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.


A Sporting Chance

September 22, 2014

by Roger Pynn

Lord knows the world of sports is having a rough time right now.  From the NFL to the NCAA, questions abound about the ability of athletes, coaches and executives to make good decisions.  Just check out the hashtag #goodellmustgo.

goodell must go

There seems to be an inability by many players to understand that violence is no answer to domestic problems.  And the brass (both professional and collegiate) seem to have a hard time making tough disciplinary decisions.

But I was pleased to see my alma mater’s Head Football Coach George O’Leary make such a solid statement when asked whether suspending the nation’s top quarterback for just the first half of a key football game constitutes tough love.  If coaches, athletic directors and university presidents don’t send the message that there is a consequence to acting badly, who will?

Public pressure like the #goodellmustgo campaign by the women’s advocacy group UltraViolet has obviously caused him to react, but will he be forgiven?  “Roger Goodell may have taken a crisis communications 101 class over the weekend, but his actions are simply too little too late,” the group’s founder had said prior to his public mea culpa and a sweeping commitment to change.

I’m often asked to speak to public relations and other associations on the issue of ethics.  This is Ethics Awareness Month for the Public Relations Society of America, and practitioners across the country are engaged in talking, tweeting, blogging and debating on relevant issues.  I’m preparing talks on ethics for two upcoming presentations, so what we see going on in athletics provides new examples of why ethical behavior is so important, and how easy it really is.

If you don’t know that slugging your fiancé or spouse is bad behavior then you’re not only not a sports role model, but a bad person.  In our business, if you don’t know that misrepresenting facts is unethical then you’re not only not a credible public relations person, but the professional equivalent of a wife beater.

When I give my talks on ethics, I hand out little blue rubberized bracelets (a la WWJD and LIVESTRONG).  In white letters they say WSID/DTRT.  I wear one every day to remind me to ask “What Should I Do?”

The answer is simple:  Do The Right Thing.


An Ethics Reminder | Post Updated

May 11, 2011

by Dan Ward

As one of the world’s largest public relations firms, it’s no surprise that Burson-Marsteller is making national news. But the latest stories are ones the firm likely wishes were never written.

I won’t re-hash all the details (you can read them here), but the short story is that senior Burson staffers were pushing for op-eds opposing Google’s Social Circle feature, and were doing so on behalf of an “unnamed” client … since revealed to be a small social media company you might have heard of … Facebook.

Normally, I would complain about The Daily Beast’s characterization of the “PR flacks” involved in this story, but in this case the term fits.

The public bashing that Burson is now taking is a good reminder for all of us in the communications field … transparency is essential.

-If you’re pitching a story and someone asks who you’re representing, tell them (they shouldn’t have to ask).

-If a client or employer asks you to engage in a campaign on their behalf without revealing their involvement, say  no.

-If the client or employer insists that you engage in such a covert campaign, say goodbye.

Several years ago, I had a client who suggested that we form a “front group” to lead a campaign on an issue important to them. My answer was not only no, but “#@!! no.” I advised the client about the PRSA Code of Ethics, and that if they engaged in such a campaign against our recommendation I would be forced to resign the account.

I went on to explain that my refusal was not based just on the Code or my firm’s credibility. My refusal was based on the credibility my client would have lost in engaging in such a campaign, which in today’s world of the citizen journalist would most assuredly become public at some point. The client took my advice, remained a client for many years and remains a friend to this day.

Violating the Code of Ethics on behalf of a client does a disservice to that client.  How do you think Facebook is being viewed today?


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