A reflection of BCM311

When reflecting back on my time in BCM311 I find it hard to pinpoint the most important insight. In so many ways it has been such a complex and intricate story that has been filled with so many different personalities and lessons.

It has been an incredibly unique university experience.

I would be remiss to not begin with my newfound appreciation of narrative practice. Whilst I had heard of the term, I don’t think I quite understood what it was, nor it’s value. Throughout the presentations I was struck by all of the different ways people chose to convey their interviews despite us all having the same brief. Some were factual, some were poetic. But all were so incredibly well done.

Throughout the whole semester, people took such care with other peoples stories and really cherished the concept of a narrative. I thought it was lovely.

I have also learnt the value of having a cohort that is engaged, intellectual and curious and what this can do for creativity and the nurturing of ideas. Working in public relations we have a lot of brainstorms for new campaigns and I don’t think I have experienced a constructive atmosphere quite like the BCM311 classroom. Perhaps what is needed in the future is some trust building exercises (haha).

In terms of how I will use this in the future, on a serious note, I do think the workplace could benefit from some creative trust. I think by endeavouring to establish a safe space that allows for the back and forth of discussion could be invaluable for clients.

Working in public relations, we are telling stories every day and understanding that there are a myriad of ways that I can tell those stories will is hugely beneficial for my future not only in PR but as a fully fledged adult. Learning to ask permission to tell the stories of others and telling stories for not just entertainment but moral learnings is also something that I will be able to take with me.

Aside from the professional, my personal blog is somewhat lacking in content and I would like to build it up. I believe I can utilise so many of the incredible storytelling traits that were displayed this semester to help do this. I would like to take with me all of the different ways of thinking, feeling and writing that together, made the incredible class of BCM311.

 

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The current state of dating in Japan

Digital Asia

In search of a topic for my autoethnographic study, I was toying with ideas around the significance of dolls in Japanese culture. Naturally, this lead me to become absolutely perplexed by the rising popularity of sex dolls as an alternative to human companionship. As I read blogs and and listened to interviews, I found myself face by an even more interesting issue, that being the reasons why such a trend has developed in Japan and the subsequent current state of dating in Japan.

As a 23 year old girl, dating has been a significant part of my adolescence. If I’m being completely honest, throughout my schooling years I would have been labelled as “boy crazy”. The dating landscape for a Sydney private school girl of the age of 16 were altogether too complex for anyone to remain unscathed and it was through the politics of these experiences that we, or…

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A critical literature review – ‘The complexity of listening – listening for complexity: Narrative consultancy work in organisations’

“… listening is active and selective process that has an effect on which stories are noticed and thickened and which stories are left unnoticed and untouched…”

We live in a society that focuses on the telling of stories and we forget, or misunderstand, the importance of listening. In my chosen article, The complexity of listening – listening for complexity: Narrative consultancy work in organisations by Thilde Westmark Lasse Offenberg and Dorte Nissen, there is a fascinating focus on the way that listening shapes the stories that are told and not told.

As narrative consultants, their focus is on the ways in which listening can offer important insights and tools to better the day to day functioning of the organisation. They believe that their role as consultants is not to reshape the story or culture of the organisation, but to “contribute to a richer development ” of the stories that already exist, but are not yet apparent.

My fascination with the absence of listening from any dialogue or practice began in week 2 when Kate asked the class if anyone was finding it difficult to listen. I was too ashamed to put my hand up but I was having difficulty with listening, in enough detail to quote, the people that I was speaking to. This lead me to be concerned about the ways in which I interact with people and their stories. I am a chatty person and working in public relations, I am chatting all day, everyday. But what was I doing with the stories? How much was I missing, and subsequently misunderstanding due to my significant lack of listening skills?

In order to explore this aspect of narrative practice, Westmark, Offenberg and Nissen used excerpts from a two day consultation where they engaged the employees of the organisation in interviews. They discuss different facets such as the misconception that the right questions are the key to valuable insight and that we selectively listen based on experiences and ideas we have acquired and because of this, we can only ask questions about things that we have heard. Which consequently leads to a limited understanding of the situation.

Instead, we should be listening for the things that are overlooked, like the intricacies of the word ‘but’ and the difference between the dominant and less dominant storylines that exist within the one story. Stories are messy things.

Westmark, Offenberg and Nissen state that “talking necessarily implies listening” and yet there is very little scholarly work devoted to the study of listening. Additionally, we often speak of our ears and memory as if they are infallible, that we could reproduce everything that we have ever heard and then can process it as the speaker meant it.

