bridgebuzz blog

Public Relations Ethics: Who Decides What's Right and Wrong?

Posted on Tue, Jan 29, 2013

A lot of what we learned as children has turned out to be misinformation. Not only have the facts changed, many standard right and wrong ways of doing things have also evolved over time.  Both science and language are examples of how right and wrong have changed over time.My grandparents were taught in school (probably around 1910) that there are eight planets. However, in 1930, Pluto was discovered and added as the ninth planet.  But what my grandparents learned in school turned out to be correct after all (at least for now), since scientists agreed in 2006 after years of debate that Pluto really did not meet the criteria for a planet. It was reclassified as a dwarf planet and plutoid (also called an ice dwarf).
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Tags: Public Relations, Reputation Management, PR Ethics

Advance Approval of Interview Quotes: a Self-Destructive Media Policy

Posted on Wed, Sep 19, 2012

We’ve all been there: despite training and practice, the CEO blows a good media coverage opportunity by saying the wrong thing to a reporter, and neglects to say what should have been said to communicate the company’s key messages. We all want to see the best possible media portrayal of our companies, or clients' companies, and there are times we’d love to rewind the interview to answer differently.

We’re finding out that within the political realm, this is indeed possible. It came out this summer that the staffs of both Presidential candidates have refused to grant media interviews with the candidates, their wives and their key aides unless the media outlet would agree to submitting the quotes used from the interview to the campaign staff for approval. Big influential media outlets like the New York Times have been acceding to this demand.
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Tags: Public Relations, Reputation Management, PR Ethics, Media Relations

For Some, Earning Experience Isn't Enough

Posted on Fri, Aug 17, 2012

Bridge Global Strategies had the pleasure of working with summer intern Jennifer Mulligan for the past three months, and we're very sorry to see her go - she starts her senior year at the University of Michigan in a few days. Today, her last day, she wrote a blog post about a topic that's hotly debated in the PR industry: unpaid internships.  According to a May 5th article in the New York Times, unpaid internships have been standard for a long time in the film and non-profit worlds, but with high unemployment rates, they're now are very common in public relations, marketing and advertising, fashion, publishing, at art galleries and talent agencies and even at some law firms. Here's what our own intern thinks about the subject.

Former Fox Media Group interns Alex Footman and Eric Glatt filed a lawsuit against their former employer in October 2011 for violating employee compensation laws; they alleged their internships failed to meet The United States Department of Labor requirements for unpaid internships. While unpaid internships are a common practice, this lawsuit
has opened up for debate whether or not this practice is ethical. What about the students who cannot afford to accept unpaid internships because they’re already struggling to pay tuition, or their parents cannot support them financially? Should companies only offer paid internships, or can unpaid internships be beneficial?

Any experience is better than no experience. That is what employers and career counselors have pushed at us college students for years. They tell us completing unpaid internships that give us relevant work experience will help us find full-time positions better than baby-sitting or bussing tables. They tell us this as we watch our student loans grow ominously (but that’s an issue for another time). Some tell us having a well-known company on our resume is better than a smaller one, but these recognizable companies tend neither to pay nor teach as well. We also don’t think we can negotiate a salary with these competitive positions. With the tough economy and more college graduates, we are willing to do anything to set ourselves up for success.

For the record, my internship here is paid; however, I have completed previous unpaid internships. I took previous positions for many of the reasons outlined above, and I am lucky to say that I learned a great deal and rarely did menial work. My paid internship, however, is the best of both worlds for me. Not only am I paid (not a lot, but it’s better than nothing); I am able to apply the concepts I learned from school into the workforce and receive training on PR procedures and programs that I can take with me elsewhere. I feel more a part of a team than a burden as a paid intern. Interning at this small firm has not given my resume name-recognition, but my portfolio has certainly benefitted. My hands are in everything at the firm including drafting press releases, participating in client meetings, pitching media, social media management, creating media lists and more. Plus, I work directly with the CEO daily. I would not have half of these experiences at a larger firm.

 With all this said, I do believe that some experience is better than none. If you can get a paid internship, great! But don’t turn down an unpaid internship if it will benefit you.

Here's a checklist of things to consider before compensation when choosing an internship:

    • Is the position in your intended field?
    • What skills will you develop?
    • What will your responsibilities include?
    • How often will you have contact with your supervisor and more senior managers?
    • Will this lead to a job offer or career?
    • Will you gain connections or mentors from this opportunity?
    • How does the size of the firm impact your resume?
    • Is it practical for you to commute to this firm?
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Tags: Internships, Public Relations, PR Ethics

Public Relations Society of America's Terrible PR

Posted on Fri, Oct 21, 2011

I'm embarrassed by the totally unprofessional, unethical and childish behavior this week of the so-called leaders of my profession, the board and staff of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

I've been a PRSA member for many years and have paid dues and event fees for employees who've wanted to participate (something that most large agencies don't do any more - score another point for PR boutiques). This week PRSA is holding its annual convention, and the organization has been all over the industry news - not due to the program, but because of its discrimination against one industry journalist, Jack O'Dwyer, publisher and editor-in-chief of the eponymous Jack O'Dwyers Newsletter.

