One of our responsibilities as public relations practitioners is to educate others as to their role in uphold, conveying and protecting the reputation of our organization, issue or cause. Doing this while still respecting and not violating their First Amendment right to free speech is a fine line — but one we must navigate over.
This week, the Democratic National Committee found themselves embroiled in controversy at a pivotal time over emails that contradicted their own insistence of fairness and impartiality. Though they said they were not favoring one candidate over the other, internal documents released at the start of the convention showed preferences — even if nothing was actually done about it.
This raises a number of questions:
- How do we establish and communicate clear expectations of behavior from our staff/employees in a way that encourages their cooperation without being dictatorial?
- Do we self-monitor our systems in case violation of those expectations will damage the reputation of organization or cause? How do we do that ethically?
- If activity is found that does violate our values, what do we do about it?
- How do we get all to understand that anything written (email or otherwise) or said (in confidence or publicly) could end up on the cover of the NY Times? (Is this part of your organization’s orientation program/communication’s plan?)
The DNC knew months ago that they were hacked by someone. An immediate review of all emails should have been undertaken. A plan of action AND acknowledgement of issues should have been proactively addressed rather than waiting to see if the shoe was going to drop and when. Always anticipate that the information will come out — and at the worst possible time. Get in front of it before it does — even if it means some self-inflicted wounds. They will be much less damaging than those inflicted by others.
The Mesothelioma organization decided to query colleagues on the best ways to raise awareness and are sharing results on this site. It is a good examination about how others are doing that job and a nice hook for the mesothelioma gang to connect their awareness with others. Reminds me of the old Eddie Bernay’s recommendation, “Make news, not news releases!”
Rallying For a Cause: 7 Experts on How To Raise Awareness
Every “hot” issue was once a latent or emerging issue that was not tended to early on. A good public relations professional will spot their organization’s latent issues and do what is right to make sure the problem does not disrupt its mission — now or 20, 30 or 40 years from now.
We saw this in the 80s and 90s with organization who dump pollutants behind their plants, not thinking about future consequences. It was what was done and few were thinking about the future. The same goes for the Catholic Church that felt moving priests was easier and more caring for the perpetrator rather than worrying about the victims — but again, that was a different time, a different ethical mentality. And now the private schools are dealing with the consequences of their decisions of the past — decisions made for expediency and without thought of tomorrow.
What is it that our organization’s might be doing now that may be looked at in 10 or 20 years through a different lens and found wanting? Issues anticipation is the responsibility of the public relations professional. We must find it in ourselves to “speak truth to power” in such a way that can be heard and acted upon now for the good of the organization later.
What other past issues may come to the surface that we should be watching for? What fallout issues will take more of our institution to the brink? And what should they be doing about it now?
So, Volkswagen decided to game the system and write a computer program to fool those who test the systems as to the kind of gas mileage the cars were getting. And then, to add insult to injury, they dribble out later that there were even more cars involved. This will be a classic case of why public relations practitioners have responsibility to “speak truth to powe” when the casebook goes to print once again.
The debate about the benefits and drawbacks of housing captive animals has gone on for decades. First zoos were the culprit, keeping wild animals conditions that were untenable. Now SeaWorld and their killer whales. Though the debate was ongoing before the tragic event of the death of a trainer, it has gotten real legs now and attendance at the parks have dropped. A documentary “Blackfish” has been run by CNN (frequently) reporting on the negative aspects of captivity. Next, John Stossel will be hosting a program discussing what is wrong with the documentary and airing both sides of the controversy. What is SeaWorld supposed to do? What would be your counsel & why?
With penalty flags being flung at the FIFA Board from everywhere, why would the obviously involved FIFA president run for a fifth term? Why isn’t Public Relations Counsel effective in educating the Board on the immense problems of re-electing the current Board chair — whether or not he was guilty? And then by him resign days later — doesn’t this suggest the entire Board are just pawns? Credibility sink holeeeeeeee! What would you do?
Talking with Pearson to determine if we should do another edition. If so, what cases do you think are worthwhile to include: 1) of what is in the current edition? and 2) new cases that should be written?
It seems that organization after organization ascribed their screw-ups, near misses and possibly criminal activities to “cultures” that have gone askew. Is it enough to blame a bad culture? Who is responsibly for an organization’s culture anyway? Senior management? Human Resources? Line managers? Who monitors culture and points it out when things are not going well or according to company values?
Employee engagement surveys are being conducted right and left and often times point to real culture issues, but what is being done as a result? Some public relations professionals feel that it is only their responsibility to convey the information that is shared with them down through the organization. I suggest that if the public relations practitioners take their role seriously and have the organization’s best interest first and foremost, they will take the lead on dealing with culture problems, starting with opening lines of communication not only top down but bottom up and laterally. And then, if culture doesn’t start to move, finding experts to bring in to help make it happen.
We are amassing culture cases to upload here on the PR Practices site. Let us know if there are any cases you would like to see on the subject. — Stacey
Urban Outfitter’s briefly marketed a torn, tattered and red paint splattered sweatshirt with Kent State’s logo on it. Only one sold (said the article) and now they are “out of stock”. Urban Outfitters apologized but the faux pas was already executed. Consider, does this just put Urban Outfitters up in awareness and chatter and therefore, as bad as it is, this is a good thing? Or is it just bad all the way around?
Shouldn’t the pr function educate all aspects of the company to think about issue anticipation because we can’t be in every meeting or involved in every decision.
The ice bucket challenge for ALS is one of those campaigns that had all the appearances of being grassroots and non-orchestrated. There wasn’t a big campaign to promote it. Opinion leaders (primarily families and current supporters of ALS) were asked to do this simple, whimsical act to raise some awareness and, maybe a few dollars. It didn’t seem that the money was even part of it — or was that just reverse psychology? By asking for action/behavior instead of a donation, doesn’t that suggest a donation is likely forthcoming — public commitment to a cause promotes financial commitment?
Other npos are busy looking for their own unique “challenge” at this point. The question is will it be successful or will others see it as a copycat approach with no imagination and callously looking for money. The only way it could be successful is if it is truly grassroots, wholly unique and totally connected to the cause. The WSJ reports that the American Association for Suicide Prevention is promoting a “pie in the face” a la Mrs. Doubtfire in honor of the late Robin Williams. It might work in that it has a timely connection, a well-known movie scene and such but the tools are not as handy nor as harmless (unless you’ve seen the Ice Bucket “Fails” that may have caused some people damage to their bodies if not their egos!)
The Ice Bucket Challenge hasn’t really run its course yet so anything similar will have lessor appeal — which isn’t a reason not to do it. But perhaps the core concept — asking people to exhibit a commitment behavior BEFORE committing to donating money is the key for the next great idea.