“talking necessarily implies listening”

This is highly problematic and is explained by using an analogy of a Labrador that has very selective hearing in that he can hear when his leash is picked up or the rustle his favourite packet of dog biscuits being opened but may not hear the sound of someone flushing the toilet. This is a great example of how listening is always both selective, and meaningful.

While the authors are explicit in the fact that they are not trying to dismiss the act of questioning, I believe that their focus on the small nuances of language and the way of speaking requires substantial higher order thinking and complicated, time consuming training. I am also uncertain of how accurately one can interpret the subtle behaviours of someone not well known to them better than the words that they speak. While I understand that this article speaks specifically to narrative consultants, it raises some very interesting issues of narrative practice generally.

However, for the most part I appreciate the value they are placing on listening for enhanced communication and understanding. In my own job, when writing social media content for brands, listening is integral to understanding the voice and message of the organisation. I could not build on their story through their social media channels without it.

I do believe that we don’t listen enough. I believe that we don’t nurture another’s narrative as much as we could. I believe that I don’t listen properly and that I look to other stories to mirror my own.

The first step is admitting you have a problem…

I have never been good with the stories of others.

I have only recently, a few years into my 20’s, identified this to be a problem.

When Googling “the telling of others stories” I came across a number of articles discussing this from a humanitarian perspective in terms of giving a voice to the voiceless. So while cooking an onion and zucchini soup, I listened to a TED talk about the ethics of telling others stories.

A storyteller by trade, Lina Srivastava aims to amplify social issues through creative media. In her TEDxTransmedia talk Srivastana describes her time in Rwanda meeting with a female co-op and how this completely affected her understanding and method of telling the stories of others.

My Googling lead me to very similar stories about how we as a society have an obligation to tell the stories of others from a humanitarian perspective however I kept coming back to Srivastava’s words, “the key to storytelling is humility and empathy” and how this was uncomfortably relevant for my own life.

Labelled by my parents as a ‘social butterfly’, it is safe to say that I am a chatty person. I enjoy a good laugh and am not one to spare the use of dramatics.

Upon reflection, this style of storytelling is often the very opposite of empathy and humility.

I did not stumble upon this revelation after Srivastava’s TED talk but it is something that has been slowly creeping up on my conscious mind.

In a bizarre concoction of yoga practice, a new office job and an exponential rise in adult conversations (and relations) I have become increasingly aware of the ramifications of the way that I tell the stories, especially concerning the life and times of others.

To start with, I hadn’t ever truly appreciated how often I tell stories that don’t primarily concern me. I was surprised by how I was treating the lives and stories of others with complete and total reckless abandon.

Each story we tell has an untold amount of consequences and I find this unnerving that this has only now reached the forefront of my mind.

Yet despite my knowledge of this personality flaw of mine I have extreme difficulty to put my leanings into practice. After a few wines I will still divulge in some serious school yard gossip or tell my girlfriends about my dear old father joining me at yoga (which always receives serious lol’s).

In retrospect, I feel a twang of guilt. I believe we often feel a sense of guilt for stories told and yet we continue to do so. Sharing stories is an integral part of human connection and communication.

I will probably never stop telling the stories of others. Really, how could I?

But, what I will try to do is be conscious.

I will be conscious of the reason why I am telling the story? Would the cast of said story be happy with me sharing it? Am I being true to the story and the person and of course, am I being humble and empathetic?

I think these questions are important for all of us in our day to day.

The micro celebrity

 

From the previous two blog posts, it is evident that influencers have had a deep seated effect on Public Relations and campaign strategy.

However, recently there appears to be yet another shift in PR and marketing strategy in the form of the micro-celebrity. In the pursuit of authenticity in the overwhelmingly polluted SMI market, brands are looking to influencers with a smaller, but more loyal followings to target more specific audiences.

This is a smart move as social media users have become more wary of large scale influencers in the midst of new advertising standards. The new code, implemented by the Australian Association of National Advertisers will require social media influencers to label sponsored content. This code however is essentially undermining the reasons why marketers and PR strategists looked to social media influencers… authenticity.

This year, the New York Times bought HelloSociety, an agency that connects brands with influencers and they found that accounts with fewer than 30,000 are more beneficial to work with.

To hear from the perspective of a micro-influencer, I spoke to Sydney sider Carla-Rose Brett.

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As well as being having a significant social media presence, Carla-Rose is also a PR and social media strategist.

Carla-Rose began working towards influencer status when her friend informed her that the influencer market was growing rapidly. Carla is beautiful inside and out and for her, he could not be more right.

Starting as purely health and fitness orientated, she added lifestyle to her repertoire so thats she could “promote a broader range of brands and products.”

