Looking Back: Ethics & Law

Throughout the spring semester of 2014 at the University of North Texas, I learned a lot about ethics, the U.S. law, ethical codes from organizations in advertising and public relations and well-known case studies surrounding ethically dubious activity or praising a sense of ethical establishment within a business environment. All of these subjects revolved around the political and business world of public relations and advertising. A lot of people perceive this type of business as a questionably moral career path. I feel that this class helps to break that old myth of PR practitioners and advertisers being sneaky and doing whatever possible, whether it be ethically dubious or not, to get the more bang for their buck. That is not to say there are NO PR people or ad people that commit these crimes (thanks P.T. Barnum…) I am simply arguing that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that generalizing a certain group of people is not the smartest opinion to have. Instead, we should be judged for ideas that develop our choices as an individual, such as our moral character, or our sense of judgment in business-like settings. America is based on individualism after all.

At the beginning of the semester, we learned about ethical theories that have guided humanity into an understanding of our morals and sense of ethics since humans could develop the ability of rhetoric. We learned the differences between morals, values and ethics. In a very general way of speaking, we also learned about Kantian ethics from Emmanuel Kant, utilitarianism theories from Jeremy Bentham and everything in-between and beyond these two well-established figures of philosophy in our ethical code as humans. Tying these theories together to present them in a way that relates to the business world, I have learned that it is crucial to keep in mind all of the theories, and educationally and rationally come to a justifiable position when it comes to ethical dilemmas in the workplace.

The textbook by Thomas Bivins was also a great read.The author has great credibility, and I felt that it was very insightful to read his input on ethics in the workplace for journalists, reporters, public relations practitioners and advertisers. In other words, this book really helps people involved with jobs relating to the mass media, whether they are people just starting out in a career, or a well-developed practitioner trying to hone his or her craft in a more ethical way.

The class also went over the different ethical codes for reporters, public relations practitioners, marketers and advertisers. I was surprised that some professions had ethical codes established, but it was a very nice surprise. It is encouraging to see groups dedicated to solving ethical dilemmas in the best way possible that is rationally justified. I have the PRSA app on my phone just in case I need to look over some tips in certain situations or look over the most important ethical values that PRSA places on its members: advocacy, honesty, fairness, expertise, independence and loyalty.

All in all, I have gained very important information from this class as I make my way in the world as a young and budding public relations practitioner. It is always inspiring to see classes and professors keeping the code of ethics alive, and trying to squash the annoying myth that all practitioners and advertisers are complete sleaze balls in the industry.

It’s time to go make a difference!

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Effective Public Relations Material

In my class named Public Relations Communication, many assignments were given to us that would benefit us in the long run during our careers as young and aspiring public relations practitioners. We used real clients, non-profit organizations, to create work that was just not for academic purposes. The works included are: an interactive news release, an infographic, an editorial calendar, a newsletter, an op-ed piece and a social media plan. Below, I explain three works in more detail with big-name companies as they relate to the communications world and how it benefits companies of all kinds.

 

Infographic – The title surely speaks for itself: the perfect tool for visualizing big data! It is also a prettier way of looking at the big data. Infographics usually have graphs and charts instead of text. The visuals in an infographic catch the reader’s eye more than a wordy document would, and companies with information that is usually a little difficult for the average reader to digest would do well with an infographic. A company with a lot of statistics would also benefit from an infographic.

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Via Sergey Kandakov

Interactive news release – An interactive news release works just like a news release, except that there are more options for people to explore a company’s website or social media. There is usually the protocol contact info, with the text underneath for the news release, like of an upcoming event. There can be pictures in the INR, videos, links and a separate section for the social media websites your company is signed up on. If your company is more web-savvy or dabbling in Internet-related work, this is a perfect type of news release.

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Via Laura Thomas

Social media plan – A social media plan is very important for companies that want to really amp up their presence on the World Wide Web. Your posts for your plan varies from site to site, like Facebook and Twitter. Posts are planned out according to what you believe is best exposure for your company via the Internet. By categorizing and organizing posts for social media, you are planning well ahead and being punctual with your Internet presence. Since Facebook posts can be different from Twitter posts, this also helps with your planning. Twitter posts are only 140 characters, so a company cannot use the same post for Twitter that they would for Facebook. Every site is different, so it requires different content.

