Tag Archives: ethics

A land of things and ideas…

Today I will blog…ABOUT BLOGGING. I think Rod Serling’s introduction to the Twilight Zone best describes this experience:

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Twilight Zone”

Do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do!

The power of blogs and the importance of blogger relations is a phenomenon one could only imagine in a fictional story. Bloggers are like the little man in the Wizard of Oz who rules the Emerald City–but instead of a curtain, they hide behind a computer screen. Bloggers, such as myself, can write whenever (it’s currently 1am), wherever (snuggled in bed), and about whatever (blogger relations) they want.

It’s the PR professionals’ job to scour the internet for the best blogs. So how does one choose from the plethora of active blogs in the cyber universe?  You have to find the blogs with the strongest communities of followers and the material that is most relevant to your cause. Bloggers today are becoming opinion leaders and influencers that should not be ignored. Once you find the right blogs for you, build those relationships as you would with journalists because you never know when you’ll need them!

Just look at how bloggers are taking on the American beef industry. Chef Jaime Oliver recently revealed “pink slime,” or the lean meat grounds that are treated with chemicals like ammonia and pressed into a burger patty. As a vegetarian, I hate to say I told you so, but you know how it goes.

People around the nation were horrified to learn that their beef looks more like play dough than food before it is packaged and sold. Unfortunately, the American publics’ cries of disgust aren’t enough to stop a major American food industry. But when blogger Bettina Elias Siegel gained over 200,000 signatures on a digital petition, they could not be ignored. The purpose of the petition was to have the chemically treated meat removed from school systems and the US Department of Agriculture listened.

Needless to say, the beef business is suffering from this industry-wide crisis. BBC recently covered the incident and took an interesting approach to the dilemma. They discussed how the beef industry had an opportunity to rebrand with this “pink slime,” but have since lost the power. This is a classic lesson in PR—if you don’t control the message, you better believe someone else will!

Bloggers can be your biggest advocate or your worst nightmare. There is only thing worse than an influential blogger working against you; entire communities of them who think you are the spawn of Satan. I’m talking specifically about the One Million Moms (OMM) online community.  These ladies have a problem with everyone who isn’t a Stepford Wife.

They tried to boycott JCPenny when the company hired Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson because they didn’t agree with her “lifestyle.” Both JCPenny and DeGeneres had to remain composed in the situation and resist the temptation to retaliate.

OMM however, saw how social media can turn against you when they created a Facebook page to represent their protest. Rather than gain support for the boycott, the Facebook page brought an outpouring of praise for DeGeneres. Check out Ellen’s response to the OMM community on her show.

In the end, JCPenny and DeGeneres prevailed and the OMM scampered off with their aprons all in a bunch. So to repeat myself, if you don’t control the message, you better believe someone else will! I’m sure the One Million Moms will think again before they decide to make a public Facebook page on a controversial matter.

As for my blogging career? I’m just getting started! This blog has been a great experiment, but my efforts to gain clout in the blogosphere have been minimal. I think the best blogs can stand on their own, while simultaneously building their own communities of supporters.

"...pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

The Great and Powerful Oz once said, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” But I’m going to disagree with him there. I feel it’s important to come out from behind the curtain and mingle with the munchkins who so fervently support your work.

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Rinse and Repeat

"...or else the whole thing will come undone."

I’ve diverged from my usual corny metaphors these last few blog posts, but I’d like to return to my literary roots to discuss crisis communications.

WARNING: Extended Metaphor to Follow

So you have this wool sweater, right? And it’s like your favorite article of clothing, but the knit pattern poses a serious concern. At any given moment you could get caught on something and cause a snag. So what do you do? Obviously you aren’t going to put it on and sit in bed all day, surrounded by the safety of your blankets.

That would be a bit extreme, but chances are you are going to avoid mosh pits when wearing it. You plan to wear it on a nice calm day with lots of book reading, until—uh-oh! You’re friend’s zipper gets caught on the threads when you are hugging. Now you have a giant loop hanging from the sleeve.

You must act quickly and tend to the snag, or else the whole thing will unravel, leaving a gaping hole for all to see.

This, my friend, is crisis communication. It’s all about awareness, preparedness, and action. PR professionals, and all members of a company, must be vigilant before, during, and after a crisis to achieve effective communications.

All to often, a company does not have a crisis plan in place. A lack of crisis planning can have disastrous results. Preparation can greatly decrease the magnitude of a crisis and make it easier to handle. It’s not rocket science folks, but people make mistakes in crisis management every day.

I will admit, that not all crises can be avoided or even predicted. Skittles, for example, is in the early stages of a PR crisis of a very unique nature. Both the New York Times and the blog Spin Sucks have provided coverage on the issue. According to the New York Times, “Trayvon Martin, the teenager who was shot and killed by a crime watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., last month [was] carrying only a packet of the candy and a bottle of iced tea.”

Since the controversial murder, Skittles’ sales have skyrocketed and the candy has become a symbol for supporters of Trayvon. Some media outlets and consumers are calling Skittles out on the profits made from the tragedy. They feel the candy’s slogan “Taste the Rainbow,” gives the company a perfect opportunity to support racial equality.

Instead. Skittles has only released a broad statement offering their condolences to the Martin family. And in this situation, I think they have done the right thing—for now. If the pressure for a corporate donation continues to build, Skittles’ will be forced to address the public. I am not saying they should donate, but I do think they should at least make a statement.

I don’t think they should concede to the public’s pressure—they did not encourage purchase of their products for the cause—it happened organically. I do, however, think they could highlight other ways people can contribute to the Martin family.

