PRSA Nebraska Ethics Minute – March 2015 by Jeremy Harris Lipschultz

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PRSA Nebraska Ethics Minute: Ethics and Trust
A closer look at some of the most serious media ethics issues of 2014 reveals that trust remains an important foundation. One only needs to consider Brian Williams’ current suspension from NBC News to see that the public expects high standards for accuracy and truth.
The site recently listed 10 top issues last year. Among the items, Rolling Stone’s lapses in reporting a 2012 alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia included ignoring fraternity and university statements to the contrary that were made available prior to publication. While an apology may be uncomfortable for a media organization, this and other recent cases show coming clean about mistakes is good public relations.
This goes to the issue of trust. As notes, trust is earned over a long period of demonstrating character: “We are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exteriors or our expertly crafted communications.” As Omaha’s Warren Buffett likes to remind people: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Others connect trust to integrity, strong and fair relationships, leadership and teamwork. One of my favorite quotes on the Inc. list comes from the late Stephen R. Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.”

Why Quality PR Promotes Ethics and Addresses Concerns

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PR News recently reported its five most-read stories from December. Third on the list was an article titled “5 of the worst PR scandals of 2014.”

Matthew Schwartz
@mpsjourno1 wrote that the “year had a robust number of meltdowns, PR debacles and downright embarrassing episodes among some of the globe’s most recognizable brands.”

Unlike our December showcase of amazing public relations at #PRSAGala this list is loaded with crisis communication and missed PR opportunities.

The Sony hacking story featured more of a journalism ethics problem in reporting email contents, as the media company was unable to frame the news from a privacy perspective.  The Ray Rice scandal is mostly a tale about viral video and domestic abuse.  There is no doubt that no amount of PR will overcome real issues facing the NFL.

When Microsoft’s CEO failed to recognize the tech industry has a problem with women and pay, PR came to the rescue with a well-timed backpedal and apology.

GM’s delayed recalls linked to at least 13 deaths turns out to be partially explained by failure of managerial and organizational communication.  No amount of PR can solve a cover-up.

Rounding out the PR News list is the Donald Sterling “fiasco.”  We talked about this at the professional development conference last year.  A surreptitious audio recording leaked to TMZ and an inability to align comments with 21st Century norms spelled doom for the former NBA L.A. Clippers owner.  Again, this story demonstrated more about what not to do.

On the other hand, PRSA remains one of the strongest professional advocates for how to help clients and remain true to ethical principles.  Unfortunately, our industry has a long way to go to overcome its own negative PR about public relations practices.  Our best hope is to remain focused on doing the daily work that produces positive results, informs stakeholders, influences public opinion and even wins awards.

PRSA Nebraska Ethics Minute – November, 2014 By Jeremy Harris Lipschultz

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During the previous two months, our PRSA Nebraska chapter and the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s PRSSA student chapter focused on ethics.  In a constantly changing social media environment, we might be wondering where to look for solid rules.

Marcia DiStaso and Denise Bortree, professors at Penn State University, recently published an excellent edited volume of current research (DiStaso, Marcia W., & Bortree, Denise Sevick (2014).  Ethical Practice of Social Media in Public Relations.  New York, NY: Routledge. 251 pp.)  In it, an impressive group of PR scholars tackle the pressing issues:  openness and disclosure; blogging and ghost commenting; Facebook engagement; viral media; private talk on a public forum; ethics of Twitter engagement; corporate social responsibility (CSR) online; dialogue and credibility; government ethics and reputation; and social media implications.

As the authors point out, social media create “visibility” opportunities, but these lead to calls for identity transparency and development of social media policies.  Research shows only about one-third of organizations have done much thinking about social media implications.

