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Welcome to the PRiyaCOMM blog. This blog explores global and communications issues through a virtual think tank to aid in understanding some of the most critical issues affecting our peoples and profession. The collection of articles and other materials provide valuable insights by experts in various fields into critical issues including poverty, education, the environment, culture, health and human rights, and communications issues including social media, ethics, emerging communications trends, research and measurement.


What Is The Worth of Your Customer?

Summer officially started last weekend! Schools will soon be closed, trips are being planned, cars are being rented, hotels are being booked, reservations are being made at restaurants, grills are being fired up, air conditioners are blasting, lawn mowers are running, and contractors are being sought after for repairs, renovations and new constructions. Yes, everyone is gearing up to make the most of these few months of warmth and sun-filled days!

Last year, over $16 billion were spent just to have fun during the summer in the US. In fact, the average cost of summer fun per child is more than $600. Moreover, families with incomes of over $100,000 will spend, on average, more than $1,100 each this summer.

As the business community begins to buzz with renewed vigor, it is important to revisit the importance of good customer service. Why? Have you ever been to an airport, hotel, restaurant or car rental agency where you were mistreated, or had an experience so ruined that it upset a family vacation that you had planned for months?

Customers remember their experiences, and share their stories with others. How you treat your customers – every one of them – is crucial to your long-term success.

Just earlier this month, in a span of one week, three displeased customers, who were on the receiving end of bad service right here in the Mid-Hudson Valley, shared their stories.

1)    Lawn Mower Repair: The first person, John, took his damaged lawn mower to a local repair business. It was the first lawn mower that he had owned, and he was unsure of how to proceed and what to expect from the repair shop.

The first repair shop he visited, an established business, treated him in a dismissive manner, offered no advice on what could be wrong with the lawn mower, and what his options were even after John’s comprehensive explanation of the problem. John said, “The customer service representative was more concerned about eating her muffin at the counter than helping me. She said that she could not answer any of my questions, told me their hourly rates, and waited on me to decide on whether I wanted to have it fixed or trashed. How could I make such a decision without a proper discussion about the problem?”

John left feeling dissatisfied and irritated by the service he received.

The business owner of the second repair shop that John visited, a much smaller business that was tucked away on a side road, took the time to answer all of John’s questions, offer options to him, and even had him test drive a new mower.

John said, “I felt like this owner cared about my problem with my lawn mower, and was willing to take the time to show me that my business was important to him. I felt like I could trust him. When we realized that the problem was a serious one that would cost a considerable amount of money to fix, I actually ended up buying a new lawn mower from him. From my discussion with him, I knew what my options were beforehand, and knew how much money I was prepared to spend to either fix the mower or to purchase a new one. I will certainly use his services in the future, and will recommend him to all my friends.”

The amount of revenue lost by the hungry customer representative: $600

2)    Construction Contractor: The second person, Nellie, was interviewing contractors to perform considerable renovations on her home. From other estimates that she received, she was aware that the work would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Nellie said, “I invited this particular contractor to come to my home to discuss the scope of the work that I wanted done. He sounded eager to get the job during our conversation, but he missed the pre-arranged meeting time, and didn’t even call me to apologize. I called him the next day. He didn’t apologize, but simply said that he was unable to find my house. I live on a well-traveled, easy-to-find street, and he knew my telephone number.”

Nellie concluded, “I am always nervous about hiring contractors. I don’t trust what he said to me about not being able to find my home. He could have called me for directions. His actions have placed doubts in my mind about his reliability as a worker as well. I will not be hiring him, or calling him in the future.”

The amount of revenue lost by the confused contractor: $75,000

3)    Restaurant Service: Marcia and her husband were used to going to their favorite local restaurant at least twice each month. They would bring clients and friends to this restaurant, as well as recommend it to all their friends and colleagues. The waiters and managers knew them well, and they felt like valued customers there.

Suddenly, one day, they went in and the waiters and the manager were people they had never seen before. The service provided by the new staff was unfriendly, the sizes of the food portions were smaller, and, at the end of the meal, the price on their bill was higher than what was stated on the menu.

When Marcia questioned the bill, the new manager replied, in an unfriendly tone, “That was the old price you are referring to. This is the new price, but we forgot to change it on the menu.”

Marcia said, “We’ve been coming to this restaurant for many years, and always felt so welcomed here. We learnt that the same owners opened a new restaurant in the area, but the service here has deteriorated. Our waitress was taking away our plates, cleaning our table and handing us our bill before we had even finished our meal. It was quite impolite. My husband and I felt very uncomfortable at a place that always felt like a home to us. We’re not sure we’ll return, especially with our clients, unless we hear that they have improved their service and standards.”

