September 29, 2018
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) http://www.chicagotribune.com/dining/ct-food-giant-glad-press-n-seal-20180911-story.html
A Chicago Restaurant and Glad Wrap Fooled Diners by Serving Three-Day-Old Food
(Ashok Selvam, Eater Chicago)
Adam Sokolowski Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/Bnll6YPHfiC/?utm_source=ig_embed
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 katykostakis.com.
September 15, 2018
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 email@example.com with the email subject headline: PRSA Boston. No attachments please.
Submissions will be judged by a panel of seasoned PR professionals in these areas:
- Knowledge of the PRSA Code of Ethics: https://www.prsa.org/ethics/code-of-ethics/
- Thorough analysis of potential solutions
- A complete proposed solution with a well-supported argument
- What is the ethical dilemma and what standard and/or provisions are being conflicted?
- What are potential solutions for most effectively handling the dilemma?
- What are the weaknesses and strengths of each solution? What counter arguments could be used?
- What solution do you recommend and why?
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?
June 2, 2018
By Caroline Lee and Maureen O’Connell
“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.
April 23, 2017
“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
October 23, 2016
PRSA Boston checked in with Mike Lawrence, Cone Communications’ EVP and Chief Reputation Officer, for his take on the state of ethics in PR.
Do you think practitioners’ personal ethics are being challenged now more than ever in the PR field? Why?
Ethics has always been a challenge in PR. There has always been built-in tension for PR folks. On the one hand, they often work with companies or individuals who expect support to look good or sell stuff.
On the other hand, they need to be a credible source to earned media, which means advocating without misleading. If you haven’t seen the movie “Days of Wine and Roses,” checkout this short clip in which the public relations man (Jack Lemmon) tries to explain what he does for a living. The movie is from 1962. That ought to tell you something about how long ethics has been a
Having said that, now that shared media and owned media (e.g. blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) have come of age, there are more opportunities for non-journalists and for PR people to be original creators of content that reaches a mass audience. That, in turn, provides more opportunity for ethical missteps such as pay-for-play.
Describe an ethical situation and how you handled it.
We had a consumer products client for which we were doing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) work when some of its products were the subject of a recall. In helping the company investigate the situation, it became clear other products were also likely to face recalls down the road. Despite that, the company insisted on saying in its immediate messaging that – based on what it knew at the time – other products were not affected. We kept deleting that language, and executives at the company kept putting it back in, hoping to reassure folks in the short run. We ended up resigning the business.
If you were given a “do over” for this situation, would you handle it differently?
If someone has an ethical dilemma on the job, what are the resources they should tap into to help make a decision?
If their employer has an ethics policy, that’s a good place to start for guidance, as is the company’s ethics officer if such a role exists. Depending on the specific situation, their professional development manager or someone in their human resources department may be an appropriate resource. A mentor can be a valuable sounding board as well. Beyond that, there are good resources on PRSA’s website, and at the International Association of Business Communicators website. Both groups also offer opportunities to ask for confidential advice from experts in dealing with a specific ethical dilemma.
Do you think companies and agencies should have ethics training programs?
Absolutely. At Cone Communications, we do a 30-minute meeting as part of new employee orientation that covers ethics and conflict of interest. It’s meant to empower all levels of staff to be “eyes and ears” for potential concerns. Beyond that, we have done periodic 90 minute staff learning sessions with breakout groups working on different ethical scenarios. It’s impossible to anticipate every ethical risk. But, training sessions can send a signal that ethics are a priority concern, and everyone shares responsibility for maintaining an ethical culture at a company.
PRSA Boston is hosting an event on October 26 titled Solving Ethical Challenges in PR and Crisis Communications, at Lasell College. Go here, to get your ticket.
About Fast 5
This is a feature of PRSA Boston’s Hot Topics blog page. The expert subject is someone who is clearly in demand, on the go, and nailing them down for a conversation is about as easy as … winning Powerball at $1.5 billion! But we know leaders like to share, so check back for insights, wisdom, author’s books about to hit the stands and other valuable tips. @prsaboston #prsabos
Do YOU have a candidate for a FAST 5 interview? Email: Joshua Milne at firstname.lastname@example.org and
pitch your subject expert!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author or the individual being interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRSA Boston, PRSA National, staff or board of directors of either organization.
