‘We all need each other’

Posted on: May 16, 2017 at 3:08 am, in

Pope Francis used social media—a first in the papacy’s history—to address an international conference of diverse personalities including politicians, artists, entertainers, venture capitalists, and founders of the biggest tech companies. The powerful leader of the Catholic Church took part in the nonprofit talk series TED2017 late last month in Vancouver.

Francis’ latest leap into the digital world affirms he is quite savvy in social media. He is reported to have nine Twitter accounts, each in a different language. His most popular handle is his Spanish one, @Pontifex_es, which claims 12.8 million followers. In total, 23.41 million people follow his accounts.

The Pope’s talk on TED titled “Why the only future worth building includes everyone” was reportedly a huge undertaking, filmed in his home in the Vatican and edited and translated by a group of 40 translators. The video has generated millions of views on TED’s website, and can be viewed on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=36zrJfAFcuc).

Both to those in power and not, Francis gave a message of hope and called for equality, solidarity and tenderness to prevail. He said: “Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the ‘other’ is not a statistic, or a number. We all need each other.

“I would love it if this meeting could help to remind us that we all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent ‘I’ separated from the other, and we can build the future by standing together, including everyone. We don’t think about it often, but everything is
connected, and we need to restore our connections to a healthy state.”

In a remark that reminded me of the recent United Airlines PR crisis, Francis cautioned leaders against focusing on products and systems instead of the people they serve. He said that only by educating people to a true solidarity would we be able to overcome the “culture of waste” that puts products, and not people, at the core. He noted the habit of people who call themselves “respectable” of not taking care of others, thus leaving thousands of human beings, or entire populations, by the wayside.

Francis underscored the value of human life when he said: “Each and every one of us is irreplaceable in the eyes of God. Through the darkness of today’s conflicts, each and every one of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around. To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. …. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an ‘us.’ And so, does hope begin when we have an ‘us’? No. Hope began with one ‘you.’ When there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution … a revolution of tenderness.”

He encouraged those in positions of power to act humbly, saying that tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women, and that it is not weakness but fortitude.

“Please allow me to say it loud and clear,” he said. “The more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: ‘Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.’ You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness.”

And finally he said: “The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us.’ We all need each other. And so, please, think of me as well with tenderness, so that I can fulfill the task I have been given for the good of the other, of each and every one, of all of you, of all of us.”

It’s clear that the Pope’s role-modeling underscores his message in a world that equates power with muscle-flexing. It offers an example of better leadership for some leaders who speak mostly in boastful expletives. It’s an immediate illustration of humility in leadership.


Charlie A. Agatep (charlie.agatep@ grupoagatep.com) is chair and CEO of Grupo Agatep

This was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on May 16, 2017.

Managing costly PR mistakes

Posted on: April 25, 2017 at 8:44 am, in

The recent United Airlines wrongdoing of dragging out a seated passenger to accommodate airline employees should serve as a warning that a PR crisis can be very costly. Per industry reports, on the day of the passenger-removal controversy, the shares of the $21-billion company fell as much as 6.3 percent in premarket trading, dropping by $1.4 billion (or P70 billion). The financial loss does not include the severe damage to United’s reputation and the erosion of public confidence in it. The backlash refuses to die down at this writing.

United is not alone. Other companies have been through costly PR blunders. The sinking of the Deepwater Horizon platform of British Petroleum (BP) on April 20, 2010, resulted in probably the worst oil spill ever to hit the United States, and the most costly, too. It killed 11 persons and stained more than 1,300 miles of the Gulf of Mexico’s coastline with 3 million barrels of oil. BP said the pretax cost of the 2010 explosion totaled $61.6 billion.

Simply put, a crisis is a bad thing that happens to a good company, which stimulates extensive news media coverage. United’s was not a premeditated homicidal act but a procedural mistake committed on the spur of the moment, while the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon platform was pure accident. Both events would have been quickly forgiven by the stakeholders if statements by spokespersons came quickly, transparently, and with an emphatic apology. The response after the crisis occurs is most crucial and should offer support to those affected by the misstep. Public relations plays a vital role in the crisis response by helping develop messages to be sent to various publics. The initial response should be quickly made—in the first hour after the crisis hits, because people want accurate information about what happened and how that event might affect them.

An individual or company wrongdoing does not become a crisis until it is played up by the media and a large segment of the public becomes aware of it. But before we become complacent, we should remember that in the digital age, every person with an iPhone is a reporter, interconnected with millions of other reporters worldwide. It is impossible to hide from citizen journalists, and there’s a 99-percent chance that social and mainstream media will hype your story into a full-blown crisis.

The response of United’s CEO Oscar Muñoz was a lukewarm mea culpa, which was later countered by his internal email that defended the employees and called the yanked-out passenger disruptive and belligerent. BP’s CEO Tony Howard did not immediately apologize for the accident; instead, he arrogantly said, “I want my life back.”