The amount of revenue lost by the impatient waitress and unfriendly manager: $300

Yes, how you treat your customers is vital to nurturing return business, more business, new business, and your overall business growth and success. Customers may not remember what they dined on, drove, or bought at your place of business, but they will remember how you made them feel. And they will share their experiences with their families, friends and colleagues.

Is training your workers to respond to questions by customers, and reminding them of the importance of kindness, a smile and delivering excellent service to every one of your customers a priority for your business? Can you risk sending your customers to your competitors? What will be the cost of the service you provide to your customers this summer?

Well, I’ll let your balance sheet answer that question for you.

Commercials Kick Off for Super Bowl XLVII

Super Bowl XLVII will take place this weekend. As the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens prepare to do battle on Sunday, brands like Calvin Klein, Gildan and Taco Bell have already kicked off teasers of their commercials as a build up to the big day.

Certainly, over the past decade, commercials have taken on a life of their own, rivaling the game itself for viewership. But we will be remiss if we didn’t go back to 1984, and recall that historic moment when visionary Steve Jobs overrode the advice of his board to not air a dramatic and iconic 60-second commercial that played off George Orwell’s novel, “1984,” to introduce Apple Computer’s new Macintosh home computer to the world.

As one sports pundit noted, “A computer commercial was a sports moment? Jobs changed the way we take it in, made it more of an event by introducing an era of big Super Bowl commercials. It helped to fully complete the moment.”

This year, more than 30 advertisers will air approximately 50 commercials to over 110 million viewers during this year’s big game. These companies are paying an average of $3.8 million for every 30 seconds of airtime – up from $42,000 in 1967.

In a recent online study conducted by Hanon McKendry among 2,166 adults in the US just a few weeks ago, more than half of the respondents indicated that they will be tuning in predominantly to view the commercials.

What can we hope to expect from the much-anticipated commercials, and over the next few days?

1) More Online Teasers

AdAdage notes, “When an advertiser shells out between $3.5 million and $4.5 million for a Super Bowl ad, using social media to get added exposure isn’t just an afterthought. It helps amortize the cost of the commercial by generating millions of dollars in free publicity.” You can expect that advertisers will work to get their clients their share of the national conversation before, during, and after Super Bowl Sunday.

2) Humor

Jimmy Fallon, known for his large fan base and engagement in social media, worked with Ford to write its first Super Bowl commercial in seven years, and the first-ever spot for its Lincoln at this year’s Super Bowl. Also, the battle between the beer companies Anheuser Busch, Coors Light, Miller Lite and Bud Light have always provided good humor and entertainment, and kept us in our seats. Remember the Budweiser ad last year that featured the Clydesdales? Word has it that a baby Clydesdale will be at the Super Bowl this year. Budweiser launched its official Twitter account this past week, and invited fans to name baby Clydesdale.

3) Increased Viewing Options

According to a survey conducted by InMobi last year, “45% of respondents estimated that they would spend 30 minutes or more on their mobile phone during the game, and 39% used their mobile device in response to a TV commercial during the game to discuss commercials, get more information about an advertised product, or watch TV ads again.” With the NFL providing live streaming video of the Super Bowl last year, advertisers at this year’s game can expect the added advantage of reaching an even larger audience through their TVs, computers, smartphones and tablets, and getting a greater return on their ad investment.

After months of creative strategizing, hard work and millions of dollars, from Monday morning, advertising executives will begin to analyze if their investments paid off.

But, for now, our pizza, wings, chips and dip are ready. Let the games begin!

Welcome to 2013! Are You Ready?

Well, it’s already almost one month into 2013. Last year was a significant year for communicators internationally, and in the US.

2012 witnessed the meteoric rise of the “topic-centric” Pinterest triggering communicators to reassess the web-based pinboard as a new game changer in social commerce. In October, Facebook celebrated successfully connecting more than one billion people around the globe, and earlier this month, the company announced that its “1 billion users have uploaded a staggering 240 billion photographs, and have made in excess of 1 trillion total connections.” We recall, too, that in December, K-pop sensation, Psy, became the first to achieve an unprecedented one billion views of his monster-hit worldwide viral phenomenon, “Gangnam Style,” on the Internet, just six months after first posting the video, leading media giants to dub him the new “King of YouTube.”