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Tags: Public Relations, PR Ethics

PR Ethics: Is There a Right to PR?

Posted on Tue, Oct 18, 2011

Does every organization deserve PR? My answer: No, but

This has been debated in the public relations industry for many years. Some feel that just as everyone has a right to legal counsel, organizations have a right to PR counsel (even the governments of countries such as Iran and Qaddafi-ledLibya). Others disagree on the grounds that it’s morally wrong to provide bad guys like Qaddafi with the tools of persuasion we can offer. I don’t believe everyone has a right to PR. But the line between those who don’t deserve PR for ethical reasons and those who do isn’t always a clear one.

I just read an article published by the conservative American think tank, The Heritage Foundation, chastising the U.S. State Department for conducting an information campaign aimed at American students.  When it comes to doing PR for the U.S., the State Department by law is only allowed to target people outside the U.S., and communications aimed at U.S. citizens is forbidden. The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 actually prohibits this for convoluted and complex reasons that are now being questioned in Congress.

I find it ironic that an important branch of our own government is denied the right to public relations outreach to U.S.citizens when foreign countries have that right. Among those exercising that right (by hiring U.S. lobbyists and/or public relations professionals) are Afghanistan, Iran, Russia (with no fewer than eight lobbying and PR organizations on its payroll, including Ketchum) and China (which has 11 on its payroll, including DDB Worldwide Communications Group, and Brown, Lloyd James, the PR company that once represented Libya).

Just after 9/11, the World Economic Forum (WEF) decided to move its annual meeting usually held in Davos to New York, to support the city. I was working at Publicis at that time and the company, which represents WEF, had the monumental task of moving a meeting with thousands of participants with a just a couple of month’s notice.  Publicis in New York was asked to help. My group was given responsibility for handling public relations for a delegation to the conference from the Council for Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry.  Because Osama bin Ladin and all but one of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, sentiment here was extremely hostile towards the country and its people, and the Council’s goal was to improve American attitudes towards the Saudi Arabian business community.  My team was charged with setting up interviews for members of the delegation with national business media and leaders of the business community, and arranging speaking engagements.

Since it wasn’t fair to blame the acts of Al Qaida on the entire Saudi business community, I felt the Council had a right to be heard in the U.S.  I put aside my own feelings about 9/11, and about Saudi statements on Israel and Jews over many years, and worked with the Council.

I’ve represented several other clients over the years that were considered morally repugnant by most people.

One was a company on the verge of bankruptcy due to extreme wrong-doing by several senior executives. People were dying because these executives had approved the sale of a product they knew to be harmful. We took on this client because the thousands of employees at the company who had nothing to do with the incident were in danger not only of losing their jobs but also of not finding new ones because of their association with the company. In addition, we realized that if the company went bankrupt, it wouldn’t be able to pay court-ordered damages to victims. Our work wasn’t intended to whitewash the executives’ crimes, it was geared towards the economic survival of the company so it could meet its obligations.

I would never force an employee to work with a client if it violated her personal values. We each have to follow our own moral compass.

Occasionally I hear about PR firms taking on assignments to “rebrand” terrorist or totalitarian countries, including organizations that are known to engage in mass murder or torture. I would never work with clients of that kind. I won’t be put in a position where my skills are being used to exonerate wrong-doing. Those who accept such assignments find ways to rationalize their decisions, but I couldn’t.

By: Lucy Siegel
Bridge Global Strategies
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Tags: Public Relations, PR Ethics

Six Things Many PR Firms Won't Tell You

Posted on Tue, Aug 16, 2011

When they’re trying to get your business, many PR companies will not tell you that:

1)      Your company may be better off spending a very limited budget on another form of communications (such as direct marketing or online advertising) instead of hiring you. PR is not always the best solution to meet communications needs.
2)      They don’t actually have media contacts in your area.  Media contacts are ephemeral these days, with the high rate of layoffs in the journalism world. Chances are high that half the journalists a PR person has worked with in the recent past are no longer with the same media outlet, and/or may not be covering the same area. Agencies use media databases to find the right journalists to target, anyway, and personal contacts among journalists are overrated. Either you have something worthy of being covered (and it doesn’t matter if you have contacts because the media will respond whether they know you or not), or you don’t (and contacts are unlikely to help because the media won’t cover something with no news value whether they know you or not).

