Making the News: The Rise of the Crowd

On Tuesday, September 15, GFW PRSA members Tracy Syler-Jones and Richie Escovedo provided a session for the chapter’s Education Special Interest Group.

Making the News: The Rise of the Crowd

Tracy Syler-Jones (@TracySJ) – Vice Chancellor of Marketing and Communication at TCU
Richie Escovedo (@vedo) – Media and Communication Development at Mansfield ISD

Today’s supercharged communication world presents numerous challenges for communicators. In the recent past, one could rely on traditional media to pass along news and information that could reach, and hopefully, influence the masses.

However, a shrinking number of reporters means communicators must learn how to effectively utilize, integrate and manage social networking and new media tools to remain visible and connected with key audiences. Learn more about the role the crowd plays in pushing your message along and how to tap into that energy.

Additional links promised to attendees:

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Understanding organizational ethics: How PR professionals can steer a safe course

Through the Looking GlassImage by clspeace via Flickr

From PRSA’s Public Relations Tactics, Vol. 19, Issue 9/September 2009

By Linda Ld Jacobson, APR

Ponzi schemes, bank failures and million-dollar bonuses. The public barometer of trust in U.S. corporations measured a frail 38 percent for informed publics, aged 35 to 64, according to a StrategyOne survey in December 2008. Public backlash ballooned, erupting against those companies guided by a moral compass different from that of Main Street.
Under this public scrutiny, how can PR professionals assess whether an organization is steering an ethical course? And what strategies can PR pros implement if they find an enemy from within?

The Looking Glass

As a first step to understanding an organization’s ethics, PR professionals can perform a “looking glass” exercise that allows them to view an organization’s actions from two different moral perspectives, utilitarianism and communitarianism. In a utilitarian model, an organization stresses positive outcomes that produce the greatest good for the largest number of stakeholders, placing a priority on consequences. A communitarian ethic balances individual freedoms and social responsibility so that an organization’s decisions result from values expressed by its stakeholders.
To perform the exercise, focus both utilitarian and communitarian lenses on a particular corporate action, using PRSA member values: advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty and fairness. Prioritize these values first within one model, then the other.
Jacque Lambiase, associate professor of strategic communications at Texas Christian University, uses this exercise to illustrate how the same values can produce very different outcomes. She says that objectively gauging corporate ethics is helpful for pros in the middle of a crisis or for those who experience a disconnect between corporate policy and corporate actions.

Red Flags

Unfortunately, when organizations begin to stray from an ethical course, PR pros aren’t always able to pinpoint the departure. But certain red flags can signal shifts in a company’s moral compass:
1. The organization’s decisions reflect an absence or low priority on ethics. Many organizations say that integrity is a core value, but the real test is whether the C-level emphasizes that value and demonstrates that behavior.
At American Airlines, Charley Wilson, managing director, external communications and international advertising, says that during a recent crisis, the airline’s CEO requested that a customer’s family receive the first communication, one of sympathy, before making any statement. That type of ethical leadership powerfully impresses employees. Indeed, a 2007 Deloitte & Touche Ethics and Workplace Survey revealed that 42 percent of employees believe that management’s behavior positively impacts organizational ethics. “We require our team to adhere to the airline’s standards of conduct, but nothing beats a leader who walks the talk,” says Wilson.
2. The organization does not show an overt commitment to ethics. Just because an organization says it is ethical does not mean it acts ethically. Ask these questions: Does the company corporately abide by a code of ethics? Are its values taken seriously internally? Is there infrastructure to support ethics or ethics compliance? Internally, does the company encourage open communications?
Reace Alvarenga Smith, APR, PR manager for Texas Health Resources, says that her organization places special emphasis on the company’s code of conduct, known as their company’s promise. “We provide monthly training sessions on what our promise means and behaviors we expect from employees,” Smith says. “Our promise gives us a filter by which we make all our corporate decisions and foster open discussions.”
Recent research undertaken by Jinae Kang, a doctoral student at The University of Alabama, reinforces PR perceptions of ethical practice in an open communications structure.
3. The organization lacks a robust fact-checking and approval process. PR professionals most often work collaboratively or cross-functionally when crafting communications. This means that attorneys, executives or coworkers review documents for factual errors or suggestions. If this process is absent, that indicates lax oversight. Wilson says that the airline’s Corporate Communications team complies with both the letter and the spirit of the law. If an issue arises, leaders at the company guide discussions, but decisions are rarely made in a vacuum.
4. The organization shifts responsibility. Lambiase points to an example in 2007 when a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo killed a visitor. “In addition to releasing incorrect information, the zoo director maligned the victim rather than focusing on the zoo’s responsibility to keep the public safe.” When things go wrong, ask yourself and your team whether the organization looks at its own role or assigns blame to others.

