• Q &A with Melinda Rios – Winner of the PRSA Boston PR Ethics Essay Challenge

    In Ethics on

    Melinda is the Administrative Assistant for Advancement at Stonehill College in Easton,
    MA. She has her BA from Wellesley College and is currently enrolled part-time in the
    Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) Master’s Program at Stonehill College.

    You can read her winning essay here.

    Melinda will be honored for her achievement at our Annual Meeting on December 4 th at
    District Hall (75 Northern Ave., Boston). This is a must-attend event where we will be electing
    the 2019 Board of Directors, including the 2019 PRSA Boston President, Dan Dent, APR. We
    will also honor PR Great Nancy Sterling with the Diane Davis Beacon Award and have a
    “fireside chat” with Boston Celtics’ SVP of Communication Christian Megliola. This is a
    great opportunity to be more involved and network with PR’s best in the field.

    Get your tickets today!

    1) Why is the topic of ethics an important subject to you?
    Knowing right from wrong helps to establish trust in relationships, provided the intent is also
    ethical and sincere. It doesn’t matter whether these relationships are professional, personal,
    familial or communal, acting with integrity, honor, fairness and decency are qualities that one
    should always aspire to. However, when your reputation is at stake or your loyalty to others is
    questioned, choosing the right path is not always easy to do. The topic of ethics is important to
    me because negative consequences and regret inevitably follow when you make the wrong
    decision – and these can, at times, be irreversible. An ethical dilemma is one where the right and
    wrong path is not always clear-cut or obvious. It is therefore necessary to examine your intent,
    weigh consequences, and sometimes even enlist the support of others when attempting to make a
    good decision. If I can avoid making a bad decision, I know that I will sleep better at night!

    2) Can you think of a time when you struggled with an ethical issue? 
    As an undergraduate student at another college, I was selected for a fellowship that required me
    to do a research project with a faculty ad visor. The faculty adviser questioned the fellowship
    selection process and wanted to meet with a member of the fellowship committee prior to being
    amenable to advising or assisting me. At the time, I remember that this made me feel insecure
    about being selected by the fellowship committee. I felt frustrated by the faculty adviser’s
    questioning my qualifications, but I also knew that these concerns were valid as this professor
    was being asked to assist me without having a say in the fellowship selection process. Despite
    my insecurity and frustration toward the faculty member whom I wanted to be my adviser, it was
    necessary for me to establish this professor’s trust and respect if I were to succeed in
    accomplishing my research. I needed to remain humble as I continued to ask for assistance, even
    though I felt uncomfortable and honestly just wanted to sever the relationship. I would not have
    succeeded in my research if I had burned a bridge with my faculty adviser early in the process.
    By the end of the research project, I had earned my faculty adviser’s respect, albeit slowly and
    more gradually than if circumstances had been different. I also realized the debt of gratitude that

    I owed to my faculty adviser for taking the time to assist my efforts and guide my research,
    despite their initial reservations and disbelief in my ability.

    3) What made you decide to go back to school to attain your master’s degree in IMC? 
    It was an easy decision. I am a life-long learner! I am excited to challenge myself intellectually.
    There is no greater feeling of accomplishment than putting your heart and soul into your work
    and getting an A grade on an assignment. The Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC)
    graduate degree program at Stonehill College not only helps me to further my education, but also
    provides the opportunity for me to be more attractive to potential employers. This education can
    help me advance professionally because I am acquiring a creative toolkit of best practices and
    strategies for use in the marketing and communications industry. I love the IMC program,
    including the high standard of academic excellence and rigor, the professional affiliation with the
    AACSB International accreditation, and the dedicated and committed faculty and staff. If it were
    not for this program, I wouldn’t have heard about the PRSA Ethics Essay Challenge as my
    professor, Dr. Kirsten Whitten, told us about it in class and posted it to the Blackboard course. I
    am grateful of Dr. Whitten for not only exposing me to this opportunity, but for guiding me to
    being more involved as a member of PRSA Boston. Winning this essay contest is a testament to
    the strength of the IMC program and further supports what I said earlier, that seeking advice and
    enlisting the support of others is essential to becoming an ethical, responsible and successful
    person. In fact, it’s not only my professors who challenge me to be more involved, but my
    classmates and fellow cohort of professional students in the IMC program also challenge me
    intellectually and encourage me to contribute my unique perspectives and experiences in
    classroom and group projects. I am honored to be part of the first inaugural IMC class at
    Stonehill College.

