Hey Virginia Heffernan: What You Apparently Don’t Know About Public Relations

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

Sometimes, I have to gaze up at the ceiling, so to say, to find the subject for a PRDude post. And, other times, the topic surfaces in an expected place and figuratively bashes me across the forehead.

The subject of today’s post lies squarely on the latter.

Photo of Ms. Heffernan courtesy of Wikipedia. Not sure of the name of the four-legged friend.

While reading my print edition of the Chicago Tribune during lunch today, I found an opinion piece that focused on Hope Hicks — the current White House communications director — and offered a commentary on public relations.  You can read the digital version of the article, “Who Exactly is Hope Hicks?, posted on the Tribune’s website and dated February 5.

The commentary, written by  Virginia Heffernan, opens with an account of President Donald Trump’s reported affinity for women models — from his current wife Melania and daughter Ivanka to other women who are currently part of his administration and staff. Then the focus moves to Ms. Hicks, specifically her experience as a fashion model and position managing communications for The Trump Organization.

What follows the introductory paragraphs provided the fuel for this post. Frankly, the piece is an example of myopic, uninformed and outright erroneous interpretations of the public relations practice and an assault on the professionals who adhere to established standards of ethical and strategic communications.

Rather than dissect the editorial paragraph-by-paragraph to unveil all I believe is wrong, fictitious and plain idiotic, here are a few “gems” of sorts that demonstrate Ms. Heffernan’s preconceived perceptions of public relations and the people who work in the industry:

  • “Modeling is not, however, Hicks’ chief qualification for her job with Trump. She’s a publicist to the bone.” Just what the heck does being “a publicist to the bone” mean in this case? That Ms. Hicks is serious about generating or managing publicity, a component of public relations? And, so what if she modeled before switching careers.
  • “Hicks didn’t just drift into her first PR job as some in the sheath set are known to do. Instead, she’s to the manner born, third generation in a family of special-forces flacks.” First, what comprises the “sheath set?” And, this is a new one to me: “Special-forces flacks.” Are they given commando attire, too, when engaging in a strategic communications exercise? Fiunally, so what if her grandfather and father worked in public relations.  I trust this never happens in journalism.
  • “PR at that level takes moral flexibility, callousness and charm.” This nugget was in reference to previous paragraphs stating that Ms. Hicks’ father “ran publicity” for the National Football League and now works for a communications firm that “specializes in — among other things — crisis management and ‘Complex Situations.'” And, Ms. Hicks “was trained by the best: Matthew Hilztzik,” the so-called chief publicist for Harvey Weinstein and Miramax. The take away here, according to Ms. Heffernan:  Public relations professionals shouldn’t develop crisis communications programs or represent professional sports franchises or media companies.
  • “But as Hope Hicks knows — and as her father and her father’s father knew — lying to the media is traditionally called PR.”  This, the final sentence in this garbage of slanted commentary bashes an entire profession and the people who work in it.  My response to Ms. Heffernan: So, I trust that the work published in the New York Times — where Ms. Heffernan worked as a staff writer — by Jayson Blair was credible journalism?

This outright pillaging of all things public relations and equating the profession as detrimental to society and our democracy needs to stop.  Yes, there are “flacks” in the public relations profession.  But as a former reporter, I know  there are “hacks” in the news business and perhaps every profession.

Left unchecked, this type of uninformed commentary propagates total misconceptions about the work of serious, honest public relations professionals.

In an effort to provide some guidance to Ms. Heffernan, perhaps she should visit the Press Contacts page published by the New York Times. There are eight communications professionals listed.

Perhaps one of these colleagues could share some accurate insight on public relations. Otherwise, Ms. Heffernan could visit this page hosted by the Public Relations Society of America.

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Edelman 2018 Trust Barometer Results: If There Ever Was a Need for Ethical, Effective Public Relations, It’s Now

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

One great advancement of modern society is the ability to develop a methodology that let’s us gather and analyze data in order to provide a perspective or determine a direction on a specific topic or issue

Image courtesy of the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer web site.

These take shape as research reports and survey findings; but even today’s weather report and the Dow Jones Industrial Average are aggregations of data that help us make decisions and illuminate what’s happening around us.  In the case of the former example just noted, we might be propelled to buy or sell securities, and in the case of the latter, we gain the insight to perhaps bring an umbrella when venturing outside.

