April 19, 2013
It’s no secret that events this week have been amazing, and we’re all reeling from what has happened.
It’s also safe to say that many have also noticed that with social media comes an incredible amount for misinformation and confusion. We may have caused this problem ourselves.
When word first broke of the bombings in Boston, I was astounded to see intelligent people on Twitter demanding to know what was happening now. They seem to feel they have a right to know. And, then those who felt they needed to be first started to talk…and things went downhill quickly.
But what is our responsibility when our desire – I don’t think it’s a right – to know collides with the official investigation. When it interferes with the safety of the first responders and law enforcement officials we’re all, rightfully, lauding. In the New York Times today, Brian Stelter wrote:
“The authorities simultaneously thanked members of the news media for spreading the word that Bostonians should take shelter and remain alert — and cautioned them against repeating secondhand or thinly sourced information.”
Until recently, we waited for investigations to run their course, for the officials to talk with the media and then we heard the story. It’s my opinion, and I believe the facts will show this from this week’s events, we can drastically affect our own safety and that of law enforcement by “needing” so much information…right now.
We should be okay with waiting. In fact, we should be more than okay. It’s the media’s responsibility to research stories and report them to us in a factual matter. This week, many have come to realize the networks still seem to be doing that fairly well, and NPR. Pete Williams, NBC, is being lauded for his caution and professionalism. When media doesn’t have facts, they should be silent. When we don’t have facts we should be silent. The damage done by CNN and Reddit is unconscionable. As Eric Schwartzman said,
“the problem with #crowdsleuthing the #Bostonmarathon on Reddit is no distinction between verification and reporting.”
It was wonderful to see the Boston Police using social media channels to ask for help:
At the same time, it was terrifying to see them ask people to stop giving out information about their locations. It just seems like common sense. We really need to go back to doing what we, as citizens, do best.
It’s law enforcement s responsibility to “get the bad guy” and we expect them to do that. We can also expect them to tell us when they need us to help, and they’ve done that. But we absolutely must stop spreading rumors, using unknown sources, and providing information that will make situations unsafe for law enforcement.
In the end, most of us are going to sources we trust, and likely wait for information we can believe. I hope those who’ve been passing on the innuendos learn from this.
We don’t need to know now…we can wait for the facts. Really. We can.
November 29, 2011
This phrase from Sir Walter Scott (Scottish author & novelist, 1771 – 1832) has been coming to mind a lot lately as we learn of communicators practicing in deceiving manners. It’s very frustrating for the thousands of professionals who practice with ethical standards and commitment. It doesn’t seem that hard to me to observe the tenets of the professional Code of Ethics.
The basic tenets that guide my personal life also guide my professional life. I wouldn’t have it any other way:
I pledge to conduct myself professionally, with truth, accuracy, fairness, and responsibility to the public; to improve my individual competence and advance the knowledge and proficiency of the profession through continuing research and education.
While the basic premise of the PRSA Code might seem fairly easy to understand and abide by, it seems some in the profession, and also many in the media, are hell-bent on showing what unethical professionals we are.
Take a few of the most recent examples. In each of these cases, professionalism, honesty, fairness and responsibility were overtaken by greed and ego. Additionally, once uncovered the perpetrators really didn’t seem to understand what they had done was wrong.
- Utah Mayor Mike Winder created a fake identity and provided his local newspaper with articles about his town…quoting the Mayor. He also used a guy’s photo found on Google Images as his alter ego.
He says he just used a different name to get the publicity his city deserved. But he had to lie to get it so did his city really win in this case? I don’t think so.
- LA-based Coglan Consulting Group created fake news sites for their clients so it looked like their clients were getting more news coverage. Gini Dietrich covered this quite well last week on SpinSucks as did PR pro Denis Wolcott when the story first broke in September.
In this case, I can’t really find a statement from either Coglan or their clients, namely the Central Basin Water District. So…no apology? No commitment to make changes in how you do business? Unbelievable.
- Facebook hired Burson-Marsteller to smear Google in the press. Then, when exposed, the agency deleted Facebook posts on its page about the incident. Burson really didn’t do a great job of cleaning up the mess.
This one hit especially hard because Burson is one of the oldest and most respected agencies in the US. It was founded by Hal Burson, one of the fathers of modern public relations. The agency apologized (called lukewarm by many) and promised to make sure their employees understand more about the code of ethics.
- Reverb Communication wrote fake product reviews for their software customers about a year ago. The FTC cited them but many media put all PR pros in this bucket.
In this case, Reverb said there were no rules against what they did. I was reminded of my Mom who would regularly ask us…if he asked you to jump off a bridge would you do that too? The answer, of course, was a sheepish no.