Closer to home, 2012 brought us Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the east coast of the US leaving a path of colossal destruction and homelessness, the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and a presidential election in which social media played an unprecedented and pivotal role in advancing dynamic conversations especially among the millennial generation. Just to indicate the extent of investment in social media during the 2012 presidential race, by June 2012, Obama’s campaign had spent $31 million on digital ads – four times the $8.1 million Romney spent in the same time frame! And the social universe responded. By October 2012, Obama had 30.7 million fans on Facebook, while Romney racked up a mere 9.1 million.

2013 is now upon us. The world is more media-driven, and the role of public relations and communications has never been more critical as it continues to gain momentum in every sphere of business and life. Are you ready?

With volatile forces continuing to influence the form and function of businesses today in an always-on marketplace coupled with the rapid changes in communications, business owners and executives must integrate clearly defined communications strategies in their overall business strategy mix if they are to remain competitive and relevant. IBM, a leader in business strategy and performance management, has noted, “Businesses perform better when they have a marketing system of engagement across all channels.”

With the rapid expansion of the number of channels and devices that consumers are using, the increasing growth of real-time marketing, and the intense public scrutiny of business policies and operations that, in reality, place the consumer in control, more than ever, it is vital for public relations and communications to be integrated into every aspect of your business, including the C-suite, to strengthen the delivery of focused, effective messaging to the right audiences and an enhanced experience for all stakeholders.

As you look further into the future of your business this year, here are three pointers to help you to navigate the deep seas of public relations and communications in 2013.

1)      Digital Marketing

With the sale of more smartphones than PCs in 2012, and the trend continuing to rise in 2013, investing in digital marketing to earn customer trust, deliver meaningful content and foster greater customer engagement should be a significant strategy for all businesses.

2)      Impactful SEO

Good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is no longer about knowing the tricks of the trade. Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz, has noted, “For the past decade and a half, marketers have often thought of SEO, social media, and content as separate channels and segmented practices. But these barriers are crumbling. In 2013, I expect to see many of the most successful marketers treat these practices not as disparate channels, but as optimizable elements of a whole.”

3)      Increase in Inbound Marketing

Research has shown that effective inbound marketing consistently delivers a significantly lower cost per lead than outbound marketing, and businesses are steadily shifting their budgets to increase investment in inbound marketing.

What’s your communications outlook for 2013?

Reconnecting Spirituality with Environmentalism

When I was young, I was taught a Sanskrit prayer that says:

“I bow to Mother Earth, who has mountains and jungles on her body and whose clothing is made by the ocean. The wife of Lord Vishnu, please pardon me for touching you with my feet.”

Every morning before I place my feet on the ground, I still ask forgiveness of the Earth for touching her with my feet and walking upon her sacred body.

As a young child growing up, my grandmother taught me that the grass and trees would rest when the sun went down. If I ran late with my evening devotions, and I needed to pluck a flower for my worship, I should first gently ask the tree for that flower before taking it. Already annoyed that I was going to awaken the tree, my grandmother would add scoldingly, “And don’t shake the tree when you pluck the flower!”

Now, even as an adult, if I must walk upon the grass or pluck a flower after the sun has set, I say, “Sorry,” repeatedly for disturbing their rest.

I grew up in a tradition that has been worshipping the lingam, a stone, as God for thousands of years, a tradition that worships the mighty Ganga as a Goddess.

More than having been taught the traditions, I was involved in the daily practice of the traditions, until they became a part of me. I continue to practice these traditions in my adult life.

Telling our communities that we are facing a monumental environmental crisis makes them aware that a problem exists. Showing them the statistics and the photos certainly play an important role in educating them. I was taught French in high school, but I don’t remember a lot of it now because I have not applied that knowledge in years. But engaging or involving our communities in the protection of the Earth will help them to better understand that all things are bound together, that all things interconnect. And gradually, their wakefulness, through the insight into the truth that man, nature and the Divine are inextricably interconnected, will become infused in their consciousness.

How do we as a community with a profound concern for our environment, and a deep sense of duty to and responsibility for our communities in which we live, work and play, get to a position where we can re-vision our future, and begin to execute actions, starting with our children, our families and our communities, to build a resilient and sustainable future for our future generations fuelled by ancient wisdom and enlightened living?

At our Sacred Earth Leadership Forum that was held on February 1, 2012 at Vassar College, 100 people along with respected leaders from the Native American, Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist traditions came together to begin the process through inter-religious dialogues.