The other day, I decided to explore another data yardstick, one that addresses the very foundation of the public relations profession — and certainly many others — as well as the more encompassing concept of moral behavior.

The medium is the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, the annual report designed to gauge trust and credibility. Published by a division of the global communications firm, key findings from the recently-released report are beyond sobering, unquestionably alarming and frankly depressing.

Trust in the United States, the Barometer reported, has plummeted among the general population surveyed, pushing the nation down to the lower quarter of the 28 nations included in the study. Among those polled who ranked among the informed population, the findings were even more bleak: The United States ranked the lowest of nations surveyed.

Media organizations — for decades the standard for trust and accuracy — were battered, too.  According to the 2018 Barometer, the media for the first time in the 18 years of the report was listed as “the least trusted institution globally.”

This news story published by Edelman provides more details.  And, Edleman President and CEO Richard Edleman encapsulates the 2018 Barometer findings in this poignant comment from the Executive Summary.  “As we begin 2018, we find the world in a new phase in the loss of trust: the unwillingness to believe information, even from those closest to us.”

So, what can the public relations industry and those of us who practice and promote ethical, honest communications do in the face of the decline of trust in our nation and the media?

Plenty.

Here’s a start:

  • Adhere to established standards for ethical communication. If you need a place to learn, refresh or get started, the PRSA Code of Ethics offers a solid foundation.
  • Call out instances of erroneous or malicious communications. Remaining on the sidelines enables those bent on disseminating lies, conjecture and “fake news.”
  • Enlist others to lobby for responsible communications practices. Inspire debate among colleagues, family and friends.
  • Forward this post to everyone within your network and subscribe to future PRDude posts.

Well, kidding about the last item.  (Sort of.) For an alternative, forward a link to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer.

Feel free to share your thoughts, of course, on strategies and tactics the public relations industry can initiate to reverse the decline of trust today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Possible Sickening Revelation Regarding the Harvey Weinstein Scandal

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

Like a festering wound, each day the world learns more regarding the allegations of sexual misconduct and even physical assault by entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein.

This space will not offer any analysis or commentary on Mr. Weinstein or other key developments related to this national news story.

Harvey Weinstein. Image courtesy of CNN.com.

Just stayed tuned to the network broadcast stations and read reports from digital and print media; you’ll get access to lots of news related to Mr. Weinstein and his current treatment program, whether members of The Weinstein Company board of directors ignored allegations of abuse, legal and financial implications related to this scandal, and of course, comments from women who had unwelcomed encounters.

Here I plan to address a report that Mr. Weinstein ordered people working as public relations counsel to fabricate and promote unflattering and untrue news stories about actresses and models.

This news came to me while watching the WGN-TV Morning News today. In a segment aired around 7:30 a.m., reporter Lauren Jiggetts recounts reporting from journalist Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker: “Weinstein’s public relations team would plant smear stories on women who rejected him or complained about his behavior,” Ms. Jiggetts noted in the report.

My thoughts related to this element of the unfolding Weinstein story:

1. First, no honest, ethical public relations practitioner would purposefully engage in disseminating information designed to cause harm. This type of garbage communication practice falls under propaganda and defies the established standard of public relations contributing to the betterment of society.

2. If these allegations about “smear stories” are true, I wonder if the perpetrators of this nonsense could be identified and held accountable in some way.  What reputable company or organization would want to work with hacks who deliberately share lies designed to harm someone?

3. Rest assured, I’m fully aware that Hollywood (and government and other conglomerates) may operate on a very different level when it comes to values than other industries.

From one perspective, Hollywood and the entertainment business develops and markets products that are pure fantasy. However, the movie-makers, television show producers and concert promoters run businesses, and businesses must — or should — adhere to sound, accepted operational practices, not make believe ways of delivering a product or service, or coping with a crisis.

Employing purported “public relations” counsel (and in reference to this case I start to cringe) to cause damage is beyond fantasy.

It’s sickening to me, and hopefully to others who value honesty in communications today.

