Interview with Caroline Beaumont, Transaid’s Head of Marketing, about the "Transaid Challenge" Computer Game

Transaid is an international development agency that focuses on improving the availability and affordability of transport in the developing world, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Founded by Save The Children and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK), Transaid assists local partners in obtaining better access to such things as healthcare and education, and in improving the ability of individuals to pursue their livelihood.

What does this mean in practical terms? Through an improved transportation management system, health services workers in Ghana alone, for example, can cover 70% more kilometres at less cost and give approximately 90,000 extra children a year vaccinations. It also means that basic goods will become more affordable for the local population and that markets will open up for local producers (here’s a sobering fact: up to 40% of her turnover and up to 8 hours a day are spent by a female market trader in Ghana in getting her goods to market).

As part of its awareness-raising efforts, Transaid earlier this month launched the Transaid Challenge, an online game intended to showcase — in a fun and interactive way — the transportation challenges faced by health workers. Created by fishinabottle and sponsored by Barclays Transport and Logistics division, players take on the role of  “an African health services worker, delivering services and supplies from health centres to villages that need them.” The game ends when, apparently as in real life, the vehicle’s gas runs out or it is damaged and breaks down.

I’ve played the game three times now and it’s fun. But fortunately people in need aren’t relying on my ability to get supplies or services to them… each time I managed to drive my vehicle into a boulder and several bushes, slam into a hut or two, and then run out of gas.

Interested in the thoughts behind the Transaid Challenge and how it fit it into Transaid’s overall public relations and marketing stretegy, I contacted Caroline Beaumont, Transaid’s Head of Marketing, who graciously agreed to an e-mail interview:

Andrea Weckerle: How did you initially come up with the idea for the computer game?

Caroline Beaumont: Last year, with 2 days notice, we found out that we had a stand at Live8. We wanted to do something more than a few leaflets on a stand so set Mario, our intern, to work with some toilet rolls, paint and toy farmyard animals and trucks to create a track for a remote controlled driving game that demonstrated some of the difficulties of driving in Africa. Although it was pretty rudimentary it really helped us to explain our work to a completely cold audience and we got thinking about translating it to a computer game.

None of us are big games players, so we enlisted the help of a volunteer who is also a keen gamer, and he helped us to put together the brief and source our design agency, fishinabottle.  We are a really small charity with a correspondingly small budget so then we had to find a sponsor to make it happen.  Barclays Bank have a Transport & Logistics division and wanted to do something unusual with us, that also targeted their audience, so they came on board.

Andrea Weckerle: What has the feedback to the game been to date?

Caroline Beaumont: Since launch, on July 12th, it has been picked up all over the world. Feedback has generally being really good and it is appearing on lots of blogs and discussion boards. It is extremely popular in Slovakia, for some reason! Take up of the messages is harder to evaluate, but we will try and do some evaluation of this towards the end of the 2 month campaign period.

Andrea Weckerle: How many times has the game been played in total? And by how many individual players?

Caroline Beaumont: In the first week of launch the game, which is hosted on our site, was played 22,500 times. 2,691 click throughs had been made from the Challenge to the homepage.  Before the Challenge launched our web traffic over the same period our entire number of visits would have been about 350.  We have a small email list of warm supporters of about 350, and circulated the Challenge to them at launch. Approx 4,500 click throughs from email links have been achieved, indicating that the viral effect has been strong.

Andrea Weckerle: How does this game tie into Transaid’s overall PR and marketing efforts?

Caroline Beaumont: Transaid works to build transport management skills in Africa, predominantly among health service workers.  A lot of healthcare in Africa is delivered by outreach, because of the huge distances between communities and health facilities, and our basic premise is that it’s not always a lack of vehicles that prevents health workers from delivering services to people in remote areas, it’s how they are driven and maintained and how their routes are planned. It’s common sense stuff, but it is hard to communicate in an interesting and engaging way as it’s something quite intangible – you can’t see skills building in the same way you can see a vehicle!  We wanted people to understand that it’s not the 4×4, it’s what you do with it that counts.

We have a very strong core supporter base made up of companies from the UK transport & logistics industry but we wanted to challenge the perception, both internally and externally, that you need to work in the industry to understand the value of what we do, by demonstrating the issues in an interactive way.

We have a really good profile among our supporters at senior management level but we were not reaching operational staff, or a younger audience – a valuable constituency who can fundraise and advocate on our behalf. The launch of the Challenge coincided with our new website, and we we used it to add value to the site, drive people to the homepage and collect e-newsletter opt-ins.

Andrea Weckerle: Is there anything else about the campaign or Transaid that you’d like to share?

