Posts Tagged ‘public relations society of america’

Suggested Reading for Rupert O’Dwyer – the SPJ Code of Ethics

August 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Regarding “journalist” Rupert O’Dwyer’s recent screed about the Public Relations Society of America:

“Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.  Journalists should: [...] Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.”

Writing a prescribed course of action and then listing the names and email addresses of the “Top 50 Society Chapter Presidents” is “advocacy” – not news reporting.  Just sayin’.

In other news, the crickets who have been chirping during O’Dwyer’s non-response to the phone and website hacking allegations against his organization are getting really tired.

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Another Rupert O’Dwyer Revelation – PRSA Documented Website Hacks

July 26, 2011 7 comments

For JO, Kisses - Rupe

Amazingly, there’s a new revelation in the PRSA Phone Hacking scandal involving Jack O’Dwyer and his publication.  Vice President of Public Relations for PRSA Arthur Yann revealed in a comment on this blog yesterday that PRSA has evidence that someone accessed the private, password-protected, members-only section of PRSA’s website from an IP address traced back to O’Dwyer’s PR. Read more…

Has Rupert O’Dwyer Admitted to Hacking PRSA Conference Calls?

July 25, 2011 5 comments

Has Rupert O'Dwyer Admitted to Hacking PRSA Conference Calls?

As a follow-up to my previous entry, today’s blog post from Jack O’Dwyer (“PRSA Stonewall Battered by Facts“) appears to drop a bombshell in the form of a possible admission that his organization did indeed access the conference calls of the Public Relations Society of America without permission (a timely reveal given the News Corp phone hacking scandal currently unfolding in the UK).

In it, he provides specific details about the teleconferences themselves (including timing and participation).  Here’s a sample: Read more…

“Rupert O’Dwyer and the PRSA Phone Hack” or “Ethics Schmethics”

July 19, 2011 2 comments

The ongoing skirmish between Jack O’Dwyer and the Public Relations Society of America has taken some dark turns in recent weeks as O’Dwyer has amped up his accusations against the professional organization (which is saying something as O’Dwyer has analogized PRSA to the Third Reich in the past).

Alexandra Bruell at Advertising Age wrote a very thorough piece dissecting the conflict (“PR Group Accuses Writer of Phone Hacking: In Wake of Murdoch Hearings, PRSA Points Finger at O’Dwyer“).

It’s highly salient that O’Dwyer did not deny the phone hacking in his blog (arguing instead that it would be perfectly legitimate if it did indeed occur):

“He accuses us of improperly listening to Society teleconferences. Those teleconferences should be open to members and non-members as well as the press since PRS claims to speak for the entire industry.”

As he’s well-known for dogging his sources, in perhaps the most perfect example of hypocrisy O’Dwyer was unavailable for comment. Read more…

Journalists Make the Best Public Relations People? I Didn’t get that Memo.

March 30, 2011 3 comments

Press to PR

I’m going to respectfully disagree with Jim Crawford’s post over at PR Breakfast club (4 Reasons Why Journalists Still Make the Best PR People) that journalists make superior public relations people (compared to…?).

It’s a great example of the distorted picture of public relations that the mainstream culture has of the profession because it myopically focuses on only a handful of public relations duties (or assumed duties): writing, media relations, client relations, and advertising.

To be sure, journalists are skilled communicators who bring a lot to the table when they become PR pros – but the vast majority of the duties associated with PR aren’t ones that journalists would typically get hands-on experience with in the course of their work.