The program began with a panel discussion that reflected on where we are right now, and the immense repositories of ancient wisdoms, symbols and ritual practices that are available to us, and that can provide a solid foundation for establishing principles for environmental actions – unparalleled repositories that have the potential to play a critical role in leading, inspiring and arousing us to awaken and heed the urgent call of nature in peril.

The gathering then divided into groups to explore the principles that should guide our actions, as well as the challenges and innovative opportunities that are open to us in forging links between spirituality and secular environmental ethics and ecological activism.

Finally, we have begun to re-visit and examine the statements and recommendations, that have emerged from these inter-religious dialogues and re-visioning, to establish a sound and sustainable framework to take us forward into developing innovative programs to educate and engage our communities in a broader vision of kinship, interconnection and interdependence of man, nature and the Divine, and ultimately, enlightened living and environmental activism.

One message was unequivocal throughout the evening, and remains clearer now – the need for religion to fulfill its role in the dialogue, re-visioning and actions toward sustainable development and environmental well-being, and to reconnect spirituality to secular environmental ethics and ecological activism.

Guest Blog: Environmental Crisis – A Crisis of Human Values

This article was written by Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger.

There is no such thing as “the environmental crisis.” Water does not pollute itself, nor does our planet’s atmosphere absorb more carbon emissions by accident. Rather, there is a crisis of human values; humanity makes political, economic, technological and social choices which have brought us to the far edge of a sustainable life upon this fragile planet. Religion is nothing if it doesn’t speak to our values and choices, and thin indeed if it doesn’t awaken in us a sense of wonder and awe at the miracle of life in all its diversity all around us each day.

Thus, when we consider what Judaism might say about the problem of living more lightly on the earth, we might begin, appropriately enough, “in the beginning.” The very first words of the Torah tell us that there is something, and not nothing, because God is good, and created a world of blessing. Some of us read Genesis more literally, and some read it as metaphor or symbolic language, but the larger point is this: we don’t live in world of random molecules and endless chemical reactions, we live in a wondrous Creation. A sense of reverential awe at the complexity and beauty of our world is the foundation of any religious environmentalism.

According to Judaism, more specifically, we live in a world where our lives can have great meaning, but we are not the masters nor owners of this world. We are stewards, charged with “tending and tilling” the garden of Creation. The Psalms remind us that we share this Creation with countless other species. The end of the book of Job teaches clearly that we must be humble in a world teeming with countless forms of life, each one created for its own purposes, each part of a system whose ultimate design is beyond our complete understanding. The Torah has laws pertaining to the compassionate treatment of animals; we are never to cause unnecessary suffering. Judaism is twisted and perverted when animals suffer; the merciless culture of industrial agriculture which has affected some parts of the kosher food industry does not represent Jewish ethics or values.

A law in the book of Deuteronomy (20:19-20) which originally pertained to warfare, enjoining the destruction of fruit trees to make siegeworks, was understood broadly by the ancient sages as prohibiting the destruction or wasting of any useful or sustaining resources. Conservation is a religious value in Judaism; we respect our planet by treating its resources as precious and vital. Consumer culture does not reward a conservation ethic; too often we are judged by what we own, rather than by the content of our character, as Dr. King put it. Religion and environmentalism seek the same transformation of human values, away from greed and materialism and towards an ethic of reverence, wonder, compassion and humble stewardship.

(Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger has worked as an environmental educator, an interfaith chaplain, and pulpit rabbi, and is the rabbi of Temple Beth-El and Associate Chaplain of Vassar Bros Medical Center, both in Poughkeepsie. He holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto, where his Master’s paper synthesized environmental ethics, Jewish theology, and contemporary environmental philosophy. Rabbi Neal spoke on Theological Perspectives on Judaism and the Environment at the Sacred Earth Leadership Forum that was held on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at Vassar College.)

Live Your Brand!

On October 26, I spoke at a seminar that was hosted by the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce at their Marketplace 2011. The topic was “Branding,” and I started off with a small fun exercise that you can play with your colleagues.

Have you ever been to a Starbucks?

Do you go there regularly?

Did you visit a Starbucks today?

Now for the even more fun part – can you describe the Starbucks logo from memory?

How did you and your colleagues do? Not so easy, is it?

Starbucks is the one of the largest brands in the U.S., the largest coffeehouse in the world, and, in 2009, surpassed Coca Cola to become the most popular brand on Facebook.

Everyone at that seminar had been to a Starbucks, and some even went there regularly. Most participants at the seminar knew that the logo was green and white, and only one person in that room remembered that there was a woman with “something” on her head in the logo. No one was able to describe the logo completely.