Caroline Beaumont: We had to think very carefully about how what the gameplay said about our work and fishinabottle, our agency, really tuned into what we were trying to demonstrate. They kept us involved at every stage of development and, as they do a lot of charity and public information work they were brilliant at interpreting our brief into something playable, but on-message.  For example, we wanted the game to have a time element, but an over-emphasis on speed would have completely gone against a safe driving message, so the time is actually represented by a fuel guage that runs down – when you’re out of fuel, the game’s over.  It’s also much harder to avoid the obstacles if you drive carelessly so you are more likely to end the game by irreperably damaging your vehicle.  The route planning aspect is represented by the dilemma of whether to take the faster but more indirect, tarmac road or the more direct but much slower off-road route.

We had to strike a balance between the game being fun to play and the serious message that we wanted to convey and we’ve ended up with something that is quite simplistic, but is a good entry point for those that are new to use to find out more about us.

The expectation was for our core audience, the transport industry, to remain the primary audience but actually it has had far greater appeal and attracted players from all over the world. It is the first serious piece of e-marketing that we’ve done and it has really brought home to me that, once something takes off on the web, you have to think completely internationally about your communications. For example, the e-newsletter that we drafted to send to our sign-ups had a lot of content about UK fundraising, but about 75% signed up so far are from outside the UK, so we are changing the content and emphasis to suit.

To monitor the Challenge’s growing web presence we’ve been using Google Alerts and also technorati.com to find out who is blogging about it, and posting responses if relevant.


Corporate Responsibility, Ethics and Good Business Practices

After the hugely damaging Enron et all fiasco and the resulting public distrust and cynicism, once again we find corporate responsibility, ethics and good business practices at the forefront of many discussions.

Business Ethics Magazine lists its 100 Best Corporate Citizens for 2006 (Spring 2006, Vol. 20 #1) and explains that its methodology goes beyond simply measuring accountability to shareholders:

“Traditionally, firms have been judged on how well they serve stockholders. But in the 21st century — a new era of ecological limits, corporate ethics crises, and rising societal expectations — this traditional focus offers too narrow a definition of success. Firms rely upon healthy relations with many stock-holders. That means not only creating healthy returns for shareholders but emphasizing good jobs for employees, a clean environment, responsible relations with the community, and reliable products for consumers.”

Companies that made the list for the past seven years are Brady Corporation, Cisco Systems, Inc., Cummins, Inc., Ecolab Inc., Graco Inc., Herman Miller, Inc., Hewlett-Packard Company, Intel Corporation, Modine Manufacturing Co., Pitney Bowes, Inc., Procter & Gamble Company, St. Paul Travelers Companies, Southwest Airlines Company, Starbucks Corporation, Timberland Company and Whirlpool Corporation.

Writing about the 100 Best Corporations list, Mike Swenson asks us to consider, “could your company or client make this list today?  What would have to happen to make your company or client eligible to be one of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens?”

In the same vein, Ethical Corporation released a special report (PDF here) on Corporate Responsibility and Education. The foreward to the report states that:

“… whether corporate responsibility is a moral and ethical imperative or simply a new factor in doing business profitably, there emerging consensus is that it is here to stay and needs to be carefully managed. This requires new knowledge, skills and values that allow managers to balance profitability with stakeholder interests and social and environmental realities.

Academic institutions have a vital role, perhaps even obligation, to equip the next generation of business leaders with the cross-functional skills to cope with and flourish in an era of globalization in a way that creates economic growth and a sustainable future for people and the planet.”

However, the report also notes that business school students can still graduate without having had to include corporate social responsibility into their studies. What is therefore being envisioned is a “triple-track approach” to incorporating CSR courses into the curriculum:

  • CRS courses offered as electives,
  • CRS courses required as part of the core curriculum, and
  • CRS components included in other core courses.

The report also provides lists of European business schools offering CRS programs (p. 20) and top U.S. business schools for social and environmental stewardship (p. 24).

In Foreward Blog’s Foreward Podcast #3, meanwhile, Trevor Cook discussed the importance of ethics in public relations. Although his interview is geared towards PR students and young practitioners, these two statements apply equally well to all practitioners:

“We’d rather lose a client than an editor… and if we get a reputation of being too slippery with the truth or being too glib… then we’re going to go out of business very quickly…

We in the profession should be thinking about… the context and broader implications of what we do, because sometimes just telling the truth can be an easy way out…”


The Online Disinhibition Effect

For those of us who have blogs and are heavily involved in social media, their benefits are easily recognizable. Their strength lies in their ability to invite and encourage communication or, as Susan Getgood writes,

“The reason blogs have traction is that they deliver on the promise of the World Wide Web. Everybody *can* be a publisher. That completely changes the equation — the ‘printing press’ is no longer scarce, limited to those with deep pockets.”

