Communication companies and physics

When PR and other communication companies start making references to science and scientific theories in promoting what they do it is time to take a deep sceptical sniff.

The alva group (not a typo but literally their lower case brand style which says something or other) started a recent blog post on its work with the statement that: “Wave theory isn’t just for physicists: it can equally be applied to the study of a company’s reputation.”

Now the alva group is a content monitoring and analysis company – a ‘leading’ one according to its website which “has experienced rapid growth since it was founded in 2010, already working with 35% of the FTSE 100 and many Fortune Global 500 companies.”

They go on to say: “The company prides itself on its close relationship with its clients, understanding the issues that matter to them and ensuring its monitoring and analysis solutions are customised to their needs.” Well they would say that – just as most of us in the PR or communications field have done so over the years.

But why do they need to give an offhand reference to explanations of the movement of light which started with Sir Isaac Newton’s observations that light is made of particles and Christiaan Huygen’s observation that light is made up by waves? Particularly when they comprehensively mix the metaphor by going on to make their point about reputation by saying that “Contrary to sensationalist media reporting, (reputation) isn’t destroyed in a single blow: while standing with stakeholders may take a knock following a PR disaster, recovery is usually possible. By contrast, research shows that, like waves crashing on the shore, it takes three to six mini-shocks.”

So the profound truth here is that your reputation can be deep-sixed by three to six mini-shocks or by one big tsunami. It cites as case studies Toyota and Thomas Cook ‘mistakes’ in reputation management – the former involving a series of well-publicised problems and the latter a big one when two children died of carbon monoxide at a hotel their family had booked through the company.

Toyota’s share price dipped and Thomas Cook tanked although Toyota is still the world’s number one car manufacturer despite the problems. Thomas Cook’s problems were more fundamental than one carbon monoxide poisoning which was very badly handled. Indeed, the Thomas Cook situation is now a model case study of how changing tastes and behaviour, dated brand connotations and strategic failures can combine to create corporate life-threatening outcomes.

But when discussing the two case studies alva says: “The lesson from all this is clear; more often than not companies can avoid being on the end of a reputation crisis by heeding the warning signs before it’s too late. While the media may present reputation risk as a bolt from the blue, in the majority of cases this simply isn’t true.”

Duh!!! That’s why the communications industry – in agencies and in house staff – has developed issues management and crisis preparedness strategies and protocols. Indeed, it is hard to identify a major company or industry which doesn’t have such strategies in place – ones designed to ensure they pick up the warning signs early.
On their website alva says – in the sort of identikit jargon/babble common to many companies in the business – “in today’s business context, driven by hyper-transparency, interconnectivity and media anarchy, businesses need to be equipped with consistent and high quality intelligence to respond in a timely manner to multiple stakeholder and threats and opportunities.”

Now the blog is a total physics klutz although an interest in the history of science does throw up enough knowledge (buttressed when necessary by Google and a science dictionary) to know that alva’s wave theory analogy guff has more ramifications than they think.

For instance there are several forms of waves in physics: among them longitudinal where the particles move in parallel with the energy’s motion; transverse where the particles are at right angles to the motion of the energy; surface where the particles travel in a circular motion. In fact wave theory – in the words of the cowboy star in the film Hail Caesar – is complicated.

To give alva some credit one of their website brand positioning statements is ‘Connected Intelligence’ which is an aim not only monitoring companies but also real national intelligence agencies should take to heart – both in terms of connecting scraps of intelligence which point to a bigger picture and avoiding the tendency (as seen in the Iraq War intelligence) to make false connections.

But in the meantime in Australia don’t wait for alva to set up an office – as they have recently done in New York to complement their London office – just give AAP’s Media Intelligence company Mediaverse  a call.