change have you witnessed, especially in clients’ mindsets, when it comes to PR strategies?
I think there are three big, macro changes. First is the use of social media. Every client we talk to is asking us how they can use all the great elements of social media to drive their business and technology, to drive their enterprise business, to help them reach customers in new ways, to maintain relationships and to forge new relationships.

Second big macro change as it pertains to technology is the desire for tech companies to talk to people outside of the tech industry, where the audience is not so sophisticated to understand the bits and bytes. In such cases, clients look to us to manage those interactions and help with the translation. How does a company that makes something that’s very technical have a lucid conversation with somebody who doesn’t understand technology? They turn to us to help them do that.

Thirdly, in terms of the caliber of PR talent that we see in the market, that’s really changed as well. As PR has risen to become a more important discipline in the overall marketing mix, clients are now looking at us to not just transact with the media, but also counsel them in their business. One of the things that we are doing in Edelman is closely focused on privacy and security. We’ve taken a deep dive into understanding what drives privacy and security both from a regulatory perspective and stakeholder perspective that has nothing to do with media relations and everything to do with being true counselors to our clients in a very different way than what it was even 18 months ago.

Q. There is some kind of a clash over here. When you are on social media, you have to react very fast because you don’t know what the conversations are going on, and at the same time you also have to be very transparent. Being transparent, on the one hand, and maintaining privacy on the other – how do you maintain a balance here?
For any company that is getting into social media anew is scary because you lose control. For companies that are used to having a didactic, top down method of communication, the idea of having rank and file employees freely blogging and tweeting their opinion is frankly terrifying. Our approach is first to understand what the guidelines are and set the parameters. These don’t have to be prescriptive rules that run into hundreds of pages, but common sense things like don’t disclose things that are company confidential, don’t say anything disparaging about the company or about employees in the company, and so on.

Second step is to train the people and empower them so that they understand that Facebook isn’t an advertising platform, but an engagement platform; that your Twitter handle, if you are tweeting from your work place, is really not a place to just post product announcements, you have to add value to the conversation and the community in which you are participating.

Finally, there is integration. There is nothing more dangerous than a social media programme that lives by itself. It has to be well and fully integrated into the traditional PR operations and the marketing folks who might drive the website and so forth. The companies that focus on content more than anything else and then work with their agencies to figure out to deliver that content to other channels are the ones that have got it right.

Q. Does Edelman have any such process in place where you train in-house personnel or take people from outside and then you induct them into it?
Three or four years ago we realised that our own employees didn’t necessarily all have the skills they needed in social media. We had some young guys – the ‘millennials’ – who came up as digital natives and knew how to use all the platforms, but our mid-level managers and senior guys were woefully ill-equipped to deal with what we saw as a tidal wave coming. So, internally we started something called the Social Media Belt System, sort of like a karate or martial arts belt system. Here’s a module on Facebook and if you did that module then you’ve got your belt and we move on to the next module. Thus, we trained all 3,700 employees on the belt system, which was two years ago. Training is an ongoing process and as people come on board, they get the training as well. Soon clients got wind of our training system and started asking us to create a version suited for their companies. We said yes, and of course it has become a nice line of business for us!

Q. Edelman had done a study on ‘Privacy and Security’ some time back. Could you share some of the key insights that the study reveals?
The first big takeaway for me is the idea that security and privacy can no longer be relegated to the background. It’s become a reputation issue for companies more than anything else – we’ve seen data breaches, we’ve seen instances of privacy practices gone awry and these companies are finding that it has a profound impact on how their stakeholders trust them, how the regulators look at them and so on. So, if you think about the traditional places within a corporation where privacy and security lived, it was either with the IT guys or with the lawyers. Our whole point is now the communication guys need to be part of that group that works on privacy and security.

The second big takeaway is the gap between how the millennials or the younger generation think about privacy is much smaller than what we thought. There is this idea that millennials are kind of freewheeling and are very happy to offer information about themselves in exchange for better experience and that the older generation is less willing to do that, but that gap is actually quite small. It takes on a different form and certainly there is a level of understanding that perhaps is different across generations, but generally we found a lot of consistency rather than inconsistency.

Third thing that surprised us is when thinking about specific purchases how much consumers are starting to take into consideration how secure a product is or how a company articulates the privacy policies and how they protect your data. Those become key considerations in terms of intent and loyalty. On the flip side of that, we found that consumers are getting quite punitive if their trust is broken and they are taking action. They are choosing other products or brands or shopping in different places, they are posting on Facebook and telling their friends about data breach. Certainly the media are starting to tune in to these issues and write about them even more. Companies need to pay attention to all this and make their communication sharper.

Q. How much is the privacy issue impacting the e-commerce side of the business, because any data breach there is a huge thing as people are transacting online? How can a communications consultancy help allay fears of data breaches and build the trust factor?
There are two macro issues that drive the conversations when it comes to privacy – one is collection of information and the second is use of information. If either of these two things happen in a way that the consumer is either unaware of or is uncomfortable with, that’s where the problem starts. As a communications professional, I solve that problem by being very transparent and speaking in clear lay man’s terms.

In terms of intent, I think the companies need to pay attention to not just how data is being used today, but how data may be used in the future. And every time an engineer or product group has access to data and decides to do something different than perhaps what the original intent was, that’s when companies get themselves into trouble.

Our research shows that when consumers don’t have a clear understanding of how companies are collecting their data and what they intend to do with it, that’s when trust is broken.

Archives: Interviews
 
Pete Pedersen
EVP & Chair - Global Technology Practice, Edelman
Pete Pedersen
For any company that is getting into social media anew is scary because you lose control. For companies that are used to having a didactic, top down method of communication, the idea of having rank and file employees freely blogging and tweeting their opinion is frankly terrifying. Our approach is first to understand what the guidelines are and set the parameters. These don’t have to be prescriptive rules that run into hundreds of pages, but common sense things.
Anthony A Rose
VP – Corporate Affairs, Walmart Hong Kong
Anthony A Rose
In the past, ‘work hard’ was the mantra. Now it is ‘work smart’. Gen-next professionals have to be very clear about the top few priorities in their lives and commit their time and resources to the most important things first. You have to decide what is right for you and what is wrong.
Olivier Fleurot
Global CEO, MSLGroup
<b>Olivier Fleurot</b>
Companies will have to integrate social media within their internal structure and start interacting with consumers in a much more comprehensive way. That’s what we call Social CRM. Speed is of essence and so is transparency.
Shweta Shukla
Country Head – External Relations, Procter & Gamble India
<b>Shweta Shukla</b>
The explosion of new media touch-points such as social media and mobile phones has given the External Relations function new opportunities to drive advocacy amongst consumers. Social media enables us to have greater and potentially deeper relationships with more consumers in more parts of the world. We are very engaged in all areas of digital communications from mobile to what have become more traditional sites such as Facebook.
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