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!



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.


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.


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.


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.

Celebrate Mayborn!

April 16 marked another successful event at the Mayborn School of Journalism. Celebrate Mayborn is an event where faculty, alumni, students, professionals, family, friends, and more can network and/or be awarded for their hard work throughout the year. It is also an opportunity to showcase the students who had received rewards or scholarships from the department. The event was sponsored by Tina Young, UNT alum and MarketWave president. UNT president Neal Smatresk came to include an address and Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings attended to collect the C.E. “Pops” Shuford Award.

It was a great experience at the Celebrate Mayborn event this year. Having the opportunity to network with professionals in the journalism field is quite an honor for a public relations senior about to graduate from college. There was a sprinkle of all fields at the event on Wednesday night, and it was a treat to get a glimpse of the professional world through their eyes and through their years of experience. I definitely felt like I had gotten a lot of good tips and information for the future from them.

I had the chance to speak with a few of the professionals at the networking roundtable hour. Dawn Taylor of MarketWave gave great tips for resume building and interviewing for jobs. She advised to take what you have and spin it to make it look relevant for the company, even if your only job experience was a waitress at Applebee’s. She also advised that an impressive look to the resume would be that you somehow got involved with any communications/promotional material at your job. If it has nothing to do with journalism, work with it and make it be related to journalism by writing articles for them or supporting promotional events/materials. I was very impressed by these words, because as a college student, it is hard to maintain a relevant internship (especially if it is unpaid), a job to pay the bills and your full load of classes. Some students do not have the opportunity to do an internship when they have a full-time job. What Dawn Taylor advised helps these students to be more successful, regardless of what they are working.
George Foster of Foster Marketing took the time to ask each student around the table if they had any questions and what their aspirations are. It made me feel like he actually wanted to pay attention and engage with the students. I had to ask him what the NO. 1 thing is that applicants do negatively in the interviewing process. He said that students who are not pro-active do not succeed well in the business, and he is always impressed when students think critically and get things done well ahead of time. In other words, it is important to have time management skills under your belt and a pro-active attitude.

Overall, it was a great learning experience and I am glad that I had gotten the opportunity as a PR student to network with these professionals. I got a glimpse of what it was like in the real world and what these professionals are looking for in an intern or someone applying for an entry-level job.

Until next time!



Public Relations and Its Rights

The First Amendment of the United States is as follows: “[It] prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.”


via prwatch.com

As an up-and-coming public relations practitioner, it is important to remember and uphold these rights as U.S. citizens, and a person within a business that represents not only their client, but its public. Like some professionals are entitled to their job pertaining to the law, public relations practitioners are entitled to their job pertaining to the public. Some companies overthrow their rights as an American citizen by breaking the First Amendment and getting into some ethical and legal trouble for it.

Anyone remember Walmart’s “Trip Round the Nation” blog?

By knowingly sending out journalists to pretend to be a traveling couple visiting Walmarts around the nation, Walmart infringed upon their right to free speech by lying to its public. Behind the veil was Edelman PR, a well-known firm. This publicity campaign eventually was found out as a flunk, and therefore received a level of mistrust between the public and Walmart.

This is one out of plenty of cases where companies have misguided the public, and outright lied to them. Fake grassroots campaigns, for example, are called astroturfing. Edelman PR, a prestigious, well-known PR firm, has been found to be astroturfing before (for a Walmart, of course). This kind of situation puts a lot of public relations practitioners into the hands of a negative public image. What many firms seem to forget, and even Edelman does apparently, is that public relations practitioners do not just serve their client: they service the public as well. When a publicist, a PR firm, a corporate organization and even a college student realize this, numbers of ethical dilemmas like this would not be so high.

Things like astroturfing are a deliberate breach of our U.S. Constitution, by lying to the public and misguiding them on a corporation, a product, a brand or anything else that is tangible that the public is interested in.

Ethical organizations such as the PRSA strive to implement a new level of trust from public relations folks to the common public through their theories and definition of workplace morals. If public relations firms, companies, organizations, and individuals learn ethics and our rights as U.S. citizens, we would become a better image for our profession.

Zirin Needs To Zip It

It’s a bad publicity move for the sports editor of The Nation to not do his homework, or throw in his own biased opinion. Opinions are all fine and good, but no one likes an opinion that’s overly generalized. To give you some background context…
The Nation’s Dave Zirin wrote an article April 1 about the #CancelColbert campaign, and how the outburst of its popularity via social and traditional media cloaked Dan Snyder from criticism, who was the butt of Colbert’s satire in the first place.
Whilst writing about the campaign, not to steer the subject away from Dan Snyder (but let’s face it… did we really need another article condemning Snyder and his horrible PR tactics? Been there, done that kind of thing), but Zirin fails to fact check on the #CancelColbert campaign. Zirin wrote under the assumption that Stephen Colbert himself sent out the racist tweet that caused the #CancelColbert uproar. In fact, a person from Comedy Central had a Twitter account shaped as Stephen Colbert, and Colbert had no idea of the tweet itself in the first place.
As for the opinion-making… Zirin fondly calls Colbert’s fans “smug” and outright labels them all as “liberalists.” :
“Let’s forget for a moment the smug Colbert fans (and there is no “smug” quite like the “smug” of a Colbert fan explaining satire), who were enraged that Park challenged whether their liberalism insulated themselves or Colbert from criticism”
Tell us how you REALLY feel, Zirin…
I had made the #CancelColbert campaign the subject of my last blog post. I am now turning my attention to the critical articles that follow, this one from The Nation in particular, without their fact-checking, and not being able to keep their own agendas out of the post. The one slip-up from our pompous elitist Zirin calls into question his entire article.
It wouldn’t be the first time anyway.
Ehhhh, better luck next time.



