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?

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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.

 

 

 

The Accreditation in Public Relations Credential: Still Has Value A Decade Later

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

Ten years ago this month, I returned from a wonderful Canadian fishing trip to find a large envelope on my desk at home.  It was confirmation that I satisfied the requirements to say I was among the best public relations practitioners in the nation.

Sounds lofty, perhaps haughty. But to me, it holds true.

APR certificateI’m referring to receiving my Certificate of Accreditation and a nice letter stating that I had passed the Comprehensive Examination, the last step before being granted the Accredited in Public Relations credential.

In the ensuing decade since that day in July of 2004, I’ve championed the APR every chance I can.  Next to getting the APR logo tattooed on my shoulder, I can’t think of what else I could do to promote the value behind earning Accreditation.

Over the past 10 years I’ve:

  • Served on the Universal Accreditation  Board for two six-year terms.
  • Helped develop and facilitate APR training courses as a Board member at PRSA Chicago.
  • Published many, many blogs — through this forum and others — promoting the positive impact Accreditation had on my career.
  • Participated in a 2006 podcast on Accreditation.
  • Promoted the credential at PRSA Chicago Chapter meetings.
  • Contributed to many online forums on the subject of Accreditation.
  • Bent the ear of just about anyone who would listen to this statement: “After I earned the APR, I transitioned from a tactician to a strategist.”

A key word in the items above is “earned.” Having the right to put those three letters after my name took a lot of effort, study, time and dedication.  At times I was frustrated — hey, I failed the Exam twice — with the process.

But I maintained a decade ago that earning Accreditation was the best professional achievement of my career.  I feel the same way today, a decade later.  I pursued Accreditation not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

I anticipate I’ll feel the same way a decade from now.

 

Ron Culp Shares Thoughts: Five Replies to a Q and A

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

Today, The PRDude continues a time-honored (well, sort of) tradition: A Q and A with a fascinating figure from public relations.

But rather than run down the very, very impressive list of credentials earned by subject Ron Culp, I’ll make it easy: Visit Ron’s online biography and spend a few minutes reading about this consummate pro. You’ll learn how he cultivated a truly remarkable career highlighted by stellar professional achievements and outstanding volunteer contributions to public relations. And, now, the author of the very popular Culpwrit blog has charged forward to nurture the next generation of communicators.

From the “full-disclosure department,” Mr. Culp has graciously re-blogged some PRDude posts over the past few years, and I’m honored to know that along with public relations, he also has a fondness for the towns and lakes of southeast Wisconsin.

Here’s Mr. Culp’s erudite responses to five questions.

1. You’ve successfully navigated the corporate and agency sides of public relations.  What were specific public relations challenges faced in each arena?

Ron CulpAfter working for four major corporations, I discovered that the critical communication processes are remarkably similar no matter if you’re producing pharmaceuticals, office equipment or consumer products. At Sears, I was blessed with an extraordinarily talented team of public relations pros who got to know every aspect of their respective businesses. As a result, the PR team became an integral part of the business. Leaders running major business units sought out counsel on everything from product promotion to internal communication. This relationship with my team allowed me to know critical information about every aspect of the business, which provided me with a unique vantage point within the organization. Without a doubt, the bigger the company the greater the challenges and we were inundated with “opportunities.” Due to the size of the business and promotional nature of the store, we worked with a large number of agencies–nearly 50 at one point during the “good old days.”

Only after I joined the agency world did I fully appreciate challenges facing consultants, especially those who only receive one-off tactical projects. Their access to information is often limited to what is shared by the corporation so they must make assumptions that are sometimes correct and often wrong. Agencies that enjoy longer-term relationships with clients normally deliver the best and most cost-effective results. Agency client directors and teams who fully understand their respective businesses and convey a sincere client-first commitment become top-of-mind when additional assistance is needed. Creating that special esprit de corps is one of the key challenges facing any agency leader today.

2.  Public relations, like advertising, could point to “legendary” figures who shaped the profession from its founding days to not too long ago. Who’s at the pinnacle in today’s digitally-driven world?

We wouldn’t be where we are today without the legends who got us to this point of respectability for what our profession can help organizations achieve. I remain in awe of the contributions to the profession by some of the greats that I’ve been honored to know and work with over the years–Al GolinHarold Burson, David Finn, Dan Edelman and, of course, Betsy Plank. Today, I think the leaders of most large agencies and the CCOs of many of the top corporations are led by incredibly talented and innovative individuals. While there is consensus around Richard Edelman being a current day pioneer thinker in our profession, several of his peers and certainly corporate leaders like Jon Iwata (IBM) and Gary Sheffer (GE) also are significant players in raising the bar of respect and influence for our profession. 

3.  You made a very cool transition from leading a major agencyDepaul logo to leading the PRAD Master’s program at DePaul University.  How did you land that gig and what’s your biggest take away?