    4) What’s it like to be an adult going back to school? 
    It is difficult to achieve a work-life balance. I work full-time and attend the IMC program part-
    time by taking two courses per semester at night and on Saturdays. Juggling everything,
    including family responsibilities, such as providing for my family and spending time with my
    daughter and her dad, as well as maintaining friendships, attending classes and finding time to
    study and write papers, is challenging, but extremely rewarding. I prefer to be busy and
    purposeful. Although not easy, I find that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to,
    provided you have the necessary resources and a community of supporters and advocates in your
    corner. Leaning on others and asking for help is essential to maintaining a healthy perspective.
    When I graduate from the IMC program, my accomplishment will be in large part due to the
    support I have received from others, including my network of family, friends, professors,
    advisers and peers.

    5) If you had a million dollars to create a PR campaign for any company or cause of your
    choice, what would you take on?
    I would start a non-profit organization to help women who have been incarcerated and want to
    transform their lives and get a fresh start. People deserve a second chance, if they are committed
    to helping themselves and have learned from the negative consequences of their actions. An
    education is the first step in the journey toward transformation. Many women who have been
    incarcerated were not fortunate enough to have received a quality education due to circumstances beyond their control – be it financial, emotional or geographical. Many women have also lacked
    the proper family and community support. Women desiring a second chance would benefit from
    health and social services in addition to vocational training, education and financial resources.
    Ethics is not just about choosing to do the right thing, but it is also about doing the right thing
    even after you make a mistake by taking the proper corrective action. The Stonehill College
    mission statement asserts that it is, “a Catholic institution of higher learning founded by the
    Congregation of Holy Cross and is a community of scholarship and faith, anchored by a belief in
    the inherent dignity of each person.” I live and appreciate this mission. I believe that this
    includes those who have not always made the right choices in life because they, too, deserve to
    be respected and given opportunities and support to contribute to society in purposeful and
    exceptional ways.

  • Melinda Rios, Ethics essay contest winner

    In Ethics on

    Ethical Dilemma

    You’ve landed your dream job working at an agency. The first few months go well. Through your hard work, you earn a spot on the account team responsible for developing the pitch to secure a new client, PRSSA Pizza. After completing your research, you and your team members offer a list of calculated recommendations for the launch of the client’s new pizza crust with a specific budget. As your team enters the building to make its pitch, you pass a rival agency account team walking out. Your account manager turns to the team and says: “I don’t care what it takes, we have to win this account.” As you begin to present your pitch, the account manager cuts in and takes over. You soon realize the account manager is over promising what your firm can deliver and makes additional recommendations, not backed by research, for a budget much lower than the team agreed upon. You know it is unrealistic that your agency will be able to deliver the results the account manager has promised, especially within the client’s budget.

    PRSSA Pizza awards the account to your agency. Later that day, one of the owners of your agency stops by to congratulate the team on securing a new, high profile account and specifically congratulates you for your contribution on your very first pitch.  What Would You Do?


    I would begin the conversation by thanking the owner of my agency for stopping by to congratulation our team on the firm’s success. I would also thank the owner for the opportunity to be part of such a dynamic team of dedicated and impassioned professionals. I would explain to the owner what my responsibilities entailed regarding our pitch to the client, but also elaborate upon the individual achievements and accomplishments of each of my teammates in helping to secure the PRSSA Pizza account. Upon reflecting on the individual achievements of my teammates, I would also take the opportunity to explain how hard our team will continue to the work to meet and surpass the client’s expectations. I would be honest with the owner and say that I would be remiss if I did not convey to the owner that the team contributed additional insights and recommendations during our pitch to the client that we believe could help to enhance and deliver successful results, but admittedly our ambitious plans have not been supported or backed by adequate or preliminary research. I would admit that the team might have been a bit overzealous in our pitch to the client in terms of trying to do more with less. I would explain that limiting our resources with respect to working with a reduced budget could potentially impact the results in a negative way, but my concerns are difficult to prove and support without more dedicated research and allocated departmental resources. I would explain that despite my lack of confidence in achieving successful results with a limited and reduced budget, I am still willing to work and explore the option of working harder and more creatively to help satisfy the client. I would ask the owner of our firm to advise our team on the best course of action to take regarding consulting and working with the client, PRSSA Pizza, to encourage an open dialogue throughout the process, and also inform them of the potential challenges our team might encounter or experience that could impact the results. I would ask the owner to intervene when and if appropriate to do so to help encourage an environment of collaboration, partnership and professionalism. I would also ask the owner what he or she thought would be the best course of action to take with reference to approaching the client with any additional questions and concerns at this early stage, with the goal of driving a successful campaign that will meet the client’s overall objectives. I would end the conversation with the owner of the firm by reiterating my commitment to transparency and building a relationship of trust and honesty with our client, PRSSA Pizza. I would affirm my dedication and loyalty to the firm and stipulate how I will continue to lead our team with the highest standards of integrity and ethics as I approach all challenges. Finally, I would thank the owner, once again, for taking the time to congratulate members of our team and reiterate how proud I am to represent our firm. I believe this solution will adhere to the PRSA code of ethics by representing an honest, loyal and ethical approach to handling any potential conflicts that may arise throughout the process of meeting the client’s objectives, while also maintaining a standard of integrity for myself, my teammates, and the firm I will continue to stand behind.


