Public Relations (PR) is responsible for creating and maintaining relationships between organizations and their clients. This is achieved through brand management, advertising, media relations and crisis management. The common goal in all these initiatives is to cultivate and foster interest, belief and trust in a product or company that will in the long run enhance the performance of the organization. The situation gets a bit more complicated for organization if their operations are multinational. This is because they have a larger number of individuals to reach out to. Multinational organizations have realized the importance of keeping a closely guarded mutual relationship between them and their clients in the global platform. This has presented a challenge to them as international public relations require a larger budget and additional resources than in the case of domestic market. Subsequently, there have mushroomed professional practitioners in this field who carry out public relation work for other organizations. Whether the work is delegated to professionals or is done by the organization itself the objective remains the same. Among the many organizations trapped in the global platform operate in the pharmaceutical industries and airlines.
In this paper we deeply discuss the IPR strategies in relation to China Eastern Airlines. In the paper we look at the methodology part of obtaining information about the company by conducting an interview. We look at what to ask in the interviews and the expected responses and their relevance to the study.
Competition fuels the rivalry between competitors as displayed by aggressive public relations strategies that the market is exposed to. Being one of the biggest industries in the world, it would be expected that the market size of the air industry is quite large. However, competition between air travel and other modes of transport is greater than competition between the industry players. This according to a joint meeting between the management of top airline executives is what is worrying the industry. In a joint initiative they promised on working together to boost the levels of air travel as competition by other means of transport and the threat of terrorism was a threat to them. However, this might be not the case from empirical evidence. In fact according to
http://www.aviation.com/travel/080114-china-2008-olympic-games-aviation.htm airlines passenger volume in China alone has in the last five years been expanding with an average of 17.5% per year. With such growth rates the companies have to keep on expanding their operations to meet the overwhelming demand. Fronting their image as the preferred choice among air travel consumers is what the companies are doing feverently. This has been delegated to the company’s respective IPR departments.
This regards how I opted to collect information regarding the company’s public relations strategy on an international level. My choice of data collection was conducting interviews. This was because of the availability of the deputy public relations manager of the company Jiang Dong Fang, who was doing the rounds in marketing the company as the preferred choice of travel to China for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The interviews also covered the public on an international level.
This seemed to the best means of collecting data regarding this study on China Eastern Airlines on its IPR strategies. First of all we must familiarize ourselves with what an interview entails. Rosaline (2006) says that ”an interview is a set of premeditated questions organized by a person henceforth an interviewer that he presents (asks) to another henceforth called an interviewee through a conversation where the interviewee gives his answers regarding a particular topic or subject”.
Interviews are not homogeneous in that not all of them are the same. How do they differ then? Variation is usually from the size of the number of interviewees or respondents involved or how the questions are structured. Grouping interviews by the number of respondents produces two groups
Quantitative interviews tend to rely on the size of the number of respondents. In such cases the higher the number of respondents the higher the level of reliability of the interviews. These kinds of interviews are conducted in cases where the respondents do not necessarily have a unique expertise in a certain field in order for them to respond to the questions. Common in these interviews are opinion polls. A specialized research subject calls for qualitative interviews. Qualitative interviews on the other hand tend to rely more on the positioning of the respondent regarding the subject in question. They draw their strength from the knowledge and the reliability of the respondents answers. In such interviews then, the number of respondent is usually low.
According to Mary F (2007) grouping of interviews as per their type of questions again produces two distinct groups.
l Unstructured/open ended
She further defines the two types of interviews clearly showing their differences. In the first case, she says that open ended questions can simply be said to be informal. By informal she means that the researcher of the person conducting the interview has the freedom to phrase and structure the questions the way he or she deems it best as guided by the direction of the interview. However, she says that though the questions are not listed they have to be guided in order to avoid the interviewer from drifting away from the subject of discussion. In such interviews then the depth and content of the interview or data obtained depends on the interviewer’s ability to formulate questions to probe and dig deeper for answers as the interview develops.
As for structured interviews the case is different. Contrary to the earlier case, in structured question interviews (formal) the interviewer has to stick to a number of listed questions which he /she is to front to the respondent. In this kind of interviews Mary (2007) says that the interviewer’s creativity is clipped and the richness of the data low and also mostly predictable.
