As organizations seeks ways to increase profits by filtering into international markets, many turn to the field of public relations as a way of reaching cross-cultural markets. Factors such as values, cultural differences, language barriers, beliefs, etc…in order to successfully promote an organization’s products and services. Public relations practitioners have the responsibility to be the mediator between the organizations and public(s).
According to Murphy and Dee (1992), “ Public relations makes organizations more effective by building relationships with stakeholders in the environment that have the potential to constrain or enhance the mission of the organization. ” This role also involves disseminating and seeking information to the public. This information/feedback provides the public relations practitioners and the organizations with insight as how the publics perceive the organization.
When the organizations forget/ignore the importance of public relations practitioner’s role in the organizational structure, this may often result in dissatisfactions among the organization’s publics and often react in a way that may harm to the organization. This conflict is characterized as activism, which when not dealt correctly, can end in harsh consequences such as tarnished reputation or decrease in profits. 1. McDonald’s perspective in identifying their key publics in the Mclibel case. It’s very important to correctly identify and characterize the relevant key publics.
Dewy(1982) first propounded a public is a group whose members face a similar problem, recognize that problem exists, and organizes something to do about it. Grunig and Hunt(1984) assert that there are three stages in the evolutions of publics. In the first stage, the public does not recognize the problem. In latent stages, the public moves to the aware stage when it recognizes the problem. The final stage is the active stage recognizes the problem and organizes something to do about it.
According to J. E. Grunig and Hunt (1984) the idea is to communicate with an aware public before it actively opposes an organization, thus becoming an activist public. London Greenpeace is an activist group with 3. 3 million members in over 22 countries that use highly visible actions to draw media attention to environmental problems. The London Greenpeace group, a division of Greenpeace, is an independent group of activists that has no involvement in any political party. This group meets weekly to “share concern for the oppression in our lives and the destruction of our environment.
Anderson (1992) cited that weaknesses in most case studies of activism is that similar case studies should be conducted that examine activism from the perspective of both the organizations and of the activists groups, which is applicable to this study of the McLibel case. In my research, I came across must more literature and disseminated information from the small activist group of London Greenpeace versus the large multi-national corporation of McDonald’s. This study also points to the need of more studies that examine the special problems of international communication.
The actions of a McDonald’s triggered activist conflict not only in London, but in other different countries as well. “If public relations practitioners are to assess issues successfully and identify publics that are likely to become active on those issues, they must look beyond the confines of their own culture and beyond the borders of their own country,” Anderson (1992). Greenpeace, being an extreme organization, has to “manage or maintain its public image as a group that will not compromise on environmental issues, Murphy and Dee (1992).
The organization fits Grunig’s (1989) description of a high involvement, information seeking public which believe in collective intervention in organizational decision making. This public seeks to change the direction of environmental decline versus a substitution for lost resources. Strategies of conflict used by Greenpeace, extreme actions, unilateral demands and its intolerance for compromisation. This model emphasizes winning at the expense of the other in which both Greenpeace and McDonald’s exemplified through its actions.
This method includes communication through manipulation of the issues to slant arguments in its own favor, the use of flamboyant symbols to depict choices in absolute terms, and the refusal to cede any points as pointed by Murphy and Dee (1992). Greenpeace used flamboyant symbols in celebrating the second anniversary of the trial by inviting the media and the public to celebrate by eating a cake in the shape of Ronald McDonald’s face. (McLibel video). The largest support for this belief came from Mcdonalds worst public relations blunder in it’s history which occurred in Britian.
It took court two penniless left activists, David Morris and Helen Steel, who had distributed a factsheet about Mcdonalds which the company claimed was libelous. Unlike three others who also received writs from the company, Morris and Steel refused to apologize Definition of Activism L. A. Grunig(1992) defines activism as: “An activist public is a group of two or more individual who organize to influence another public or publics through action that may include education, compromise, persusion, pressure tactics or force.
Anderson(1992) defines activist groups as strategic publics because they constrain an organization’s ability to accomplish it’s goals and mission. Anderson(1992) went on describing activist as those that “create issues, appeal to governments, courts or the media for litigation, regulation or other forms of pressure. ” According to Lesly(1992), there are five types of the first type is the sincere group. This group has a “clear purpose that frankly reflects their rights or interests. ” The second group is called the “do-gooders. ”
This group is usually comfortable and affluent. They seek an outlet for their purposefulness in helping others or in making things fit their theories of life. ” The third group are the social engineers. This group consider themselves intellectually and morally the “cream of society and are intent on imposing their superior judgment onto the entire human system. ” The fourth type of activist is holier-than-thou group who feel that heaven has anointed them with the one true formula for human existence and that it is their duty to impose it on everyone else. Finally, the “anti’s” are those who are against almost everything, constantly dissastisfied with their lives and the world.
In order to deal with these publics effectively, Lesly (1992) suggests that public relations practitioners must become sensitive to the psyche of the people involved in these activist groups. 2. How Could McDonald’s have handled this affair more effectively from a public relations perspective? The Public Relations perception mistakes that McDonald’s should have avoided: McDonald’s first public relations mistake was it pursuit of its “legal vendetta” against the two activists. This action proved that the company had jumped the gun in protecting its reputation/image.
By not conducting any environmental scanning, the corporation had no idea of how its publics perceived the organization after the dissemination of the leaflets. Thus, the company had no idea whether or not it was necessary to conduct damage control in order to protect its reputation. Secondly, the corporation failed to do environmental scanning on Greenpeace itself. The company had no idea of the size of the activist groups, its power to influence publics locally, nationally, and internationally, the resources the group had available to defend its position, or the credibility of the organization.
The final public relations mistake the company made was using asymmetrical methods to disseminate information. On the eve of the trial, McDonald’s issued 300,000 leaflets that called the activists liars, as a way of discrediting them. This strategy backfired because the company did not conduct any background research on the activists, thus just deciding to utilize one-way communication to argue its side. Mcdonald’s had failed to do environmental scanning on Greenpeace itself.
The company had no idea of the size of the activist groups, its power to influence publics locally, nationally, and internationally, the resources the group had available to defend its position, or the credibility of the organization. As McDonald’s felt justified in the legal action it took against Morris and Steel. In the September 16, 1999 issue of Marketing, a weekly UK trade magazine, an article on the case exerts the fact that no matter what McDonald’s does, it will “always be a bad guy in the eyes of pressure groups which don’t like multinational capitalism, particularly when its well marketed.
How could other corporations learn from the case? According to Murphy and Dee (1992), many public relations practitioners generally assume that the solution to dealing with activist publics lies in negotiation and compromise: The solution is a redefinition of the relative roles in a non-adversary climate, no matter what is takes. The rule makers are not evil, capricious, unthinking people, but more likely hardworking public servants. They can, with some sense of community, engage in a dialogue…(to) balance the conflicting needs of employment and the environment. Schnancht, cited in J. E. Grunig & Hunt, 1984).
Research has shown that business and industry are not always held in high esteem in the eyes of the public when words are put on someone else’s mouth. Oftentimes when an organization attempts to advocate a good image, it is not supported or accepted by the public because it knows who the organization is. Organizations must realize that they are not immune from potential credibility problems. In realizing this, organizations must seek the help of other credible institutions to re-establish its credibility.