Branding is NOT a logo, a font or a name! Just because you may not be able to perfectly recall the Starbucks logo does not deter you from making future purchases there.

So, what is branding really about? Well, the foremost objective of branding is to establish and maintain an emotional expectation with your target audience, so that they will be predisposed to repeatedly select your product or service, and recommend it to others.

Think about it. Do you go to a Starbucks for the best tasting coffee, the fastest service, or the best value for your dollar? Or perhaps you go there because you feel a sense of community with others you see reading their books, tapping away on their laptops, or simply chatting with friends while they sip their coffee. Perhaps you appreciate the customization that the coffeehouse offers with the carefully and painstakingly handwritten menu boards, or the sense of sophistication that you get as you walk out with a cup of coffee that a barista made according to your taste. That’s no ordinary cup of joe in your hand!

Whatever your reason, you go there because of the emotional expectation the brand promises, and the fulfillment of that expectation through your experience.

So, branding is a consciousness, an image, an awareness, an identity that you have created for your business. It is a set of fundamental principles that form a common understanding of what your business is about, and what customers, employees and stakeholders alike can expect to experience when they walk into your business. It is an emotional experience that you want your target audience to have every time they come into contact with your business, product or service.

Your brand is your promise to your customer. Therefore, it is critical for that promise to manifest itself in every aspect of the business – in the way customers are treated and business is conducted – to enable trust to develop and be nurtured with customers and other stakeholders. It is essential for business owners, as well as employees, to live their brand at every moment.

Then, how do you determine whether the brand that you’ve created is right for your business? Ask yourself – is the story I am telling about my business leading my customer to the experience that I have described? If it is, it will lead your customer to the expectation he had, and he will return to your business again and again, and recommend it to others. If it isn’t, however, your customer will be disappointed, and may not even return to your business again or recommend it to others.

Customer research shows that “82% of respondents have stopped doing business with an organization due to a poor customer experience. 95% of respondents have taken action as a result of a negative experience, and 79% told others about it.” Ruby Newell-Legner notes, “It takes 12 positive service experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience.”

Branding does not happen by chance. It must be skillfully designed and adeptly crafted.

Early branding of any business is critical to business success. Even a graphic artist cannot design an appropriate logo if he does not have a clear understanding of what the business is about. A website developer also needs to be clear on the nature of a business to begin to create a website that communicates the brand effectively. So, defining your brand is the first step!

Every business owner must be clear on what his business is about, and live it. If not, competitors are very likely to swoop in and capture your customers by showing them that they are already doing what you are only telling your customers you can do.

In today’s economic environment, with a steady burgeoning of competition for customers, a robust brand is imperative for every business. Do you think that investing in professional help to research, define and build your brand is not important or worth it? Well, research shows that attracting a new customer to your business can cost five times as much as retaining an existing one! How important is that to your bottom line?

Service… Uh… Good Service, Please!

Cristina had just visited the local jewelry store, which will be referred to as KJ, to pick up her mother’s diamond encrusted watch after a week of being serviced and repaired. Her mother had been nervous about leaving the watch with anyone because of its monetary and sentimental value – the watch was her mother’s retirement present after 39 years spent working in the service of the government. Cristina was anxious about being given this responsibility, but she trusted KJ because she and her husband had made purchases at their store a few times before, and were appreciated for their business.

Cristina related her experience, “When I went to the store to drop off the watch, a salesperson used a simple device to examine each stone on the watch to ensure that the stones were diamonds, and noted that they were on the work order slip. I left the store with my mind more at ease that I’d made the right choice.” 

She continued, “When the watch came back from the repair shop, before leaving, I requested an assistant to kindly check the stones again in front of me to ensure that they were diamonds like I’d originally given to them. The assistant used the device a few times, but each time, it indicated that the stones were not diamonds. I immediately became alarmed. She concluded that the other assistant must have been wrong in her assessment of the stones. She conferred with a co-worker, who attempted to match the watch purely by appearance to their online catalogue, and insisted that the brand carries watches that are encrusted with crystals only. She stated that this is what I gave to them, so this is what they were returning to me. When I tried to explain that I had brought in diamonds, and pleaded with her to check it again, she, using an elevated tone in the presence of other customers, insisted that she was right, I was mistaken, and the watch never had diamonds on it!” 

Stop for a moment! Now imagine that you are Cristina. 

How would you feel in this situation? How would you feel about having this sensitive issue dealt with in the presence of other customers? 

