Can You Be Too Honest?

October 24, 2014

by Vianka McConville

I attended a Florida Public Relations Association Professional Development Workshop yesterday and left with one thought:  It’s so refreshing to hear someone who spoke with complete candor.

There were a number of interesting presentations and plenty of good nuggets of information to help me hone my skills in PR, but what impacted me most was the luncheon speaker from the ALS Association Florida.  She presented on the success of the recent Ice Bucket Challenge, but instead of just sharing the facts and, talking to the unpredictability of social media and viral content, she let us peer into a moment during that media frenzy that she considered a career low.

During a media interview, she let her guard down and made some completely honest remarks to a producer when she thought the camera had stopped rolling; instead, her candid words were misunderstood and became the focus of the story, not awareness of the disease.

She spoke of the situation with nothing to hide and you could see the room engaged, asking questions and wanting to hear more.  It was great to have a frank conversation in a room full of peers that are so often focused on walking the line of being politically correct.  There were no disparaging words, just honesty.

She said one thing she learned from the situation was that although the media is a great communication channel for sharing a message, you should never trust the media to tell your story the way YOU want it told.

As practitioners, we preach honesty and transparency with our audiences, including media.  That is still important, but after yesterday, I will be reminded that some honest words come with a price.

Side note:  If you want to learn more about ALS, please click here.  There is no cure for the disease and life expectancy is 2-5 years … with no survivors.

Rude Awakening

October 20, 2014

by Roger Pynn

I try not to judge a book by the cover, but I have to admit that I’m quick to draw conclusions by how much interest people have in ethics … especially how much emphasis a professional places on ethics in his or her line of work.

Over the years, I’ve focused a lot of time on ethics in public relations, committed time to our professional societies’ ethics programs, talked to student and professional groups on the topic and spent a good bit of time studying and collecting codes of ethics from various professional associations.

So when a friend asked if I would adapt the talk I deliver to PR groups for a breakout session when his industry trade association meeting held its North American meeting in Orlando, I said “Sure.  Be glad to.”  It gave me a chance to study yet another organization’s code, I’d be doing him a favor and I’d get to pontificate on how important I think it is to be true to basic beliefs you find in virtually all codes of ethics:  honesty and integrity, public service, defense of the public interest, fairness to competitors, etc.

When I got there I was surprised to see seating for as many as perhaps 200, even though I knew the entire conference was only a few hundred people … and he had told me it would likely be 20 or 30 people in the room.

It was even more surprising when it turned out to be five, plus the association board member who’d drawn the short straw and was assigned to introduce my session.  Now I’m not shooting at the trade group here and won’t name them.  But it told me something and I hope it said something to the association leaders in the room.

In fact, it seemed that at least three in the room were board members (although one was a past president who was giving a talk right after mine so she was perhaps there more for convenience than direct interest in the subject).  The good news is that four of the five were very engaged on the topic and knew their association’s code very well.

But you have to wonder about the rest.  Maybe the other topics of the day were far sexier than mine, I thought … but when I looked at the other topics (loss prevention, search engine optimization, surviving an audit, etc.) it wasn’t like I was competing with a George Clooney autograph session.

So why do I write this?  Not to complain, nor to embarrass myself for being the worst attended session, but rather as a reminder that if you’re a professional you ought to make your code of ethics and your commitment to it a point of pride and a marketing asset.  Your clients will not only respect you, you may just find you’ll be singled out by prospects looking for someone they know they can trust.

Time is the Best Medicine

October 16, 2014

by Roger Pynn

In recent years, websites for newspaper companies have been referred to by many as “online newspapers.”  But perhaps as this article about the digital transition going on at the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel indicates, we should actually be referring to the print versions of these websites as “offline news websites.”

Even old folks like me who love their dailies have to know that the newspaper business can’t sustain itself with a focus on printed products.  For those of us who still cling to pulp, they are seeing newspapers as another advertising offering to entice advertisers who have made the transition to page views and clicks vs. circulation.

But as Sun Sentinel Associate Editor Anne Vasquez told The Poynter Institute’s Kristen Hare, “Quality has to stay as good, if not better.  If it doesn’t, then this digital initiative is a failure.”

However, she also said that what she calls the “new digital” requires new age journalists to “write as you go and write what you know.”

Therein lies perhaps the greatest challenge to their credibility.  The rush to publish has become such a powerful motivating factor that error has become inevitable (if not acceptable) and reportage is suffering as the online movement often doesn’t have the time to be sure they’ve got it right.

In our business, time has taught us that time is the best preventative medicine.  Only when you rush do you make big mistakes.

Is Media Trust at an All-Time Low?

October 15, 2014

by Heather Keroes

A Gallup poll reports that Americans’ confidence in the media’s ability to report “the news fully, accurately and fairly” has returned to an all-time low last seen in 2004.  Gallup states that it’s typical for trust in media to drop during an election year, but the level of trust has been on a steady decline over the last few years.