September 29, 2015
Dear Fellow PRSA Boston Members:
It is Ethics Month and, as your Chapter Ethics Officer for 2016, I wanted to introduce myself and offer a bit on the topic. My name is Nancy Sterling and I am a past president of PRSA and have served in other Board positions including as a delegate to the national convention. Through all of that, plus earning my APR, ethics has been an important and recurring theme. I am proud to belong to a national organization which emphasizes values and ethics.
It is interesting that our colleagues on the journalist side of the table have also become more focused on ethics in recent years. Below is text from a Wall Street Journal blog on the topic which could jump-start a dialogue on ethics with your colleagues, friends or even competitors. For a look at practitioners’ points of view, check out the PRSA National website for more thought-provoking articles.
There is also an excellent PRSA National webinar hosted by Boston’s own Kirk Hazlett on the topic of ethics later this month. I invite you to join me in signing up for what will likely be an entertaining and enjoyable learning experience.
Finally, if there are any ethical issues which you find challenging in the coming year, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via the contact information below.
Happy Ethics Month! Nancy
What Does Aristotle Have to do With Business Ethics?
By Ben DiPietro
Paul J. Voss, an associate professor at Georgia State University and the president of Ethikos, a company that provides ethics and leadership training, talks about what it means to act ethically in business and what history can teach companies about ethical behavior.
What does it mean to act ethically?
Mr. Voss: What it is is to follow procedures, policies…it’s how you act, what you do. If you’re a journalist or a doctor, it’s how you act in that professional capacity. There are business ethics, medical ethics, journalistic ethics–depending on your public profile, you follow that particular professional code. It’s how you do what you do. Ethics answers the “ought” question, as in ‘How ought we act in this particular situation.’
What are the basics of ethical business behavior?
Mr. Voss: Aristotle 2,500 years ago first articulated what we call “virtue ethics,” the four primary ethical characteristics that could be readily adapted to business today. The first one is prudence, or the wisdom and ability to make good decisions. The next one is justice, or treating people fairly and equitably and following the law. The third one is temperance, or modifying one’s desires and not overextending one’s leverage. The last one is fortitude or bravery, having the courage to do what is necessary–we call that work ethic.
What can history teach us about ethical behavior—what can business leaders learn from Plato, Aristotle and other significant thinkers from the past?
Mr. Voss: History can show us the consequences of unethical behavior, the disasters that have resulted from unethical behavior. But it’s not just a mirror reflecting bad behavior, it’s also a guide book to proper conduct and to articulate and define what an ethical life is. It makes business people human and humane, as well as profitable. Ethics are not the adversary of profit; there’s a right way of making money and a wrong way. [The right way] is fairly, honestly. A free market requires mutual consent, contract law and transparency. Without good faith and honesty, you cannot have a free market.
How does one train business people on ethics?
Mr. Voss: First of all you need a vocabulary, you need to understand the core concepts, then how to implement them–the habits of ethical behavior. [For example] a large banking system had a 3.5-hour seminar and we did case studies looking at how many “heartburn issues” they have in a typical day and are there any ethical dilemmas. [The key is] how do we an define an ethical dilemma. What vocabulary can we use? What knowledge can we apply to these day-to-day situations?
We start by defining the culture–how do we do what we do? How do we loan money, make transactions, deliver packages? What are our strengths in our core competencies? Then we examine that behavior–are there different standards than the ones we’re using? Can we avoid ethical dilemmas and meddlesome situations that might compromise brand equity?
Are companies providing enough ethics training? Are they treating this as an important issue?
Mr. Voss: I don’t think they are providing enough, but then again I’m in ethics training. But they are providing more than they used to. I’d like to see more emphasis on culture and that it’s good business to emphasize an ethical culture—it leads to far less cost, far fewer lawsuits, more productivity and more engaged employees.
How has social media and technology changed the discussions about ethics in business?
Mr. Voss: Tremendously. Now, every complaint made against a company can be immediately retweeted to hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of minutes. Companies have to be more vigilant than ever of their brand equity, their integrity, their culture. A company’s reputation no longer solely belongs to the company, it also belongs to cyberspace.
Write to Ben DiPietro at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @BenDiPietro1.