In recent debates on PRConversations about the level of strategic practice of PR, the value of licensing, the role of active professional associations or even the misguided conceptions about lobby, I must confess I couldn’t bring much positive experience from Portugal unless that great advantage that lies in the fact that we can still do things from scratch and try to learn from the best examples all over the world. So now I want to share with you an example that should probably be in a case-study collection about the best of PR in Portugal (at least I would like to think that way)…
At least most of readers in Europe must be aware of the gigantic tragedy going on in Greece because of tremendous fires of yet unknown origins, but with strong suspicious of set fires. As they where increasing, these fires have also set a political crisis upon a highly criticised Government facing upcoming anticipated elections. But, as this NYTimes article shows, there are sufficient angles to write stories able to touch people from pretty much everywhere in the world. As Portugal is, according to reports by our Government, the southern European country with the highest number or registered fires (or at least of situations that mobilize the civil protection forces) between 1980 and 2005, having had 10 times more fires than Greece in that period, I thought this was worth writing about.
Yes, we suffered a lot from the blazes, from a changed climate and from bad coordination of civil forces by bad politicians and decision makers but some got the lesson. Last year the total burnt area decreased some 78% with the civil society playing an active role in this and this year we have reasons to be even more confident thanks to the power of public relations.
It all starts as a group of companies recently decided to act against fires after a couple of years of tremendous fights against devastating blazes. The “Companies against Fire” Movement (ECO Movement) was set up by a group of 23 major companies in Portugal and started based on the belief that the most important asset that these companies could bring to this cause was their communication networks. The group of companies includes the most important retailers, banks, the Portuguese post, insurance companies, consumer goods, paper producers and media companies among others. Some printed messages in shopping bags; others printed them on sugar packs served with coffee but all had the common purpose to reduce the estimated one third of human related fires, half of which are due to negligent behaviour. The movement started only recently and the impact of its actions is not yet known. But the fact is that the messages are going through and, believe it or not, the actual number of fires in 2007 is not even near the usual in Portugal for this time of year.
This movement of companies is coordinating directly with Civil Protection Authorities and has also donated goods and services that range from bicycles to jeeps, from computers to satellite mobile communication systems and even special software to coordinate the fire fighting resources.
From the PR point of view, this movement is not set on a highly visible media relations strategy but rather on an effective number of direct communication actions. It does have a representative with a very high profile (a former CEO of Portugal’s biggest company) to gather goodwill but hardly to be considered as a typical hire-a-celebrity-to-give-the-face-for-the-cause kind of campaign. All communication efforts are synergistic and this is what makes the network so powerful. Each of the involved companies’ acts as a multiplier of the messages and the Government (mainly Internal Affairs and Agricultural ministries) thanks them a lot because they are actually saving a lot of public money and showing a sign of a strong civil society.
From our professional point of view, I would like to consider that these companies’ public relations are showing a tremendous way to add value to society and protect the common good. Companies are acting together for a specific target and they are putting the best of them at the service of this cause. I just wonder if it would work the same for other causes like reduce risk behaviours that generate road accidents, reduce corruption behaviours and other kind of mass phenomena. I also wonder how to better describe this: corporate diplomacy, public relations, corporate social investment or simply communication in the public interest….