While heading Ketchum’s Chicago office, I signed up with the Plank Center for its academic fellows program that places PR profs in a dozen or so corporations and agencies during the summer to gain real-world insights to then share in their classrooms. Luckily, my office was assigned Teresa Mastin from DePaul. At the end of her two weeks of engaging with the Ketchum team, she asked me if I would consider teaching a class. I agreed to do so for one quarter and instantly got hooked and was happy to become an adjunct. When they asked me to help find someone to fill a newly created position of professional director for the grad program, I volunteered after another candidate I tried to help recruit turned down the offer. While I’ve enjoyed every phase of my career, I can honestly say this is the most rewarding work of my life. My DePaul colleagues and I draw incredible inspiration from seeing our students land their first jobs and then excel in them. Realizing that we’re helping train the future of this amazing profession provides a great deal of personal satisfaction.

4.  You’re a fellow blogger with the very popular Cuplwrit.com blog for “guiding the career in public relations.”  What prompted you to enter the blogging community?  And, what advice do you have for fellow PR bloggers?

I knew very little about blogging some eight years ago when I was approached by three Ketchum interns suggesting I consider starting a blog to provide advice for young people pursuing careers in public relations. Dressed as if they were going to an important new business pitch, they presented a persuasive PowerPoint case on why I should blog. They ended with the clever name, which was the brainchild of Kevin Saghy (now on the Cubs PR team). I have been blogging ever since, and I haven’t missed a week in all that time.

My advice to fellow bloggers is to find your passion, and post something regularly. Put dates on everything you write since this will remind you of the need to post at least once a week. 

5.   In 50 words or thereabouts, offer thoughts on the direction PR is headed.

Public relations (and I prefer those two words over the host of others that attempt to camouflage what we do) has never been in a stronger position as a profession. There is growing demand for talent, and colleges are turning out future professionals who are better trained than ever. However, as corporate and agency expectations for our services grow, there are two factors that concern me–writing and business intelligence. With few exceptions, educational institutions place too little emphasis on writing and business basics. Young professionals who can write usually are good thinkers, and those who understand how businesses operate are going to have highly rewarding careers.

# # #

Want to know the thoughts of other PR heavyweights?  (Figuratively speaking, of course.)  Here are Q&A posts from:

  • Gerry Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA and 2013 Chair and CEO of PRSA
  • Nick Kalm, President of Reputation Partners Public Relations
  • Chris Ruys, President of Chris Ruys Communications
  • R. J. Sirois, former PR pro turned successful real estate broker

Lessons Learned: One Year Later

By Edward M. Bury (aka The PRDude)

Tomorrow will be more than Monday, July 7, the start of the work week after the long Independence Day holiday.

At least for me.

Learning TwoIt’s the anniversary of my first year in my terrific new position handling public affairs for a major research university here in Chicago.  Working at an institution of higher learning, you might not be surprised to learn that I’ve learned quite a lot.

Here’s what stands out:

1. We Are Bound by the Quest for Knowledge. Chicago can certainly hold its own as a truly global city. The same goes for the university where I work.  Around one-third of the student body and faculty speak English as a second language.  Regardless, the focus on our campus is on learning, progressing and growing.  The atmosphere is supportive. The opportunities bound only by our drive and energies.  Language and customs so far haven’t come into play.

2. There are Nice, Cool People from Every Part of the World. Over Learningthe past year, I’ve made friends with smart people named Havan, Takanori and Moyin. They came to Chicago from parts of the world I’ve read about or gained insight from television, movies and online sources.  Their goal is to learn and experience life in the United States, in the City of Chicago. I’m proud to call them my friends, and I’m eager to share what I know about the city.

3.  I’ve Seen the Future of Communications and My Role In It.
And, frankly, the future is looking pretty good.  My role within our research unit involves around eight specific responsibilities.  Some skills, like website content development, social media management and how to plan large-scale event , I learned relatively recently. Others, like public relations strategies, project management and how to write effective, provocative copy, are skills I’ve built up over decades.  Collectively, my skill set is an ideal fit for our research unit or any small to medium-sized company or organization.  There will always be a market for communications professionals who can do a lot of things well.

What awaits in the next 12 months?

Watch this space and find out. As an Accredited PR professional, I’m bound to keep pace with the industry and learn.  And, I couldn’t think of a better place to do that than the place I’m at now.

Chilling With PR Peers: Skyline Awards & DePaul Graduate Showcase

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

Last week culminated in two outstanding events that featured some of the smartest, most engaging and fascinating people I know (or got to know).  At both events, I refreshed relationships with old colleagues and nurtured relationships with new ones.

I’m referring, as you may ascertain, to gatherings of fellow public relations professionals.

The similarities continue.

Both were held in cool venues, both had excellent food and beverage and both reinforced to me something about public relations and those of us who are in this business.  Want to know more?

Here are capsulized reports.

PRSA Chicago 2014 Skyline Awards.