Of course, along with that discourse comes risk. As Jeremy Pepper has often said, “if you have a thin skin, you shouldn’t blog.” And he’s right. Sharing ideas, taking positions and defending them against criticism isn’t for the faint of heart. Occasionally what’s written on a blog is even challenged via lawsuit, which Kami Huyse writes about here.

But generally one presumes that challengers, critics or detractors are rational and fair responders, albeit passionate ones. However, the blogging world and other forms of social media also has its unbalanced participants.

Perhaps these individuals are a result of what psychologist John Suler (who also has a blog, The Psychology of Cyberspace) terms the Online Disinhibition Effect:

“It’s well known that people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say or do in the face-to-face world. They loosen up, feel more uninhibited, express themselves more openly. Researchers call this the ‘disinhibition effect.’ It’s a double-edged sword. Sometimes people share very personal things about themselves. They reveal secret emotions, fears, wishes. Or they show unusual acts of kindness and generosity. We may call this benign disinhibition.

On the other hand, the disinhibition effect may not be so benign. Out spills rude language and harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, even threats…. We might call this toxic disinhibition.

On the benign side, the disinhibition indicates an attempt to understand and explore oneself, to work through problems and find new ways of being. And sometimes, in toxic disinhibition, it is simply a blind catharsis, an acting out of unsavory needs and wishes without any personal growth at all.

What causes this online disinhibition? What is it about cyberspace that loosens the psychological barriers that block the release of these inner feelings and needs? Several factors are at play. For some people, one or two of them produces the lion’s share of the disinhibition effect. In most cases, though, these factors interact with each other, supplement each other, resulting in a more complex, amplified effect.”

Suler then outlines several factors in detail:

  • You Don’t Know Me (dissociative anonymity)
  • You Can’t See Me (invisibility)
  • See You Later (asynchronicity)
  • It’s All in My Head (solipsistic introjection)
  • It’s Just a Game (dissociative imagination)
  • We’re Equals (Minimizing Authority)

Suler’s article certainly sheds light on the inappropriate behavior occasionally seen online and is therefore well worth the read.

 


The National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse Accuses McDonald’s of Hiring Convicted Sex Offenders

The National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse (NFPCSA) is calling for a boycott of McDonald’s restaurants after Nashville station NewsChannel 5 WTVF uncovered that nationwide, McDonald’s restaurants have hired “dozens” of convicted sex offenders.

According to the WTVF report, “McDonald’s says it has a policy against hiring sex offenders at its 8,000 or so company owned stores. But at the 18,000 franchise stores that operate under the golden arches, they’re free to hire anyone they want.”

WTVF’s investigation revealed nine sex offenders in Delaware, thirteen in Indiana and sixteen in Louisiana working in McDonald’s restaurants. But, unfortunately:

“We can’t tell you how many other child molesters or other sex offenders are working at McDonald’s restaurants here in Tennessee or anywhere else. That’s because in most states, including Tennessee, sex offender registries don’t have information about employers. So the public can’t find out — until something bad happens.”

No response yet on McDonald’s Corporate site.

 


Adaptive Abilities More Important Than Detailed Contingency Plans

The May issue of Harvard Business Review has a special report containing thirteen articles about Preparing for a Pandemic that focus on different areas such as the science behind H5N1, the role of leaders, the importance of communication, and modeling, among others.

However, the article on organizations, Survival of the Adaptive by Nitin Nohria, the Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, is particularly enlightening for PR and and other related professionals counseling clients on crisis management. Nohria writes:

“In the complex and uncertain environment of a sustained, evolving crisis, the most robust organizations will not be those that simply have plans in place but those that have continuous sensing and response capabilities…

We know from complexity theory that following a few basic crisis-response principles is more effective than having a detailed a priori plan in place….

The goal is not to create specific rules for responding to specific threats but to practice new ways of problem solving in an unpredictable and fast-changing environment.”

Nohria recommends that organizations have a global network of people in place that can help out as needed if internal communications systems break down, or as either human or physical resources are compromised.

He also compares the characteristics of organizations that will be less, and those that will be more, successful in surviving an outbreak:

  • Hierarchical vs. networked
  • Centralized leadership vs. distributed leadership
  • Tightly coupled (greater interdependence among parts) vs. loosely coupled (less interdependence)
  • Concentrated workforce vs. dispersed workforce
  • Specialists vs. cross-trained generalists
  • Policy and procedure driven vs. guided by simple yet flexible rules

 


Posing For Playboy At 40 Is Empowering?