Among some of the noteworthy findings in current studies:

  • Employees at all levels perceive “social media are aiding in organizational openness” (p. 16).
  • Nearly 60 percent of readers “expected a CEO blog post to be written by someone else” (p. 26).
  • The use of “a Facebook page about CSR does not shield companies from public outrage” (p. 44).
  • “One must be careful to avoid involvement in any defamatory or inaccurate rumors” (p. 59).
  • Many have adopted an “ethic of care to do what was right for stakeholders” (p. 78).
  • Guidelines tend to focus on overall social media engagement, not “day-to-day operations of individual platforms” (p. 91).
  • “No social media public relations campaign should begin without a thorough review of the intended target audience” (p. 231).

In the end, social media are so new that research is just beginning to understand how the process works within an organization, what the audience perception of content may be, and how to fashion ethical guidelines that improve the quality and effectiveness of communication.

James W. Leuschen Fellowship Award – Developing the Professional Within.

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The PRSA Nebraska Foundation is seeking applicants for the James W. Leuschen Fellowship. The $500 award is available annually to a public relations practitioner who is working to earn an educational degree or seeking additional training or coursework in public relations and related fields. Application deadline is Nov. 21, 2014.

The Fellowship is named in memory of James W. Leuschen, APR, a long-time PRSA Nebraska member and past president, to recognize his career of excellence in the practice of public relations and for his exemplary service to his profession and to the community.

Application Process
To be considered for the Fellowship, a candidate must send a letter of application, indicating interest and that he/she meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • Pursuing a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in public relations, communications or a related field at an accredited college or university.
  • Pursuing education full-time and temporarily not working in the public relations field. Candidates must have a strong commitment to return to public relations practice once their academic program is completed.
  • or seeking additional skills or pursuing training or academic coursework in related fields.

A candidate does not have to be enrolled in a specific academic program. Preference will be given to a practicing public relations professional who is a member of The Nebraska Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and intends to remain in the area served by the Chapter.

Letters of application may be mailed to:
Public Relations Society of America Nebraska Chapter
PRSA Nebraska Foundation
PO Box 24133
Omaha NE 68124

The Fellowship Committee, consisting of the President of the PRSA Nebraska Foundation and two Foundation Trustees, will review the application letters and make a recommendation for approval by the PRSA Nebraska Foundation Board of Trustees.

The award recipient is named at the Paper Anvil Awards Gala in December.

The PRSA Nebraska Foundation receives charitable gifts to further the profession, primarily by supporting public relations education through professional development programs and PRSSA scholarships. Members can become involved in the PRSA Nebraska Foundation through:

  • Personal or corporate gifts to the foundation.
  • Working on its behalf.
  • Discussing the foundation as part of an estate plan.

For more information, contact:
Kelsey Bugjo, PRSA Nebraska President-Elect

Social Media Research Ethics Clarity Needed

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Facebook now says it will apply greater internal review to research projects, but it misses the ethical point by rejecting external review. With more than one billion users worldwide, the stakes are high for social media users.
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PRSA Nebraska Ethics Minute, August 2014 – Twitter Is No Place For An Argument

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Actor Jason Biggs – best known for roles in American Pie and Orange Is the New Black (also the voice of Leonardo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) demonstrated an important lesson recently on Twitter.

After a jet was reported down in the Ukraine in mid-July, he tweeted: “Anyone wanna buy my Malaysian Airlines frequent flier miles?”


Obviously, this was no time for a bad joke re-tweeted nearly 500 times, and his Twitter followers told him in explicit terms. Beyond the profanity, one responded with this question: “You’d laugh if your kids died in a plane crash?”

Biggs compounded the problem by calling people “losers” for being angry, and then matched their profanity. In a final part of his public relations nightmare, Biggs wrote: “You don’t have to think it’s funny, or even be on my twitter page at all.”

Hours later, as news reported that the plane had been shot down, Biggs finally apologized in four tweets:

“1). Hey all- ok, so- I am deleting my previous tweets. People were offended, and that was not my intent. Sorry to those of you that were”

“2). This is obviously a horrible tragedy, and everyone-including myself- is sad and angry about it. Sending positive thoughts to the”

“3). victims and their families. P.S. No one is making me send these tweets- I simply understand that my comments might have come off”

“4). as insensitive and ill-timed. For that, I apologize.” (

The apology was re-tweeted more than 150 times, and was favored  about the same number as the original tweet. Biggs has had a low profile ever since, with only two more tweets in July. It’s a far cry from his more than 5,000 previous tweets to more than 467,000 followers.