The first step in crisis prevention is to build an infrastructure of goodwill to protect the firm during bad times. Every company must consciously manage its reputation by projecting a deep sense of corporate social responsibility. It takes years to build a good reputation, but it takes only a few minutes to lose that reputation. Some 75 percent of a firm’s stock value is derived from its reputation. The reason some companies are prone to crisis is that they do not devote any time worrying about their reputation until they are faced with a crisis.

No one is immune from making mistakes. No matter how careful, we are bound to make a mistake somewhere, sometime. When that happens, we should consciously adopt the “3As” formula for dealing with mistakes: acknowledge, apologize, address.

A client emailed me recently and said we had failed to inform them about negative publicity concerning their services that was published last Easter Sunday. We were on vacation and we did fail to monitor media reports. Sensing that the client was hurt, I quickly emailed: “Hello, sir, I acknowledge our delay in advising you of the negative publicity; I deeply apologize for our shortcoming and I take full responsibility; we are taking steps to make sure this will not happen again.” He promptly replied: “Thank you. Next time, even just a copy of the news link sent to me with an FYI will suffice. Cheers.”

Charlie Agatep (charlie.agatep@grupoagatep.com) is chair and CEO of Grupo Agatep.


This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last April 25, 2017. 


How to handle media interviews

Posted on: September 13, 2016 at 12:08 pm, in

BEFORE HE left for the Asean Summit in Laos, President Duterte gave a short speech after which a Reuters reporter asked how he would respond if US President Barack Obama would lecture him about the extrajudicial killings in his war on drugs. Mr. Duterte got fired up and said: “Wala akong pakialam sa kanya. Who is he? I do not have any master except the Filipino people. You must be respectful. Do not just throw questions and statements. P*tang ina, I will curse you in that forum.” He then went into a rant and lobbed expletives at Obama, calling the US president, in Filipino, that “son of a bitch.”

There were only five reporters in the room when Mr. Duterte was asked the question, but the global media broadcast his biting tirade swiftly to all corners of the world. As a result, Obama canceled a scheduled bilateral meeting with Mr. Duterte, and while Obama said later that he did not take the latter’s rude comments personally, the Philippines may have lost many relationship opportunities with the United States, among others.

On hindsight, Mr. Duterte and all administration officials and spokespersons should have taken a course in media training at the very start of their tenure, in order to avoid unwarranted negative stories in the press. For instance, Mr. Duterte did not have to answer the question of the Reuters reporter. He could have said: “That is a hypothetical question and it has not happened. I wouldn’t want to speculate.” Reporters understand there are questions that need not be answered, such as third-party questions, competitive questions, personal questions, questions that require figures, and questions about security and legalities.

It is easy to blame a journalist for biased reporting, which does happen from time to time. But often, the story is due to the interviewee’s lack of understanding about how the media work. A misquote is when a reporter makes up words that you didn’t say. It is deliberately taking your intent out of context with some sort of agenda. However, you are not a misquote victim if a journalist takes part of what you say and uses it in a story. If you say something ridiculous during the interview and the journalist quotes you saying that, then that is not a misquote.

A media training course is the best way to avoid interview booboos. You acquire skills in handling the media and how to develop positioning statements. The course is interlaced with skillful interview strategies for message development. Part of the course includes a videotaped interview session conducted by a professional broadcast journalist. Every participant is exposed to the local media interview formats and is given constructive, on-the-spot feedback that guarantees almost immediate improvement.

Here are a few tips to ensure an effective media interview:

  1. Be comfortable. Have a chat with the reporter before the interview to break the ice. Make sure you know what you want to talk about and what issues you think will be raised by the reporter, and know how you will respond to them clearly and concisely.
  2. Everything you say in the interview is for the record. There is no such thing as an “off the record” statement. Assume that every word you say to a reporter can and will be attributed to you because that’s the job of the media.
  3. You are always “on air” when in front of the media. Always assume the camera is on you, so be careful about your behavior, body language, and tone of voice. Avoid distracting movements like picking your nose, scratching your neck, or swinging both hands like a juggler. Never cross your arms as it makes you look defensive.
  4. Do not ramble. The more longwinded your answers are, the harder it is for the reporter to follow, and that creates more chances for mistakes.
  5. Keep your answers short even when you want to elaborate. Remember, the average soundbite is only 10-20 seconds long, so be clear and concise.
  6. Remain detached and unemotional if the reporter appears hostile. If you blow your cool, you put yourself in the hands of the interviewer. Pause, breathe in slowly, and answer without showing any emotion.
  7. Don’t curse, don’t raise your voice, and avoid slurs and offensive language. Strive to be politically correct.
  8. If you are not sure of your answer, buy time or refer the inquiry to the rightful person. Never try to play like an expert in someone else’s field.
  9. Don’t speculate. Reporters are obsessed with the future. They will throw you a question such as “What would happen if…” This is risky ground for the interviewee who will either become angry or comment on a subject he or she is poorly prepared for.
  10. Don’t repeat the negative. Journalists will sometimes use negative phrases in their questions, and very often the interviewee repeats the negative language. For example, the reporter may say: “It must be disappointing that President Obama did not meet with you at the Asean Summit. Are you disappointed?” And the interviewee might answer: “Well, I wouldn’t say exactly that I was disappointed.” The journalist’s negative language can now be attributed to you.

