The Value of Honest, Ethical Communications During The COVID-19 Crisis

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

So, you’re probably wondering: What’s the purpose of the image that accompanies this post? Isn’t this commentary about a serious health issue?

Let me make this very clear: The coronavirus, or more precisely COVID 19, is the dominant news story today and will continue to impact our world for the foreseeable future.

A form of self-defense of sorts during these challenging times.

Not a breakthrough statement, I know. But stay with me.

What follows is a reaffirmation of sorts of how effective communications can help mitigate what unquestionably is the most serious global health crisis of recent times, one changing by the day.

From a public relations perspective, I believe this deadly viral outbreak qualifies as a “sustained crisis” — that is a crisis that is clearly defined, but without any tangible date of conclusion.

And, unlike a crisis that affects a company, organization or government, this virus — whether we contract it or not — affects all of us.

So, what can those responsible for communications do? Here are three directives:

  • Timely, Honest and Accurate. Only disseminate messages related to the coronavirus that originate from proven, established and reliable medical and government sources that meet these three criteria. Period. Do not share commentary from blowhards and quacks.
  • Call Out The Bogus and Dishonest. If you learn about a communication that is false, inaccurate or inflammatory, make that known.  Don’t let false, inaccurate or inflammatory information remain unchallenged.
  • Don’t Take Advantage of the Crisis.  This is not the time get ahead at the expense of others. I can’t fathom why the New York-headquartered 5W Public Relations firm initiated a “survey” of beer drinkers asking whether they would purchase and drink Corona beer. This was nonsense and became the fodder for deserved ridicule.

Now, to the image here.

Yes, it’s a paper hand towel, and here’s how I use it daily to avoid getting sick.  The hand towel becomes my barrier between door handles and any hard surface that requires me to use my hand or fingers.  I keep one in my right pocket and use it throughout the day while at work or elsewhere. When the day is done, I discard the hand towel.

There.

My contributions to helping us combat this serious health challenge that shows no signs of fading away any time soon.

Perhaps Ad Age Should Stick to Covering Advertising

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

On this last day of September, the month that the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) makes a concerted effort to promote ethical practices among members, I was inspired by an article that was published online by Ad Age, a leading industry publication that (you guessed it) primarily covers the advertising business.

Here’s what drove me, a long-standing member of PRSA, to share the following thoughts.

The article, “PR Implosions: How Four Marketers Answered Calamity,” certainly has merits.  Four authors each address a recent product or service crisis and offer analysis on how the crisis was managed.

Image courtesy of the Public Relations Society of America.

You’re probably familiar with each crisis, as the companies profiled are global brands and the resulting breakdown from each crisis generated lots of news coverage and commentary; so there’s no need for an extensive recap.

What stood out to me was — and I’ve addressed this topic before — how “public relations” was given the focus of the “crisis” problem. This is exemplified in the headline and in lines like “the onslaught of PR disasters” and “Talk about a PR blunder.”

Shout out to the Ad Age copy editor and the authors whose writing I just referenced: “Public relations” practices did not initiate these crisis situations!  “Public relations” did not cause electronic devises to malfunction, and “pubic relations” did not forcibly remove a man from an airliner. These were design and manufacturing errors, human and management blunders.  When will those who write about public relations get that concept right?

Okay, where does ethics enter the discussion here?

One principle of the PRSA Code Provisions of Conduct is Enhancing the Profession.  Under the list of guidelines for this principle is this:

  • Acknowledge that there is an obligation to protect and enhance the profession.

So, as a public relations professional who takes what I do seriously, it’s my ethical responsibility to call out situations where the practice of public relations is wrongly equated with failures in manufacturing, service, production or operations.

There, I feel better.

From October 8 to 10, PRSA will hold its 2017 International Conference in Boston. Unfortunately, I can’t attend. But I hope those in attendance debate the topic addressed here.