When I arrived in Bologna, one of my first cultural experiences was on the city’s bus system.
After getting on a local bus and quickly realizing I was headed in the wrong direction, I lugged my bags off and wondered whether anyone would scream at me about the fare I never paid. But no one did. In fact, as I observed the locals, they rarely paid for their rides.
In my last blog post, I referenced Tobias Jones’ Dark Heart of Italy. In the book, Jones states that, “Italy’s moral minority always complains…that no one in Italy is ever, ever punished for anything: ‘nobody pays’…(they) complain bitterly and incessantly about the furbi – the ‘cunning ones’ – who appear to bend and break the law at will, without ever facing consequences.”
The problem with this system, as Tobias alludes, is that because no one is ever punished for their offenses, it creates a vicious cycle of abuse that is apparent across Italian culture, from Berlusconi to the city streets.
When I finally arrived close to my apartment, I asked for directions from an elderly local man, who inevitably told me, “Just take the bus, no one pays.”
After nearly two weeks of riding the busses here, I’ve honestly rarely paid for a ride. The ‘furbi’ might praise me, but this cycle of abuse comes with a price and I’m not convinced Italy can afford to pay it.
Something touched upon in our meeting with Edelman (HP’s relationship with Edelman’s Spanish office) is how the public relations function fits into the promotional puzzle of larger, MBA-driven organizations. One might be surprised to find that PR is, to many in the business world (particularly B2C), the last –albeit essential- step in the marketing process. This, I’ve learned, holds some important implications on how to brand oneself to would-be clients,…so I’m wondering how these implications could be affected by European business dynamics.
The tenets of B2C marketing can most elegantly be described by the Four Ps: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. Rather than delve deeply into each P’s relevance to an overall strategy, I’ll simply say this: after one has developed the optimal product for a market, has priced it for maximum gross profit, and has placed it in the most profitable mix of sales channels, they then seek to promote it via advertising and public relations.
This globally taught schema suggests two things right away: 1) after product release, biz school grads (those not schooled in relationship marketing) immediately see PR as asymmetrical, and 2) if one hopes to work with big business, one should brand oneself as an important, informative piece of the Four Ps or, after years of strategic experience, brand oneself above the Four Ps.
I am, however, hesitant about the best way to present oneself to European business, specifically. Given the more collective nature of many European business cultures (e.g. German), should one worry about transcending PR’s predetermined space? Moreover, given all of the cultures and varying measures of success, do European businesses tend to depend on more common-denominator, institutionalized capacity verification (e.g. professional schooling) than their American counterparts? – well, if so, having taken a course in PR and Public Affairs from a European Perspective certainly couldn’t hurt! 🙂
For all the talk about social media’s utility, its champions’ chatter on the proven role of selective exposure in public affairs appears muted. As far as public affairs advocates are concerned, a campaign full of social-media tactics will inevitably win over the hearts and minds of some of those on the other side of most any issue,…or so they tell their clients.
Numerous studies1,2 have established that web surfers actually tend to selectively expose themselves to information that reaffirms their beliefs and, in fact, avert information that opposes them.
What does this mean to public affairs professionals? Well, besides the fact that they should stop doling out b.s. on the mind-changing efficacy of social media, it might mean that, instead of fully investing in an oft-heralded, oft-digital we are our own media organization philosophy, PA professionals should reinvest in traditional media relations, where the presumed objectivity of the press might temper information seeking tendencies. It might also mean that PA professionals should focus their social-media efforts on mobilizing constituents who agree with their clients’ stances rather than trying to convince those who might never substantially process their pleas.
Whatever it means, it’s high time we disclose selective exposure, in public affairs literature and practice, so that we can come to terms with social media’s actual utility and perhaps find ways of overcoming –or exploiting- this phenomenon.
Nearly everywhere I go and look in this ancient city of Bologna, graffiti is sprayed across the walls of parks and monuments, to the insides of busses and even the outside of my apartment.
Most of the time, these graffiti are words in Italian; other times, works of art, and occasionally, one might even notice a few English words spray-painted.
Tobias Jones discusses the graffiti across Italy in his book on Italian culture, The Dark Heart of Italy. While I don’t know what most all of the graffiti has to say in this city, Jones notes that one can often tell a lot about a city’s political undertones through its graffiti. But why leave all this up?