Media training can be highly effective in helping you develop the skills to get your message across accurately and with impact. And when you are an effective spokesperson, the media will return to you again and again for expert commentary in your area of expertise. You obviously need to rehearse and put time and training into the media interview process, so don’t go into such encounters blindly. But at the same time, don’t let the fear of being misquoted keep you on the sidelines.

Charlie Agatep is chair and CEO of Grupo Agatep, an integrated marketing communications agency. He was for many years a PR, journalism and mass communications professor at the University of Santo Tomas, and was also president of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines.


Why you should win one Anvil Award in your lifetime

Posted on: August 4, 2016 at 12:58 pm, in

Last week the Makati Shangri-La Rizal ballroom was packed with some 700 guests, mostly businessmen from the country’s top 50 corporations, to receive their Anvil trophies at the 51st Anvil Awards, GABI NG PARANGAL of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines (PRSP).

Why are the country’s most prominent firms fiercely attracted to submit entries to win an Anvil trophy?

Because the Anvil Award is not just any trophy. It is a tribute, an accolade bestowed by the PRSP for exceptional PR programs. Each Anvil entry is painstakingly screened and weighed by 30 distinguished jurors chosen for their competence and integrity.

In the lottery of life, you need a ticket to win.

But to win an Anvil Award from the PRSP, you need to present a well-documented public relations program or tool which has solved some of the country’s most critical issues including public safety, the economy, education, health, environmental protection, or the preservation of our cultural and historical heritage.

Most winners of the Anvil Awards, whether they are in community relations or public service categories, are programs which help people in some way.

The Anvil Awards program is conducted annually by PRSP to encourage improved public relations performance and techniques. PR programs conducted by business and industry, PR firms and not-for-profit organizations are all eligible.

To qualify for an award, a program must incorporate sound public relations objectives and philosophy, must show excellence in strategy and execution, and must document tangible results that impact on the target audience.

The winning programs are usually successful case studies in the areas of community relations, institutional programs, special events, public service, public affairs,  marketing communications for new services, established services, new products or established products, crisis communications; internal communications and investor relations.

The 1st grand Anvil was given to the Manila Times in 1963 for its program Operation Quick Count. The program greatly minimized anomalies during the 1961 presidential elections which was won by then Vice President Diosdado Macapagal over incumbent President Carlos Garcia.

San Miguel Corp. earned the Anvil Hall of Fame in 1998 for winning the grand Anvil five times. In the 51st Anvil Awards, it was Metro Bank Foundation’s turn to win the Hall of Fame prize.

Malampaya (Shell-Chevron-PNOC) won the grand Anvil in 2003 for its Give a Life Now: Sitio Agusuhin Development Program. This project turned Sitio Agusuhin in Subic from a poor fishing town into a progressive community with improved education and modern healthcare facilities.

Last Friday, Union Bank won the gold anvil for its project, Lumina Pandit, which is conserving, restoring, and digitizing the rare books  and documents housed in the UST Miguel de Bebavides archives, some of which date back to the 16th century.

By getting involved in Lumina Pandit, Union Bank aims to create public awareness of the existence of some 30,000 volumes of books that are currently being curated in UST’s library, and to preserve and share the University’s priceless collections to a wider world.

On the other hand, Warner TV (Turner Broadcasting System Asia-Pacific) won the highest Platinum Award for launching a new crime-thriller show with engaging inter-active event that immersed the guests into the worlds of these thrillers.

Over the years, some of the consistent winners of the Anvil Awards have been the Shell Companies, Ayala Corporation, SN Aboitiz Power, Smart Communications, Globe Telecoms, Meralco, PLDT, Petron, Unilab, SM Corporation, PNOC, Manila Water, Maynilad, Unilever and many others.

These are just a few of the long list of Anvil Awards that have helped sustain our country’s growth. If we can create a society of Anvil awardees, it is a cinch that, by 2020, we could become the next Asian tiger.


Charlie A. Agatep is the former president of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines, and  chairman & CEO of GRUPO AGATEP, an integrated marketing communications agency based in Pasig City.