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Via Gem Webb

When you apply these three examples of PR material, companies can really benefit in the long run through their communications department, and also keep up with the digital world. Traditional media is just not good enough for this day and age; social media is making a trend in the realm of PR and companies should keep up by applying non-traditional media in their plans.

Make the Lasting Impression

It is getting close to that time again for upcoming graduates: Job searching. A huge determinant in getting a job from any part of the working world you are interested in pursuing has to do with first impressions. More than likely, the person who will be hiring or not hiring you will get this first impression on a face-to-face situation when you step into that room for the interview.  From my experience in various interviews as a public relations student, I decided to leave a few tips for other graduating hopefuls who are also trying to make a great first impression for that dream job.

1) Do your research
This might be a no brainer for some people, but to others, it would not have even occurred to them to do a little background research before interview time. Look at a company’s website, or look up the recruiter who is going to interview you. Impress the recruiter with your knowledge of when the company was founded, what its mission statement is or what the CEO’s name is.  Research your position and what exactly you will be doing, not just the pay rate.
More often than not, someone who has been wanting the job for a while would have already looked into this basic information; someone who is just trying to get a job would not. Recruiters know this, and you will immediately be put on the backburner due to a lack of motivation on your part to know your company and your job position.

2) Make that impression last
It’s amazing how many students show a lack of professionalism when networking, or when they are being interviewed. I was at a career fair/networking event at my school, and I noticed a young man talking to a representative from one of the companies that was there. The young man did not give the representative a handshake, was looking down or up at the ceiling the whole time they were talking and to top it all off, he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Ouch. Clueless is what comes to mind here…
Obviously, these kinds of settings call for professional dress and professional personality. This scenario happened at a networking event, but the professionalism is obviously just as important within the interviewing process. Shake your recruiter’s hand firmly, look them in the eye, REMEMBER THEIR NAME! Smiling doesn’t hurt either… You want the job, right? Be enthusiastic about the opportunity to be interviewed, but do not overdo it. Send the recruiter a thank-you note, preferably handwritten, for interviewing you for the position.

3) It’s not all about you
During interviews, you obviously want to show yourself off, and display your strengths and achievements to the recruiter. Duh. But if you rattle off your list without making a connection back to the company, or how your skills will benefit the company, it might not leave a great impression for yourself. The recruiter can probably already connect the dots between your skill level and the job position for themselves, but it will be a major plus if YOU know them, too.

Altogether, these three general tips are super important for anyone who wants to make a lasting, great impression during their job interview. Although I am a public relations student, I feel these tips can encapsulate any type of job interview. So on that note… Happy job hunting!

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blog.smartbear.com

The Bind with Bynes

There was a time when actress Amanda Bynes made millions of kids laugh daily, starting with the Nickolodeon show “All That”, and receiving artistic freedom with hosting her own variety show called “The Amanda Show”.  Unless kids in the early 2000’s lived underneath rocks through their childhood, every kid knew Amanda Bynes and her comedic charm.

 

It seems lately that many former child stars are having issues staying on the straight and narrow, which sadly includes actress Amanda Bynes. But this article isn’t being written to bash or ridicule Ms. Bynes. Instead I chose to think of a strategy using my public relations skills in a hypothetical sense. Months before I had read about Amanda Bynes on Twitter and how she was causing so much controversy with her half naked pictures, plus her alarming posts. I thought to myself that maybe there could be a chance of still saving Bynes’ career by using my PR skills, and incorporating them into a plan to bring the once former comedically charming Amanda back.

 

First, I had to think; how could I get Amanda’s former fans to return? To make this happen, I would have to watch her old televisions shows and movies to remember what made Amanda so watchable. As I watched I began to feel the younger version of myself shine as I remembered how funny this girl could be! I saw a completely different person on the screen versus the girl I’ve been Twitter stalking. It occurred to me that maybe the way to bring Amanda back into the spotlight would be to hypothetically imagine that she would hire me as her PR practitioner, and I would help her get back on her feet.