What’s missing from each of these stories is someone to say – hey don’t do that. It’s wrong. But also, what were the leaders at each company, client, agency or organization saying? For that matter, where were all the employees involved? It’s hard to believe it got this far without someone raising a flag. But I think it takes some guts to raise the flag today, when jobs are tight. However, one still has to feel good about going to work.
We need to feel okay in our jobs when we question a decision, especially when it’s a question based on honesty, transparency and decency.
One that’s so far from what we were taught as children we know it’s wrong. And, as senior leaders, we need to provide an environment where that line of questioning is allowed and even supported. We need to listen respectfully and promise to change. In fact, we need to teach ethical practices, demonstrate what high standards are, and reward those who support the ethical practice of public relations.
November 8, 2011
Almost since the beginning of my consulting career, I’ve dealt with clients who want guaranteed results for the work I do. I have never worked that way and hope you haven’t either. How I handle the discussion with prospective clients varies depending on the project but, in my opinion, is based on the fact our profession is art and not science. We are skilled in our art, but can’t always guarantee that our work will generate the results a client wants.
I find that the stronger the partnership between client and agency/consultant, the more likely everyone will be happy in the end. When I’m talking with a prospect, I look for that partnership and its absence often signals the end of discussions.
It also seems to me that until more companies understand our craft, we’ll continue to be dealing with this issue. The Public Relations Society of America’s Business Case for Public Relations includes a lot of the tools we can use to help tell our story. The resources available include definitions and helpful articles pertaining to the value of public relations and various aspects of public relations pertaining to strategy, measurement and how the craft fits within corporations for maximum effectiveness. The Business Case was initially developed by a committee of industry leaders. Today, PRSA regularly adds to the content using a wide variety of subject matter experts.
Knowing the business case for public relations is only part of the battle. We also need to understand our Code of Ethics and make sure our clients understand its importance to our practice and the profession in general. When working with new clients I like to discuss the Code with them in conjunction with my own professional credentials. This helps them to understand the strategic nature of our business.
Earlier this week, I was contacted about doing some fundraising for an upcoming event. The prospective client and I talked (well, emailed) about the project and discussed rates. Because it was going to be a “decision by committee” some of my danger signs were already evident. However, after learning my rates, the next email asked if there was a correlation between my rate and the amount of money raised or if the client “hoped for the best.”
Because this was a fundraising project, I immediately looked at the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethics where guaranteed results are prohibited. That’s all fine but how do you explain it in a way the prospect can understand. I chose to compare our profession to lawyers and accountants who also charge hourly for their work. I asked the prospect if he would consider asking them to guarantee results in exchange for their fee. He agreed that was a fair question but in the end, we also agreed that the relationship wasn’t the best for both of us for a variety of reasons.
Choosing clients needs to involve mutual respect for each other and a partnership. I know some professionals who work well with guaranteed results but most do not. What has been your experience? How do you handle the question when it’s asked by prospective clients?
November 1, 2011
I started my career with an IBM Selectric typewriter, a telephone and mimeograph machine. So you can imagine how far things have come in my world. In the mid ‘80s we transitioned to computers and transmitting documents via fax machine. Even that seems ages ago. Cell phones were brand new for the average consumer in the very late ‘80s/early ‘90s — and they were enormous and “just” phones. And, yes electronic mail (email) is even newer than that.
So, I’ve had to learn a lot of new things over the years but it’s part of the fun of being a public relations professional. We need to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world. We need to be able to understand and address how new products and trends will affect our clients and organizations.
Blogging is one of those trends that we’ve been watching for a while. I started this blog a bit over a year ago. Toss in social media, add the pressures on traditional media companies and it’s easy to see how blogging has become a way of life/profession for many. Even traditional media professionals have blogs where they extend their own reach and influence beyond the television screen, radio waves or printed newspaper.
Just what is a blog and how is it different from a news story?
It surprises me when I still find myself counseling clients regarding blogs, bloggers and blogging.
According to dictionary.com, a blog is a “website containing the writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.” It’s not a news story from a journalist that has been placed on the website of a traditional news outlet, although many journalists do also blog. Those who comment on news stories on regular blogs are also not bloggers. They are simply people who comment on a news story, and can do so anonymously.
Here’s a sampling of questions and comments I get regularly. I hope you’ll add yours and tell me what you think about the answers:
It’s just a blog, so who cares
The short answer is – you do. But the long answer is that many of today’s bloggers have tremendous reach and influence with their readers. They might even have more influence than traditional media. Look at Gini Dietrich whose public relations/marketing blog garners several hundred comments a day. If I had a product or service that would make communicators’ lives easier, I would certainly include outreach to Gini in my media relations plan. Every profession has a blog that’s a must read. Know who they are. Read them regularly. Cultivate a relationship with the blogger. Leave a comment or 2 or 15.