Ethics Strategies

PR pros who find themselves working with or for an unethical organization can employ a number of strategies, according to Dr. Karla Gower, director of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations:

  • Arm yourself with knowledge. Know the laws and regulations that concern the organization’s industry, especially laws dealing with communications. Be able to discern if something is seriously amiss with a company’s financial statements.
  • Prepare for a variety of crisis situations now. Once a crisis occurs, there is more potential for the legal response to take over at the expense of public relations. Gain buy-in now on the priorities for making appropriate and sensitive messages.
  • Trust your instincts. Don’t blindly accept assignments. Ask questions!
  • Begin a campaign for ethics. Occupy the role of ethics counselor, and campaign for the organization to adopt ethical practices.

What if the PR professional continues to grapple with conflicts or meets extreme resistance? Gower says it may be time to end the relationship. “It’s never easy to walk away from a job, especially in this economy, but at the end of the day all you have is your integrity,” she says. “You won’t get any thanks for staying loyal to an unethical company, not even when you end up taking the fall for others.”


Linda Ld Jacobson, APR, is the principal of Que Public Relations and an instructor of PR ethics at The University of North Texas. She can be reached at ljacobson@quepr.com or via Twitter @LindaJacobson.

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Wrestling with Ethical Dilemmas

Cafe Terrace at NightImage via Wikipedia

by Margaret Ritsch

I’m chair of the ethics committee for the Greater Fort Worth Chapter PRSA (Public Relations Society of America). My big responsibility, and really my only responsibility in this volunteer position, is to put together a program focused on ethics in the fall.

All along I have wanted this program to be highly interactive — to really challenge us to carefully think through situations we face everyday in our profession that call into question our values and ethics. Now it’s just around the corner and I’m very excited!

On Wednesday, Sept. 9, we will run a full morning and lunch program with guest speaker Alan Hilburg called “Building a Recession-Proof Brand Communications Strategy Through Ethical Decision-Making.”

We’re asking everyone who plans to attend to be prepared to think through — and share — real situations and challenging questions.

We will work in small groups of four, following a conversational process that Hilburg helped develop called “World Cafe.” Sounds cool, huh? Brings to mind a little cafe on the River Gauche, smoke wafting from your Gauloises as you rereading your Camus and gaze at the stylish passers-by …. Back to Fort Worth. The program will be held at the Petroleum Club in our usual 39th floor setting overlooking the city.

Here’s Hilburg’s description of World Café:

“a conversational process based on a set of integrated design principles that reveal a deeper living network pattern through which we co-evolve our collective future. As a conversational process, the World Café is an innovative yet simple methodology for hosting conversations about questions that matter. These conversations link and build on each other as people move between groups, cross-pollinate ideas, and discover new insights into the questions or issues that are most important in their life, work, or community. As a process, the World Café can evoke and make visible the collective intelligence of any group, thus increasing people’s capacity for effective action in pursuit of common aims.

❧ Seat four or five people at small Café-style tables or in conversation clusters.
❧ Set up progressive (usually two) rounds of conversation of approximately 20 minutes each.
❧ Questions or issues will focus on ethics, ethical judgment and ethical decisions in life, work or community
❧ Each table has a host. Both table hosts and members to write, doodle and draw key ideas on their tablecloths or to note key ideas on large index cards or placemats in the center of the group.
❧ Upon completing the initial round of conversation, one person remains at the table as the “host” while the others serve as travelers or “ambassadors of meaning.” The travelers carry key ideas, themes and questions into their new conversations.
❧ Ask the table host to welcome the new guests and briefly share the main ideas, themes and questions of the initial conversation. Encourage guests to link and connect ideas coming from their previous table conversations—listening carefully and building on each other’s contributions.
❧ By providing opportunities for people to move in several rounds of conversation, ideas, questions, and themes begin to link and connect. At the end of the second round, all of the tables or conversation clusters in the room will be cross-pollinated with insights from prior conversations.
❧ In the third round of conversation, a new question is posed to deepen the exploration of the focus and again participants switch tables to synthesize their discoveries .