 

Ideally, there is no perfect strategy, especially when it comes to former child actors. But since Amanda hasn’t been in the cold for too long, and if Amanda was able to clean up her act, there’s a chance that she could reinvent her career. All Amanda would have to hypothetically do is build her confidence back up, and more so in the way that she appeared once before. Maybe in time Amanda could have another comedic variety show in which she’s able to genuinely laugh at the fool she once made of herself. This act alone could show Amanda has grown up from her rebellious, attention-seeking act, and would in turn receive her true fans’ attention.

 

This idea may not be perfect, but it would help turn Amanda’s career around. After all, I always remember thinking that this girl had potential, and would go very far in her career.  I truly think she still has that chance, because everybody has a rebellious stage. Amanda just happened to have it later as an adult as most child stars unfortunately do. Unlike most child stars, I hope Amanda will be able to turn things around.

Ethics in Advertising?

Advertisements decades ago oozed of sexual, racist and downright eye-opening themes and images that might cause one to wonder how someone OK’d it in the first place. Racial imagery, sexualized women and exaggerated stereotypes of the LGBT community were what shaped a lot of advertisements back then. The advertisements for cigarettes and alcohol were around a lot as well, and children could easily just turn on the television and see them. Fat shaming was a popular theme, too. Restaurants, food brands and any other line of business associated with commercials for food were quite blatant with their opinion on plus-size people. There was little to no regard for ethics or a moral code when doing business in advertising. Advertisers just wanted to catch the public’s eye, and they succeeded.

But why?

When America is comprised of a hegemonic society, that is, of a masculine normative that has shaped our history and societal expectations, advertisements like these are aplenty.  When America is comprised of a culturally narrow society where racism is still abound, just type in a quick Google search on 21st Century advertisements and you will find a lot of the ad firms playing into the same game of discriminatory practice that they have been doing since the beginning stages of advertising.

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Whatitsayswhatitmeans.blogspot.com

Advertising firms may play a utilitarianism role with no hint of distributive justice, since advertisements still blatantly show, even if they are subtle, hints of racism, sexism and homophobia. Distributive justice means that there may be no justice to the people who do not have their voices heard in the mainstream media as much, as compared to, say, a white, middle-class, heterosexual man. Advertising firms play the utilitarianism role because they like to cater more to the majority voice. America’s normative society is exactly what I listed earlier: White men. If they are not happy, then advertising business isn’t happy.

A code of ethics in advertising is questionable. Advertising firms cater to the majority of our society. What does that say about America’s code of ethics then?

I think if we were to look at the advertisement’s view of ethics, we will see society’s code of ethics.  Eye-opening, questionable, raw, dirty themes and messages are everywhere, because these kinds of advertisements are what gets the public’s attention, not one that plays by the rules. Advertisers, to me, are just issuing out what we as a society expect to want when we seek entertainment. It may not be the code of ethics in advertising that we must consider, but the code of ethics in U.S. culture. 

Learn From the Best: Part 2

I think it is important as aspiring public relations practitioners that we learn our PR history. Unlike circus showman and performer P.T. Barnum, Ivy lee came into the picture with a firmer definition of ethics of public relations in mind.  One of my blog posts has already been about Edward Bernays and his influence on our profession, so now it is time to look at the other “Father of PR”, Ivy Lee.

Ivy Ledbetter Lee was definitely another practitioner that shaped modern public relations. In fact, he is considered the primary contributor to how we handle public relations today. He was also specifically the man who helped shape crisis communication tactics.

Lee was born in Cedartown, Georgia on July 16, 1877. He studied at Emory College and then graduated at Princeton. Like a lot of public relations practitioners, Lee was a stringer and was writing for newspapers like The New York Times at first. The Citizen’s Union as a publicity manager in 1903 was his first public relations-related job. He then took a job with the Democratic National Committee. Lee and his partner George Parker established in 1905 the United States’ third public relations firm, Parker and Lee. He was also the first public relations person at an executive level when he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1912.

1914 was Lee’s year, as he was asked by John D. Rockefeller to help promote his family’s image and his company, Standard Oil. “The Ludlow Massacre” was a coal mining rebellion in Colorado, when the National Colorado Guard came and attacked around 1,200 coal miners. Lee also had a strong contribution to the making of the Rockefeller Center, continuing to assist Rockefeller and his image from then on.

During World War I, Lee was a publicity director, and later as an Assistant to the Chairman with the American Red Cross.

