Posts tagged ‘ethics’

Some “Truths” About Public Relations

I often find myself talking about ethics and transparency with young practitioners and with potential clients. Some people, I think, regard such discussions as quaint or even a joke. To me, these are things that set public relations practitioners apart and are necessary to our task of looking out for the long-term reputation of an organization.

Jeff Domansky, APR, publishes a blog called the PR Coach. His column, called “10 PR Truths: How Do You Measure Up”” is aimed at practitioners. But whoever is communicating on behalf of his or her organization should look at these points.

Jeff’s blog post can be seen in its original format at http://www.theprcoach.com/ten-pr-truths-how-do-you-measure-up/ or you can read it below:

Glenn Ferrell wrote a really thoughtful post about the PR profession- Seven Ways to Change the Perception of PR. It got me thinking about truth and truths in PR or any business.

Here’s the reality of public relations. Our profession is constantly under pressure for results. We get slammed by critics from the media, activists and interest groups not to mention consumers and the general public for spinning or even worse, not always telling the truth.

We operate in real time whether it’s crafting a strategy, launching a product, managing a crisis, pitching the media, communicating to employees or responding to customers. When you add social media into the mix, you can go from hero to zero in moments unless you operate with clear fundamentals.

The most successful public relations pros I know get results with integrity and grace despite this challenging environment. I thought about what makes them so successful and came up with 10 PR truths they embrace:

  1. Truth – telling the truth is the foundation for their reputation. Everywhere.
  2. Transparency – disclosure is not an option. It’s a standard.
  3. Trust – they create trust with many, as well as trust others to do their best.
  4. Tell it like it is – the fact is, they deal in facts.
  5. Timeliness – operate with a sense of urgency.
  6. Take action – they lead, they act and they make things happen.
  7. Tell stories – they tell stories that mean something, that resonate and stand out from the crowd.
  8. Take responsibility – they usually share success and take ownership of problems.
  9. Tend to the details – sweating the small stuff is a habit.
  10. Trust your instincts – this is the art of PR. Great instincts come from good experience.

Here are a few favorite quotes about truth worth remembering:

It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.
Mark Twain

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.
Buddha

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
Winston Churchill

Half a truth is often a great lie.
Benjamin Franklin

The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.
Oscar Wilde

Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.
Elvis Presley

Not one of the successful leaders and mentors I know lack any of these 10 important fundamentals. Think about your own PR practices. How do you measure up? The truth is, if you follow these PR truths, you can’t fail! And they would go a long way towards restoring positive perceptions of our profession.

It’s not just the truth, it’s the truths that make the difference.

# # #

What do you think of Jeff’s column? Is it fair to expect your communications representatives to meet these standards?

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August 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Blogging is a great tool for small business owners

If the various ways of communicating and engaging on the Internet has “democratized” (is that really a word?) the media, it also has “equalized” (OK, a little better, but I hate ize words) public relations and business communications. One person really can run a worldwide business out of his or her basement.

While public relations used to be something used only by the largest companies, the craft’s ability to engage people means that small business, whether they know it or not, are engaged in PR. With that in mind, I had a great time the other night meeting with a group of small business owners at the Mendham (NJ) Business Association about blogging. The slides I created and presented are on Slideshare and  you can see them here.

Blogging is a great way to engage your customers, clients and even employees. I found some of the reasons people weren’t blogging interesting:

  •  “I have nothing to say.” Of course you do! You’re a business owner, which means you’re knowledgeable and passionate. You could write every day about your customers, tips on doing whatever it is you do or issues in your field that impact your clients (or customers or whatever you choose to call them).
  •  “I don’t know anything about the Web.”  Sites like WordPress and Blogger make it simple and tell you everything you need to know.
  • I don’t have the time.” So who does? Keeping your posts short is one of the keys to good readership. And if they’re not perfectly composed but the info is interesting, who cares?

Blogging is one of those activities that’s easy and fun. It’s just another habit to develop. We talked about the need to be honest and authentic, but when you’re speaking to business owners in a small town, that’s usually a given.

Let’s watch for some new blogs from businesses in Mendham, N.J.

July 22, 2011 at 8:06 am

I’m accredited for another 3 years — here’s why that’s good

I got a note from the Public Relations Society of America the other day informing me that my accreditation has been renewed. That means I can put that APR thing after my name for the next three years.

The second paragraph of the letter warned me to start collecting continuing education and professional development hours because in 2014, I’m again going to need to show that I’m keeping up with whatever the world is throwing at us.

I get a kick out of all the debates I see on Linked-In and other places about accreditation. All I know is that my father, Norman, was an APR (among the first) and the credential served him well and that it has served me well.

So what do those three initials mean to my clients?

Well, let me start by telling you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that I have any official status that my unaccredited colleagues don’t have. And I readily admit that there are some excellent practitioners out there who, unfortunately, are not accredited. I don’t get to charge clients more for my APR. And I don’t buy the idea that masters degrees in PR have replaced accreditation.

 OK, so it’s nice to put those letters after my name. What does it do for my clients?

