Part 3 – Public Relations and Persuasion
I. Introduction (p. 251)
A. Public relations shapes much of what we know about modern business, industry, sports, entertainment, government and even religion.
B. PR is defined as the act of helping an organization and its public adapt to each other or to “win the cooperation of groups of people” (Lesley, 1981).
C. Public relations practitioner roles and functions may include:
1. Establishing and maintaining mutual lines of communications between an organization and its publics.
2. Managing problems or issues faced by an organization, especially in crisis.
3. Helping management respond to public opinion and to use change in a positive way.
4. Serves as an early warning system (i.e., identifies and protects against possible crises).
5. Helps management understand how best to serve the public’s interest.
D. Another way to consider the roles that a public relations practitioner plays is to classify them as follows: spokesperson, listener, planner, surveyor, and counselor.
E. To govern the (ethical) practice of public relations, various professional organizations have adopted formal codes of ethical practice. (Note: see the annotated websites on this site)
F. Despite the ethical efforts, PR practitioners are still labeled as spin doctors, flacks, etc. Some of this is due to the merger of marketing, advertising and PR workers within the same department, especially in health care, government and litigation.
G. The cases in this part of the text will raise questions on issues like shaping and polishing image, conflicting loyalties and social responsibility.
II. Public Communication (Ch. 10, p. 201)
A. What is the role of public relations (PR) professionals—advocate, activist or information provider? By definition, he or she is partisan, representing a group, organization or public.
B. The work is important because it can be informational and persuasive.
1. Positive PR contributions—raise campaign funds, influence policy-makers, encourage voters, etc.
2. Negative PR contributions—clog channels of public debate; may interfere with Democratic processes.
C. Key questions and concerns: Is journalism more ethical than PR? Is journalism more objective and honest or PR? Do certain under-represented groups need a voice in the public arena? Who controls those voices?
D. Cases in this chapter demonstrate the ethical issues facing public relations professionals.
1. Publicity and Justice (Case 40): Former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich hired a PR firm to help influence public opinion because he was arrested on counts of fraud and conspiracy and was accused of trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat. Should PR firms be allowed to sway public opinion in their client’s favor before a trial?
2. The Many Friends of the Candidate (Case 41): Obama has been dubbed “The First Social Media President” because of his use of many social networks such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. How does implementing social media enhance or derail communication between the Obama Administration and the public?
3. Corporate Speech and State Laws (Case 42): Discusses Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in some states. What may lead a corporation to engage in controversies when some might shy away from them? Should government-funded persuasive campaigns be targeted only at adults?
4. “Better Make Room” for Government (Case 43): Government-funded campaigns can stimulate ideas but stifle opposition. In what ways are public voices encouraged and protected from being drowned out by powerful voices like elected officials and their sponsors?
III. Telling the Truth in Organizational Settings (Ch. 11, 270)
A. The PR professional’s role as “liaison” between internal and external audiences presents special challenges to truthfulness.
B. PR professionals shaping information may lead to ‘stage managing’ the truth, since they are in charge of communicating a message in corporate settings where the organization’s point of view is represented.
C. It may be much easier to tell positive news than negative news. Enthusiasm can lead to overstatement and hyperbole.
D. In organizational settings, truth is often negotiated and will contain components of several opinions.
E. Cases in this chapter challenge you to explore the ethical demands of truthtelling within the organizational setting. Is polishing and shaping an image deceptive?
1. Private Issues and Public Apologies (Case 44): An examination of Tiger Woods public apology following a very private issue of cheating on his wife. Tiger’s use of a press conference and public apology days after the scandal broke in the media warrants a discussion about truthtelling. This case is analyzed from Wood’s perspective as a husband and a commercial spokesperson. Why did his story garner so much public attention and media coverage? What are he and his PR team to do?
2. #AskSeaWorld Faces Tides of Protest (Case 45): Sea World deals with protests following the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish.” A web and social media campaign fails to help. What are some ethical boundaries when defending an organization accused of mistreating employees, resources, or even animals or wildlife?
