Hey Chicago Tribune: Let’s Clarify What Defines a “PR Nightmare”

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

Or on second thought, perhaps the subject of this post should be: “Hey Chicago Tribune: Please Comprehend the Difference Between Public Relations and Media Exposure Generated by News Reports of Bad Things Happening to People, Companies or Brands.”

Chicago_Tribune_LogoWell, this alternative is a trifle wordy and probably would not rank too well with the search engines. So, I’ll stick to the title above.

Here’s the crux behind today’s commentary: The lead story of the Sunday, December 27, Chicago Tribune Business section centered on news from 2015 that led to negative publicity for some of the largest and most recognizable companies and individuals in America.

The story headline: “2015’s PR Nightmares.”

I beg to differ.  The 12 examples cited chronicles news reports of bad things that happened to businesses and people, not examples of poor execution of strategies or tactics by public relations counsel during a crisis or disruption of business.

PR NighmareYou’re probably familiar with stories cited: Findings that Volkswagen engineers developed software to cheat emission standards, the arrest of longtime Subway spokesperson Jared Fogel on child pornography charges, reports of an unsavory work environment at online retail giant Amazon, and the nine others.

Note: Three of the 12 examples put the spotlight on Chicago — Blackhawks star Patrick Kane (who was embroiled in rape allegations), Mayor Rahm Emanuel, (who’s facing continued scrutiny resulting from the Laquan McDonald shooting by police) and Wrigley Field (where promised facility improvements were not delivered on opening day).

Yes, these stories caused significant damage to reputations and possibly changed perceptions. But they were not the result of lousy public relations work, which is how many readers might interpret the article. From another perspective, effective public relations counsel could not prevent — in most cases — these “nightmares” from happening.

(An aside: One of the year’s “dirty PR dozen” examples is Martin Shkreli, the recently arrested pharmaceutical executive featured in this PRDude post from September 29 on the practice of doxing.)

It should be pointed out that the introduction to the Tribune article, written by Greg Trotter, states “there were some clear winners and losers among the worst PR disasters of 2015.” I’ll interpret that as meaning strategists were successful on some occasions on helping to mitigate the fallout of a crisis.

Another point of contention centers on the research used to compile this “survey of the worst of the worst in this year’s brand name fails,” as stated in the article sub headline.

The chief source for Mr. Trotter’s report was Tim Caulkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.  I’m not questioning Professor Caulkins’ credentials, but perhaps an academic professional who teaches public relations would have been a better choice. And, it would have been prudent to seek more than one opinion in order to have a true “survey.”

Finally, throughout the article (and in the headline), “public relations” is not mentioned, only “PR.” Shouldn’t a formal reference be made to the practice before using the abbreviation? I think so.

Public relations and marketing are both communications disciplines — but they clearly are different.  Please click on the respective links to learn the difference.

Finally some disclosures:

  1. We subscribe to the daily delivery of the Chicago Tribune print edition, and I relish my time reading the city’s broadsheet.
  2. I could not find a link on the newspaper’s website to the “PR Nightmare” article, so I included a link obtained through my subscription.

There. I feel better and will sleep well tonight. Not anticipating any nightmares — PR or otherwise.








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.”