It looks like my first official post-grad job might be with the Allen Americans. There has been talk and nudges and insinuations, but nothing official or in writing yet. I may be a paid employee in the next few months, or have to wait it out as an intern until the season is over in May or June. I think I will end up happy either way—I love this organization and everyone who works there. It is a fun environment and while much of my work will center around fun events and game nights, there will be some serious business involved where some ethical considerations could come into play.
There are several ethical issues associated with the sports world. The majority of these deal with players and officials, but as a part of the Media Relations team, I can see a few problems that could potentially arise.
A huge trend within the sports world is betting. I don’t foresee this being a personal issue because my interest in gambling is limited to Las Vegas and trivia nights in bars, but it is something I will have to watch out for. This is only the CHL, but I wouldn’t want anyone in my organization following the same moral code as Pete Rose or Michael Vick.
During games I deal with at least four or five reporters, and I will have to make sure all of my interaction with them remains ethical. Of course I want my team to be covered and described in a positive light, but in the end I will have to let the writers do what they want without any persuasion. I already know all of the regular’s names and have fun but professional rapports with each one. This is also the case with the off-ice officials. They make important decisions throughout the game, and I am the one who is responsible for supplying them with everything they need pre-game and throughout the night. I will always have to make sure what I say regarding the games and their decisions is fair and balanced, no matter what my personal feelings are.
Being fair and balanced will also come into play when I write the game stories at the end of each night. I always try to keep a positive outlook on a loss, but you can’t go so far as to fudge or misinterpret the truth. Our mission is to play good hockey and fill the seats, but if I lose the trust of those who read our stories online, we could lose them as a fan as well.
I suppose I will also have to consider my relationships with the athletes. Of course all romantic involvement is discouraged, but there is nothing permitting everyone from being friends and going out together. There are a few potential problems I can see with this, though. You can be friends with a player one day and see them traded a thousand miles away the next. You always have to remain objective when writing about these people, even if you consider them a friend. Professional athletes are required to follow a number of rules, from things like behavior in their personal lives to the medications they are allowed to take. If you find out an athlete you consider your friend has been taking steroids, I can foresee this being a big battle between your personal and professional ethics.
All of these worries and what-ifs are worst-case scenarios, in my opinion. I don’t imagine all of these things will come up in my career, but it is valuable to think about them early just in case. As long as I keep my journalist promise to always tell the truth and my public relations code of always acting in the best interest of my client and its audience, I should be okay. Hopefully these two never collide.
Before I hit double digits, one of the highlights of my weeks were the days when my new Highlights magazine would come in the mail. Highlights was the typical gift of choice for my great-aunt. A smile would instantly appear on my face when I saw its shiny cover peeking out of the mailbox. First, I would skim the crafts section to read what sort of crazy concoctions they would recommend to my young mind: foam door hangers, bird cages made from tiny milk cartons or toilet paper roll kaleidoscopes. Then I would peruse the jokes section and pass judgment on Mike Anderson, age 8 or Amanda Bradley, age 11 for their lame attempts at humor. After that let down came the hidden-picture-in-a-picture section where I tried my best to locate a fork or boot intermingled in an amazing pen sketch of a picturesque forest where two bunnies were dancing alongside elves and deer. Those were so hard, though. I never gave those more than a couple of minutes before giving up. Then came the “Goofus and Gallant” comic.
Goofus and Gallant were by far one of my favorite things ever. Goofus, with his bad boy bangs and smirk and Gallant with his prim sweater vest and kind yet pursed smile. The two lived in a kind of parallel universe, completely oblivious that somewhere out there was their twin in the EXACT same situations making the opposite choices and handling the consequences in their own way. Secretly, I preferred Goofus over Gallant. I believed he was much cuter and usually found myself sympathetic to his plights. I always figured that if we ever met when we were teenagers, he would instantly fall in love with me and I would be able to change him. Unfortunately, he was only a comic character and our paths never crossed.