3. A Healthy Drink? (Case 46): Examines Coca-Cola’s decision and eventual disclosure to fund academic research and medical/fitness programs to help counter obesity. How can a corporation best demonstrate its true motives in charitable and donor activities?
4. Reporting Recovery (Case 47): The American Red Cross comes under fire for “broken promises” in funding the Haiti earthquake recovery effort. How can an organization admit its shortcomings without losing public trust?
5. Posting #[email protected] (Case 48): When celebrities are sending out Tweets, one might ask: Who is really behind the post? Many celebrities are now using ghost writers for their Twitter accounts. How has the virtue of friendship been impacted by social media?
IV. Conflicting Loyalties (Ch. 12, 288)
A. PR practitioners are challenged to find ethical ways to balance strong personal values and loyalties with the values and interests of their various organizations.
B. Ethical challenges arise out of the conflicting roles, responsibilities, and duties that PR professionals face every day on the job.
1. They are expected to be advocates: partisan, yet equitable.
2. They are expected to represent the organization, yet serve as a liaison to the public.
C. Albert J. Sullivan described the conflict of interests that PR professionals face as one between “partisan values” and “mutual values.” A commitment to partisan values may result in the application of utilitarian ethics.
D. Cases in this chapter demonstrate how a PR practitioner must emphasize mutual rather than partisan values.
1. Accelerating Recalls (Case 49): Examines the Toyota safety crisis from 2007 to 2010. What loyalty rises to the top when choices about disclosure may endanger people’s lives? What about when the choice endangers economic security?
2. Representing Political Power (Case 50): A PR firm helps the Russian President write an op-ed in the New York Times. Should there be ethical limits to the political or governmental viewpoints one might choose to promote and represent?
3. Paying for Play? (Case 51): Looks at the professional standards of ‘pay for play’ to gain favorable coverage for an employer or client. What values should be considered in disclosing a business relationship? How can we know if a good review is earned or paid for?
4. Thank You for Smoking (Case 52): A satirical 2006 film illustrates just how PR practitioners can find themselves supporting any number of causes. In a PR-saturated society, who is a public servant?
5. Tragedy at the Mine (Case 53): When CNN broadcast erroneous news about the status of 12 missing miners in 2006, families of the deceased suffered greatly. How can corporations prepare to handle information ethically in case of a deadly disaster?
V. The Demands of Social Responsibility (Ch. 13, p. 305)
A. What responsibilities do PR professionals owe to the external public?
B. Is the “greatest good for the greatest number” to be applied to the small number of organizational leaders served by the PR professional, or the general public?
C. Critics of PR call for practitioners to be bound by a sense of duty—seek to minimize harm to the public good. Here are some critical issues to weigh as we consider where these conflicting duties (i.e., duties to organizational leaders versus the general public) intersect:
1. What are some ethical considerations when the public good can be served only at great expense to the company?
2. Are time or financial constraints ever an acceptable apology for compromising ethics?
3. In an increasingly pluralistic society, how does one define the general public and then decide what is best for it?
D. Cases in this chapter prompt you to consider different aspects of the socially responsible motive for behavior that PR professionals must address.
1. One for One…You Are Tom (Case 54): This case shows how a company creates a public relations strategy through charitable giving in a for-profit model. TOMS Shoes is used as the primary example. Should individuals rely on ethical principle to guide their charitable giving and involvement?
2. Ice Bucket Challenge Fundraising (Case 55): The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge results in awareness and funds for fighting the disease. Does generous giving need to become a public ritual? Does the campaign encourage a one-time donation or a regular commitment?
3. Tackling Domestic Violence (Case 56): This case examines the NFL’s reaction to the Ray Rice elevator video where the Ravens start punches his fiancée. Are actions from the NFL enough to change the attitudes and behaviors that lead to this problem?
4. Brewing Racial Discourse? (Case 57): Starbucks moves into the social issue conversation on race and receives praise and criticism. What role does a prominent for-profit company play in addressing the issues of the day? Should they use a bully pulpit on issues like race, guns and the environment?