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.

 

My Burson-Marsteller Experience, Long Before “Googlegate”

By Edward M. Bury, APR, aka the PRDude

Most professions have some kind of licensing system, an accepted credential or prescribed checks and balances in place for fairly obvious reasons:  Being a “professional” in a particular discipline means you have the knowledge, skills, abilities and experience to do the job right.

This holds true for the medical professional who treats your skin rash, the auto mechanic professional who fixes your transmission, the culinary professional who prepares your $40 entree.

Same goes for the public relations professional who develops and executes communications programs that are based on research and driven by proven strategies to deliver measurable results.  Those who bill themselves as “public relations professionals” are expected to be experts in the practice of public relations.  There’s no licensing or prerequisites of any kind.

Last week, one of the world’s foremost public relations agencies — Burson-Marsteller — was charged with violating a few of the guiding, defining principles of public relations.   By now you’ve probably read the story: B-M was contracted by the folks at Facebook to take on one of its rivals for global online domination — Google — through a so-called “smear” campaign concerning user privacy issues.

In short: The agency reportedly pitched negative and erroneous stories about Google to big shot bloggers and traditional media, and they even offered to draft copy!  The effort is totally contrary to what many of us in public relations identify as being “professional” because the B-M team did not disclose the name of their client and true public relations is not structured around lies.

There are broad lapses, no, avoidance of ethical standards here.  And, the plot just thickened with news that B-M censored comments on the so-called “Googlegate” by removing negative posts on its Facebook page.

Disclaimer time: I hold the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR), am a member of the Universal Accreditation Board (the body that grants and administers the APR) and a member of the Public Relations Society of America.  I am aware of and steadfastly follow accepted ethical guidelines I learned through the APR program and are required by PRSA.

The Accreditation in Public Relations

B-M’s actions last week are a violent kick-in-the-shins to the public relations profession and the industry.  I’d ask, “What were they thinking?” but really don’t want to know the answer.

Now, to my B-M experience.

In the early 1980s, I lost my position in the public relations department at a local community college.  It was my first job in the industry, as I came out of journalism.  I answered a help wanted notice for an account position with the Chicago office of Burson-Marsteller, and was invited to interview; my mentor told me B-M was a top-notch national firm and to go out and sell myself.

This was truly a great opportunity, and I prepared my portfolio, dressed in my best dark suit and confidently dove head-first into the process.  First, I met with a nice man who was a vice president.  We met over lunch, where I did my best to point out my background at the legendary City News Bureau of Chicago and avoid doing something clumsy with a fork.

A few days later, I was invited to meet with other members of the account team.  Lots of other members of the account team.   Six, in fact.  All on one day.

I dutifully went from office to office, recounting my experience, asking relevant questions and responding to questions posed.  None of the interviews were confrontational, I recall.  I felt good, but tired and ready to go home.  But, there was one more person to speak to:  Another vice president, an attractive blond woman with impeccable grooming and a warm personality.

The lady executive and I exchanged questions and answers, and all was going well until she asked this:  “So how are you spending your day?”  “Well, I’m taking on some freelance writing assignments, and of course, I’m actively pursuing another full-time position. And, one more thing: I’ve been playing lots of guitar and trying to figure out Jimi Hendrix licks!  Just can’t grasp how he’s getting that tone,” I said.

She muttered something about “it must have been the drugs,” and I immediately ascertained that I perhaps should have withheld that last comment. Hey, I was being honest.  And, I was tired.  We concluded the interview.

A few days later, I called and learned that the position was offered to someone else.  B-M probably made the right decision by taking a pass on me. I had no agency experience and probably was too cavalier for big-time corporate PR back then. To me, “public relations” was writing news releases and pitching stories.  But, I did have a firm grasp of the truth and ethical behavior in communications.

The account managers who were behind “Googlegate” also were originally from the news industry:  An anchor from CNBC and one-time  political columnist.  Perhaps they didn’t know they were violating the rules, but I don’t think so.

One more thing: I still haven’t mastered Jimi Hendrix’s passionate playing, but really neither have too many other guitarists.  But I have both hands around the ethical practice of public relations.