Australian Apology to the Children Part Two

November 16, 2009

Between 1618 and 1967, approximately about 150,000 British children were sent abroad.  Most of the children were sent to Australia after 1920.  To program was operated by the British government, children charities, and religious groups.  The intent was to provide these impoverished children with a better life somewhere other than Britain.  A more cynical view is that the children were to be cheap, white labor for various locations throughout the then British Empire.  Also removing them from Britain reduced a potential burden for the British government.  Many suffered from abuse and neglect.  Collectively they are known as the “forgotten Australians.” 

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an apology to the forgotten Australians on November 16, 2009.  Many of the now adult children attended.  Here is a short description and select comments from the announcement:

“At a ceremony in the Australian capital of Canberra attended by tearful former child migrants, Rudd apologized for his country’s role in the migration and extended condolences to the 7,000 survivors of the program who still live in Australia.

‘We are sorry,’ Rudd said. ‘Sorry that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused. Sorry for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care. Sorry for the tragedy — the absolute tragedy — of childhoods lost.’”

The UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered comments on the topic the night before the Australian announcement.  “On the eve of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the ‘forgotten Australians’, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced he will also say sorry for his country’s part in shipping thousands of children off to other countries.  The BBC reported Mr Brown says ‘the time is now right’ for his Government to apologise to the child migrants.”

Barry Walker, now 70, was one of the 30 forgotten Australians to attend.  He was taken from his parents by the state after they declared his parents to be unfit.  He then lived in Ballarat Orphanage for 13 years.  Walker commented:

“’It was quite emotional in the beginning because I thought of a lot of other kids I had known in there and felt like it was recognition of all of us,’ he said.

‘It (the orphanage) wasn’t too bad but it’s hard to explain, you never really had a cuddle and everything was done as a group. He (Mr Rudd) was right when he said you were just a number,’ he said.

‘All the kids supported each other but as you get older you realise what you missed out on.

‘It’s when you’re spoiling your grandkids, you realise.’”

In 2008, Prime Minster Rudd apologized to the “Stolen Generation.”  The Stolen Generation were the children of Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders taken from their families by the state and religious organizations from 1869 to 1969 by acts of parliament.  The actions were taken under the guise of child protection and other rationales but did involve taking children from their families, hence, the term stolen being used.  Here are parts of the apology”

“’We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians,’ the apology read.

‘We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

‘For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

‘To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

‘And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.’”,23599,23206140-2,00.html

A full text of the apology can be read at while a video of Rudd’s apology can be viewed at

Questions to Consider

  1. Why provide the apologies now for actions then extend back 100 to near 400 years ago?
  2. How can the apologies be viewed as a form or reputation management by the government?
  3. How does the apology for the Stolen Generation compare to the points in Chapter 12 about apologies?
  4. Why would the British Prime Minister talk about the forgotten Australians the day before the Australian Prime Minister’s apology?
  5. What do Walker’s comment suggest about how the forgotten Australians felt about the apology?
  6. Why does it matter how the target of an apology reacts?
  7. What is the value of having the victims attend the presentation of the apology?

How a Tweet Haunted Ketchum

August 11, 2009

When we talk about online public relations, social media has emerged as a key component.  Social media are the messages created and published by constituents.  Other terms for social media include consumer generated media and user generated media.  Online line it is easy for people to create messages and share them with others.  Important social media sites include blogs, social networking such as Facebook, and micro-blogging such as Twitter.  Organizations, both corporate and non-profit, have made a big push into the social media as a way to engage constituents.  CEOs and employees are blogging and tweeting.  One problem is that as people get comfortable with social media, the line between work and personal life becomes blurred.  Personal elements in social media posts can be viewed revealing and a way to connect with constituents.  By mixing in personal comments with business, it helps to create authenticity or a genuine feel to the messages.  Said another way, it does not seem like messages were created just to support the organization’s objectives.