They don’t check their facts; it’s just opinion
Normally, a client who feels this way has been the subject of someone’s writing they feel was not objective. Sometimes it’s not even on a blog but instead a news story where anonymous comments can be completely free of fact. However, the vast majority of bloggers are well meaning and good intentioned individuals building a community. They can provide valuable access to a business’ customers. Most try their hardest to be factual and will understand if you politely correct their facts.
Bloggers aren’t journalists
According to dictionary.com, a journalist is “a person who practices the occupation or profession of journalism.” So one could assume a blogger isn’t doing this because the traditional definition of journalism (and the first one on dictionary.com) is: “the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.” While that may seem to be a reason to ignore bloggers, it’s important to realize that many people today are getting their information from the Internet. This is especially true of young people, who rarely watch network news or read a newspaper. The fact that a blogger is not a journalist certainly does not mean he/she is not influential. It just means those who are influential are constantly changing.
Do I really have to answer their questions?
This is one of my favorites since you, technically, don’t have to answer a blogger’s questions. But my question back to clients is…why wouldn’t you? Treat a blogger as you would a reporter and afford them the common courtesies you would journalists. Because their blog is likely not as formal a traditional newspaper or news program, many bloggers will freely mention that companies do/do not answer their questions. If you’re interested in building a relationship, answer the questions and see if the blogger has other issues to discuss. If a post is already published and you feel your answer to a follow-up question might be edited, feel free to answer as a comment on the blog. It’s another good way to start the conversation.
What about the comments?
Comments are another place on a blog where you can make/break friendships. It takes a little bit of guts to write that first comment but after a while it’s easy. Think of it as having a conversation with the blogger and the other commenter. Some “commenting systems” such as Livefyre encouraging ongoing conversation in a blog. Test out your comfort with commenting on a website that’s about a hobby or your community…somewhere not controversial. Then when you’re ready, move on to blogs about your organization, profession or company. Of course, once you comment on a blog, subscribe to the comments so you know what others are saying on that particular post. This way you know if someone has responded to your comment.
But won’t they just print “anything”?
The fact is bloggers are not bound by the same code of ethics as journalists, public relations professionals or many other professions. There have been discussions about creating a blogger’s code but the feeling is that those who need the code won’t abide by it anyway. And, in reality, there are very few of them. Further, those who are using their blog as their business or an extension of their business, do adhere to an ethical code for their own profession. It’s important that they do this in order to grow as a business…and a blogger.
So, don’t be afraid. Instead embrace the bloggers in your world. Enjoy their fun side.
November 26, 2010
Note: This is the last in a series of posts about communications and the recent election.
This year’s Alaska Senate race has made headlines across the county as Senator Lisa Murkowski made history as the first to successfully win a write-in campaign since the 1950s. Unfortunately, it also resulted in some headlines Alaskans are a little more chagrined about. From a communications standpoint both issues point directly to the First Amendment of the US Constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Here’s what happened:
US Senate candidate Joe Miller felt he was being unfairly targeted by the press who were investigating his personal life and background (CBS News). So, he told Alaska media after a debate on October 11 that he would no longer answer questions about his personal life. Just six days later, the candidate’s private security guards arrested the editor of a well-known online newspaper at a public event held at an Anchorage public school. The reporter said he wanted to talk with Miller but was not allowed to do so. (Anchorage Daily News)
Is the reporter protected by our Constitution? Should Miller’s private guards have arrested him in a public school? Did he have a right to be there? Did he have a right to ask the questions he wanted asked?
As the election drew near and discussions heated up over how the Division of Elections would interpret voter intent, chatter among Miller’s supporters increased about the need to have those with names similar to “Lisa Murkowski” register as write-in candidates in order to confuse voters and highlight the requirement for Murkowski’s name to be correctly spelled. Write-in candidates could register as late as five days before the November 2 election so chatter especially increased as the day grew near.
On, October 28, the deadline for write-in to register, right wing radio host Dan Fagan focused a good portion of his afternoon radio show on encouraging listeners to register as write-in candidates to confuse voters. He offered his listeners prizes (coffee mug and maybe a trip to Hawaii) for doing so, and especially if their name was close to Murkowski’s. The transcript was later reprinted by the daily newspaper. As a result of Fagan’s actions, about 150 individuals added their name to the write-in ballot. The controversy sparked was intense as many felt the show had crossed a line well beyond free speech by promoting chaos during an election to affect the outcome.
The station took the show off the air the following day. The following Monday, Fagan returned to the air along with his boss to discuss what had happened. Fagan admitted he had over-stepped his bounds.
But…did he? Was it really free speech? Or trying to fix an election? Did Fagan cross a line in using the airwaves to promote his message? Or is this guerilla campaigning at its best?
Earlier: This Election Was Personal For Me
Liar Liar Pants on Fire
Your Mother Would Be Ashamed You Said That
Message of the Day…Seems Simple but not always…