Round One Questions:
1. Write a definition of what constitutes unethical communications?
2. What is poor ethical judgment?

Round Two Questions:
1. What are examples of unethical language?
2. What contributes to unethical behavior?

Round Three Questions:
1. Describe the most unethical business situation you are aware of?
2. What are your most significant barriers to maintaining your own values when confronting unethical business situations?

Round Four Questions:
1. If you were going to create a PRSA Code of Ethical Communications, what would be the three most important elements of that work?
2. What are the greatest challenges in getting this Code adopted?

Please join us for this important, engaging learning opportunity at the Petroleum Club! The program begins at 9 a.m.; breakfast and networking at 8:30 a.m. Find out more and register at www.fortworthprsa.org.

More about the speaker:

Alan Hilburg, president and CEO of Hilburg Associates, is an award winning author, filmmaker, teacher and senior advisor in organizational transition communications and marketing. Now based in Northern Virginia, Hilburg lived in the DFW for many years when he served as president of the former Bloom Co. Hilberg is perhaps best known for his leadership, for over 30 years, as one of the world’s leading strategic institutional branding counselors assisting senior executive teams and boards of directors survive organizational transitions (crisis, litigation and the introduction and socialization of principles of values-based decision-making) while maintaining the continuity of their institutional brand objectives.Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Public relations being hurt by public’s cynicism about business

There were more than a few cringe-inducing moments in last night’s diatribe against public relations on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC. It is illustrative of the populist sentiments of the moment fueled by the tsunami of bad economic news and unfortunate business practices.

I hear and understand what Ms. Maddow and others who are raising their voices in criticism of investing in PR are saying. She is not alone by any stretch. Chicago Mayor Richard Daily thisweek took steps to cancel 11 PR contracts with the city. His administration had come under criticism for wasteful spending and PR was the poster child.

It is important that we as a profession listen to these scathing critiques. It is clear that there is a difference between what we believe we do and what the public believes we do. That is a fact.

So what did Rachel say? Take a look:

 

Rachel Maddow does her best impression
of Keith Olberman

Well, at least I’m not part of Burson-Marsteller! I’m sure they didn’t like to see their brand linked to virtually every bad thing that’s happened in this decade.

Michael Cherenson, who heads the national board of the Public Relations Society of America has written on this subject as well in his post, “An Ill-Considered View of AIG and Public Relations,” on the PRSAY blog.

“I…doubt very seriously that AIG is engaging public relations firms to soothe the taxpayers’ souls, or portray the company as just another innocent victim in the current economic meltdown. My guess, as it would be in any crisis, is that the reputable and highly qualified public relations firms working on AIG’s behalf are tasked with explaining what happened, what AIG is doing to fix it, why such steps will be effective, and why those steps will prevent future such occurrences. Only then can the process of rebuilding AIG shattered image begin.”

Even with the laundry list of “evil” that Maddow read, public relations can play an important role — not in seeking to manipulate or distract attention — but in helping an organization understand how it needs to change in order to rebuild trust. We help organizations align what they do with what they say they do. And we provide a clear understanding of what the public wants and needs from them so they can make the necessary adjustments in their attitudes and behaviors.

In times of trouble, organizations have a tendency to turn inward, which is almost never in the best interests of their communities. Public relations can be a catalyst for positive change and greater openness. How do we get that point across in an era of growing cynicism and distrust?

The Nuts and Bolts of Twitter Presentation

This is cross-posted from the Next Communications blog:

Here is the Twitter presentation for the Best of the Southwest Communicators Conference. The conference was put on by the Texas Public Relations Association and PRSA Southwest District.

As promised to the attendees, here is the presentation:The Nuts and Bolts of Twitter

The session went well. Unfortunately, we got a little side tracked a few times and the timing was a little off. I hope the attendees take a moment or two and check out the final few slides. Thanks go to my partner in crime and co-presenter, Terry Morawski. I would also like to extend a special thanks to our volunteer from the session (@mayday08) who set up her profile live for the group to see.

Let me know what you think especially if you were able to attend the session.

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