 

 

Rob Goldstone, Ethics and Public Relations

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

Updates continue from news sources world wide regarding the recent disclosure regarding Donald Trump, Jr. and his meeting in June of 2016 with an attorney reportedly tied to the Kremlin.

This report published earlier today from Reuters provides the President’s comments on this (as it’s known in the industry) “developing story.”

We’ll let the global news organizations continue their respective investigation.

Rob Goldstone. Photo courtesy of dailyentertainmentnews.com

In this space, we’ll put some analysis toward the actions of Rob Goldstone, the celebrity publicist who initiated the meeting between Mr. Trump, Jr., his brother in law Jared Kushner, and one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

A July 11 report from the New York Times provides an account of the email exchange, which Mr. Trump, Jr. shared with the world yesterday.

Upon reading the initial email message from Mr. Goldstone, those of us dedicated to the practice of ethical public relations had to share a collective “what the hell is he doing?” thought.

This passage from the June 3, 2016 email sent by Mr. Goldstone violates values and standards of conduct established to elevate public relations beyond propaganda and hucksterism:

“The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

Read this part again: “…official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary…”

Poor grammar and run-on sentence aside, this sinister communication is plain wrong for the founder of a New York-based communications firm and a person one would think would be removed from this kind of unsubstantiated messaging.

Mr. Goldstone opened the door violations of perhaps four Provisions of Conduct set by the Public Relations Society of America:

  • Disclosure of Information
  • Safeguarding Confidences
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Enhancing the Profession

Review these PRSA provisions and share your thoughts on Mr. Goldstone’s communications practices — practices that may have had an impact on the 2016 presidential election.

And, if you’d like to pose a question or offer a comment to Mr. Goldstone about his actions, his firm’s website includes his contact information.

 

Hey Hagar the Horrible: You Got Public Relations Right the First Time

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

Okay. What’s “wrong” with the two cartoons that accompany this post?

hagar

Note to comic artist Chris Browne: I really am a fan of the “Hagar” strip. Source: Hagar the Horrible.

Need more clarification? What needs to be addressed and challenged from a public relations perspective?

First, some background on these “Hagar the Horrible“commentaries should will help.

The top strip was published six years ago.  In fact I wrote about it in this post from January of 2010, where I somehow merged an idea of how an example used in the upcoming State of the Union speech by President Barack Obama and the comic message from artist Chris Browne supported public relations.

(Yes, I’ve been known to steer the discussion of public relations down some truly divergent paths on occasion. But hey, it’s my blog.)

Back to the image.  The story in the top strip depicts a public relations consultant questioning a nobleman on the performance of Hagar and his viking raiding party following a pillage. This is good, because as we know, effective, strategic public relations is driven by research.

Now to the bottom strip, which appeared in the October 7 issue of the print version of the Chicago Tribune that’s delivered to our home each day.  Here, a disillusioned Hagar, hunched over a bar nursing a cocktail, seeks advice from friend Lucky Eddie on a source to “cook up a story” to mitigate past misgivings.

Well, Lucky Eddie says, the right person is at arm’s length away: The King’s Public Relations Director!

This is bad, because it infers — at least to me — that public relations tactics can mask unethical or perhaps even criminal actions through successful media relations. To many, Hagar is just trying to get some “good public relations” to solve his image problem.

Ah, Hagar, if it was only that easy.

 

 

 

 

Does Doxing Have a Place in Public Relations? I Don’t Think So

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

The great thing about following the news of the day is that there’s always something to learn.

For example, the other day I learned a new phrase: Doxing, the process of using online resources to gather and share information about a person, company or organization.  According to a definition I found on Wikipedia, doxing “is closely related to internet vigilantism and hacktivism.”

And, you guessed it: The word’s etymology comes from “docs,” an abbreviated form of the word documents.

(NOTE 1: I never heard of those two related words before today, but I think I know what they mean.)

The world's most famous pharma bro, both pensive and letting loose.

Images of the world’s most famous pharma bro, both pensive and letting loose.

I stumbled across the reference to doxing while reading about the fallout last week centering around the decision by Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli to escalate the price of the drug Daraprim to $750 per tablet from $13.50 per tablet.

Surly, you read about the backlash against Turing and Mr. Shkreli by this decision. “Backlash” may be a bit of a misnomer, as there was a firestorm of protest from the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare profession to politicians running for President and the internet general public.