Especially in a country so focused on aesthetics and tourism, it seems almost ironic and perhaps even detrimental to leave this graffiti up throughout the city.
But, perhaps, in this country where media and politics are tightly under the control of one man, citizens are left with no choice but to voice their opinion on the walls, for everyone to hear.
Gelato, the Italian-born but world-renowned creamy and flavorful ice cream, is more than just a dessert in Italy; it is an important component of the country’s social culture. Maybe it’s only because I have an excessively large sweet tooth and am jealously well aware of every tasty looking cone or cup in view, but it seems that everywhere you look, at any hour of the day, someone is enjoying a gelato.
Coming from the diet-conscious, weight-loss obsessed United States, I am fascinated by Italy’s gelato tradition; a tradition that for many begins here in Bologna, studying the cuisine and art at the Gelato University. Gelato provides no health benefits but is still a staple of Italian cuisine. I have traveled through seven Italian towns or cities over the last week and a half and they all have one thing in common: gelaterias. In Italy, going for a gelato may rival going for a coffee or a drink in social settings elsewhere.
Italians and tourists alike enjoy the treat after a sometimes stressful process of selecting flavors based on flavor preference and gelato presentation, which often takes somewhat of an art form and heavily influences a customer’s decision. Even the gelato business has its own creative form of public relations where product presentation is everything. If you like what you see in the window, most likely you will be enjoying a spoonful within minutes. Thus, as usual, the Italians do what they do best, turn food into art and make it taste good while doing so.
The anticipation for my two-week trip to Bologna, Italy had been building at a steady pace as I came closer to my June 4th departure day. This trip had been a culmination of sorts. As a longtime and loyal American Express cardholder, I racked up enough points in their membership rewards program to qualify for a first class roundtrip international ticket on Lufthansa Airlines.
When I entered the Lufthansa Senator Lounge at Dulles International Airport, my fantastic voyage officially began. There was a delicious complimentary spread of hot and cold foods, a variety of beverages, free Wi-Fi and flat screen plasma TVs. As I boarded the plane through the lounge, I was wowed by not only the layout of the first class cabin but by how wonderful and attentive the flight attendants were.
My seat, which converted into a bed, was wide and spacious. As soon as we were airborne, I received a personalized menu that was prepared by the chef at the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton. As I ate caviar and drank a glass of champagne, I marveled at my good fortune. Before each delectable course, I was given a warm hand towel and the flight attendant expertly anticipated my needs by bringing each course to me at just the right time. In my armrest were pajamas, socks, slippers, pajamas, an eye mask and a toiletries kit. After the flight attendant laid a warm blanket on me, I watched “Up In the Air” and then drifted off into a blissful sleep.
Morris and Goldsworthy (2008) defined PR as a way of “getting someone else independently to say you are good.” Lufthansa has achieved that goal. Although I am having an amazing time in Bologna, I do look forward to the return flight home just to experience first class one more time, Lufthansa style.
Despite my deep appreciation for good food, I can attest confidently that in just a few short days in the regional capital of Emilia-Romagna, the following is positively true: Bologna is a foodie’s paradise.
Ristorànte, trattoria, ostería, bars, and cafés throughout the city feed the hungry and satisfy the palate, leaving patrons with a hankering for more.
But what makes Bolognese food so special? The main ingredient appears to be simplicity – although having a fabulous regional ingredient like Parmigiano Reggiano at hand, for instance, does not hurt. Overall, Bolognese food is unfussy and it evokes feelings of home and family, even if one’s home and family are outside of Italy.
In the U.S., the idea of using natural and simple ingredients has been gaining traction with food manufacturers in the past couple of years. There have even been well-publicized campaigns promoting healthy and simple eating to help curb obesity and restore simple family activities such as cooking simple meals on a daily basis.
Bologna’s well-deserved international reputation and success as a food city are not accidental. The city has a well-positioned brand as a food destination that matches what others say about it. So what can Bolognese cuisine teach us? Be authentic and be yourself.
Oh, and Bologna’s “La Grassa” (The Fat One) nickname? Completely undeserved – only if it is used pejoratively, of course.