Minimize Harm and Verify Facts

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Public relations ethics is one of those “hyphenated ethics” areas, and Michael Branigan worries this is, too often, becoming big business.  Writing in the May 29 times, the chair of ethics and moral values at College of Saint Rose writes that in his field of health care bio-ethics the high stakes can be a matter of life and death (para. 2).

“…when issues make headlines, media solicit ethicists’ comments — I was trained to deliver “talking points” when asked to comment. Hard-wired as a philosopher, I resist reducing complex issues to sound-bites”(para. 4).

Ethics should be about ‘rigorous learning, moral analysis, critical reasoning, and, self-examination’ (para. 9). Yet, for PR professionals living in a real-time social media world, how do we go about this?  Certainly not in the nearly daily examples of twitter #fails of incorrect reporting from nearly every breaking news story.

Searching google or using an alert, quickly leads us to what blogger Dhyana Ziegler called “a collision course” of ethics and social media.

“…take responsibility for our thoughts, words, and actions in our daily engagement and interaction with technology… just because we can do it, should we? How much engagement is too much? We must all answer individually and act responsibly” (para. 8).

Media ethicist Stephen Ward has it right in going beyond transparency. Responsibility includes accuracy, minimizing harm, telling the public what we need to know, and verification before sending out information.

PRSA Nebraska Ethics Minute, April 1, 2014

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How do you respond to mistakes and errors? Amy Gallo (2010) notes in the Harvard Business Review that the “now what?” after a mistake, turns a potentially “permanent career mark” into  “organizational and personal learning.” Do you see mistakes as an “essential part” of “innovation” and growth? Or, are you tempted to hide them? View more >>

Writing Your Brand’s Obituary Today May Save You From Extinction

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By David Moore, Bozell Creative Director

One of the critical mantras of branding is “Question Everything.”  Think of it as a game to play every so often among an organization’s leadership.

While marketing typically “owns” the brand in most corporations, public relations helps leadership break down internal silos and communicate effectively to foster creative brainstorming and provide strategic development and direction.

Asking tough questions is the hallmark of the exercise. It’s also a highly productive way to start exploring the boundaries of what could be, no matter what the strategy and tactics you eventually employ.  Here are five of my favorite questions:

1.  If your brand were to die, how would its obituary read?  What would be the cause of death, who would mourn it?

Example: “Oldsmobile, a long-standing American automotive brand, died today after years of lingering illness.  The cause of death was believed to be a lack of differentiation and clear purpose.  Oldsmobile was once a proud and admired name, but mourners, mostly old fogies in Florida and Arizona can’t remember exactly why.”

Brand extinction can sneak up slowly or pounce rapidly; but usually the cause can be traced back to the same few sources – a lack of focus, a lack of support, or the inability to keep up with a changing environment.

2.  Where would you like to see your product category sold that it’s not sold today – and how could you get your brand there?

Example:  Apple sells iPods in hotels and airports via vending machines.

It’s not uncommon to see these machines now in airports, hotels, etc., but it probably sounded like a wacky idea at first.  But then so did selling frozen pizza in the home improvement center, but it’s working for Menard’s.

Sometimes a new market isn’t about finding new customers, it can be finding your traditional customers in new places, delivering your brand message in unexpected touchpoints. Play a short game of “What if?” and you may be surpirsed where it leads you.

3. What would happen if you raised your prices by 20 percent?  Lowered them by 10 percent?  Just exactly how price-resistant is your brand?