There is a downside to comfort and injecting personal comments, people can become too informal and careless in both message creation and content.  Of course a vice president at a major public relations firm would know the dangers on inappropriate messages.  So why did  VP James Andrews from Ketchum tweet in Jan. 2009: “ True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say “I would die if I had to live here! 2:58 PM Jan 14th “

So Andrews is not a fan of Memphis.  If you check Twitter people have negative comments about many cities.  The problem is that Andrews was going to Memphis to meet with major client FedEx.  Twitters are public postings that can be shared a go far beyond the initial list of people who follow you on Twitter.  Ideally your clients follow you on Twitter so Andrews should have thought they would see the message.  FedEx employees did see the message and were not happy.   They sent it to executives at FedEx and Ketchum (  The incident became fodder for public relations bloggers taking Mr. Andrews to task.  The comments to such blogs just piled on with more criticisms. See the long response from FedEx at the end of this case.

An off-handed tweet became a point of contention and embarrassment for Ketchum.  A client is unhappy and constituents may question how clever the organization is with social media.  But it is an honest mistake that can occur when people are too comfortable blurring business and personal in their social media.  Public relations is strategic and that extends to all uses of social media.  Yes we want authenticity in messages but the personal interjections into social media must not harm the organization—some topics and thoughts should not be in a social media message that has a business element to it.  Consider that many people have multiple social media accounts, one for business and one for personal.  As blogger Oliver Marks at zdnet observed:

“For me the FedEx Memphis fiasco (no one comes out of this looking good) is a great example of the enterprise collaboration culture clash between the analog generation (cc’d dressing down email thread) and the digital one (airport bar style Twitter banter). The irony of James Andrews unintentionally demoing the power of digital media prior to his more formal presentation is great.”

The embarrassment trigger a chain of events that was followed closely in social media.  Nothing draws attention in the social media like a misuse of the social media.  Here is the chronology of events:

Andrews then apologized:

As many of you know there has been a lot of online chatter around a recent situation that has unfortunately spiraled. As an active practitioner in the space, I felt the need to both address the situation and offer my perspective on the practice of social media.  Two days ago I made a comment on Twitter that was the emotional response to a run in I had with an intolerant individual. The Tweet was aimed at the offense not the city of Memphis. Everyone knows that at 140 characters Twitter does not allow for context and therefore my comments were misunderstood. If I offended the residents of Memphis, TN I’m sorry. That was not my intention. I understand that people have tremendous pride in their hometown.

Ketchum then apologized:

Ketchum also called the incident a ‘lapse in judgment,’ in a statement. ‘We’ve apologized to our client… We greatly value this long standing client relationship. It is our privilege to work with them,’ the Ketchum statement read.

In later Twitter postings, the ‘keyinfluencer’ said he was ‘Having a great day with my new friends at #Fedex’ and apologized.

And Fedex said it was letting the whole thing go:

FedEx spokesman Jess Bunn said, ‘This is an unfortunate situation and demonstrates very poor judgment by Mr. Andrews. The reaction by our employees proves once again that FedEx takes great pride in our hometown of Memphis.’

‘This lapse in judgment also demonstrates the need to apply fundamental communications principles in the evolving social networking environment: Think before you speak; be careful of you what you say and how you say it. Mr. Andrews made a mistake, and he has apologized. We are moving on.’ “

It is amazing that one tweet can create so much of a controversy. 




FedEx Response:

Mr. Andrews,

If I interpret your post correctly, these are your comments about Memphis a few hours after arriving in the global headquarters city of one of your key and lucrative clients, and the home of arguably one of the most important entrepreneurs in the history of business, FedEx founder Fred Smith.


Many of my peers and I feel this is inappropriate. We do not know the total millions of dollars FedEx Corporation pays Ketchum annually for the valuable and important work your company does for us around the globe. We are confident however, it is enough to expect a greater level of respect and awareness from someone in your position as a vice president at a major global player in your industry. A hazard of social networking is people will read what you write.

Not knowing exactly what prompted your comments, I will admit the area around our airport is a bit of an eyesore, not without crime, prostitution, commercial decay, and a few potholes. But there is a major political, community, religious, and business effort underway, that includes FedEx, to transform that area. We’re hopeful that over time, our city will have a better “face” to present to visitors.

James, everyone participating in today’s event, including those in the auditorium with you this morning, just received their first paycheck of 2009 containing a 5% pay cut… which we wholeheartedly support because it continued the tradition established by Mr. Smith of doing whatever it takes to protect jobs.