Jim Lukaszewski, APR, once told me that APR stood for “accepting personal responsibility.” I told him I was going to steal that line and use it and now I have. But that’s one of the things it means: Clients know that I take responsibility for my professionalism and my behavior.

  • Related to personal responsibility, APR is a pledge to live by the PRSA Code of Ethics and conduct myself accordingly. By extension, it’s a commitment to demand a level of ethical behavior from colleagues and clients. So clients who hire me know that they’ll be treated ethically and that I’ll represent them aggressively, but ethically. They also know that I’ll expect that courtesy returned.
  • Also related to personal responsibility, the APR – and the warning to start piling up new CEUs — is a commitment to professional growth. At my age, it would be easy to coast. Instead, I keep up with developments in my chosen profession. That means I understand social media as well as traditional media. It means I am current with thinking on how the law applies to public relations. And it means I don’t just talk about social media and turn a kid loose to explain it. Instead, I understand it as a tactic and how it fits into a communications strategy.  Clients, then, know they’re getting somebody who understands public relations and communications, and the latest technology and trends in research, communications and measurement, but also has some perspective about how those fit a strategic approach to communications.
  • I enjoy the company my APR puts me in. For clients, that means they get the advantages of a network where I’m usually only a couple of phone calls away from top-notch people to help me accomplish whatever the client needs done.

In short, my APR is a commitment to myself and to my clients to do the best job I can for them. So there’s no debate in my mind that accreditation is good for me and good for my clients.

 Signed: Doug Fenichel–APR

June 14, 2011 at 11:38 am

Will charging to read the news change how we pitch story ideas?

More and more newspapers are considering bolstering their financials by charging readers for content, according to an article posted last week in American Journalism Review.  The article discusses the dilemma from a publisher’s point of view, but I can’t help wondering what it means for those of us working with reporters and editors to tell our clients’ stories.

 Reporter Cary Spivak, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, says some papers are charging for all of their content, others are using a meter system and others charge for special stories. Spivak also says some of their content will continue to be available without charge.

How will this change the way a reporter or editor evaluates information we give them? Will publications skew their news coverage by making available more stories that people will pay for, rather than stories that have important political and social impact? Will they ignore stories that might not be as exciting or that don’t sell as well as others?  Will they look for spokesperson stars (“spokestars”?) instead of quotable, knowledgeable people?

If any of these answers are affirmative, it could mean we will have to change how we develop and pitch story ideas. Perhaps we will have to put reputation and point of view in the backseat behind sellability.  Or maybe we will have to pick our spokespeople based on star-ability rather than credibility. 

This is a scenario that could have grave consequences for our profession and our democracy. Of course, if we’re doing our jobs well now, our spokespeople are knowledge and well-spoken and, if we’re lucky, approaching spokestar quality. The stories we’re pitching should be developed to not only present our point of view and bolster our clients’ reputations, but to be exciting, full of information and something that should help a reporter tell a story others will want to read, even if they have to pay for it.

But the idea of stories being judged on their ability to get people to open their wallets instead of their minds gives me pause. What do you think?

February 27, 2011 at 5:10 pm 4 comments

“We’ve communicated enough” means you’re not communicating at all

At what point does an organization get to say it has “communicated enough?”

I sat in a meeting last night of an organization of which I’m a new trustee. After a member came before us and asked for more transparency, I asked how we communicated the proceedings of our board meetings. Members were shocked that anyone would want to do that. Further questions about communicating with members were met by exasperation.

Any member can come before this group to tell us what’s on their mind, one member said. We tell them what’s going on through the newsletter, said another. Yes, said a third, and we have the Web site and we do email blasts.

“We communicate enough,” declared one to nods of affirmation around the table. “If members don’t know what’s going on, shame on them!”

How many organizations and executives feel that way? We continue to see that people demand that the organizations that serve them be more engaged and responsive to them. And we continue to see executives and leader boards regard silence and indifference as endorsement.

I would argue that if the directors of the organization I spoke of were managers of a company, and engagement was being measured by sales, the whole board would be rightfully fired.

The new management team that replaced them would not accept the argument that “we’ve communicated enough.” If people aren’t responding to newsletters, Web sites and emails, then those newsletters, Web sites and emails clearly aren’t communicating. This is one of those areas where good, old-fashioned communications strategy is still important. Yes, that group is using social media, but social media is just a tool, like the newsletter. Perhaps they’re the wrong tools. Or perhaps they’re not being used right.

The new board would try new tactics until they started making sales – in this case, engaging in conversation with customers, or more accurately, members.

Carrying on conversations, mining them for information and counseling executives how to react is what public relations people do. With that information, public relations can people can improve an organization’s reputation and standing in whatever community it exists. That results in sales, support, membership…whatever that organization needs.  It’s not about any kind of specific tactic, it’s about achieving that conversation and from it, better understanding of the organization’s place and where it needs to go to achieve its goals. And that, you’ll notice, has nothing to do with social media.

The moment an executive – or a member of leadership board – says they’ve communicated enough and it’s the target audience’s fault for not participating, it’s the beginning of the end.

It seems to me that no organization that wishes to grow and thrive can ever say it’s communicated enough. Even after it’s acheived full engagement, there are new stories to tell and new concerns to hear about and respond to. Making leaders understand that is also seems to be a never-ending task.