Cristina reflected, “I felt anxious, angry and embarrassed. Anxious because of the significance of my mother’s jewelry. Anxious because I am not confrontational, and I wanted to flee from the situation, but I knew I had to stay and fight for my rights. Angry because the salesperson was refusing to listen to my viewpoint, and making conclusions based on her own assumptions. Angry and embarrassed because she chose to handle this in public!” 

Ultimately, another salesperson observed the situation after a while, and stepped in. After many attempts, this person finally stumbled on the correct usage of the same device, retested the stones, which were proven to be diamonds once again, but blamed the equipment for all the confusion. No apology was offered to Cristina by either the salesperson or her co-worker. 

How would you feel about the company in which you had placed your trust? How confident would you feel about the level of training this company provides to its staff? Would you return to this company after this experience? Would you recommend the company to your friends? 

Emotions act as a stimulus to actions, including decision-making. A person’s emotions can cause him to act in ways that correspond to the quality of his actual feelings. How a person feels as he leaves your business can determine whether he’ll return or simply move on to your competitors. 

It is worthwhile to note that “86% of consumers quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience. 96% of customers that don’t get good service will leave without telling you that they had a problem. A 5% reduction in the customer defection rate can increase profits by 5-95%.” 

Cristina said, “This has left a bad feeling in me. I’ve lost my trust in the integrity, reliability, ethics and knowledge of the staff at KJ. The salesperson was discourteous and content to relinquish all responsibility for my jewelry. I will be very hesitant to return to do business here, and to recommend my friends to this company in the future!” 

Being cognizant of how your customers feel during every interaction with them is an imperative first step to providing good customer service. One customer service experience can alter the complete attitude an individual has toward your company. With the burgeoning of social media, the customers that you satisfy or exasperate have the channels available to either bolster loyalty, or create conflicts that can negatively impact your company’s reputation, products, services and finances. 

An American Express Global Customer Service study in May 2011 revealed that, “81% of companies with strong capabilities and competencies for delivering customer experience excellence are outperforming their competition. 70% of Americans are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service – up from 9% last year. 60% believe businesses have not increased their focus on providing good customer service… up from 55% last year. 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of poor customer service.” 

Whether you are a corporation, non-profit organization, small business or government body, what are your customers saying about your service? How many of your customers defected in the last year? If you are not at the top of your customer service game, your competitors may already be benefiting from your disadvantage. Sam Walton said, “There is only one boss – the customer. And they can fire everybody, by spending their money somewhere else.” 

Let our team at PRiyaCOMM help you to protect your reputation, reclaim your customers, and grow your business through transformed customer service! Call us today for a FREE consultation.

Are You Prepared?

We’ve been witnessing some quite destructive forces of nature around the world this year. Snow storms, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, heat waves. I’m almost tempted to ask if someone stole Zeus’ lightning bolt and forgot to return it! (A little Percy Jackson humor there!)

While some might seek to impugn a Higher Being for these heartbreaking tragedies, and others offer rationalizations, one thing remains unmistakable – crises happen! Whether in nature, businesses, government or organizations, be certain, crises are inevitable!

In very recent years, there has been a virtual monsoon of crises in the corporate and government sectors.

Remember the Massey Energy’s mine explosion, which killed 29 miners last year? It was deemed the worst disaster in the industry in four decades. What about the real estate market collapse which forced federal regulators to order mortgage finance giants, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, to cease trading their shares on the New York Stock Exchange?

Then, there was the largest medicine recall in American history, where subsidiaries of American giant, Johnson & Johnson, voluntarily recalled more than 136 million bottles of 43 over-the-counter children’s medicines, from local and international markets. Interestingly, while in 1982, J&J was regarded as the archetype for effective crisis management through its expert handling of the cyanide-tainted Extra-Strength Tylenol, there is speculation now that former public relations experts at the company may be faced with criminal charges by the Food and Drug Administration for the latest transgression by the company.

What about the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, from which many are still reeling? That combusted into public outrage and revocation of advertising support from the business community, and led to the eventual demise of the 168-year old British newspaper earlier this month.

But the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, also known as the BP oil disaster, which began in April 2010, is arguably the worst public relations failure in corporate history. 11 people were killed, and millions of gallons of crude oil flowed uninhibited for three months into the Gulf of Mexico, as the world looked on powerlessly, causing “extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and to the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries,” and prompting White House energy advisor, Carol Browner, to deem it the “worst environmental disaster the US has faced” – about 20 times larger than the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989!