Cindy Margolis, actress, former Price is Right model, national spokeswoman for Resolve: The National Infertility Association, and winner of the first Celebrity Cooking Showdown, has agreed to pose for Playboy.

According to the Associated Press:

“The mother of three told The Associated Press that she finally agreed to pose for the magazine when they called on her 40th birthday….

After turning down offers to pose for the magazine in the past, Margolis said she accepted this time because she felt posing nude at the age of 40 is empowering.

‘In the past it would have been for gratuitous reasons,’ she said.”

Right. Now it’s not gratuitous. Because she’ s 40. And that makes it empowering. Would have been gratuitous at 35 or 37 or 39. But not now, not at 40. Hmm.

 


How To Be A Worldly American

In his post on How To Be A Less Ugly American, Paul Holmes refers to Business for Diplomatic Action, Inc.’s guidelines for Americans outside the United States.

In the abridged version of its World Citizens Guide, BDA offers these suggestions (see the PDF for elaborations on the suggestions) for making a favorable impression when traveling abroad:

  1. Look. Listen. Learn.
  2. Smile. Genuinely.
  3. Think big. Act Small. be Humble.
  4. Live, eat and play local.
  5. Be patient.
  6. Celebrate our diversity.
  7. Become a student again.
  8. Try the language.
  9. Refrain from lecturing.
  10. Dialog instead of monologue.
  11. Use your hands. Watch your feet.
  12. Leave the cliches at home.
  13. Be proud, not arrogant.
  14. Keep religion private.
  15. Be quiet.
  16. Check the atlas.
  17. Agree to disagree respectfully.
  18. Talk about something besides politics.
  19. Be safety conscious, not fearful.
  20. Dress for respect.
  21. Know some global sports trivia.
  22. Keep your word.
  23. Show your best side.
  24. Be a traveler, not a tourist.

Paul offers his own suggestion as well:

“Personally, though, the best way to connect with overseas audiences is to explain that you didn’t vote for the current U.S. administration and that you agree that it current policies are, to be as diplomatic as possible about it, misguided.”

Meanwhile, Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm and the new A Death in Belmont, gives these impressions in the article Welcome Stranger in this month’s National Geographic Adventure (print edition):

“An old friend of mine once observed that the arrival of a stranger in a rough town often presents locals with two options: Feed him or kill him. He was referring to some ancient time when the dilemma was literally that stark, but his larger point was that all societies must choose whom they let in and whom they keep out, and letting someone in entails more than just opening the city gates. Once you do that you become to some degree responsible for the stranger’s welfare. Travel, then, at its crudest, is the art of convincing people to take care of you rather than spurn you — or worse. It’s a knife-edge that makes a life spent at home feel not fully lived….

You had to be wary when you traveled, I realized, but you also had to be open. You had to protect yourself, but you couldn’t be so suspicious that you’d lie to avoid giving food to a stranger. These were lessons from the harsher parts of the world, but I started to think that maybe they were applicable anywhere. The starting point was respect; if you didn’t lead with that, even with street-corner thugs, nothing was going to turn out well. So you start with respect and see where that goes; if it doesn’t work, you switch to something else…. things pretty much come down to how you treat one another. There’s a certain liberty in that; there’s a certain justice.”


Animal Legal Defense Fund Releases Ranking of State Animal Protection Laws

Earlier this year the Animal Legal Defense Fund released a 3-page report ranking all fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia based on the strength and comprehensiveness of their state anti-cruelty laws.

Although ALDF makes it clear that all the states’ laws need to be strengthened, the states that ranked best were California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan and Oregon, while those that ranked worst were Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota and Utah.

The latter five states fell into the worst category because, among other things, they either did not have any felony anti-cruelty provisions or because, in the case of Kentucky, felony provisions applied only to select situations.

ALDF also provides a list of Jurisdictions with Felony Animal Abuse Provisions and the year of enactment.

By way of quick definition, a felony is “a crime sufficiently serious to be punishable by death or a term in state or federal prison… [or] a crime carrying a minimum term of one year or more in state prison,” [note: given the legal status of animals, whether wild or designated as “property,” the death penalty has never been, not is unlikely ever to be, imposed in any animal cruelty case], while a  misdemeanor is “a lesser crime punishable by a fine and/or county jail time for up to one year… [and]are tried in the lowest local court such as municipal, police or justice courts.”


