Public Relations: Training Your Ethical Mind


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Public relations professionals face a variety of ethical issues every day. Frequently they do not have the time to examine all sides of the issues. How can PR professionals, agencies and other communications professionals train their ethical mind to make the right call, even under time pressure. What are 10 common types of failure? How is social media changing the dynamic?

This presentation was first given at the 2012 PRCA Conference in Hunstville, AL

Published in: Business, Technology

Public Relations: Training Your Ethical Mind

  1. 1. TRAINING YOUR ETHICAL MIND#PRCA12Mark W. McClennan, APRSenior Vice President, Schwartz MSLNational Board of Directors,
  2. 2. Four Golden Rules of Ethics Today  Be transparent  Accept you have lost control  Be ever vigilant  The curtain (and safety net) is gone 1
  3. 3. Ptching - Prioritizing  You’ve found them, how do you determine which ones matter    Character Remember CAIT Use the MAP Focus on those with the most relevance and that arewhat you by in the dark is linked to are other blogs  Each requires a subtly different approach Dwight Moody and Buckaroo Banzai 2
  4. 4. “Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’spresent, nobody really notices. But whenit’s absent, everybody notices.” -- Warren Buffett Slide Source: Michael G. Cherenson, APR, Oct. 2008 3
  5. 5. Trust Matters If a company loses trust  76% of people say they simply stop buying the product If a company earns consumer trust  42% will buy more products  54% will recommend the product to others UK Consumer Trust Index 4
  6. 6. People are 5x more likely to make the ethical decisionwhen they have time to think Academy of Management 2012 5
  7. 7. Why?“Immediate, automatic moral intuitions tend to be selfish,given that self-interest is a basic, instinctual response toexternal stimuli.In contrast, conscious, deliberative thought adds socialconcerns, setting off a battle within the individual that pitsthe strength of self-interested intuitive desires against theconstraints established by social learning.“ - Academy of Management 2012 6
  8. 8. A more accurate picture 7
  9. 9. The time to discuss is not now… 8
  10. 10. Or when studying for this… 9
  11. 11. It’s Now…. 10
  12. 12. Do our ethical guideposts come from here? 11
  13. 13. Ethical Decisions and anEthical Culture Come FromYouThe 10,000 hour rule givesus one hintEthical decision-making canbe trained 12
  14. 14. Ten Types of PR Ethics Failure1. Failure to Plan2. Failure of Response and Engagement3. Failure of Attention4. Failure of Complacency/Neglect5. Failure of Conformity6. Failure of Training7. Failure of Trust8. Failure of Intelligence9. Failure of Courage/Seizing the Moment10.Failure of EvaluationMost failures incorporate multiple types. 13
  15. 15. Failure Spectrum Incident Event Catastrophe *Note: Highly Subjective and Situational
  16. 16. Train your Ethical MindEthics must be honed like a golfer hones their swing... Better able to execute under pressure 15
  17. 17. How does it work…Practice, Practice, PracticeWe don’t think ethics first all the time, so need to condition our mindsto always use the ethics prism.• Make ethics discussions a regular part of communications meetings• Ethical discussions are not the sole province of the communications team • 100 years of trust can be broken by an intern or min wage employee • Flag interesting items for execs• Have regular ethics discussion with your staff• Involve agency and client 16
  18. 18. How do you make it happen, really?• Highlight a situation you have seen of a recent ethical misstep.• Ask everyone if they saw it and what they thought.• Don’t give your opinion until the end; let the discussion flow freely. • Have others bring examples• This ongoing exercise will train employees to: • Think ethically • Understand the importance you put on ethics • Might uncover issues you haven’t considered• Pays dividends in agency/client relationship 17
  19. 19. Don’t do it all yourself. Use Outside Coaching: Look to the codes  PRSA Code of Ethics  WOMMA Code of Ethics  Arthur Page Society’s Principles Codes are references. Don’t memorize. Going back to reexamine can help you 18 18
  20. 20. PRSA Code of EthicsValues Provisions1. Fairness 1. Free Flow of Information2. Independence 2. Competition3. Advocacy 3. Disclosure of Information4. Honesty 4. Safeguarding Confidences5. Expertise 5. Conflicts of Interest6. Loyalty 6. Enhancing the Profession
  21. 21. The Page Principles (The Arthur W. Page Society includes PR leaders from America’s leading corporations) Tell the truth. Prove it with action. Listen to the customer. Manage for tomorrow. Conduct public relations as if the whole company depends on it. Realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people. Remain calm, patient and good-humored. 20