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Creating content as a micro-celebrity

I was curious to know how Carla-Rose crafts her content. Was it for brands she wanted to represent or was it purely brands that a previous relationship had been established with? Essentially, her content is reflective of her journey. Carla-Rose explained how initially she would reach out to smaller brands to ask if they would collaborate with her however as her followers grew and brands became aware of the power that lay behind micro influencers, brands now come to her. As well as being free to choose as she pleases, Carla-Rose is also represented by her modelling agency who help send products her way or set up collaborations.

Maneuvering the disrupted influencer market

“I just try to be as authentic and real as I possibly can be”.

This of course, is spot on with the research. Creating a clear message about who she is as a brand is how she continues to gain partnerships and collaborations. By discussing issues that are relevant and topical on her Instagram, like vegetarianism, she is able to make her values clear and therefore align herself with potential brands and their values.

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From social media platforms, to the influencer and then to the micro-celebrity, it is clear that Public Relations as an industry has been significantly affected. Strategies have been altered, KPI’s have been added and new agencies have been created.

However the space is subject to constant disruption, so who knows what’s next…

PR strategist turned influencer expert

Last week I caught up with Jesse Lewis, Head of Content at Touch Creative to talk about the very real ways in which social media influencers (SMIs) are affecting the Public Relations industry.

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Jesse has been working in PR for 5 years and has been privy to the influencer take over on a very real level. Over the years he has worked with brands such as Gumtree, ING Direct, KAYAK and American Express.

We kicked off our interview broadly talking about the ways in which the industry has changed and for Jesse, he believed the industry focus had changed entirely. What was once about an industry about product launches and events, had become infinitely more transactional. For example, Jesse described how celebrities would be used as brand ambassadors like when he was involved in a Virgin Velocity campaign and they used Richard Branson’s Twitter account to launch their PR stunt.

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Whereas now, instead of using their celebrity status, “it is more of a content play. Instead of paying for influence, now we’re paying for influence through content that we can bring onto our channels.”

Briefs became influencer focused

As a result of the astronomical increase of influencer work and social media content, Jesse and now Managing Director of Touch Creative were able to break away from the umbrella agency of N2N Communications and create a sister brand that is Touch Creative. When Touch first started, 90% of Jesse’s work was influencer focused from the PR team at N2N. For example, KAYAK Australia was looking for shareable content and so they enlist travel bloggers and send them to destinations.

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@polkadotpassport

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@jakerichtravels

Determining influence

Determining the influence of SMI’s is no easy feat. Influencers can be used across practices so it will all depend on what type of public relations is trying to be achieved however the criteria is generally based around:

  1. Authority: they are in a position of authority to speak about the product or brand
  2. Audience: that they have a significant reach
  3. Engagement: that there followers engage with the content

New Technologies

New technologies are being created for people in the industry to better facilitate the use of influencers in PR. Instagram created an analytics tool called Insight that brands now leverage to track their followers and how their content is performing. Additionally, Tribe is a “self serve marketplace” which allows agencies to connect with the right influencers to suit the brief. This is both time and cost efficient.

When explaining the creative direction of influencer campaigns, Jesse made clear that despite PR strategists traditionally controlling the ‘story’ of content, influencers are brought on as creatives. In a lot of ways, PR strategists are losing control of their content as it is the influencers who know their audience best.

“If anything it is all about investing in a relationship with the influencer” Jesse describes of the on boarding process. “Engaging in social listening to understand the influencer and showing how aspects of your brand can reflect their passions is how we get influencers to work with our brands.”

 

The Influencer take over

Before the interactive platforms of social media, Public Relations was predominantly a one way conversation. Traditional PR being the communication process that builds beneficial relationships between an organisation and its publics, engages media tactics like press releases, sponsorship and media outreach.

Whilst these are still important factors in the industry, the internet has created a new focus for PR strategists which is engaging with content and social media influencers.

In the age of ad blocking software with over two hundred million people installing the software last year, brands were needing to find ways to bring authenticity to their products and their marketing campaigns.

Enter stage left: Influencers

If you have social media, you are surrounded by influencers. If you’re reading this blog you are surrounded by influencers. The influencer market has become so saturated that my Instagram feed consists mostly of people that I don’t personally know. By definition, a social media influencer is a “third party endorser who shape audience attitudes through blogs, tweets, and the use of other social media”.

As people, especially millenials, move away from traditional media and traditional celebrities, brands are looking to influencers who now steer trends and set agendas. Because of the persuasive power of social media and the way in which we feel we ‘know’ the people that we follow, their endorsement of a brand makes it all the more legitimate. In turn, this is completely changing the way that we relate to labels and products.