I have always, however, maintained this feeling in the back of my mind that maybe there is another me out there in some parallel universe. This Melissa is in the exact same situations and making the opposite choices. There are times when think to myself, “Am I being a Goofus or a Gallant?” meaning “Am I being a complete idiot with awesome hair, or am I making the correct decisions to put me on a path to success?” I am graduating next week and am finding myself thinking about this a lot. Do I still love PR? Should I settle on the first job offer I receive even though I know it won’t make me happy? Looking back on my college career, while I have made some Goofus-like decisions, the Gallant in me is what shines though the brightest. I have always tried to do what is smart and was always thinking about the future and how to accomplish my goals. I will graduate in a good place, thanks to my Gallant mindset. I don’t see that changing, but it is nice to think that my Goofus is out there somewhere wreaking the havoc that I never did.
This semester in my ethics class, one of the conversations that was the most fueled and energetic was on the topic of celebrity endorsements and ads. My professor told us at the beginning of the semester the things that really got her students talking and engaged: celebrities, food and sex. This topic covered all of these things and more. I had never given much thought to the legal or moral implications of these endorsements—in my mind they really didn’t influence me in any way.
One of the newest trends for celebrities and even the FCC is endorsing a product or company over Twitter. Stars like Kim Kardashian (I cringed a bit using the word ‘star’) are getting paid $10,000 to link to videos or mention a product in a tweet. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with this, but a lot of people are bent out of shape over the fact that these messages are not labeled as endorsements. Perhaps the high-ups at Twitter could create a selection that will label a tweet as an ad, but is this really necessary? Are we really so trusting of these people we can’t recognize an ad when we see one? I don’t find anything sleazy or unethical about these endorsements. Some are even beneficial to everyone, like the recent pledge by celebrities to NOT tweet until one million dollars is raised for World AIDS day. As long as corporations are willing to pay the celebrities’ ridiculous fees, I think that this is a trend that will stick.
Last year the FTC published updates to its guide governing endorsements and testimonials. I could choose to rant over the ridiculousness of the fact that the last time the guidelines were changed was in 1980, but the real story here is the FTC is finally making sure that these product ads and endorsement claims are actually real and truthful. I had hoped that no one in America really believed that a pill would make all of us drop 100 pounds in just months or a cream would give all balding men the luscious locks they long for just because someone famous told us so. As this is not the case, thankfully the FTC is making sure that all of these claims are true to the average results and not the miracle cases. I also like that the celebrity will now be held accountable for the things that they say and not just the company. Celebrities have a lot of power and influence over their fans and they should be held accountable if they are knowingly telling lies.
Celebrity endorsements are always going to be in the forefront of advertising. The familiarity of the face makes the ad stand out, our obsessions with wealth and fame attract us to anything these people do or say and a celebrity endorsement can do wonders for a company’s credibility or popularity. Hopefully these changes in policy will make consumers think twice about taking everything Kim Kardashian says to heart.
P.S. AdWeek has a great compilation of current celebrity endorsements.
Over the holiday break I finally got a chance to catch up of all of my favorite television shows. Satisfied to be in on all of the latest Grey’s Anatomy drama, I found myself flipping channels and happened to end up on an old episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. The series began when I was in 5th grade and will always make me smile, but I was shocked at the newsworthiness and relevancy of the content of the episode. Here is a video summing it up in under two minutes.
In a 2008 episode titled “The Krabby Kronicle,” SpongeBob and his boss, Mr. Krabs (who is known for being cheap and obsessed with money) begin publishing a town newspaper. When plagued by boring content and poor profits, SpongeBob is encouraged to embellish stories to pique interest, which eventually turns into twisting words and fabricating news altogether. Word gets out and trouble ensues, and of course by the end of the 15 minutes Mr. Krabs has another failed business venture and SpongeBob learns the value of truth and accuracy in journalism. As a journalism student who has been regaled with stories and examples involving what would happen if we made things up, I loved the simplicity of this story. I would love to see this worked into a basic news writing or introductory class.