Specifically, there are some aspects of Crawford’s analysis I’m not compelled by:

  • Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no shortage of PR people that fit the picture he paints of himself; brash, willing to tell the king he’s wearing no clothes, and possessing an inclination to cut to the point.  Conversely, there are journalists who are obedient, sycophantic, and prone to digressions and loquaciousness.
  • In point of fact, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Code of Ethics demands that PR professionals “act in the best interests of the client or employer, even subordinating the member’s personal interests” (which means telling them when their proposed course of action is unwise even if it means losing the contract).
  • Journalists have a low BS threshhold?  I wasn’t aware of that.  Neither is the American public; their trust in the news media is at record low levels according to Pew research.  Moreover, journalists are the 9th most mistrusted category of professionals according to a recent Gallup Poll.
  • “Non-News” is a staple of news coverage; particularly in television (as the Daily Show routinely demonstrates).  Moreover, the majority of the public is rarely compelled by hard data when it comes to selling a point of view.  “Non-news” like personal anecdotes and testimonials (regardless of their statistical significance) routinely shows up as more persuasive.

More generally, some of the areas that journalists may not be as versed in:

Advocacy:  One need only glance at the studies done on public opinion in the U.S. to see that the news media are being gamed pretty hard by (unethical) PR people who exploit the conventions of journalism to create false equivalencies.  Case in point: interests funded by the fossil fuel industry who have managed to convince an increasingly large segment of the U.S. public that the scientific jury is out on the human contributions to global climate change.  Communicating effectively on behalf of someone is an important skill that is different from trying to give equal time to two or more sides of an issue.

Flexibility:  Like a defense attorney, being a public relations pro sometimes means working for the best interests of a client you may not agree with (particularly in an agency setting).  It’s a different skill than trying to ensure the facts are presented and that all sides are fairly represented.

Transparency:  Journalists by and large are required to conceal as much as possible about their opinions, and to abstain from public activities that might lend the appearance of bias to their work.  From campaign donations to voting.  Though I’ll readily concede they’re not always followed – the ethical codes that govern public relations demand transparency.

The “E” in “R.A.C.E.”/”R.O.P.E.”:  Evaluation.  What happens after a story is published?  Are journalists analyzing its impact/ROI to see if public opinion has moved?  In most cases, no – they’re on to the next story.  If anything, they’re unfortunately assessed on how much revenue their ownership is able to bring in based on viewership which isn’t exactly a barometer that produces the highest quality news gathering (see “Fox News”).

Journalists can make fantastic PR pros, but the idea that they’re de facto better PR people (than even those schooled/trained in PR) is bunk.

On Spam, Josh Bernoff and Pointing Fingers – Responding to the Call to Clean up the PR Industry

February 25, 2011 2 comments

Pointing the Finger at PRSA

While perusing my RSS feeds, I came across a blog post by Josh Bernoff (Senior VP of Idea Development at Forrester Research and co-author of Groundswell) titled “PR professionals — clean up your industry.”

Interest.  Piqued.

In the post, Bernoff excoriates the public relations profession and specifically the Public Relations Society of America for spam email and lazy PR pros who send irrelevant pitches his way.  In the post he highlights five companies:  Seagate, GlassPoint, Calysto, Allen & Caron, and 5W Public Relations.  Arthur Yann, VP of Public Relations for PRSA did a great job of responding the very same day, and Bernoff graciously printed his response on behalf of the organization.

Before my [obnoxious] rebuttal, I’d like to point out that I completely agree with Bernoff; there are far too many PR people running around firing off irrelevant press releases in all directions like so much birdshot from a .12-gauge.

Moreover, I share Bernoff’s loathing for spam and unsolicited contact (so much so that I’ve gone so far as to track down the originators of unsolicited faxes and emails and contact hosting companies and file complaints with the state attorney general’s office).

I’d also like to say that I loved Groundswell; Bernoff and Li wrote a fantastic book that – unlike most nonfiction works – doesn’t coast on a few breezy anecdotal examples and factoids.  It’s grounded in quantitative analysis backed up by research.

However, claiming that the public relations profession has an obligation to clean itself up is as unreasonable as claiming that the sales profession has an obligation to clean itself up.  I’d also like to point out that, in point of fact, PRSA does have a “code of conduct that reflects the difference between right and wrong” and also a “certification for people who behave properly;” two facts that are readily available to anyone who googles “PRSA code of ethics” and “PRSA certification.”