As brands become increasingly engaged with influencers, so too do their budgets. Subsequently, and influencer has to develop a very strong tone of voice and image to stand out from the crowd.

Here are some examples of Australia’s top tier social media influencers…

Fashion: Yan Yan Chan

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In 2009, Yan Yan Chan started her own blog that coupled with her incredible dress sense and impeccable photography skills, allowed her to to become one of the most influential (and international) fashion and lifestyle influencers. Yan Yan has collaborated with multiple brands like Tiffany and Co, Uniqlo, Calvin Klein and ASOS, just to name a few on her overhwhelmingly cool resume.

 

Fitness: Tammy Hembrow

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Australian mother of two Tammy Hembrow is one of the world’s most talked about fitness figures.  Tammy has 6.7 million Instagram followers and over 720 thousand YouTube subscribers and a personal brand that continues to grow. Due to her high levels of relatability and accessibility brands continually enlist her as part of their campaigns to gain access to her followers and influence as well as being incorporated into her content. For example, Tammy is a part of Khloe Kardashians “good squad” or she is very often seen with a branded ‘skinny tea’ or protein shake.

 

Lifestyle: Tash Oakley

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Tash Oakley spends her days jet setting from one island to another and has built up a significant cult following just through having a decadent and admittedly envious lifestyle. Her substantial social media presence has followers totally enamoured and dedicated to knowing where her clothes are from, what her beauty regime is and what she eats every day. Tash is a walking talking PR campaign for and endless amount of brands.

The Disneyfication of Wildlife Documentaries

The genre of the wildlife documentary is hugely popular in today’s society.

David Attenborough’s BBC1 documentary, Planet Earth II is the most watched natural history show for 15 years with 9.2 million viewers which has placed it as one of the most popular shows of 2017.

Planet-Earth-II

Source

According to the article Planet Earth II most watched natural history show for 15 years, the Planet Earth II crew made 117 filming trips to 40 different countries that amounted to 2,089 days of filming.

Interestingly in this article, Julian Hector, the head of the BBC’s Natural History Unit said of the documentaries popularity that:

“Audiences love Sir David’s authenticity and the craft of the programme-makers that give us a window on the motivations of the animals. When so much is going on in the human world, that the natural world has an agenda all of its own, regardless, gives us a place to escape.”

I found this to be a surprising statement to make as by looking at the traditional narrative structure of a natural history documentary, they are like Disney films. With the constant repetitions of the quest narrative or the beloved tales of coming of age, the animals represented are more like humans than animals.

This disneyfying of animals and nature removes them from real the world problems that are facing our natural habitat in the 21st century. Whilst there is enormous formative value in the romanticising of nature through the highly edited visuals and storyline it is arguably defeating the purpose of its genre, namely, the documentary.

Simba.png

Source

It is a common theme in natural history documentaries to use anthropomorphism to engage audiences. By utilising the afore mentioned narratives, documentaries assign roles and personally traits that cannot possibly be known or proven. Scenes are heavily edited and as seen in the creation of Planet Earth Part II, are a part of hours upon hours of filming that are cut to create a coherent and interesting storyline. This is misleading as it does not represent the actual situation of the animals nor does it present an accurate portrayal of their wellbeing in their environment

By nature, a documentary deals with real events to provide a factual report on a certain subject. So, when Hector refers to the “human world” which has “so much going on” this is problematic for the documentary that he is referring to as unfortunately, animals live in the same world as humans do and are subject to the same problems, if not more. By portraying the lives and habitats of the animals in a way that is relatable to humans we ignore, even more than we already do, the real life situation of their existence.

Due to its supposed factual nature, wildlife documentaries are often the main source of scientific information for members of the general public. Christina Russo, a conservation advocate, wrote an article called Wildlife documentaries or dramatic science which delves into this issue of documentaries which use the conventions of drama and what this does for the public that are watching it.

Filming Planet Earth

On set for Planet Earth II

Despite their highly edited and scripted nature, documentaries carry connotations of “scientific authority’ and this is unsettling due to the fact that the world’s ecosystems are in decline due to global warming. Therefore, Russo suggests that wildlife documentaries have a responsibility to differentiate between wildlife dramas and wildlife documentaries.

Therefore, whilst the romantic Disney narrative and the engagement of anthropomorphism are integral to the success of the wildlife documentary, we need to remember the existence of animals and the animal kingdom as something entirely separate, but not so separate from the human world.