Okay, I know that your distribution channel might scream.  But take a few minutes to imagine the possibilities.  Sometimes, raising prices a bit can actually increase sales by inferring a higher quality on your brand.  In a service business, it can eliminate a layer of unprofitable customers.  Conversely, lowering your price a little bit may entice loyalists of your competitor to give you a try (but it’s awfully hard to raise prices again anytime soon).  Either way, think of your price as an active component of your brand’s image, not just a margin over cost.

4. Is there a universal truth about your brand communications?  Does everyone in your organization know it?

Example:  As the “ultimate driving machine,” BMW advertising never depicted a person.  Human beings are fallible, BMWs are not.  A consistent application of this truth has helped make BMW a global icon of excellence.

What’s your brand truth? Sometimes this may be expressed by what your brand will never do, rather than what it will do.  Walmart doesn’t have sales, because they have “everyday low prices.” only has one item for sale every day. Ikea relentlessly works to take costs out of their production cycle. These are their brand truths.

5.  Does your brand have a mission that makes your people want to get out of bed in the morning?  Is it something you can rally around? 

Example:  “Do no evil” from Google is pretty coolA mission like that inspires employees to become evangelists because you give them something to believe in.

Compare that to “Apply synergies to increase shareholder value while being the best place to work,” which is not exactly an inspiration to shower and get dressed.

All of these questions lead to your company’s brand mission. These are the questions you should ask – and answer — before beginning any communications project. Especially one as critical as your brand mission.

If you don’t answer these and other questions, you cannot provide creative, effective, memorable and honest communications to your employees, customers and stakeholders.

Whether your venue is public relations, marketing, advertising, digital, direct response – taking a “question everything” approach should be at the forefront of your brand thinking.

For more innovative thoughts, musings and tidbits to help connect your brand to your customers, go to or email comments on this article to   




Building Your Brand with Public Relations

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Building Your Brand with Public Relations
Lynette Von Minden
Senior Public Relations Counsel
Swanson Russell

Here’s a little exercise for you. Name some of the world’s most popular brands.

OK, which ones immediately came to mind? Maybe Coke or Apple? McDonald’s? Walmart? Google?

While these companies may make building a branding look easy, it’s not. Brands are the basis of an organization’s emotional and psychological relationship with its customers. It’s likely that hundreds of people participated in many meetings and discussions about the look, feel and overall personality each of these companies should communicate. And coming to an agreement on a brand is only the beginning. Then you have to build it and nurture it, which takes time, consistency and dedication.

If you asked most people how companies build brands, they’d probably mention the ads they see in print and online, or the commercials they hear on the radio or see on TV. A few might also mention product packaging, merchandising displays or websites. While it’s true that all those elements of the marketing mix help build a brand, public relations also has a tremendous impact upon brand perceptions.

In the past, PR—like advertising—primarily consisted of one-way messages from an organization to its customers. In other words, PR professionals told people what they wanted them to hear without offering them a way to respond or provide input. Today, customers have the power to let us—and just about everyone else in the world—know how they feel about our brand, our products and our services each and every day.

As a result, PR has had to evolve. It’s no longer just about developing relationships with the media, but also with actual customers. It’s about listening, responding appropriately and delivering on brand promises that customers find emotionally relevant. It’s about developing a reputation and a personality with which your customers can identify. That’s why PR has become so integral to the brand-building process—not just for multi-billion-dollar corporations, but for even the smallest businesses. Consider the following PR strategies and tactics that can help any organization develop and nurture its brand:

  • Become involved with relevant events and sponsorships.
  • Craft social media messages that speak to your audience’s preferences, needs and desires.
  • Train your company executives how to properly “work in” your company’s brand message during interviews and speaking engagements.
  • Develop story pitches and bylined editorial pieces that support your brand message.
  • Remember to back up your brand in both external and internal communications.

PR isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to building a brand. It’s just one tool of many in the marketing toolbox. However, when it’s done well, PR is quite possibly the most subtle, yet effective way to nurture and communicate a brand image. The key is to work a consistent brand message into all aspects of your communications mix—and back it up with your actions.

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