Yes, crises happen! With the advances in social media, the world is in constant conversation. Unexpected and unplanned visibility can threaten your institution’s credibility, reputation and market position. “No comment” is never the right response in a crisis. A former vice president of CNN stated, “If you don’t respond quickly to what happens, you create a vacuum. And everyone else – the news media, your competitors – is going to step into that vacuum and tell your story the way they want to tell it, not the way you want it to be told.” Quick public responses are critical during a crisis, but a split-second decision can result in significant financial losses and harsh blows to credibility among valued stakeholders.

Does your institution have an official written crisis plan? Do all your departments and employees know how to act (rather, than react) in a crisis? Is the risk of not being prepared worth it?

At PRiyaCOMM, our team will work closely with you to complement your current operational preparedness and communications capabilities through strategic planning and integration of our readiness resources before a crisis happens, and to help you to successfully manage the function in the event of a crisis.

As I write this blog, I hear the thunder crashing outside my window and see the frenzied swaying of the trees in the turbulent wind, and I am reminded of the age-old axiom, “When you hear the thunder, it is too late to build the ark.”

Is your ark ready?

Ancient Wisdom, Modern Roles

There are, at least, 29 green holidays observed around the world each year. June and March are the most popular months for these observances. Before June is over, we will witness World Environment Day, World Oceans Day, Global Wind Day and, of course, the Summer Solstice. But another, and perhaps the most ancient, green festival also takes place in June.

For Hindus, the Ganga Dussehra or Ganga Dasaharaa festival celebrates Gangavataran, or the origin of the sacred River Ganga (known by many as the Ganges) by its descent to the scorched earth. While this religious festival has been observed for several millennia by Hindus in India, this year will mark the 17th anniversary of the formalized festival at a specific venue in Trinidad and Tobago.

The annual festival is held at a river set deep in the northern range of mountains on the island. Surrounded by all forms of natural life, the participants engage in a wide range of activities that include lectures, drama, story-telling, ceremonies, rituals, solitude and meditation. The common theme of the festival is the interdependence of man, nature and God with messages of environmental protection, preservation and restoration.

Local religious leader, Raviji, who initiated the festival in 1994, recalled that when the festival first started, the river banks were littered, and its waters were full of pollutants and refuse from picnickers. He said, “The exploration of ecological issues through the festival has had an impact on those who attend the festival. The litter left back by participants went down considerably making it easy for post-festival clean up exercises.”

Raviji, speaking on the potential of religion to bring about attitudinal changes toward the environment, noted, “We are exposed to a world view that has been historically put down severely, that the divine spirit indwells all creation. This world view, powered by cultural norms that arise from it, can realign the relationship between the immediate and the Ultimate, and facilitate a healthier ecological future for the world of man and nature. Ganga Dhaaraa is instructive, therefore, as it promotes a unified vision of Man, Nature and God.”

Today, visitors to the river acknowledge it as a sacred place of Hindu pilgrimage, the litter and pollution has decreased considerably, and the site is now recognized by citizens and the media by its adopted name, “Ganga Dhaaraa,” rather than by its original name, “Marion River.”

Ganga Dhaaraa and its ecology continue to flourish, and the river has been identified as one of the cleanest in the nation.

Certainly, ecology and religion are inextricably linked. As man continues to be a dynamic component in his own environment, his perceived right to master the earth has proven to be the principal source of its chaos and destruction. Just today, the BBC reported that a three-hour elephant rampage in Mysore, India left one man dead. The report stated, “One official blamed the rampage on human encroachment into areas traditionally inhabited by elephants.” It continued, “Unregulated expansion of farm lands, and increasing movement of people and vehicles through the elephant corridor are making the wild jumbos enter into villages and towns in search of food and shelter.”

Whether it is through intensive farming, overfishing, overdrafting, pollution, plasticulture, deforestation, energy harvesting and consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, unexploded ordnance or scorched earth strategy (to name a few), the ecological crisis is largely the result of the anthropogenic impact on the environment that sets aside the intrinsic value of the earth and its creatures. From this standpoint, the ecological crisis is indubitably a humanitarian one!

Steven Rockefeller noted, “The social and moral traditions that have been dominant in the West… have not involved the idea that animals, trees or the land in their own right, as distinct from their owners or their Creator, have a moral standing. Only a few saints and reformers have taught that people have direct moral responsibilities to non-human creatures.”

Through religious festivals, as ancient as Ganga Dussehra, we are reminded that, “Spiritual teachings (and practices can celebrate and consecrate) our ties to the non-human world, reminding us of our delicate and inescapable partnership with air, land, water and fellow living beings.”