  • Would You Bite the Hand That Feeds You? By Katy Kostakis

    In Ethics, PRSA Member Feed on

    According to articles published in the Chicago Tribune and on Eater Chicago in September, Giant, a popular restaurant co-owned by chef Jason Vincent, was in the center of a public relations maelstrom after a campaign promoting a tasting event was found to be masking ethically questionable behavior. It was after social media influencer Adam Sokolowski blew the proverbial lid off of the cookie jar did the involvement of a local agency and well-respected national brand come to light.

    Based on Sokolowski’s post on Instagram of his redacted invitation, both articles discuss how the agency handling the restaurant’s account (identified in the pieces as FCB) encouraged food writers and influencers to attend a tasting dubbed Three Moons, heralding a new menu created by Vincent.  The invitation promoted the usage of “interesting preservation techniques and fresh and seasonal ingredients” and concluded with the firm’s intention to secure “content and real-time feedback through images and video”.

    The remainder of Sokolowski’s post stated that after a bar bouncer overheard his conversation and warned him of the event being a “scam”, he contacted a friend that attended the first seating and they revealed the true nature of the event: the meal served was prepared three days prior and stored with Glad Press ‘n Seal wrap, and the subsequent recording of the reactions were to be incorporated into promotional material for Glad. Three Moons was merely a cover. It was wrapped up in the promotion for Glad. Eater describes how the guests were asked to sign a release and would able to receive compensation for doing so, as well as in the event Glad chose to include them in the promotional material.

    Understandably, participants probably did not react well, and Sokolowski asserts in his post that while he chose not to attend the event once he learned of the deception, he did confront Vincent, “I was incredulous, but managed to promptly tell Jason Vincent that what he’s doing is unethical, potentially a violation of his license, and definitely a complete dereliction of hospitality. “

    In the Tribune article, Vincent attempted to rationalize his actions, and FCB made a statement without overtly admitting any wrongdoing. This could be interpreted as simple damage control by both, but as the incident snowballed, the outcry and outrage over those tactics pose one obvious question while answering affirmatively whether grievous ethics violations were committed: on whom does the blame lie? Is it squarely on Jason Vincent and his staff?   FCB?  Glad Products?  To put it simply, all three organizations involved in the execution of said campaign should be held accountable.  In the most basic sense, they all shirked their ethical obligation to be truthful and transparent to those they were vetting. The crucial facts that the food was three days old and stored using Glad Press ‘n Seal were not to be revealed until the guests’ reactions were captured on camera. The invitation did not inform them of Glad’s connection, nor the extent of said connection, whatsoever. The entire ruse could be construed as unscrupulous at best, sneaky and underhanded at worst. Yet, if we were to simply point a finger at the agency and only hold them fully responsible, it now boomerangs back to that age-old issue of members of the media mistrusting public relations and related practitioners.

    It is my belief that a brand or an agency that is willing to execute or participate in such a manner needs to take a step back and reevaluate their practices and priorities, including how much importance truly lies with that code of ethics. Any company that is searching for agency representation (as well as any agency considering representing a brand) should never be afraid to question the strategies being considered and how that fits into their mission and business model. If your instincts are telling you something is not proper, listen to them.  If an entity is considering crossing such a clearly drawn line, creating an ethical quagmire and possibly completely alienating the very public they are marketing to, what kind of message does that send about their characters? How they conduct their business?