(NOTE 2: I just made up that phrase, “internet general public.”)

People across the digital world expressed outrage and bashed Mr. Shkreli, referring to him as a “pharma bro” and using other terms, many not appropriate for this space.  To complete the doxing, personal information on Mr. Shkreli and his staff were disseminated.

(NOTE 3: I also never heard the derogatory phrase “pharma bro” before last week, but I have read about “bro country” music.)

Now, to the point I’d like to make: Mr. Shkreli and his company were “doxed” and severely so.  And, a positive result will be a reduction in the price of Daraprim; at this writing that price has not been disclosed.

This doxing incident has demonstrated the awesome power of digital communications to rally people and organizations to a cause. As reported by many news sources, the virtual public bludgeoning did get an intended result.

Jason Aldean certainly is a bro, country, that is.

Jason Aldean certainly is a bro, bro country, that is.

But to me, that raises the question of whether this type of calculated and possibly coordinated practice is ethical. From the perspective of ethical public relations practices, I say it’s not.

At its core, public relations is driven by an open disclosure and free flow of information, honesty and fairness; and, the overall result of an ethical public relations program should offer something that’s good for society.

A public relations program that incorporates or inspires doxing — or another uncontrolled, non-managed communications practice — is unethical and has no place in modern public relations.

Today, on the waning days of September, the month the Public Relations Society of America dedicates toward ethics, I hope ethical public relations professionals everywhere will take note and perhaps take a stand against doxing and any related practices.

After all, I certainly don’t ever want to be known as “PR bro.”

Pinning (P)interesting Pictures of PR Pros on Pinterest

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

A few posts back, the PR Dude offered some thoughts on Pinterest, the social media platform that has generated the most ink — strike that, the most bytes I guess — since, well December of last year.

I learned about Pinterest the old-fashioned way: I read about the platform, its uses and its growth in the Business Section of the Sunday Chicago Tribune.  (Followers of The PRDude know I have fully embraced technology, but will read printed journalism as long as it’s published.)  Still a novice Pinner, I do question the design of the logo, which looks like it was borrowed from a fast-casual restaurant.

A novice Pinner, I am. But am puzzled by the logo: Looks like it was designed for a fast-casual restaurant chain.

Since my Pinterest revelation, I’ve read several provocative articles on the platform, which basically lets subscribers “pin” images from websites and those already on their hard drives to boards arranged in categories.   Here are two great articles for the uninitiated to consider:

  • In this February 7 piece, Jason Falls provides a well-written and researched overview perspective for the online version of Entrepreneur magazine.  My biggest take away from the article is the final paragraph:  “One thing is clear whether you’re on Pinterest for personal or business reasons: the best images — be they funny, beautiful or thought provoking — attract the most attention and followers.
  • Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Grant McCracken takes a more scholarly approach,  making a case for the research value of the platform:  “It’s a chance to see American culture as if from a glass-bottom boat. Yes, some of it is a little reductive. But sometimes what people stuff into the categories is a chance for us to see exactly what they mean. Pinterest is a little Rosetta Stone, a table of equivalencies.”

Perhaps I’ll craft such erudite and insightful comments after I add a few boards and pin lots of cool and awesome images. But I did add a new category today:  “Legends and Leaders of Modern Public Relations.”

Visit my Pinterest profile to see what I posted.  I mean, “pinned.”  For those who don’t want to make the journey to my profile, I pinned images of four legends of public relations.   They’re pinned — I mean “posted” below.  These three men and one woman are among the visionary communicators who helped mold the practice of public relations to where it is today for many of us:  One built on ethics and full disclosure of information, and structured around realistic goals and objectives and sound strategies.  Of course, they never imagined the impact of technology on communications, but I trust they would incorporate digital communications effectively and responsibly.

 

Ivy Ledbetter Lee

 

Edward Bernays

 

Doris Fleischman

 

Arthur W. Page

 

Do you know who these people are and what they did to help establish modern public relations? If not, google them.   If you call yourself a public relations professional, you should know what they did a century ago.

Many more could be added to this list.  Share your thoughts.  I’ll pin them.  Personally.