From the above understanding of the type of interviews that are there and the pros and cons of each, I opted to stick to a qualitative and structured interview. In the interview to be conducted I have identified a number of respondents. The first and most relevant person would be a top management employee of the China Eastern Airlines. Fyong Dong, the assistant public relations manager in the company has accepted to give me an interview. In preparation to this interview, I have developed some questions which to me are the most relevant to the research subject.
What is the company’s general position in regards to its image in the global platform?
What are the strategies that your company has adopted in working towards maintaining its international public relations?
What are the major problems and threats that hamper the industry and your company specifically in your bid to promote your international public relations agenda?
How has your company benefited from the IPR strategies that you have employed?
In order to obtain a balanced story, I sought to interview members of the public who have interacted with the company in various ways. These are the questions that are to be asked from them.
When and where did you come to learn about China Eastern airlines?
Have you ever used their services? Did you like their services?
In your view has the company contributed anything to the international community other than offering their air travel services?
The first batch of questions is addressed to Fyong Dong. The first question gives us a general view of the company towards IPR. Through the answers we are going to learn what are the objectives of the company’s IPR campaigns and whether the company is fully committed in to creating a winning international image in the face of competition and how it has structured its operations to meet the laid goals. Again we are going to learn about the laid goals. Question two tells us about the strategies that the company is currently employing in enhancing its image in the global market. This question will allow us to assess the relevance and enlighten us on the applicability of learnt strategies in the real world. In the real world also, we will learn about the problems affecting implementation of IPR initiatives in the air travel industry and in business in general. This will be obtained from answers given to question two. Some of the problems that can be expected are more related to the company itself and the industry than business. This is because the air travel industry is one of the most affected by terrorism and as the issue of terrorism continues to grab the attention of universe, its enormous threat will definitely hamper the labeling of air travel as a whole as anything safe. Other specific threats that face the individual company will also come out. Threats continue to press on the need for international companies such as China Eastern Airlines on the need to improve and maintain their global image (Alf, 2000). As such by answering question four we will learn about the benefits of IPR in the growth of any company. We shall then be able to compare the results of such an initiative against its cost in terms of budgeting and allocation of other resources such as labor and time.
To assess the efficiency of IPR in general we have to seek the opinion of the public to see whether the message reaches the targeted audience. This prompted me then to interview members of the international community who have used or haven’t yet used the services of the company. The members must be verified for their non involvement with the company other than the dealer client basis. This will prevent any biasness in the answers given. The first question will indicate whether the company has been successful in selling their name to the international community. David, (1993) says that public relations is aimed at creating awareness among the clients and other stakeholders about a company’s products/services and offers. This will be realized upon the answering of question one by the respondents. The efficiency of the IPR campaigns will also be measured by the response of the market to the campaigns. Philip (1991) says that IPR campaign are aimed at giving companies a competitive edge where in this case the respondents will give us the information on whether the campaigns have helped drive up the sales and thus give the company a competitive edge as he says. The respondents will tell us why they felt convinced of flying with Eastern China Airlines or why they chose not to do so.
The third question mainly deals with the company’s corporate social role internationally in creating a safe environment for its operations. As earlier said terrorism mainly targets the air travel industry. How the company has responded in assuring clients and the international community that they have managed and handled terrorism as a threat and crisis will be shown by the answers to the fourth question. Alsop (2004) says crisis management is responsible for averting all forms of crisis and risks and effectively dealing with those that occur.
Advantages of conducting interviews
Like any other form of data collection, interviews have their advantages and disadvantages. In the book ”Manual to field data collection”, Ambrose (2000) gives the pros and cons of interviews as;
Through interviews observable information is obtained which would otherwise have been lost
Interviews allow restructuring of questions and probing in the case of unstructured questions interviews.
Increases the accuracy of responses by restructuring questions and the ability to seek clarifications.
In the case of interviews it easy to set the mood of the interview by such as making reassurances to the respondents.
They consume a lot of time to conduct.
They are expensive to carry out as they require extra personnel and resources
Subject to interviewer bias in asking questions in the case of unstructured questions interviews
The respondent may also be biased and give distorted responses
They can only apply to a small sample.
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Information on the above also available from
http://www.aviation.com/travel/080114-china-2008-olympic-games-aviation.htm (Retrieved, August 16, 2008)
China Airlines, Available from www.chinahighlights.com/china-airline/eastern-airlines.htm
China Eastern Airlines – Shanghai flights, Australia Flights, Hong … Available from, www.chinaeastern.co.uk/ (Retrieved, August 16, 2008)