Considering that we just entered the second year of a U.S. recession, and we are experiencing significant business loss due to the global economic downturn, many of my peers and I question the expense of paying Ketchum to produce the video open for today’s event; work that could have been achieved by internal, award-winning professionals with decades of experience in television production.

Additionally Mr. Andrews, with all due respect, to continue the context of your post; true confession: many of my peers and I don’t see much relevance between your presentation this morning and the work we do in Employee Communications.


Questions to Consider

  1.  What are some ways that social media can help an organization and constituents connect with one another (Chapter 7)?
  2. What does it mean to say all communication with constituents should be strategic (Chapter 4)?
  3. This incident seemed minor on the surface.  What made it such a threat to Ketchum’s reputation (Chapter 9)?
  4. It is a stretch to call this incident a crisis but apologies were issued.  How would you rate the effectiveness of the apology and what is the rationale behind your evaluation (Chapter 12)?
  5. What does this incident reveal about the power of the social media and its affect on the web of constituent relationships?
  6. What guidelines might an organization create for social media use to help prevent such lapses in the future?   How might such guidelines be viewed as a form of risk communication (Chapter 11)?

Goddess + Meat Sandwich = Very Bad Communication Idea

August 6, 2009

The Hindu religion has a number of deities and all have importance significance for followers.  One of the deities is Lakshmi, the goddess for wealth and beauty.  Lakshmi is depicted as a female who has a golden skins, four arms, and sits on a lotus flower.  Her festival month is October.  Lakshmi is a household goddess for Hindu families and she is a favorite among women.  This is a very basic overview of Lakshmi informed by information from two webs sites:



Hinduism is an ancient religion and the third largest religion in the world.  Non-Hindus may know two things about the religion (1) karma, a principle of cause and effect and (2) it teaches vegetarianism.  Not all Hindus are vegetarian but many are.  Historically, US fast food chains have had difficulty in India because of a failure to appreciate importance the Hindu religion places on vegetarianism.  A few small riots occurred when people discovered a restaurant was not frying meat and vegetables in separate frying vats even thought that was the claim by the chain.  Put another way, the Hindu religion does shape culture in a country like India and should be respected.

Consider this recent advertising campaign by Burger King in Spain.  The add shows Lakshmi sitting on top of a meat sandwich.  Even if you have a  limited understanding of Hinduism, does this seem like a good idea?  Some people at Burger King did and protest messages were sent to Burger King.  Burger offered the following response:

“’We are apologising because it wasn’t our intent to offend anyone,’ Denise T Wilson, spokesman of Burger King said in an email when asked about the demand of the Hindu community that the company need to apologise for running an advertisement which its leaders said was offensive to their religion.

‘Burger King Corporation (BKC) values and respects all of its guests as well as the communities we serve. This in-store advertisement was running to support only local promotion for three restaurants in Spain and was not intended to offend anyone,’ Wilson said.

‘Out of respect for the Hindu community, the limited-time advertisement has been removed from the restaurants,’ Wilson said a day after the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) in a statement asked Burger King to remove the offensive advertisement.”

There has been some speculation that the controversy was created on purpose.  Earlier in 2009 Burger King pulled an advertisement over complaints over how it was displaying the Mexican flag.  Some have suggested Burger King is purposefully creating controversial advertisements to generate publicity for the fast food chain.

Questions to Consider:

  1.  How does this case illustrate globalization and its effect on public relations (Chapter 14)?
  2. Some call the situation a crisis.  According to Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) and other principles of crisis communication from Chapter 12, was this an effective response?  Why or why not?
  3. What are the ethical ramifications (Chapter 2) for PR if Burger King purposefully offended people to create publicity?
  4. If you were in a Burger King meeting where the message was presented, what arguments would have made for not running the message?
  5. Which would be better and why:  having to apologize for a poor advertising choice or realizing a bad communication choice and not taking it?
  6. What actions could be taken to prevent a repeat of culturally offensive advertisements by Burger King (crisis prevention)?
  7. What possible justifications, if any, can be given for choosing culturally offensive advertisements as a PR strategy?

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