November 9, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Fake reviews hurt every PR practitioner

Special thanks go out to Reverb Communications for apparently allowing its staff to post fake reviews, thus making my job and that of every other ethical pubic relations practitioner that much harder.

According to an article (http://tinyurl.com/2dcuood)  in the Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog,  Reverb agreed “to settle with the FTC over charges that its staff posed as members of the public to fake reviews of video games developed by its clients. The company and its owner were accused of engaging in deceptive advertising by having staff post game reviews without disclosing that they were hired to promote the games and that they often received a percentage of sales.”

For a minute, put aside the fact that no company wants to tangle with a federal agency. The Code of Ethics of the Public Relations Society of America ( http://tinyurl.com/yfp2ean) is pretty specific about this sort of thing. “We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public,” it says. One of the guidelines says a member shall “be honest and accurate in all communications.” Another says that a practitioner shall “be honest and accurate in all communications,” “reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented,” “disclose financial interest in a client’s organization” and “avoid deceptive practices.”

Do I need to burn pixels explaining those things in terms of not disclosing that you’re getting paid to write good reviews? PRSA member or not, do I need to burn more pixels explaining how damaging this is to the credibility of that public relations firm, its clients (all of them) and, by extension, everyone one of us who acts as a counselor on matters of public relations.

One of my jobs is to gather advertorials by customers. It’s the fun part of my job because these are all people who have purchased a home and they love the home. We don’t pay these people. We don’t allow our associates to do advertorials unless we disclose they are associates. And we never make up the people, although it’s been suggested.

But the next time I go into a meeting, and someone tells me to make up a homeowner or pay a homeowner to give a specific message, and I tell them it’s unethical and illegal, what’s to stop them from waving Reverb’s efforts in front of me?

Reverb says its staff posted the reviews after purchasing the games with their own money and the reviews reflected their own enthusiasm. Sorry. Doesn’t wash: Working ethically is an individual act, albeit made easier in a culture of ethical behavior. So if your people are working unethically, Reverb and anyone else thinking of taking this stand, it’s because you’re failing to educate them and failing to demand high ethical standards.

The Bulldog Reporter quotes Mary Engle, director of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices as saying, “Companies, including public relations firms involved in online marketing, need to abide by the long-held principles of truth in advertising. Advertisers should not pass themselves off as ordinary consumers touting a product, and endorsers should make it clear when they have financial connections to sellers.”

Those rules of law apply to all of us who offer an opinion – ours or a customer’s – to the public as a way of positioning our clients. To me, though, the impact of the PRSA Code of Ethics is even more important: It’s about keeping communications and dialog open, credible and truthful. When you’re talking about a product, you’re talking about reputation and sales.

Important stuff. But take this tactic to the next step, and you may be taking about issues that pertain to the very foundation of democracy.

August 30, 2010 at 5:01 pm 4 comments

My Turn: NYC Mosque Debate Has Some Scary Implications for PR

I’ve been watching the debate over the NYC mosque with increasing frustration and disgust, exacerbated by news reports that people think that Pres. Barrack Obama is a Muslim and that his own church-going habits aren’t real.

 Who cares? Is he doing the right thing for the country?

 The whole mosque debate is absurd. If the zoning laws are OK with it, there is no reason that a group of Muslims can’t worship wherever they please, providing the State and City of New York has no legitimate reason for them not to.  This racially motivated attempt to block the mosque belongs in Selma, Ala., circa 1960, not here and now. We’re playing into the hands of Islamic and American Right Wing extremists.

As a PR guy, this has other scary overtones. Decision-making in a democracy is supposed to be about the intelligent exchange of ideas (stop laughing). Over the past few years, discussion, ethics and facts have been replaced with volume and innuendo. He who shouts loudest must be right. So those who aren’t so sure go along, making the volume higher. Reason, facts and morality get drowned out and we make dumb decisions. It’s plain scary.

While the mosque debate may be the loudest argument going on, it’s far from the only one. Many good public servants are finding themselves unemployed by groups using these tactics.

As a public relations person for a homebuilder, I see this tactic used regularly, if at a lower volume. The combination of statements at meetings and letters to the editor (had one the other day that talked about “all the government studies” – yeah? Show them to me!) are basically the same tactic. I’ve seen again and again opponents who don’t know the facts yell or write half truths and innuendos until the volume reaches  the point where it defeats sound judgment and, in some cases, the law. There’s oil leaching into one of New Jersey’s bays from a town that went that route rather than work with us.

I keep thinking of a profound line in Men In Black: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.” This latest trend of opinion influencing leverages that.  The media – traditional and social – exacerbates the problem, sometimes for readership, sometimes because reporters are caught up in it.

While we have to master the latest technology, maybe its time to also apply the original social media: community meetings, personal letters and other individual contact with persons. A person might listen and make a wise judgement. People, apparently, tend not to.  Who, for instance, is the face of New York City mosque? Perhaps if it had one, we’d be less afraid of it.

What do you think?

August 24, 2010 at 11:28 am

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