The significant role of the ancient wisdom of world religions in the contemporary environmental crisis is, thus, lucid. As the earth continues to be ravaged by the advancing cancerous archetypes of militarism, consumerism, scientism, economic growth, and the like, contemporary theology must recognize the escalating significance of, and fulfill, its role in the ongoing dialogue and actions toward sustainable development and environmental well-being, through a humanitarian approach. Whether through the reinterpretation, expansion, synthesis, or creation of new ideas and spiritual practices, the world religions are charged with the immense, but sacred, task of continually challenging itself to find avenues to connect spirituality to secular environmental ethics and ecological activism.

Finding Faith Online

Communication and religion have been inextricably linked since the time of the earliest telling of myths, and sketches in cave dwellings. The earliest known written literature, which dates to the 27th century B.C., included the Kesh Temple Hymn. The first radio program broadcast was heard by ships at sea on Christmas Eve in 1906, and was a religious broadcast that featured “O Holy Night” on violin and the reading of a passage from the Bible.

Christianity, recognizing a dominant new mass communication tool in radio, used “radio broadcasts … as a complementary activity to traditional missionaries, enabling vast numbers to be reached at relatively low cost, but also enabling Christianity to be preached in countries where this was illegal and missionaries were banned.” In 1951, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen transitioned from radio to television, and ushered in televangelism through his program, “Life Is Worth Living.”

The virtual revolution, created by the rapid ascent of the Internet from the early-1990s, with its real-time connections and instant access to information, open and collaborative construct, and ever-increasing social spheres, has forever changed the way in which we communicate, and reduced our world to a global communication village. As one BBC blogger states, “We are able to connect, collect, contribute and create online in ways that were heretofore impossible. And we do all this for free. Pretty flipping amazing!”

Indeed! But within this new media reality has come the formation of new sociological structures, including new online religious communities that are dynamically reshaping traditional religious identities and practices. The Web has enabled a free spiritual marketplace to emerge, where spiritual practices and teachings are reaching substantial and increasing audiences in the privacy of their homes, offering, for example, religious experiences, theological debates and discussions in a way that necessitates religious and other scholars to analyze semiotics and signification in online religion.

Just to illustrate how popular religious sites are on Facebook,, one of the largest Facebook statistics portals, has listed 697 main pages categorized as Church/Religious Organization on Facebook. The top three pages with the largest number of fans in this category are “Jesus Daily” with 5.5 million fans, “I love Jesus” with 2.7 million fans and “Yo Tampoco Me Averguenzo de Decir Que Amooo a Diosss y Que Creo 100% En El!”, a Christian page, with 2.1 million fans.

The growth rates in the fan base of many sites in this category are phenomenal. The three top sites listed above increased by almost 20% each in the last three months. Other sites like GodVine, “Dios NO ES religión,ES relación!!” and “YouTube Cristiano” experienced an increase in fans of 101%, 126% and 117%, respectively, over the same period.

Clearly, there is a rising, vibrant effort by the masses to actively engage in seeking out religion online. But, why are so many people attracted to religious sites? What are they in search of?

Recently, PRiyaCOMM conducted a survey of 162 persons to examine the extent to which new media is being utilized by these individuals in their religious life. Here are some of our findings:

 45% went online to find or share information about religion less than once per month, while 18% performed this activity daily.
 78% used email to send, receive and/or forward messages with religious or spiritual content.
 77% were seeking and/or exchanging information about their own faith, and downloading and/or listening to religious music, while 66% were looking for and/or exchanging information about another faith.
 69% agreed that social media are an increasingly important part of religion, while 72% thought that new media and communications are actually enhancing religion.
 79% felt that the Internet enabled them to have easier access to spiritual educational materials than they were able to locate offline.
 57% disagreed that social media and citizen journalism will ultimately harm religious faiths and traditions, creating an almost a split vote on this statement.

Researchers have begun to study the increasing importance of new media in religion, and analyze multi-faceted elements including content, production, practice and identity-formation within diverse cultural contexts. One thing is certain though. As we continue to uncover new tools and technologies to communicate, transfer information, influence thought and transform our world, it is imperative for traditional religious institutions to remain cognizant of the changing patterns of communications, and seek ways to adjust their communicative element to effectively serve their audiences. The inherent symbiotic relationship between communication and religion now demands that as communications systems and technologies continue to evolve, so must the approach by traditional religious institutions to augment interpretation, reception and interaction by their audiences.

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