DePaul University Offers Minor in LGBTQ Studies, Angering Some Catholic Groups

Chicago’s DePaul University is offering a minor in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer studies. Assistant Professor Gary Cestaro, an instructor in DePaul’s Modern Languages department, is the program’s director and, according to Out in Chicago, the minor is built around courses in English literature, comparative literature, American Studies, psychology, women and gender studies, as well as an introductory course.

As Newsweek points out, DePaul isn’t the first university to offer a LGBTQ minor, but as the nation’s largest Roman Catholic university, its decision is drawing attention.

According to LifeSite, an organization that “emphasizes the social worth of traditional Judeo-Christian principles but is also respectful of all authentic religions and cultures that esteem life, family and universal norms of morality,” Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, stated:

“Why would a university fund a programme based on a field of study that in mainstream academia is relatively unimportant?…Even aside from the Catholic perspective it is very clear that this is motivated from a politically correct perspective.

If we want to have programmes in deviant sexual behavior… why no minor in prostitution? Other than a need to bow to political correctness, why homosexuality particularly? Why no minor in heterosexual activities?….

All of that suggests that aside from the question of whether the course content will directly oppose Catholic teaching, the entire enterprise is intended to affirm the legitimacy of what is called the ‘gay’ subculture or lifestyle….

It seems clear that the programme itself would lead to affirmation of gay lifestyle and homosexual activity. This programme is entirely inappropriate for a Catholic institution.”

Meanwhile, AgapePress reports that Karl Maurer, vice president of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, said:

“What DePaul is doing… is really falsely characterizing itself as both being Catholic and being inspired by St. Vincent’s spirit, which is a fraud.”

The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property argues that DePaul’s decision to offer this minor is indicative of a greater problem.

“A glimpse at DePaul’s web site flags more trouble:

  • DePaul recognizes two openly pro-homosexual student clubs: Outlaws, for law students and Spectrum. Spectrum’s web site promotes a “Coming Out Ball.”
  • Under “Gay/Lesbian Studies,” DePaul features links to notorious pro-homosexual advocacy groups, including Act-Up….
  • DePaul created “The Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Allies (LGBTQA) Student Services.” The stated goal of this department is to encourage “acceptance and awareness around LGBTQ issues and concerns.” The office helps students deal with cases of “homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia…”
  • On February 18-19, the immoral play “V-Monologues” staged on campus. At least 1,000 students protested by e-mail, letter and phone, asking DePaul president, a priest, to cancel the lewd production. Apparently, these Catholic students’ concerns were ignored.
  • A pro-homosexual activist and professor spoke at DePaul on Feb. 20. The title of his lecture was: “From Sodomy Laws to Marriage: The History of American Sexual Identity.” Writing about the event, student newspaper, DePaulia, said: “The lecture itself was an example of progress for the homosexual community as one of the first events hosted by DePaul’s new minor program…”
  • Finally, DePaul’s web site displays a confusing quote by Rev. Edward R. Udovic, C.M., senior executive for university mission. The statement reads: “DePaul’s Vincentian identity isn’t a Catholic thing per se, or even a Christian thing per se, but a human thing.”

Maybe it’s time to revisit yesterday’s post.


Ambitious Media Campaign Fights Anti-Gay Religious Prejudice

Faith In America’s introduction:

“Throughout our history, religious teachings, shaped by ignorance and fear, have been used to justify prejudice, discrimination and even violence against minorities within American society. We now look back and agree that such teachings were misguided, with consequences beyond tragic. Authentic religion inspires compassion and respect for everyone, especially those who are different. It unites and uplifts, rather than tears down and divides. Religious teachings should never exclude anyone, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons from enjoying equal rights and protections promised by the Constitution of the United States. Faith in America appeals to and honors both the authentic religious and democratic ideals that rest in the soul of the American people.”

Founded in December 2005, Faith in America, Inc. is a non-profit organization working towards “the emancipation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from bigotry disguised as religious truth.”

Led by executive director Jimmy Creech (formerly senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Nebraska, Creech was defrocked in 1999 for performing a covenant service for two men) and supported by its largest contributor Mitchell Gold of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, the organization rolled out a hard-hitting, national, multi-million dollar campaign on February 4th.

Gold described the campaign’s goals in the March issue of the Advocate,

“Our attitude is that this is a one-year project. I want to change this country in one year…

If we don’t do it in one year, that’ll be OK, but what I don’t believe in doing is having a five-year strategy with no accomplishments….

The only voice people down here [in fundamentalist regions] hear about religious beliefs is that of James Dobson and Jerry Falwell. There folks very rarely hear the voice of Gene Robinson. You tend to believe what you hear.”