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.” http://www.prnewsonline.com/water-cooler/2014/12/16/5-of-the-worst-pr-scandals-of-2015/

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, August 2014 – Twitter Is No Place For An Argument

Ethics, IntroductionNo Comments

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?”

(http://www.tmz.com/2014/07/17/jason-biggs-malaysian-crash-airline-shoot-down-missle-tweet/)

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.” (https://twitter.com/JasonBiggs)

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.

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