Making A Mark

This news event did not have one or even two articles written about it: It had thousands. All the newspapers around the world knew about the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl in Karachi, Pakistan in 2003. The news coverage by certain television stations would be what some people would describe as astonishing and outright disrespectful. Others tried hard to maintain the accuracy of an event happening thousands of miles away on another continent. A lot of them tried to make an understandable, objective piece about a place that is completely foreign and unknown to most Americans. To this day, thousands of people still argue, speculate and mourn over what exactly had happened to a fellow American journalist.


Daniel Pearl, picture taken from one of the members of the extremist group that kidnapped him.
Picture from Nydailynews.com

Pearl was born in New Jersey, but raised in Los Angeles, California. His mother, Judea, was of Iraqi-Jewish descent, making Daniel’s religion Judaism.  He eventually graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a B.A. in Communications. Pearl then wound up at the Wall Street Journal in 1990, where he climbed his way up the ladder to become a foreign journalist for the paper. Pearl eventually became the South Asia Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal. He has a boy, born four months after his death, named Adam D. Pearl. Adam was born in France, where Daniel’s widow, Mariane Pearl, was raised. Mariane Pearl had written a book titled A Mighty Heart, personally documenting the days before, during and after the abduction of her husband. She had been on-site with him in Pakistan during that time.

In January of 2002, Pearl was on his way to conduct an interview with Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani. Gilani was suspected of connections with the “shoe bomber”, Richard Reid, and Pearl was doing research over these supposed connections for a news story. At 7:00 p.m., however, things took a turn for the worse, and Pearl was kidnapped by a militant group calling itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. This group supposedly has connections to al-Qaeda. They were saying multiple things about Pearl, such as him being a spy, a member of the CIA and a threat to Pakistan. A main reason why he was kidnapped, however, would not be because he was an American journalist but because of his being a Jew. This group created a Hotmail account and sent multiple, threatening e-mails to the U.S., claiming that they would execute Pearl if their demands were not met. Some of their demands were to release all terrorist Pakistani detainees, and to continue the halted operation of sending F-16 fighter jets to the Pakistani government. They even sent pictures of Pearl to the people trying to rescue him, one of them being his wife. The photos contained Pearl shackled and holding up a newspaper clipping. The most dramatic and horrendous one, however, was when one of the group members was holding a gun to Pearl’s head, with his face down, still shackled.

Pearl’s editor, John Bussey, and Mariane Pearl, tried desperately to hold public pleas, asking the group to give Daniel back. They were ignored. Nine days after the photos were released, Daniel Pearl was gruesomely beheaded. On May 16, his body was found decomposed and cut up into at least 10 pieces. He was found in a grave just 30 miles north of Karachi, where his rescue team and Mariane were located. His body was collected and later transported to Los Angeles, back to his hometown. A video of his murder, publicized by the extremist group in February 2002, shows Daniel speaking his last famous words: “My name is Daniel Pearl. I’m a Jewish American from Encino, California, USA. I come from, uh, on my father’s side the family is Zionist. My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Jewish, I’m Jewish. My family follows Judaism. We’ve made numerous family visits to Israel.” The video also showed the gruesome murder. It lasted 3 minutes and 36 seconds.

The video was broadcasted in parts by CBS. No other news station had decided to broadcast it. Mariane Pearl reacted with great disdain for their decision to publicize parts of the video. She called it ‘inhumane’ and fought with the CBS news anchors about their decision that, to her, was a complete lack of respect for Daniel. The only response CBS had for Marianne is that it was “newsworthy” to the public. The main newspapers around the U.S., such as The New York Times, Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News and plenty others, kept up with the kidnapping of Daniel and tried to relay accurate, timely information to the American public as the abduction went on.


Mariane Pearl and daughter, widow of Daniel Pearl.
Picture from Nytimes.com

Afterward, Daniel Pearl’s friends and family made the Daniel Pearl Foundation in honor of a beloved friend, husband, son and father. It was made to “continue Pearl’s mission, and to address what they consider the root causes of his death, in the spirit, style, and principles that shaped Pearl’s work and character.” Daniel Pearl World Music Days was made as well, by Daniel’s friends who played music with him years ago. It promoted over 1,500 concerts in over 60 countries throughout the world.  A film was produced from Mariane Pearl’s memoir of her husband’s abduction. It was made in 2007, starring Dan Futterman as Daniel Pearl and Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl. Bernard Henri-Levy published a controversial book titled Who Killed Daniel Pearl? In 2003. It got many criticisms because of the way he had worded certain aspects of the novel, such as fictionalizing Pearl’s final thoughts and its speculative conclusions to the slaying of Pearl. Nonetheless, this book is also being adapted into a film currently, starring Josh Lucas.  HBO Films produced a 79-minute documentary titled The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl in 2006. Not only have books and films and the news world given Pearl much recognition, but a lot of awards for his work and courageous acts as a journalist have awarded him, posthumously.

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.”


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.