In 1921, Lee was an inaugural member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. A quote by Lee had spread around then, giving him his infamous saying: “Tell the truth, because sooner or later the public will find out anyway. And if the public doesn’t like what you are doing, change your policies and bring them into line with what people want.”

Lee also established a Declaration of Principles in 1906: “This is not a secret press bureau. All our work is done in the open. We aim to supply news. This is not an advertising agency. If you think any of our matter ought properly to go to your business office, do not use it. Our matter is accurate. Further details on any subject treated will be supplied promptly, and any editor will be assisted most carefully in verifying directly any statement of fact. … In brief, our plan is frankly, and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about.”

Imagehttps://blairburney.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/ivyledbetterlee.jpg?w=487

Source: Bryanlong.com

The quote is a basic summation of Lee and his stance on his profession. Transparency and honesty is what the audience needs. He established the “two way street” that is necessary in modern times between the public relations practitioner and her or his client and public. In specific, communication and feedback from the public is necessary to establish a meaningful relationship between the two entities.

Ivy Lee did not always practice what he preached, however.

In actual practice, Lee would conduct one-way propagandizing practices to his clients. This was obviously not a pleasant outcome and feedback for the public. Although he said the right things, his actions did not necessarily follow. We’re all human, right?

If anything, “The Father of PR’s” actions should only serve as a basis for the founding of our profession. Ethics is always essential for a profession that includes serving information to the public or persuading the public. He is certainly still an inspiration for his work changing public relations.

“Flacking” Up Again

“PR flack touts Amy Adams’ bag at Philip Seymour Hoffman wake.”
“Shameless PR person promotes Amy Adams’ bag at Philip Seymour Hoffman wake.”
“Tacky PR agency announces that Amy Adams carried Valentino to PHS wake.”

Uh-oh. Sounds like another “flack” has crossed the ethics line again.

An apparently unknowing public relations practitioner had promoted actress Amy Adams’ bag who had arrived for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s wake. Adams was using the purse of a client on whom the public relations company represented, and thus milked the appearance for all it was worth, without doing that useful thing called fact-checking.
The press release said: “We are pleased to announce Amy Adams carrying the Valentino Garavani Rockstud Duble bag from the Spring/Summer 2014 collection on Feb. 6 in New York.”

Was Upasna Khosla, the PR executive, lacking of a heart that day and decided to promote the Valentino bag despite why Adams was out? Or did she simply make a mistake, completely oblivious to the black clothing and somber expression on the actress’ face in the picture?

Either way, these news outlets and blogs have given the Valentino bag that the PR company was trying to promote even more publicity. Although it is in a bad light, the bag and its company is still getting awareness and acknowledgment from the public.

Eventually on Friday, the company expressed their apologies:

“We sincerely regret releasing a photo to the media this morning of Amy Adams with a Valentino bag. We were not aware the photography was taken while she was attending the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman. It was an innocent mistake, and we apologize to Ms. Adams who was not aware, or a part of, our PR efforts.”

To me, these journalists do not know what objectivity means. Using words like “tacky” and “shameless”, although truthful IF that PR company had prior knowledge of the wake, are not words of indifference. The symbiotic relationship between PR folk and journalists wear thin in this tale, and is a classic example of how the two entities clash.

All right, now I am done with being devil’s advocate.

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Source: New York Daily News

It is pretty negligent and ignorant to just assume this PR company had no idea about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s wake. In all honesty, this company probably did know and went ahead with their promotion anyway, just to get more bang for their buck.

Yes, they got some publicity with their dull-looking handbags. But at what cost?
The actress is furious that she was promoted in this way , the public is upset at how tasteless the promotion was and the company is groveling at everyone’s feet stating that they had no idea.

Sometimes, as much as I fight for public relations and how we are not “flacks”, this money-hungry business still happens. It is important to remember though that a whole entity such as the profession of public relations should not be negatively seen just because of one bad rat. These types of companies do no good for our profession.

Time will tell how this story will play out. Oh wait, we already know. People are gonna get fired, and the company is going to have a real hard time trying to get out of this one.

UPDATE: To make things even better (but worse), I stumbled across the New York Daily News’ cover for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death on my fellow classmates’ blog post. Who is being shameless now?

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