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.

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!

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journalism.unt.edu

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.”

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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.

Colbert’s Racist?

Diving into controversial, political topics is the main point of Stephen Colbert’s job, but a Tweet that an account from Comedy Central’s Twitter (@StephenColbertReport) had sent out recently got him into some hot water with social media.

The Tweet by the account was as follows: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

This Tweet was immediately taken down once the firestorm hit. Many Twitter users were complaining about Colbert’s blatant racism, and even started a hashtag called #CancelColbert.

To get a better glimpse as to why the account Tweeted this in the first place, it is important to look into some background information. On Wednesday night’s show, one of the segments highlighted Dan Snyder, the Washington Redskins’ owner. He created the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation to retaliate against the controversial team name. The Tweet was making a joke in light of that particular segment.

Apparently Colbert’s Twitter followers do not watch the Stephen Colbert show itself, or else they might have understood the context of the Tweet. Although it was written in typical “Colbert” manner, the Tweet was actually meant to be against what the public is accusing the man of: racism. Plus, the account in question, although verified with the check mark and all, is not run by Colbert.

It has recently been discovered that the Stephen Colbert Report is not even run by Stephen Colbert himself (his Twitter name is @StephenAtHome). The Twitter account run by Comedy Central sent out a couple of clarifying Tweets, stating that the account is in no way affiliated with Colbert and his show.

With no context to go along with the Tweet, a public relations crisis fell right into Colbert’s hands. Although the Tweet has since been deleted, Twitter users took a screenshot of the Tweet. So naturally, it is still virally making its way across every corner of the Internet.

Public relations catastrophe at its finest.

With Stephen Colbert actually Tweeting from his own account (in humourous manner of course), the wildfire of controversy ceased: but only so much. The Tweet is still out there, people will not do their research and look for themselves if the account is actually run by Colbert (the check mark is enough, right?) and Colbert is now labeled as racist. The hashtag #CancelColbert has been going strong all day on all platforms of social media (I see the hashtag trend on the side every time I log into my Facebook account).

As a public relations student, I would have to say Colbert suffered a bit of a blow with this social media trouble. I believe the best way to calm people down and clarify information has already been done: The Comedy Central account Tweeted and said they were not affiliated with the show or Colbert. Colbert spoke on his own Twitter. The only thing left to do is simply to make a tasteful joke about it on the next show.


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Variety.com

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.”

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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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