SpongeBob’s dilemma is a real problem among journalists and PR practitioners alike. Gallup reported last year 75 percent of Americans do not have a high level of confidence in media—a statistic I imagine has a lot to do with this trend of embellishment and new standard as to what is considered newsworthy. The PR industry especially seems to be surrounded by a cloud of distrust. When discussing PR with friends, many cannot come up with a clear idea of the responsibilities involved in the profession and feel our main job is to spin bad news or find ways to keep things from the public. I understand this misconception, as the only time anyone is our profession is ever called out in the news is for a mistake.
In school we take ethics classes and learn PR is so much more than dealing with bad news. Regardless, people still make stupid mistakes making everyone involved look bad. Lying is the easy, quick way out. Every code of ethics out there tells us our number one mission is to stick to the truth, but there are so many instances out there where someone has taken a misstep. At one point I felt focusing so much on negative case studies and other people’s mistakes was a waste of time, but the simple fact that there are so many examples available to choose from is proof this needs to be drilled into our brains.
CNN Money reported this week 59 percent of Americans will check their work emails over the holidays this year. This statistic didn’t shock me, as this is the norm in my family with my dad and sister who work in computer engineering and marketing, respectively. What was different about this year however is it was me doing the most work over the holidays. From assignments and projects for school to keeping up with coverage reports for my agency job (when you work with international clients, you have to remember not everyone celebrates the same holidays), a lot of my holiday will be spent working instead of relaxing.
This trend is high among Americans, but seems to be an American problem alone. There are dozens of articles telling us much of Europe shuts down in August. Shops are closed and beaches are full of vacationers who are getting paid to take a whole month off of work. In America, unless you are a student, CEO or fabulously rich and famous, this is vastly unheard of. With the pressures of high unemployment on everyone’s mind, even small vacations can be stressful. I have friends and family members in the work force who say taking a week off is not worth it in the end because of the massive work load that would greet them upon their return. It is cheaper for employers to have us work more hours than to hire someone new, so we are stuck working overtime and during holidays meant to be spent with family and friends.
Although the constant barrage of responsibilities and emails is frustrating, sometimes I feel it is all worth it when I deposit my hard-earned money into my bank account. Social status in America is largely reliant on earnings and spending. We generally own more things and it is common to judge other based on the type of car they drive or the neighborhood they call home. Is this why we accept the demanding hours and seemingly endless stress? Do Europeans just place more value on leisure? In many countries, companies are legally required to offer paid annual leave. In some cases, unions have taken the charge to force more vacation time instead of higher pay. To me this sounds crazy, but taxes could play a big part in all of this. Europeans in general have higher marginal tax rates than Americans, which would definitely give them less incentive to work. Floundering economies in Europe, though, may change the way they do business. I don’t see this on the horizon for America. Our values are not going to change any time soon and, at least in my case, I don’t see the PRSA or any PR unions (are there any?) standing up for this issue. I will just keep cherishing my weekends and mourning the loss of summer vacation. Being a grown-up will suck.
In his blog, Charles Arthur (Technology Editor for The Guardian) discusses his frustrations with the overabundance of emails he receives from PR practitioners. From pitches to press releases, Arthur finds himself deleting the majority of mail that winds up in his inbox. I get frustrated when UNT sends me just five emails in an afternoon, so I completely understand his complaints.
During the course of my internships I have been tasked with sending out blast emails containing media advisories and press releases. I always felt a bit uneasy about it, especially when using a media list that I had not created or updated. The ratio of responses to replies or coverage that I received would probably be in the ballpark of 50:1—a result that obviously proves that I was wasting not only my time, but the client’s and the journalist’s. I feel that I have remedied this practice a bit (at least in my case) by really taking the time to tailor my media lists. Arthur knocks companies such as Cision and their over-encompassing media lists, but for me it is an invaluable tool. The key word here, however, is tool. Cision provides me with publications and reporters under the blanket topics that I am searching for, but I do not stop there. Taking the time—two or three minutes for each publication or reporter—to see what they cover and who their audience is can really pay off in the end. You may have a shorter media list, but your chances of getting the interest level you are seeking are much higher. I have also been told that sending blast emails is okay, but to always use the “blind copy” tool. If a reporter can see that you have sent your pitch to 20 other sources, I would imagine that they would be a bit put off.
