What Happens When You Put 24 PR Agency Leaders Together in One Room?

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

Well, to answer the question posed in the title of this post, let me provide some background.

Yesterday, long before Halloween trick or treating started for most, I and some 100 other public relations professionals attended the 6th Annual Agency Leaders Breakfast Roundtable hosted by the Chicago Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

This popular fall gathering allowed participants and senior members of many of Chicago’s foremost global and local PR shops an opportunity to launch conversations in a round robin format.

I’m sure many at the Agency Leaders Roundtable were mesmerized by the view.

The event was sponsored by Find Your Influence, an influencer marketing technology platform, and held in a glorious old cathedral-like room at the University Club of Chicago. The views overlooking Millennium Park and Chicago’s lakefront were sublime, the trees alive with fall colors; but the overall focus was on all things public relations related.

As a member of the PRSA Chicago Board, I was charged with helping to stimulate conversation at table #9. Like most in attendance, I was fueled by coffee and the desire to engage with the many industry colleagues assembled.

Here are abbreviated and paraphrased take aways from the six agency representatives who conversed with myself and two other attendees. Three dominant topics surfaced: The growth of employing influencers, the expansion of multiculturalism, and the resounding need to support ethical public relations practices.

Amy Littleton, Senior Vice President, KemperLesnik: People are getting smarter about recognizing fake news, and people eventually will return to traditional news. Young people digest lots of content on multiple platforms, and they might not be concerned about accuracy. So, we may someday see legislation related to fake news. The public may be making decisions regarding fake news at the ballot box.

Aaron Schoenherr, Founding Partner, Greentarget Global Group: Before the emergence of influencer marketing, public relations campaigns would piggy back on the built-in reputation of the endorser. We’ve determined that some B2B clients are not interested in influencer marketing.  But there is without question a rise in digital: Subscriptions to the New York Times digital edition are up, and Reuters has found that digital use is up. Plus, there’s not as much trust in traditional outlets today.

Stimulating conversation flowed during the 90-minute morning event.

Amy Kennedy, Executive Director, Golin: The question is: Who will own the relationship with influencers today?  PR firms? If so, public relations practices have to be ethical and must include multiculturalism. At Golin, we support multiculturalism and determine ways to find inclusion.  We determine, “How should we talk about that product or service?” It’s the personal responsibility of the influencer to be inclusive.

Christina Steed, Executive Vice President, Flowers Communications Group: Flowers has practiced multicultural communications before it was a well-used term. We would reach out to pastors at local churches to convey messages related to the community, or reach out to the Chicago Urban League regarding economic development. They would help us get the message out.  Some large clients, like McDonald’s, have been slow to catch on with influencers. Current influencers need to put trust in the trust bank.

Maxine Winer, Senior Partner and General Manager, FleishmanHillard: FleishmanHillard has always provided ethics training for our staff. Our policy is, “If you see something that appears to be unethical, say something, even if you’re not sure why it may be unethical.”  We rely on colleagues to be ethical, and we want them to feel comfortable raising any issue.  Multiculturalism is part and parcel in everything we do.

Daniel Pooley, Managing Partner, Finn Partners: Influencer marketing is a craft that has its own heritage. Public relations always has had influencer marketing because it’s another way to create brand connections. There’s a shifting DNA on influencer marketing that demands it to be more scientific with scalable results that are better measured. Bold, smart strategies are needed.

A side note: I have met and worked with some of the leaders on the agenda, but was thrilled to meet new fellow professionals committed to ethical public relations.

Looking forward to next year’s Roundtable. And, if it happens to fall again on Halloween, perhaps costumes should be required.

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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.”

September is PRSA Ethics Month, But There’s More

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

Given the fact this blog is about public relations (well, most of the time) and published by a guy who holds the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential and writes under the PRDude moniker, I’ll bet you think the focus of today’s post (given the title) is on PRSA Ethics Month.

Well, you’re right.

Sort of.

prsa_logoThat’s because other organizations have joined the Public Relations Society of America in dedicating a month to focus the spotlight on ethics.

Want some examples? Here’s what a quick Google search revealed.

  • The Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) has designated September as Ethics Awareness Month, and its leadership encourages its 92 chapters to promote adherence to established standards for commercial property management.
  • The International City/County Management Association gets a head start on the ethics front, dedicating March Ethics Awareness Month for its membership, comprised of professional city, town, and county managers.
  • And, as reported in this English language newspaper fr0m the state of Jharkhand, India, the Tata Steel company celebrates ethics in July to commemorate the ethical standards of its founder.

    The team at Tata Steel.

    The team at Tata Steel holds an ethics celebration in July to honor its founder and the standards he established.

I’m sure a more aggressive search would reveal many other examples of organizations and companies that recognize the value of ethics today.

But in the spirit of PRSA Ethics Month, I challenge these entities to uphold to ethical standards all year round:

  • Elected Officials. Just think think of how much better our lives would be if every man and woman elected by voters to office would make decisions based on honesty and the public good, versus decisions driven by campaign contributions, party affiliation and political ideology.
  • Wall Street. Yes, banks, exchanges and brokerages are in the business of making money. As evidenced over the years, sometimes ethical standards are tossed out the window like confetti, and greed and more greed drives financial practices that bash the little person.
  • Everyone Online. That’s right. Every man, woman and child who communicates digitally should do so ethically and not cowardly, like the growing army of internet trolls masked by user name disguises.