The evening of Tuesday June 10 was a rainy one in Chicago. But that didn’t damper the enthusiasm of the more than 250 attendees at this annual awards gala and dinner. From the Grand Army of the Republic hall at the historic Chicago Cultural Center, the Chicago PR community met to recognize excellence, network and socialize. prsa chicago

My big takeaway: Collectively, PR professionals know how to work together and execute a tremendous event driven by volunteer time, energy and spirit.  (As a member of the PRSA Chicago Board, I played a small role in the event: I provided music for the Cocktail Hour.  No, not me on guitar and vocals, but cool modern and traditional jazz via CDs.)  A round of applause to all who made the evening a success, especially event co-chairs Lauren Brush and Sarah Siewert, who worked very hard and speaking of cool, were just that under pressure — even during those last minutes before the crowds arrived.

DePaul University Graduate e-Portfolio Showcase.

DePaulTwo days later, I was honored to attend the Graduate e-Portfolio Showcase sponsored by the DePaul University College of Communication.  Held on the rooftop deck of a vintage building that once housed a department store on State Street, the event provided an opportunity for 19 graduate students from the University’s Public Relations and Advertising program to present their creative work and projects in an informal setting to senior PR professionals.   For the record, I would have attended even if the agenda did not include hors d’oeuvres and an open bar because the invitation to participate came from Ron Culp, professional director of the program and a titan in Chicago’s public relations community.  (Full disclosure: Ron has re-posted a few PRDude blogs on his awesome Culpwrit blog, an outstanding resource for PR careers.)

My big takeaway: As a guest, I was invited to meet with the graduates and view their online portfolios. Clearly, by the talent and work presented, academic institutions are developing people who clearly are ready to lead the communications industry in the future.  I met with eight young professionals who demonstrated the knowledge, skills and abilities demanded to excel and sculpt communications programs in our digitally-driven world.  Frankly, I’m glad I won’t have to compete with these men and women in the future.  Wish I had time to meet them all.

Tomorr0w, I’ll join Chapter Board members for a rare afternoon meeting. APR 50thI’ll learn about how well the Chapter did financially from the Skyline Awards, hear reports from committees and provide an update on the training program I’m leading to help members earn the Accredited in Public Relations credential.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I really enjoy the public relations profession and the people who are part of it.

 

Dear Chicago Tribune: Since You Won’t Publish My Letter, I Will

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

Perhaps it’s time The PRDude blog was branded with a tagline. What do you think of this one:  “Staunch Defender of the Public Relations Profession.”

Regular follows may recall that I’ve addressed situations where the PR profession was bashed, slandered and subjected to libelous prose.  To defend public relations, I used this digital pulpit to challenge the wrong-doers and set the record straight.

In late May it happened again.

The Chicago Tribune, a newspaper I read daily and still support with a home delivery subscription, published a piece in the Sports section that grabbed my attention for two reasons:

1. It concerned the Chicago Cubs and management’s clumsy efforts to get city approval to revitalize venerable Wrigley Field.

2. It connected what I maintain was a management decision to poor public relations counsel.

So I dashed off a Letter to the Editors on May 30.

They haven’t published it, so I will:

Dear Editors:

tribuneAs a public relations professional, I take great offense in the subheadline, “Emanuel embarrasses franchise’s inept PR team,” which accompanied the May 30 column by David Haugh on the efforts by the Chicago Cubs to get approval for modernizing Wrigley Field.

Public relations counsel, whether in-house or contracted, are charged with developing and executing communications programs built upon research driven by sound strategies and measurable results. These actions must be — or certainly should be — approved by management.

Did the headline writer and Mr. Haugh know for a fact that it was the “Cubs’ corporate PR team” that made the decision to charge ahead with plans for a new bullpen and other improvements before conferring with the Mayor’s office? Or, is it possible that the management of the Cubs insisted on unveiling the news?

Admittedly, the Cubs are in need of serious damage control given the circumstances surrounding their plans and efforts to bring their landmark ballpark into the modern age. But it’s troubling that the team’s public relations staff gets lambasted for decisions that may have been beyond their purview.

Sincerely,

Edward M. Bury

It’s this type of inaccuracy about the profession that all of us who are serious PR practitioners need to address quickly and forcefully.  For the record, I would include a link to Mr. Hough’s complete column, but I can’t find it online.

Rest assured, I’ll keep an eye out for future written or verbal barbs slung at public relations and address them whenever I can.  If you’re serious about public relations, serious about its value in modern society, serious about accuracy, perhaps you will too.

* * *

So, now you’re asking: “Back it up, PRDude. Demonstrate how you’ve defended public relations.”  Here are two examples.

1. In a January 2013 post, I fired a shot across the bow of a well-known essayist who mixed up public relations and social media.

2. Back in 2010, I questioned a writer — yes from the Chicago Tribune — who mixed in public relations counsel with the legal counsel defending a man who once was governor of Illinois.