    As with any industry that imparts a high standard of ethics and accountability in its daily practices, once those core values of trust and honesty are violated, all credibility is shot and the respect is gone. Once the media feels burned, public relations practitioners then have even more difficulty proving themselves and the companies they represent to be ethical and sound. When all is said and done, it’s their duty to be proactive; to look out for and attempt to prevent any situation that could shake that very foundation of ethics and escalate into a crisis, not assist in the exacerbation of it.

    Learn more about this story:

    Glad marketing stunt at Giant restaurant dinner for social media influencers leads to ethics controversy (Nick Kindelsperger and Joseph Hernandez, Chicago Tribune)

    A Chicago Restaurant and Glad Wrap Fooled Diners by Serving Three-Day-Old Food

    (Ashok Selvam, Eater Chicago)

    Adam Sokolowski Instagram

    BIO: Katy Kostakis is an Account Executive and Marketing Writer and Editor for Costas Provisions Corp., a foodservice distribution firm in Boston. A graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, she is also a blogger and freelance writer. Kostakis is an associate member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), as well as a volunteer with the Boston chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA).  To view her work, please visit her website at

  • What Would You Do? Win tickets to PRSA Boston’s Annual Meeting & Holiday Social

    In Ethics on

    PRSA Boston Offers PR Ethics Essay Challenge


    Winner will earn free tickets to PRSA Boston’s Annual Meeting and Holiday Social


    September is PRSA Ethics Month. Are you ready for an ethical challenge? Find out by entering PRSA Boston’s Ethics Essay Challenge, What Would You Do?


    Challenge Rules & Rewards

    PRSA Boston members have until midnight on Oct. 10 to submit a written essay (800 words or less) detailing how to correctly handle the proposed ethical dilemma. The author of the response who most thoughtfully incorporates the PRSA Code of Ethics will:

    • Win two free tickets our annual meeting (Nov.) and two free tickets to our holiday social (Dec.)
    • Be featured on our website and
    • Recognized at our Annual Meeting for her/his winning submission.


    Submission Deadline: Midnight – Oct. 10. Email your submission to Maureen O’Connell at with the email subject headline: PRSA Boston. No attachments please.



    Submissions will be judged by a panel of seasoned PR professionals in these areas:

    1. Knowledge of the PRSA Code of Ethics:
    2. Thorough analysis of potential solutions
    3. A complete proposed solution with a well-supported argument


    Essay Questions

    1. What is the ethical dilemma and what standard and/or provisions are being conflicted?
    2. What are potential solutions for most effectively handling the dilemma?
    3. What are the weaknesses and strengths of each solution? What counter arguments could be used?
    4. What solution do you recommend and why?


    Ethical Dilemma

    You’ve landed your dream job working at an agency. The first few months go well. Through your hard work, you earn a spot on the account team responsible for developing the pitch to secure a new client, PRSSA Pizza. After completing your research, you and your team members offer a list of calculated recommendations for the launch of the client’s new pizza crust with a specific budget. As your team enters the building to make its pitch, you pass a rival agency account team walking out. Your account manager turns to the team and says: “I don’t care what it takes, we have to win this account.” As you begin to present your pitch, the account manager cuts in and takes over. You soon realize the account manager is overpromising what your firm can deliver and makes additional recommendations, not backed by research, for a budget much lower than the team agreed upon. You know it is unrealistic that your agency will be able to deliver the results the account manager has promised, especially within the client’s budget.


    PRSSA Pizza awards the account to your agency. Later that day, one of the owners of your agency stops by to congratulate the team on securing a new, high profile account and specifically congratulates you for your contribution on your very first pitch.  What Would You Do?

  • Dan Dent

    Facebook Fallout: Reviewing Mark Zuckerberg’s Actions During a PR Ethics Crisis

    In Ethics on

    By Caroline Lee and Maureen OConnell  

    “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you,” — Mark Zuckerberg, on Facebook, March 21, 2018

    Mark Zuckerberg co-founded Facebook, the number one social media platform, out of his dorm room at Harvard in 2004. But since March 2018, the start-up billionaire has been under the hot seat regarding accusations of unethical activities conducted by Facebook’s research firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA). The firm is accused of improperly gaining access to the personal data of more than 50 million Facebook users. As a result, the Facebook’s value declined.

