Tag Archives: PR Ethics

The Value of Ethics, Symmetry and Persuasion… Can They Coexist Together?

As a preface to this post, I must state that I decided to publish it after it sat some time, and that it’s written with a focus on theoretical constructs and their relationship within a course I took at Kent State University. If you dare challenge yourself to read this post, you’ll certainly become inundated in some old and new theory. The theories I will review include: Grunig’s Symmetrical Model of mutually beneficial relationships and Excellence Theory, Porter’s argument for a Post-Symmetrical Model of persuasion and the concepts of values and ethical reasoning Shannon Bowen describes.

My research on Grunig’s Symmetrical Model and PR acting as a mutually beneficial discipline, helping shape both the organization and the public at large, is central to my own beliefs and arguments. The following post will touch on the history of PR and the resulting next generation of theorists and how they contributed to the profession. My goal is to then find similarities between the theories and how

A Historical Perspective

Public relations was conceived in the late nineteenth century with the “public be damned era,” working to generate publicity at any cost and without morals or ethical considerations. Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee were the founding fathers of what is now PR.

Ivy Lee

When they took the reigns they called their work propaganda and with Ivy Lee, the concept of ethics in PR arose with his “declaration of principles,” shifting the profession into a “public be informed era.” (Bowen, 2007)

John W. Hill was also a powerful proponent of PR ethics as it related to issues management  and “far-reaching effects of corporate policy.” He originated the idea that PR practitioners are the “corporate conscience” of an organization. (Hill, 1958)

Bowen sums up the vast historical account of PR in a great fashion when she states:

“Despite the strides made in modern public relations toward becoming ethical advisors in management, the field holds a ‘tarnished history’ in the words of one scholar (Parsons, 2004, p. 5)… the historical development of public relations shows a progression toward more self-aware and ethical models of communication… the historically negative reputation of public relations, as well as its potential for encouraging ethical communication, we can see the maturation of the profession from one engaged in simple dissemination of information to one involved in the creation of ethical communication.” (Bowen, 2007)

These originators of PR set the stage for the next generation of theorists. I will focus my research and analysis on three theorists who made a significant impact on the public relations profession, which include: Dr. James E. Grunig, Lance Porter and Shannon Bowen, Ph.D.

The Next Generation of PR

After the shift from propaganda to the roots of PR, which were still in its infancy, we come to a time when theory is largely shaping the dynamic of the public relations field. The following chart shows the concepts each theorist subscribes to and the criteria in which they support the respective theory. These theories have been contended, modified and change in some cases. But in this instance, to create a benchmark to begin our understanding of these theories, the power struggles between each, as well as the correlations, we will start with a holistic view.

Grunig

Porter

Bowen

Symmetrical Model Post-Symmetrical Model Systems Theory (Values and Ethics)
Mutually beneficial relationships (organization and publics) Persuasion through rhetoric, dialogue and advocacy of ideas PR practitioners are the “social conscience” of the organization
PR is a strategic management function (built on honest and transparency) Influencing attitudes and behaviors Social and ethical decisions are tied to communicating with management and c-suite
Ethics is central Ethics is central Ethics is central
Tied to Excellence Theory (Empowerment of PR through effectiveness and proper management to affect change for organization and public) Looks to philosophers like Plato and Aristotle for rhetorical reinforcement (participate in rhetoric to persuade, but also to be good citizens) Utilitarian philosophy (Looks to more recent theorists in social sciences like John Stuart Mill on outcomes of decisions and ethical decisions based on publics’ greater good)

After assembling this chart and reviewing the separate and somewhat disparate thought processes, there are commonalities throughout, including:

  • The centralization of ideas as tools to create change
  • Ethical PR is central, from rhetoric as the framework for PR to social and ethical decisions being a PR function
  • Utilizing PR as a tool to be a good citizen and make ethical decisions for the masses (Even though the Post-Symmetrical Model heavily seeks to persuade it is designed to be executed in an ethical fashion)
  • Language, symbols and dialogue (rhetoric) all play a part in each of the theorists’ principles
  • A common end-game is always at play (i.e. changing perceptions, increasing sales, maintaining ethics). The specific mode that is operationalized is all that changes, and it is only a modification of a prior theory.
  • Grunig relied on Systems Theory, discussed in-depth by Bowen to examine the “direction and flow – not the ethics of communication.” (Porter, 2010, p. 129)

Breakdown of Each Theorist

The first theorist I will review is Grunig. He and his wife are quite possibly two of the most renowned PR theorists in existence. One of the many theories Grunig is most famous for is his Symmetrical Model of public relations, which is rooted in PR acting to create mutually beneficial relationships between its stakeholders/organization and the public as a whole. In the following video, Grunig discusses his Symmetrical Model in tandem with his Excellence Theory, which looks at:

“… the value of public relations to organizations and society based on the social responsibility of managerial decisions and the quality of relationships with stakeholder publics. For an organization to be effective, according to the theory, it must behave in ways that solve the problems and satisfy the goals of stakeholders as well as of management.” (Grunig, 2008)

Porter is the next theorist I will tackle. He is a more contemporary practitioner and theorist, with approaches I would call more aggressive than his counterparts.

The interplay between the three theorists, notwithstanding others such as Heath, Toth, Trapp et al, show how PR can have a diverse range of concepts to work from, but still draw from common themes.

