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Amazon is suing over a thousand people offering bogus reviews on Fiverr.com for USD 5. Employees at Bell Canada are discovered ramping its apps without disclosing their affiliation.

Researchers reckon at least 20% of reviews on Yelp are fake. An often cited report by Bing Liu at the University of Illinois estimates 30% of online reviews are not what they appear.

Public relations ethics — for want of a better description — are cause for concern across the world. 

How do they compare in Asia?

chinawebscrubbers

As noted in a recent PR Week article on PR ethics in Asia in which I am quoted, much depends on the local context, particularly consumer expectations, the regulatory environment and industry codes, the relative maturity of the PR and marketing industry, and the willingness (and sometimes naivety) of the mainstream and other media to keep its face clean.

Widespread ‘Black PR’ in China is sometimes cited as evidence that the problem is endemic in the region.

It is fair to say that the brutally competitive nature of business in the Middle Kingdom, in which the opportunity to undermine detractors/the competition through fair means or foul is often pursued with relish, combined with widespread anon- and pseudonymity, pressure to buy advertising for better coverage, and all manner of other nasties, help make it a particularly tricky place to do business.

In my experience, China is an outlier.

Despite a reputation for cosy political relationships and a pliant mainstream media in many parts of the region, and evidence of devious online practices, there’s little to indicate that shady PR is any more widespread and entrenched across Asia than, say, in Latin America or parts of Europe.

The contract is fairly standard, my agent confirmed. However, she stuttered, the final clause is most unusual, one she had never seen before. If you find it a problem I am happy to go back to the landlord, she added.

My curiosity piqued, I scanned the document. It seemed a perfectly normal rental contract, with the exception of the following Rider:

It is a condition of the tenancy that inside the premises (address removed), including the immediate external areas surrounding the premises, there shall not be any idol or graven image or any activity relating to the worshiping of idol(s), such as the burning of incense or the setting up of any kind of altar or shrine. If this stipulation is contravened, the landlord reserves the right to terminate the tenancy contract with immediate effect and return the Security Deposit within 14 days as stipulated within Clause 7 of this same agreement.

Being agnostic, I accepted the document in its entirety and thought little more of it.

– – –

Regrettably, small things quickly started going wrong, culminating in the washing machine grinding to a halt, at which point I called my landlord. He quickly apologised, volunteered to address the issues and later appeared, a polite, casually dressed mid-30-year-old local Hong Kong financial trader who clearly knew his way round washing machines better than I. After a short while the worst of the problems were resolved.

I thanked him and as we made for the door he pressed something into my hand. It turned out to be a small, pink-brown pamphlet extolling an evangelical Christian sect with a UK telephone number and an address in east London. He revealed he was about to spend a month devoted to its gospel in Ilford’s leafy suburbs.

And with that he made off into the gloom of the passageway.

– – –

Given his religiosity, why did my landlord add the Rider to the contract? There appear a number of possible explanations:

First, that there is but one God, and that was my landlord’s God.

Second, that he figured his tenants, presumably free from being beholden to other Gods, were ripe for persuasion.

Third, that he was trying to discourage mainland Chinese, Indians and other perceived idolaters from renting his apartment.

All three explanations are possible, but the final one seems most likely.

– – –

Some other takeaways spring to mind:

For one, a lawyer friend reckons my landlord had almost certainly broken Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination laws.

Second, being seen to say one thing while doing another has always been, and remains, a sure-fire way to raise hackles.

And third, given the ease with which information and experiences can today be shared, one’s reputation — personal and professional — is a slippery, amorphous entity that has to be carefully managed at all times. Discrimination and inconsistency make it a juicy target.

– – –

I will not reveal the landlord’s name. Such an act seems inappropriate and would hardly be becoming.

Yet I never trusted him from that moment and moved out at the earliest opportunity.

 

With MH370, MH17 and now QX8501, food safety and health scares in China, ongoing supply chain issues, hacks aplenty, popular protests in Taiwan and Hong Kong and terrorist attacks in Australia and China, it has been a busy year for public relations and crisis communications professionals across Asia.

Here are the most popular articles published to this blog over the past twelve months.

1. Malaysia Airlines, MH370 and social media crisis communications
2. Change communications and social media
3. Safeguarding corporate reputation in social media
4. Why your online reputation is not your reputation
5. Customers at the core? McDonald’s messes up its crisis messages
6. Crisis communications in Malaysia
7. How to handle online defamation
8. Assessing the Hong Kong government’s communications during Occupy Central
9. Asia’s most reputable companies
10. What’s the right social media strategy?

With traffic to the blog up 35% over 2013, I’m encouraged to keep plugging away on these topics.

If you’ve any suggestions, I am all ears.

Best wishes for a smooth and prosperous 2015!

 

It is the time of the year when corporate reputations are paraded afresh. First out of the blocks: the annual list of The World’s Most Reputable Companies from the Reputation Institute.

The 2014 list contains some interesting findings from an Asian perspective:

  • Three Asian firms make the top 10: Sony, Canon and Samsung
  • Only 20 Asian firms make the grade, all but five (Samsung, LG Electronics, Singapore Airlines, Acer, Lenovo) of which are Japanese
  • Lenovo is the only Chinese firm to be listed.

The fact that Japanese companies are still regarded as the most reputable in Asia comes as little surprise (despite Sony’s financial difficulties), and Samsung’s rise to the top ranks is probably only to be expected.

The list also underscores the huge reputational challenges facing Chinese companies as they go global – an issue I have written about previously.

The RI list is also interesting for what’s not there:

  • No energy firms
  • No banks
  • No Indian firms.

Here’s the list in full:

RI_WorldsMostReputableCompanies2014

 

 

 

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