3)      What you want them to do is really not what you need from them. Clients should look to PR companies who will consult with them and develop strategies, rather than just do as they’re told. After all, aren’t you paying for expertise?

4)      Your expectations and goals for PR are too high. Of course you think your company and products are media- and buzz-worthy, but it’s very hard for you to be objective. It’s not at all unusual to hear a prospective client say, “We want to be in the
Wall Street Journal [or on the ‘Today’ Show, or to create a record-breaking buzz about our product on Facebook]. It’s certainly possible even for startups and small companies to reach that kind of goal, but it’s not probable. Rather than managing your expectations from the outset, some PR firms will keep quiet and not tell you that kind of exposure may be very unlikely for your company. They figure they’ll educate you after you’ve signed the contract.

5)      You don’t have enough budget to “move the needle.” In every situation, there’s a minimum amount of budget that’s necessary to get good PR results. Rather than telling you that you’re budget is inadequate, some PR companies will take whatever you can pay for as long as you’ll pay it, until you realize that you’re not getting the results you need. This isn’t a smart way to do business, because the client will assume that it’s the agency’s inadequacy that’s to blame, and not their own lack of resources.

6)      Your company has to spend time and effort working with the PR firm to make a success of PR. For starters, the agency PR team has to be briefed thoroughly on a regular basis.  It isn’t possible for an agency to do great PR for your company if your executives won’t make themselves available for interviews, or don’t get back to the agency in a timely way to answer media questions.

By: Lucy Siegel
Bridge Global Strategies
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Tags: Public Relations, PR for Startups, PR Ethics

Gold Nuggets: Short Reads I Recommend About Communications & Marketing

Posted on Wed, May 18, 2011

I am passing along to you some of the blog posts and articles I’ve read recently that have made me think, “I wish I had written that!” If you have time to try a couple of these links, please share your thoughts in the comment section.

The Atlantic:Google Doesn’t Laugh: Saving Witty Headlines in the Age of SEO” Alas, search engine optimization has made editors re-think the use of clever, catchy news headlines.

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Tags: Marketing Communications, Public Relations, PR Ethics, Communications Strategy

Eight Myths About PR (Truth or Consequences)

Posted on Mon, Feb 07, 2011

When I was a kid, there was a TV game show called "Truth or Consequences." The host  asked the guests trivia questions, and if they failed to answer correctly, they would have to pay the consequences, involving embarrassing stunts. In business, as on this old game show, there can be painful consequences for not knowing the truth. Executives at start-ups and from overseas at foreign companies are particularly vulnerable to these myths. So, in an effort to spare some of you from suffering the consequences, just call me Myth-buster, to the rescue, with some important truths about PR.

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Tags: Public Relations, PR Ethics, Digital/Social Media

Six Reasons PR Firms Get Fired

Posted on Tue, Oct 26, 2010

Even though I've been in a PR agency for quite a few years, I still remember what it was like to be responsible for agency activities within a corporation. That experience gives me a little insight into clients’ pet peeves about their agencies.  Senior PR agency managers are generally pretty savvy from long experience about what not to do. But not everyone in their organizations has the experience - or the training - to know.  For their sake, here are some tried and true ways that public relations agencies and their account teams put their client relationships at risk. 

 Agencies get fired for:
1. Not managing the client's expectations.  Often this happens because the agency over-promises to win an account.  This may help win new business, but it usually results in trouble and leads to frequent client turnover for an agency.

2. Allowing the lines between business and friendship to become blurry in the client relationship. The relationship, no matter how friendly, is rooted in business.   When the team members forget this, problems can develop that can lead to bad feelings on both sides.

3. Providing unrealistic budgets and then exceeding them.

4. Disappearing for weeks at a time without making contact with the client. Even if the agency is working diligently on its own, clients want progress reports.

5. Shoddy writing that is poorly organized and has grammatical or spelling errors, or factual mistakes because the writer hasn’t bothered to pay attention to details.  Either the client has to spend valuable time editing or re-writing, or throw it back to the agency to be re-done. A frequent complaint we hear about “the last agency” is that the account team had poor writing skills and/or produced sloppily written materials.

6. Not measuring results. If the client isn't given a ruler to measure the agency's performance, then the agency sets itself up to have the results questioned. And the client has nothing to show top management to justify budget requests.

Some of these are so obviously destructive that it's hard to understand why agencies aren’t vigilant in preventing them. And yet they happen over and over again.  Agency management usually does know that certain types of behavior ask for trouble, but knowing it is one thing; preventing or eliminating it is much harder.

Great agency management and sound ethics should result in long-term client relationships.  However, sometimes agencies lose clients even when everything is going well, through budget cuts or changes in a company's needs.  It's a tough business, but I wouldn't choose any other!

By: Lucy Siegel
Bridge Global Strategies
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Tags: Public Relations, PR Ethics, Measurement

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