It may not be possible to predict all tragedies, but organizations can still prepare on a broad level. An overall understanding of risk factors can help avoid crises or at the very least make them easier to manage. The lessons are right there in my sweater story:

  • Avoid Mosh Pits = Avoid Risky Situations
  • Plan = Uh…Plan
  • Uh-oh! = Recognize Crisis
  • Tend to Issue or Leave a Gaping Hole = Action
  • Rinse and Repeat = Apply in the Future

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the crisis, or else the whole thing will come undone!

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Political Claustrophobia

A PR pro once said, “Public Relations has cluttered our already choked channels of communication with the debris of pseudo-events and phony sound bites that confuse rather than clarify.”

"We're gonna need some Aloe Vera for that burn..."

Ouch, we’re going to need some Aloe Vera for that burn.

This is how Guth and Marsh decided to end their chapter on Political and Public Policy Communication–with a biting quote from the late public relations educator, Scott Cutlip. I don’t mean to argue with the deceased, but wasn’t this the natural progression of politics? I’m not sure if we can justly blame public relations for “choking” communication in public affairs…but maybe we can?

Truthfully, I’m torn on this matter. If political campaigns are all about presenting a positive image for a candidate, does that mean there is an inherent “spin” factor? I remember learning about propaganda techniques in high school; such as card stacking, testimonials, and glittering generalities. I can’t help but read the descriptions of these unethical means of persuasion and see some overlap in public relations.

For example, Glittering Generalities is defined as, “words that have different positive meaning for individual subjects, but are linked to highly valued concepts. When these words are used, they demand approval without thinking, simply because such an important concept is involved.” Remind you of anyone? Think Quest has a full list of techniques if you are interested in learning more.

When I think about PR and politics, I am reminded of a book I read a few years ago called Boomsday, by Christopher Buckley. In short, the book follows “a morally superior twenty-nine-year-old PR chick” and blogger (oh God, remind you of anyone?) who aids in a controversial political campaign. The story is set in the near future where the American population is struggling to support the large baby-boomer population as they enter retirement. The PR chick councils her client, a presidential hopeful, to campaign for government incentives for euthanasia of the elderly.

Say what?!

Turns out the PR chick did not actually believe euthanasia was the answer; her efforts were meant to bring attention to her client and the issue at hand. Thankfully this is a work of fiction because it is wrought with unethical behavior. The book does, however, represent the power of public relations and campaigning in politics.

It can be difficult to distinguish between the many faces involved in a political campaign—like what is the deal with lobbyists?  According to NPR, lobbyists have similar goals to PR professionals, but “lobbyists have to disclose their activities. PR professionals do not.” Now that is a loaded statement! The NPR broadcast, Under the Radar, PR’s Political Savvy, takes a direct stance on the work of PR professionals in politics. Needless to say, the broadcast is less than favorable to the profession.

The broadcast received criticism from practicing PR professionals who use the PRSA as their religion. One commenter argued, “This is incorrect, at least for the 32,000 PR professionals in the U.S. who abide by the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics.” Perhaps as a young professional, I am able to see both sides of this argument. I mean really, how does the PRSA enforce ethical practices?

I have every intention of practicing PR in a fair and just manner, but I can’t speak for others in the field. After all, there are always a few bad apples in every orchard. But does that mean you should burn the thing down? I hope that a few bad apples won’t undermine the integrity of the public relations profession.

My advice? Don’t do drugs and stay out of politics.

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Assuming You Have a Compass…

"But you know what they say..."

We all have a moral compass…it’s just that some work better than others. Unfortunately ethics, morals, and integrity are not something that can be taught in the classroom or even from a book as good as “Adventures in Public Relations.” It takes years of life experiences and wrong turns to get the damned thing working properly. It’s assumed that we will figure it out by the time we reach the professional world. But as they say, “if you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.”

An ethical dilemma in the communications field is both on the individual practitioner and the business as a whole. Sure, your communications person may have a defective moral compass, but it’s up to the entire organization to make sure everyone produces work they can stand behind. Conversely, it is the individual’s responsibility to step down if she feels a campaign is unethical.

Photoshopped diversity is a new classic in my opinion. It’s that thing where a company edits marketing material to include a minority in an attempt to appear diverse. You know?  The Society Pages wrote an interesting post about an incident  of “Photoshopped Diversity” at the University of Wisconsin. Apparently there was only one black student in the whole school. The University decided to take the

one picture they had of him and superimpose it into different school events. They just assumed (there’s that word again) he wouldn’t notice or care. Well, he did notice and he sued them for their actions.

So who is at fault here? The administration for sucking at including minorities, the marketing director who said “more diversity,” or the graphic designer who did the Photoshopping? They all had a hand in the situation, so do you fire them all? I don’t know man, but my motto is you shouldn’t do it if you don’t want your name on it. While you are trying to answer my hard hitting questions, check out these photos of Photoshopped diversity (it’s a real term I swear…kinda).

The Huffington Post was involved in an ethical controversy of a different nature back in August. The internet newspaper held a design competition inviting readers to submit a new logo for them. AKA “Hey you design professionals should create work for free!” The Post assumed (ahem) everyone would be okay with it. They were wrong. There was major backlash from the design community who accused the paper of unfairly treating designers.

This dilemma is a little less black and white than the University of Wisconsin ethics crisis. If the designers willingly submit work–even without compensation–then what’s the problem? There are plenty of jingle writing or logo designing contests out there. Do they all offer some form of compensation or is the recognition and publication of your work enough? Regardless, it would have helped smooth things over if the Post gave the winner some kind of prize.

Some ethical dilemmas are more obvious then others. I can’t speak for entire organizations, but as an individual, it’s important to go with your gut. You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach? Yeah, that’s your moral compass trying to steer you in the right direction. If something doesn’t feel right to you, there is a good chance someone else will feel the same way. And for Pete’s sake, don’t assume!

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