Sources:

Bowen, S.A. (2007) Ethics and Public Relations. Syracuse University.

Grunig, J. E. (2008). Excellence theory in public relations. In. W. Donsbach (Ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Communication, Volume 4 (pp. 1620-1622). Oxford, UK and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell 2008.

http://faculty.buffalostate.edu/smithrd/PR/pioneers.htm, retrieved October 8, 2012

http://pr.wikia.com/wiki/Ivy_Lee, retrieved October 8, 2012

http://pdnetworks.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/persuasion-rhetoric-ethics/, retrieved October 8, 2012

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Three steps to creating mutual expectations

I thought you said you said you were going to do more today! What's the deal?

Part two of a two-part series on setting expectations in your personal and professional life (Read first part)

Us PR folks all try and “get er done” at our jobs, but sometimes we go a little overboard. We take on so much that we begin to drown in a sea of self-imposed work. To better manage your workload and the expectations surrounding each project, consider these three simple rules of setting and managing expectations. You might just find that taking on that project isn’t the best use of time and resources for both you and your organization. Try and:

  1. Know your limitations and stay within them – We’re constantly put in positions to “learn on the job.” That happens, but be realistic. Can you do the project you’re attempting? Do you need more professional development? It’s better to admit your limitations than to fail because of pride.
  2. Be honest with yourself and your clients/bosses – We have a tendency to be “yes” people to everyone because we love to be the clutch player. That’s how we’re built. Know how much work you can handle to be successful and stay within those boundaries.
  3. Have a plan that’s realistic and routine – We’re planners and strategists, right?  So why shouldn’t our expectations be rooted in the same thought process? Well, they should. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and work to enhance your strengths and turn your weaknesses into strengths. Routine and constant learning do this. Know how much time and energy you can dedicate to each area and stick within those boundaries.

In the end, the insane world of PR can, to a certain degree, be managed. It takes setting realistic and mutual expectations, knowing  your limitations, having a routine and being honest with yourself, your bosses and clients.

Here’s a few other recent posts discussing PR as one of the top-ten most stressful jobs:


ad:tech ruffles PR’s ethical feathers

Last month was PR Ethics Month, when we remind ourselves about the host of ethical dilemmas we, as PR practitioners, face. It’s also a time to reflect on our commitment to a stringent code of ethics placed at the highest point of our personal and professional standards. Each year, the world’s largest professional association for public relations practitioners, PRSA, makes it a point to highlight new changes to its ethical code, as well as promote various issues facing PR ethics and how to approach them.

Industry publications like PRSA Tactics, PRWeek and others regard ethics to reside at the core of public relations practice. Recently, leadership at ad:tech, an annual gathering of online marketers, offered free or discounted access to the conference for endorsed tweets, Facebook and blog posts from prominent bloggers. We in PR call this Pay-for-Play or Pay-to-Play. The definition was recently updated by the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS) with PSA-9.

The request for coverage from ad:tech was exposed by bloggers and PR people within the industry. In a blog post by Jason Chupick from PRNewser on Oct. 17 detailed the news of what ad:tech had done, including the full letter of apology. Chupick said:

My co-editor confirmed by phone yesterday that the person who sent the emails neither works internally at ad:tech, or at their PR firm Edelman.

What the organization did
With the negative responses and comments swirling and growing stronger, Event Director, Mike Flynn, from ad:tech immediately posted a full apology for its inappropriate actions. This was the right move, and helped mitigate any further negative brand perception, but may have done some damage.

Regardless of who sent the emails to the bloggers and journalists, ad:tech management should have made sure they knew what was going on. Their PR firm – the world’s largest independently owned agency, Edelman – should have been a part of this since they were the agency of record and PR counsel to the organization. My question is, who sent out the emails then? And how are they being dealt with? This person/s should be held accountable in some way and exposed for what they did.

How ethical are PR people?
We keep saying we follow an ethical guiding light that points us in the right direction, but we hear too many stories similar to this one. That prompts me to wonder if we just think we’re ethical or if we truly understand ethical standards but turn a blind eye when we feel we can personally gain. Interestingly enough, a survey was done by Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., and Judith Rogala, for their book “Trust Inc,” revealing that less than 10 percent of PR practitioners ever received any training on how to make ethical decisions.

Ann Subervi, president and CEO of Utopia Communications, Inc. in Red Bank, N.J., made some comments that are a fitting end to this post and ones that we should try to employ.

Most of us struggle with what action to take when faced with an ethical dilemma. While awareness of ethics is great, the ability to act ethically is even better. Ethics cannot be a once-a-year focus. Rather, it needs to be an ongoing focus.


Who holds the key to integrated marketing communications?

Illustration by Francis Anderson

Illustration by Francis Anderson

Having worked at both PR  and advertising agencies, I’ve had the opportunity to experience how each view integrated marketing communications (IMC). I believe advertising agencies do not understand IMCs true purpose, but PR agencies do.

Is it because people at ad agencies tend to be more creative-based? Or is it because PR pros are inherently analytical and strategic? Or is it rooted in the education each practitioner receives?

What I Think
I consider advertising professionals to be limited in their knowledge of IMC because they’re not exposed to the many facets of marketing communications in both theory and practice like a PR practitioner is. So I contend that advertising professionals lack of understanding of IMC stems from their cumulative education. University advertising programs look to train their students singularly in advertising, with few courses required in public relations or general communications. Continue reading


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