References

Jackson, J 2016, ‘Planet Earth II most watched natural history show for 15 years’, The Guardian, 8 November, date accessed 31 March <https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/nov/07/planet-earth-ii-bbc1-most-watched-natural-history-show-for-15-years&gt;

The Writer’s Workshop 2010, accessed 31 March, <http://www.thewritersworkshop.net/quest-narratives/&gt;

Russo, C 2013, ‘Wildlife documentaries or dramatic science’, PLOS Blogs, 4 February, date accessed 31 March, <http://blogs.plos.org/scied/2013/02/04/wildlife-documentaries-or-dramatic-science/&gt;

Poverty porn, all in the name of charity

Suffering is not something that we like to think about and when I initially came across the term ‘poverty porn’ I found myself feeling even more uncomfortable.

In Steven Threadgold’s article, Struggle Street is poverty porn with an extra dose of classism, he defines poverty porn as “both Westerners’ portrayal of global inequality, disease and hunger and also to the distorted presentation of disadvantage by the advantaged”. Upon reading this definition I felt knots in my stomach as I was hit with the realisation that I did not know how to engage with suffering in any other way.

Up until this point, I did not see an issue. If anything, I thought Western engagement with issues of poverty and suffering was a good thing as we were not shutting our eyes to the hardships of the outside world. Until this point, I thought that the ad campaigns on TV that had you donating to stop that sick feeling in your stomach were good because it reached our ‘humanity’ and ‘better selves’.

However, let us look closer at the concept of charity fundraising and the notions of mediated suffering. Below is a campaign that was chosen by the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ and International Assistance Fund (SAIH) who present the Golden Gladiator and Rusty Radiator awards to the charities who have given the best and worst aid videos in the hope to move charities away from harmful and stereotypical narratives in their campaigns.

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This World Vision campaign is an example of the popular poverty porn tactics used by not-for-profts create feelings of empathy in order to encourage/guilt viewers into donating. As the SAIH point out, this is exactly what World Vision is trying to achieve however the narrative that is being told due to their monetary outcome is that a donation by the west will solve the problems of the people represented.

By extension, this is a perfect example of the destructive effects of the seemingly effective strategy of poverty porn. By suggesting that a donation is a sufficient response to the problem, people feel that they have done enough and they effectively move on. Whilst they may have had feelings of overwhelming sadness and guilt only a moment ago, because they have done their part, they are able to move on and yet the real life issues behind the poverty in question rage on.

Another example of the adverse effects of poverty porn as a tool for fundraising is through the outreach campaign from Australian charity, Sunrise Cambodia.

SUNRISE CAMBODIA

Picture from ‘Poverty porn’ and ‘pity charity’ the dark underbelly of Cambodia orphanage, The Sydney Morning Herald

The campaign was titled ‘Teach a sex worker to sew’ and followed a young girl called Pisey who we were told was sex worker. The campaign raised more than $200 000 in Australia however it came under fire from members of the Cambodian community.

However, as highlighted in his article ‘Poverty porn’ and ‘pity charity’ the dark underbelly of Cambodia orphanage, Lindsay Murdoch explains that in actuality, Pisey, which was not even her real name, was a “paid poster girl” for Sunrise Cambodia’s latest fund raising campaign.

The outrage from the community however, aside from the fact that it was a lie, was stemming from concern regarding the reputation of children. NGOs and individuals contacted the charities board of directors to say that the images of the children in this campaign were “degrading, exploitative, sensationalised and do not represent the children in a dignified manner.

Not only does this campaign hurt the reputation of Pisey as an alleged child sex worker but it takes away the dignity of her and her community as well as detracting from the very real reasons that they are in a state of poverty and what needs to be done to help.

This mediated suffering is nothing but harmful to the individuals of concern and so it seems that the question must be asked, with all of this mediated suffering, who are we really trying to empower?

Resources

A sponsored child’s dreams, June 2016, video, World Vision Aus, viewed 31 March 2017 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7E-Ym5LEJA#action&gt;

Murdoch L, 2016, ”Poverty Porn’ and ‘pity charity’ the dark underbelly Cambodia orphanage’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June, date accessed 31 March <http://www.smh.com.au/world/poverty-porn-and-pity-charity-the-dark-underbelly-of-a-cambodia-orphanage-20160602-gpacf4.html&gt;

Randhawa S, 2016, ‘Poverty porn vs empowerment: The best and worst aid videos of 2016’, The Guardian, 9 December, accessed 31 March <https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/dec/08/radiator-award-poverty-porn-vs-empowerment-the-best-and-worst-aid-videos-of-2016&gt;

Threadgold S, 2015, ‘Struggle Street is poverty porn with an extra dose of classism, The Conversation, 6 May, accessed March 31 from Moodle

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