    Zuckerberg continues to defend his company’s brand image to regain trust among its investors and users, as 51 percent of adults express their mistrust with the platform. Zuckerberg has admitted to making mistakes. He’s testified about his activities on Capitol Hill and in the UK. He also publicly announced his plans to protect users’ personal data and launched a PR campaign to rebuild brand trust.  But will it work?

    Dan Dent, APR, former PRSA Boston president, entrepreneur and seasoned PR executive, gives us his expert opinion on the importance of PR ethics, lessons for PR pros, and advice for Zuckerberg.

    What are some of the key features of ethical practice in public relations?

    The key features of ethical public relations are transparency and fairness. Transparency is important because, as advocates, PR professionals communicate with a point of view and a vested interest. The public at large should be able to identify those interests. Fairness is important because while PR professionals operate in a competitive environment of ideas, the public always reserves the right of choice. Fairness means we are aware of that choice and refrain from slandering or libeling our competition.

    Do you think Mark Zuckerberg and his PR team upheld ethical standards in their crisis response in the immediate aftermath of the scandal breaking news?

    Yes, I think Zuckerberg and Facebook upheld their responsibilities to their partners, employees and investors. They also addressed the concerns of their customers and legislators by outlining a plan to reduce instances when their customers’ personal information would be misused.

    What about during his testimony? What ethical issues do you see arising from his court hearing and testimony?

    Facebook’s ethical issues during Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony were to be expected. They include perceived lapses in Facebook’s transparency concerning the protection of their customers’ personal information. They also include a dereliction of years in Facebook’s cultivating the Congress as an ally, as opposed to a meddler or adversary. Zuckerberg’s personality came through as a technologist a bit removed from public debates, but his customer advocacy was strong.

    What should Facebook do to repair its damaged image?

    The damage to Facebook’s reputation will likely be short term, but the company does need to execute on its plan to improve the ways it protects and shares customer data. I would recommend they put a plan in place with 10 milestones over one year to achieve change and communicate it to the market.

    What can PR professionals learn from this historical Facebook incident?

    PR professionals should be prepared to point to Facebook’s recent activities with the Congress as a cautionary tale. Lessons learned include the importance of preparing a crisis communication plan, the ongoing value of cultivating influencers who can impact your business (here, the Congress), the importance of protecting and advocating for your business partners (here, Facebook’s community of apps developers who rely on Facebook customer data for their businesses), and the willingness to not stonewall when change is demanded by the marketplace.

  • Remaining Ethical in the Era of “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts”

    In Career, Ethics, Uncategorized on

    “Fake News.” “Alternative Facts.” Until recently, these topics were never a part of the PR conversation. Now, not only is everyone in PR, journalism and beyond talking about them, colleges and universities which specialize in communications studies are trying to figure out how to appropriately address these topics with their students.

    There are primers on how to recognize fake websites. Articles are written on how to ferret out fake news from the real thing. How did we get here? One answer, of course, is the rise and explosion of the Internet. There are no longer just journalists trained by the bellwether of CBS Standards and Practices. Now there are citizen journalists and bloggers. Who sets the standards for them? There are literally millions of sites to explore and it is up to the reader to decide which ones are credible.

    As PR practitioners, we not only have a responsibility to our clients to ensure that we are promoting their causes and their products to responsible news outlets, but we also have ethical obligations ourselves. Where do we turn for guidance? A good place to start is with our own professional organization, PRSA. Earlier this year, Jane Dvorak, APR Fellow, PRSA Chair of the Society for 2017, issued a statement on Alternative Facts. It began, “Truth is the foundation of all effective communications.” She refers to PRSA’s Code of Ethics as the guidelines in this arena for all PRSA members.  Our chapter president, Dan Dent, weighed in as well in the Boston Business Journal.

    For those of us who practice public relations, and particularly crisis communications, we know that we are not providing court testimony with a requirement to give “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Our obligation, after all, is to represent our clients’ or organization’s best interests. However, we cannot lie. To knowingly present a falsehood to a journalist or to the public at large ruins our own credibility, as well as that of our clients or the organization that we represent.

    If in doubt, print out a copy of the PRSA Guide to Ethics or keep it in an electronic file on your phone or laptop. Refer to it if you have a question. It can become your shield in the war against “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts”.

    By: Nancy J. Sterling, APR, Ethics Officer, PRSA Boston