Without delving too much into politics and its impact on sentiment, I’m more curious about news mediums and how Gallup and its polled parties categorize mass media.  Defined as “newspapers, TV and radio” for the poll, I wonder how the results may have been different if online and social sources were included in the mix.  Would they have been better, seeing that younger generations turn to the Internet for news?  Would they have been worse, given the reporting mishaps that are oh so common when media try to scoop one another in the beat of one tweet (also taking into account the questionable qualifications of some online sources)?

The poll has been conducted annually since 1997 and shows that the highest trust rating was 55 percent in 1999.  The level of confidence is now at 40 percent.  Compared to other Gallup polls, especially those of the political variety, a 40 percent confidence level isn’t too shabby.  The continued decline, however, may be a real issue, but I have a hard time saying that trust in media is deteriorating when the perceived definition of media has changed.  My question for Gallup is this:  What are you really measuring?

In its “Bottom Line” on the poll, Gallup infers that as “the media expand into new domains of news reporting via social media networks and new mobile technology, Americans may be growing disenchanted with what they consider mainstream news as they seek out their own personal veins of getting information.”  While on the right track, Gallup misses the mark in that “mainstream news” also makes use of social media and mobile technology.  When does “new” media simply become media?

To the Extremes

October 7, 2014

by Kim Taylor

I think I missed the memo where it said that if you aren’t doing some sort of extreme work experiment, nobody will believe how tough it is to do your job.

First, I read this Newsweek post from writer Zach Schonfeld, where he led readers through the weeklong journey of reading and answering every PR pitch he received.  I’ll save you the time:  he received a lot, some were good and some were not.  Thanks, Zach, you’ve really enlightened us.

And, then yesterday I caught wind of this piece from Fast Company on saying no.  Unlike Newsweek, the staff at Fast Company is saying no to “everything” for a week to “get more done.”   Sure, we’re all guilty of interjecting ourselves where we could’ve easily bowed out.  And, no doubt we could all use a little more discipline in the art of saying no.

But, just how realistic are these experiments?  Not very realistic at all.

We run a public relations agency serving clients in numerous capacities.  We’re fielding requests from clients, media and partners all day long.  But you know what?  That’s our job.  One we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the clients we serve.

I, for one, am grateful for those opportunities and don’t need some hair-brained extreme work challenge to remind me to re-prioritize every now and then.

Perry’s Credibility Goes Up in Smoke

October 2, 2014

by Dan Ward

Belvin Perry Jr. built a reputation for honesty and integrity as a chief circuit court judge and through his even-handed guidance of the Casey Anthony trial.  He sullied that reputation Monday with his WFTV commentary on Amendment 2.

This is not an argument for or against the amendment, which seeks to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.  It’s an argument for common sense – which was lacking at WFTV – and for disclosure – something which is inexcusable for a former judge to ignore.

If you haven’t already read the articles about Belvin Perry’s Sept. 29 Amendment 2 commentary, here’s the gist:  Mr. Perry, as a legal analyst hired by WFTV, took issue with an anti-amendment commercial, saying that it played on fear and amounted to a “giant smoke screen.” One problem:  Perry neglected to mention his current job with the Morgan & Morgan law firm, whose leader is the most vocal proponent – and strong financial supporter – of the amendment.

The coverage I’ve read so far takes WFTV to task, and rightly so. WFTV has now apologized for its lack of disclosure and has removed the commentary from its website.  But while WFTV was clearly wrong, Perry deserves the lion’s share of the blame here.  As a jurist, he built his career around objectivity, in an environment where disclosure of relevant facts is a requirement.  I find it hard to believe that he simply forgot about his role with Morgan & Morgan while developing and delivering his commentary.

Disclosure is a core principle of the Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics, requiring that public relations professionals reveal the sponsors for causes represented and disclose financial interests.  We know how important it is to build and maintain public trust.

There’s no excuse for a media organization or a trained jurist to not uphold those same ethical standards.  WFTV admitted it was wrong. Perry must do the same if he is to rebuild his credibility with viewers.

The Community Partner Next Door

September 29, 2014

by Vianka McConville

We’ve written a few posts about “doing the right thing” as evidenced here and here.  I recently had the opportunity to listen to a company at the monthly Florida Public Relations Association breakfast that not only takes these words to heart, but acts on them through community relations programs.

IKEA may be known for modern build-it-yourself furniture, but the fact that the company donates $10,000 to a local charity each time it opens a new store may not be common knowledge.  IKEA has a vision that goes beyond home furnishing and seeks to create a better life for people.  It achieves this through low price points for affordability and connecting with the community to make a lasting impact, focusing on programs for children and the environment.  During the presentation, it was clear that it fulfills its vision with great humility.

So, how does a company that does not like to brag about itself get recognition for its work?  By keeping things personal and connecting with bloggers, staying active on social media and using its products to promote charitable organizations.  These channels have been successful for IKEA to raise awareness of the brand, but more important to the company, to raise awareness of the causes it supports.

Traditional media may not be praising IKEA on the front page of a newspaper, but the humble company is OK with that.  As practitioners, when we have a client that is adamant about doing the right thing above all else, our work is that much more impactful.


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