  22. 22. Beyond the Codes, know the laws FTC and Mom Blogs State Laws – Tim Cahill  TV Ads  Unclaimed property 21
  23. 23. Ethical Engagement is Just the BeginningEngagement 22
  24. 24. Is just the beginning 23
  25. 25. Once is not enough Just because you hit the perfect drive once, doesn’t mean you will do it again. Make this a regular part (at least bi-weekly) discussion of every meeting Embed it in your culture…. Reward ethical behavior  Give ethics awards  Highlight in your award apps 24
  26. 26. Constantly Ask the Tough Qs Black & White is easy. It’s the grey that gets is in trouble. Ask prospective employees and agencies:  What would you do?  What is a difficult ethical decision you have had to make or  Give an example of a recent ethical lapse in the industry, how would you change? Wait for in person  Make ethics Qs a part of the hiring process Start training at the newest employee  You will be amazed at differences of opinion 25
  27. 27. My Ethics Methodology Identify the Issue Define What’s Revisit Causing Training Concern Your Ethics Mind Make Discuss the Call 26
  28. 28. Enough Theory 27
  29. 29. Social Media activities that have damagedreputations and destroyed trust.FACEBOOK FIASCO: OUR INDUSTRY IS BETTER THAN THIS--- PR WeekFTC ISSUES $250,000 FINE FOR FAKE ONLINE REVIEWS--- Ragan’s PR DailyWHOLE FOODS CEO CRITICIZED RIVAL IN ANONYMOUS POSTS--- Bloomberg NewsKENNETH COLE’S EGYPT TWEET OFFENDS JUST ABOUTEVERYONE ON TWITTER--- AOL.News(From PRSA Ethics Presentation) 28
  30. 30. Gifts: The Good “The only request we have of you is that you please make sure that, if you choose to write about the camera, you make it clear how you got it.” - Nikon© Nikon 29
  31. 31. Some ethical slippery slopes today PR Measurement There is no one true answer, but there are unethical ones  PR pros inflate  PR pros add multiples  PR pros don’t divide by 30  PR pros report based on total Twitter followers, really? Don’t pass the buck to the vendors Barcelona Declaration of Principles a good start 30
  32. 32. Ethics in Twitter How do you have your employees and agency disclose? Will folks remember where you are from? At MSLGROUP, we make it simple. #cl or #client in every single tweet mentioning a client Not just you and your employees  Get the brand advocates on board as well 31
  33. 33. New ethical challenges facing the industry  Astroturfing  Brand journalism?  Interns paid v unpaid?  Freelancers?  Recording?  How do you monitor for violations? 32
  34. 34. Practical Transparency Be transparent (and professional)  For blogging/tweeting:  Identify yourself as either:  Being with agency/client  Being with the PR Agency for your client  Or when mentioning their name state “(my client)”  Once is not enough. Each and every time  When creating a site/social network/fan page  Disclose early and often  Remember:  Transparency does not mean tell everything – “No” is still an option 33
  35. 35. Be Prepared for the Barbeque 34
  36. 36. Practical Advice  When did you last update your social media guidelines?  What training have you given ALL employees?  Are you prepared to respond? Who? 35
  37. 37. Discussion Topic #1  Blogging  You are made aware that one of your employees loves wine and is a B-list wine blogger. You work for a wine company.  Should your employee blog about your wine? If so, how?  Your competitors?  What about twittering about what they drink?  Every Tweet?  Is the bio enough?  Your CEO wants the company to have a blog to communicate with key stakeholders. It should be attributed to him.  Who writes it?  The power of teams 36
  38. 38. Discussion Topic #2  Information  You are working on an important new business presentation. You get some great ideas from your competitors blog posts.  Can you use them?  What if they are in a slide deck linked to the blog that says “confidential”?  Not for use without permission? 37
  39. 39. Concluding Thoughts
  40. 40. Every day Slips happen because we allow them  Every member of management, every employee is your ethics guardian  Mistakes will happen.  Prevent the ones you can  Respond quickly  How you react to the others will shape public reaction. Train Your Ethical Mind You are not alone:  PRSA Code of Ethics  WOMMA Code of Ethics  Most PRSA chapters have an ethics officer  A vibrant community – 8,700+ blog posts on the topic 39
  41. 41. Ethics ≠ SmartUnethical = Dumb 40
  42. 42. Bottom Line: Reputation is based on trust. Profits come from strong reputations.Strong reputations come from ethical decisions. Ethical decisions can and must be trained.
  43. 43. Questions?Mark W. McClennan, @McClennanP: 781-684-0770