Who or what organization/company/body would you add to this list?

Let me conclude this ethics-themed post with a link to the PRSA webpage that details accepted ethical standards for public relations professionals and a link to an Ethics Month Survey being undertaken by Marlene Neill, APR, PhD, a professor at Baylor University and a former colleague of mine on the Universal Accreditation Board.

Want more on ethics? Then visit this 2014 post featuring a “pop quiz” on ethics in public relations, then follow up with a companion post where the questions are “deconstructed.”

 

 

 

 

More Thoughts on Ethics and PR Pop Quiz Deconstructed

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

Don’t you wish all exams were this easy?

Well, hopefully, those who took last week’s quiz on ethics in public relations found my three questions to be within their grasp.  But before we get to the an analysis of the quiz, two thoughts on ethics.

Ethics_signTechnology — The Great Equalizer and Enabler

The ability to tweet, broadcast, post and publish in real time makes it easy and convenient to call out situations where ethics are breached. That goes for lapses in ethical standards in the public relations profession, as well as in just about every other industry. That’s good.

But from another perspective, the ability for anyone to tweet, broadcast, post and publish could create and certainly exacerbate situations where ethics are compromised.  The take away: An effective public relations program — including an up-to-date crisis communications plan — is essential to mitigate damage resulting from a breach of ethics.

Who’s in Charge of Managing Ethics?

The modern workplace is a much, much different place than it was not too long ago.  In the past, alleged ethics violations more than likely were handled by the boss or management team.  Today, some companies have employed an ethics officer, a senior staff person who becomes “the organization’s internal control point for ethics and improprieties allegations complaints and conflicts of interest,” according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Conglomerates and publicly-traded entities can afford to pay — and certainly need — staff dedicated to ethics. But what about smaller businesses, local governments, start-up firms? Are there people with the right skill set who can “freelance” ethical counsel?

Now, back to last week’s questions:

1.  You’re the account manager for a new client landed by your agency.  During the first face-to-face meeting with the client, you want t0 capture everything that’s discussed; so you record the conversation — but don’t tell the client or your colleagues.

Is this a breach of PRSA ethics?  If so, which provision?

Answer: Yes, of course it is!  This surreptitious action violates open disclosure of information by being a deceptive practice.

2.  ABC Amalgamated is celebrating its 50th anniversary.  As the director of communications, one of your responsibilities is to order logo merchandise for use at anniversary events.  Your old friend, a fraternity brother, owns a promotional products company in town.  The friend offers your company a discount to get the order. You ask your superior if you could do business with your friend.

Are you violating any ethical standards?  If so, which one?

Answer: No. As long as the boss is aware of your relationship with the vendor, there’s nothing wrong with this type of transaction. There would be an issue if you got a kick back or gift.

3.  As head of business development, you’re asked by agency leaders to complete a new business RFP.  The prospective client is a manufacturer of an agricultural product that is under investigation by the EPA for being unsafe.  Before the RFP is due, you learn though a source at the EPA that the product will be approved.

Answer:  This is a tough one, but I say “yes.”  The way the information constitutes a potential conflict of interest and stifles open competition.

As this post is published, there’s just a few hours left in the month of September, PRSA Ethics Month.  Did you have to cope with any ethical challenges recently?

Think You Got a Grasp on PR Ethics? Take This Pop Quiz

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

Just like a structure is built upon a foundation, the practice of public relations is built upon a foundation, too.

It’s called ethics.

And, anyone who purports to provide public relations counsel should have a solid grasp of established ethical standards and guidelines.  What’s more, serious PR professionals should identify and call out those who violate the rules.

After all, without adherence to sound ethical principles, public relations devolves into hucksterism, or worse, propaganda.

PRSA_RGB_234781_altSo, how well do you know what’s within the boundaries of ethics in public relations today?  In recognition of PRSA Ethics Month, spend a few minutes taking this pop quiz courtesy of the PRDude.

I’ll provide the answers later. Or write a comment and share your thoughts.

If you need a refresher, read the current PRSA State of Professional Values and Provisions of Conduct.

And, for the record: I am a member of the Public Relations Society of America and a member of the Board of Directors of PRSA Chicago.  (What Provision does this statement fall under?)

1.  You’re the account manager for a new client landed by your agency.  During the first face-to-face meeting with the client, you want t0 capture everything that’s discussed; so you record the conversation — but don’t tell the client or your colleagues.

Is this a breach of ethics?  If so, which provision?

2.  ABC Amalgamated is celebrating its 50th anniversary.  As the director of communications, one of your responsibilities is to order logo merchandise for use at anniversary events.  Your old friend, a fraternity brother, owns a promotional products company in town.  The friend offers your company a discount to get the order. You ask your superior if you could do business with your friend.

Are you violating any ethical standards?  If so, which one?

3.  As head of business development, you’re asked by agency leaders to complete a new business RFP.  The prospective client is a manufacturer of an agricultural product that is under investigation by the EPA for being unsafe.  Before the RFP is due, you learn though a source at the EPA that the product will be approved.

Does the PRSA provision of safeguarding confidences apply here?

These should be fairly easy for most of us in the industry, and it should be noted I figuratively pulled these scenarios out of thin air.

Want some more challenging ethics-themed questions? Take this challenging test prepared earlier this year by the Detroit PRSA Chapter.  And, another full disclosure: I didn’t get all 10 questions correct.

Want more on ethics?

Read this post from earlier this year on the question of ethics involving generations.