I checked PRSA’s member directory and found the following about the handful of companies he named specifically:

  • Seagate: out of 52,000 employees worldwide, only one is a PRSA member.
  • GlassPoint: zero PRSA members.
  • Calysto: zero PRSA members.
  • Allen & Caron: zero PRSA members.
  • 5W Public Relations: out of 67 employees, only one is a PRSA member.

PRSA can’t spank people who aren’t members.  Part of the problem of unprofessional people equipped with technology is that a handful of them can do a lot of damage with relatively little effort.  That damage can usually only be repaired by repeated positive one-on-one interactions.  It’s kind of like trying to stop the tide from coming in armed only with a Solo cup.

When you point the finger, four point back at you.  Well … if not four, at least one.  Surely Forrester Research has never spammed anyone, right?  Whoops:

I’d love it if all of the spammy, obnoxious, lazy public professionals were loaded up into a rocket and fired into the orbit of a distant planet.  Their poor conduct invariably affects me in my dealings with the media or the general public which may hold past interactions with PR people against me.  But I work to win their trust one interaction at a time.  I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it.  That’s why I embrace the term “flack” (to the point of having it emblazoned on my employee ID card).

In addition to conducting myself in a respectful fashion, I also try to promote those same practices in others.  That’s why I’m a member of the board of the West Michigan Chapter of PRSA, and a professional advisor to the Public Relations Student Society Chapter at Grand Valley State University.

The good thing about bad PR people is that it’s easier than ever to cut them off at the knees for their tactics with the power of social media; email blacklists can easily be shared.  Just ask Chris Anderson.

Perhaps there’s an opportunity for Forrester Research to turn the tools against these people.  Create a tool that allows disgruntled recipients of shoddy PR pitches to submit their blacklist suggestions (along with documentation of the pitch) to a database that people can download blacklist updates from.  I’d happily volunteer a few hours a month to help vet submissions.

PR Students: Your Fundamentals are a Strong Asset

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment

I was talking to a couple of colleagues yesterday over coffee about teaching Public Relations and something occurred to me.

PR students are, in some cases, better experts on some areas of PR than their supervisors.

Public Relations is a relatively young discipline.  Many people who practice PR have no formal education; they’ve acquired their expertise informally – usually through experience.

Areas of Expertise - Students vs. PR Pros

Mapping Public Relations Knowledge

As a result, the people who lead PR departments or agencies frequently don’t have a broad-based understanding of the profession.  They may have come from hospitality with event-planning expertise, or from a news background (which gives them media relations expertise).  While they have a very deep and nuanced understanding of those disciplines – they have relatively little or no awareness or education about some other areas of PR – which is a very broad field that encompasses many responsibilities, practices and tactics.

In my experience, this has proven to be true.  I’ve worked in PR for over a decade and the majority of the leaders I’ve worked for fit this description.  They have very strong skills in particular disciplines, but they invariably have blind spots as a result of how their knowledge was acquired.  They may be experts on handling crises, but lack skills in measurement.  Or they may excel at writing, but know very little about the legal concepts that apply to PR.

That broad base of knowledge is what the Public Relations Society of America’s “Accredited in Public Relations” (APR) designation works to remedy – the gaps in the whole profession that may have been missed through one’s career in the profession.

It can be intimidating to be an intern or an entry-level PR pro sitting at the table with leaders who have decades of experience on you.  PR pros who are young to the practice should take confidence from the fact that in addition to the fresh perspective they can offer, they may also offer leaders knowledge they may not have.

Inspiring, no?

This window of opportunity likely won’t be open forever though.

Public Relations is now a formal degree offered by an increasing number of colleges and universities, so eventually the majority of PR pros will have some formal education.  I tried to track down the first college/university to offer a PR degree and found references to Boston University – but despite Google and leafing through a couple of PR textbooks I’ve not been able to locate a history of PR higher education (and if anyone knows the historical roots of formal education in PR – I’d love to hear about them).


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