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 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…
November 15, 2010
Note: This is the third in a series of election posts.
Your mom would be ashamed at what you said on Twitter during the election. In fact, if she was like my mom, she’d probably wash your mouth out with soapy water. Welcome to the third in my series of election posts about my experiences with Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign.
A lot has been written about the tone of people’s tweets and the fact many seem to feel they can say anything here without regard to others but I found the examples our group faced during the fall election cycle truly appalling. Some choice examples:
- “Lisa Murkowski said she regrets promising to honor the outcome of the Primary Election…I just regret that she was born.”
- “Legal does not equal right. Murkowski was wrong. She’s running counter to the democratic tradition and she’s an ass for it. “
- “Lisa Murkowski ought to be ashamed of herself. So childish.”
- “I’m trying to decide who I hate, loathe, and despise more: Barbara Boxer or Lisa Murkowski.”
- “Murkowski needs to shut her effing trap.”
There are those who may think this is okay but it seems to me that if this isn’t something you would say out loud and in public, it probably shouldn’t be said on Twitter or Facebook. And, if it is something you would say out loud and in public, maybe it’s time to think about how you interact with others.
It’s really pretty simple:
Do unto others as you wish others to do unto you.
I just have to wonder how the writers of these tweets would feel if someone spoke to them in this manner. As communicators, we have an extra obligation to make sure the words we put out are true. However, it shouldn’t just be communicators who are trying to maintain civil discourse.
Only through listening, respecting each other and working together will we solve the problems in our country and world. Only by caring about each other will we make the sacrifices we need to make in order to move forward and help others. Only by treating each other with the love, trust and compassion we expect from others will we build a better world for our young people.
So the next time you’re ready to launch off on a social network about someone else, take pause. It will likely save everyone embarrassment.
- Type the message and walk away.
- Come back in an hour.
- Only then hit the send button.
You probably won’t send messages like this:
- “Ladies and gentlemen, this woman is a snake.//insulting 2 snakes!”
- “Lisa Murkowski is an entitled sow.”
- “Really? That many people in Alaska can spell Murkowski?”
- “To the Murkowski person who just called my house and said my vote for McAdams was a vote for Miller. SUCK IT!”
- “Lisa Murkowski = the biggest idiot in the world. It is funny bc she lacks “intellectual curiosity” more than anyone. She’s jealous of Palin.”
As mentioned in part two of the series, my responsibility on the campaign included monitoring what others were saying in social media. It was interesting to watch those who disagreed with the majority of Alaskans and didn’t understand our state, trying to tell us what to do. Most mornings we reviewed social media, then discussed the campaign’s messages of the day with the communication team and then returned to another look at social media. A full evaluation through the lens of our strategy oftentimes meant not directly addressing the “antis” on social media.
What we found was most of the messages were originating from a relatively small group of individuals who were not aware of Alaska politics. While they did reach a few in Alaska, the majority of the messages did not have the capacity to affect our campaign. Obviously, we had to carefully and diligently monitor social media to make sure this remained true. As the final votes are counted this week, we’re fairly confident in our strategy. Time is of the essence in social media but sometimes it can be your friend as well.
How do you keep your cool on social media? Check your facts? Address inaccurate messages? Let’s all try to make sure our moms are still proud of all we do.
Earlier: This Election Was Personal For Me
Liar Liar Pants on Fire
Coming next: A Look at Strategy and Tactics…Sticking to the Message
November 10, 2010
Note: This is the second in a series of election posts.
This familiar phrase came to mind several times during this year’s political season. So does the image of Pinocchio’s nose growing in the famous children’s story. Candidates and their supporters often proclaimed outrageous statements without first checking facts. It seems the desire to make noise and create negative attention for an opponent was often more important than accuracy.
All this does is further erode trust in our public officials and the electoral process. Voters want to know why TO vote for someone, or what the person can OFFER. They tire easily when things get negative and especially sensational. Strong political campaigns and candidates tell a story about why the person or initiative will help the audience.
Research shows negative campaigning does work so that’s likely why it’s continuing but it doesn’t really explain why the untruthful campaigning continues. What I don’t think works is lying or embellishing. This is also becoming more of an issue resulting in the growth of websites such as factcheck.org.
Additionally, the tremendous growth in social media since the 2008 campaign means that virtually anyone can call themselves a journalist. Bloggers, candidates or individuals with some influence could send a message that was passed around social media circles in rapid-fire fashion without regard to the truth. As you can imagine, this could be quickly damaging to a candidate.
One of the roles I had on Senator Lisa Murkowski’s campaign was to monitor Twitter and Facebook. It quickly became apparent that individuals outside Alaska were attempting to influence the election through their accusations. One, especially, was so outrageous I won’t give it credence here. However, it was retweeted hundreds of times by the end of the day since the writer was “influential” among a group of conservative voters.
The challenge was in deciding which rumors merited a response taking us away from our strategy and message. Throughout the day, our team monitored traditional and social media to determine if changes in messaging strategy were needed. Interestingly, supporters addressed the vast majority of challenges on our Facebook page while the majority of untruths/rumors on Twitter did not reach most Alaskans.
As a result, we were able to stay mostly on message. What we did do, however, was modify emphasis based on feedback from research, more than from the social media universe. This allowed us to respond to what OUR audience wanted rather than the background noise.
I do feel, however, this may change over time as even more professional journalists turn to social media for information and sources. Just as professional journalists abide by a code of ethics, so should bloggers. Many rules are yet to be written for the free-wheeling community but I don’t believe this means slanderous writings should be left unchallenged. What do you think?
If you just cant’ get enough, check out these references for more midterm lies.
Coming next: Your Mother Would Be Ashamed if She Knew You Said That
February 2, 2010
“Do unto others as you wish others to do unto you.”
I’m sure you remember the Golden Rule. It’s one of the simplest and earliest “rules” I recall being taught by my parents. If you do good things to other people and treat other people well, they will treat you well.
When my boys were little, some of their first words were “please” and “thank you.” They pretty quickly learned if they said them and smiled, they could get things. The reverse was also true and even more quickly learned. It was a simple lesson that stands them in good stead today.
In today’s sound bite and online world, we often forget the power of words and the hurt they can cause. We get things off our chest without thinking about those on the receiving end. It’s time to take a step back and think before we respond. Organize your thoughts and think before you post.
Put yourself in the shoes of the person/company who will receive the message and maybe – or maybe not – hold off on hitting the send button. It’s also important to remember that social media messages are in the public eye so although you may design it for one audience, many more will likely see it and respond.
If we treat those who live and work in our communities with respect, they will respect us and treat us with respect. It may be rather Polyanna-ish but I truly believe it is true. How can we expect others to treat us well if we don’t handle them respectfully too.
This is true in our professional lives as well as our personal lives. If I treat my communication colleagues with respect and help them out, I hope they will also return the favor. It’s worked pretty well for 30 years and I don’t really see that changing. We’ve created a wonderful network of professional development, camaraderie and friendship because of that mutual support.
Chris Brogan had a wonderful post last month where he urged us to deepen our networks and devote two hours each day to strengthening our relationships. Chris’ post is specific to professional relationships but I suggest the same rules apply to your neighborhood, community, family and personal friends.
So, my question for you today is…have you treated those you run across with respect and kindness? What could you/could we all for that matter do to treat others more kindly? How could our respect and love improve the world in which we live? How do your share what you do with others so they can improve themselves? Share your thoughts here and we can build a better world for our children and future generations.
Photo credit: Clover_1