I love writing pitches. One of the things I enjoy most about PR is that almost all of the work that you do is measurable. This is definitely the case when pitching. Having an appropriately targeted list here is even more important than when sending out a press release. I was taught to always target pitches individually to the reporter or publication. In August I was asked to pitch an article written by the assistant dean of communications for the SMU Cox School of business. After reading the article, which was about rebranding, I searched long and hard for publications I thought would be interested. A great tip I received was to find the publication’s editorial calendar and tailor your pitch to a specific issue, column or special. Tell them why their readers would be interested and make it known that you are more than willing to work with them to make edits. I sent out four pitches for the Cox article and ended up getting one hit. Here is the initial email I sent:
Subject: Potential Article: SMU Cox Shares Steps for Successful Rebranding
A brand is one of the most valuable assets a company has. A successful and well planned brand is an investment that will keep a company relevant and provide a long-term strategic and competitive advantage. In 2009 the SMU Cox School of Business revamped its brand positioning in an effort to coincide with the school’s achievements, including a top-20 ranking in BusinessWeek and 50% increase in applications. Working with the leading Dallas-based advertising agency The Richards Group, Cox devised a rebranding plan and successfully realized a way to make them stand out among other regional business schools.
As you plan for the rest of the year, please consider including a contributed article in an upcoming issue by Lynda Oliver, SMU Cox School of Business assistant dean of marketing and communications that details this success story.
The topic is timely and would be of interest to Marketing News readers, many considering a brand overhaul during this time of changing markets and economic hardship. SMU Cox’s strategy would be a good fit in either your October “Build Your Brand” or November “Careers and Executive Education” issue. The article covers the following branding topics:
· Signs that it may be time for rebranding
· Choosing an experienced agency partner
· Five steps to rebranding: Research, Brand Workshop, Identification, Unification and Implementation.
I would like the chance to discuss the article with you in greater detail. I will give you a call next week to gauge your interest, but please email or call if you would like to discuss sooner.
For SMU Cox School of Business
Elisabeth and I emailed back and forth for a few months making edits to the article, which was published in this month’s issue of Marketing News.
Late October was a messy time for Chevron’s Public Relations department. Hours before the launch of their nation-wide “We Agree” campaign, The Yes Men, an environmental activist group, made a preemptive strike with a campaign of their own. The group targeted Chevron’s campaign because of an ongoing lawsuit over the company’s activity in Ecuador. Some speculate that Chevron knowingly put lives in danger for the sake of oil, but Chevron claims that the allegations are false. The fake campaign mocked Chevron’s attempt at connecting with its publics and suggested that the company was taking a shockingly honest approach. The fake ads were quickly exposed, but the damage to Chevron’s reputation had already been cemented.
While I do not feel that there should be any legal ramifications as a result of this case, I think that there are a number of ethical issues involved:
Regardless of ethics, The Yes Men were successful in exposing an issue that Americans seem to be responding to. I believe that this kind of activism, as long as it is legal, is important as long as powerful companies choose to keep information like this from the public.
In his article titled “Three sides to every story,” Don Ohlmeyer presents a case study of a 2009 football broadcast between Texas Tech and Michigan State and its aftermath. The controversial portions of the broadcast concerned the coverage of Tech’s recently fired head coach Mike Leach. There were accusations of unfairness from both sides, but I believe that ESPN was in the wrong, at least ethically, in the way they allowed its broadcasters to behave.
ESPN should have never allowed Adam James’ father to call the game. This decision ensured from the beginning that the broadcast had no chance of being completely fair and balanced, as only one side included a party with a truly vested interest. The coverage on ESPN’s end was clearly affected by the emotions and personal relationships involved.
The network received thousands of complaints about the broadcasters ignoring important parts of the game to continue discussing Mike Leach. The pair’s coverage on the incident was incomplete and biased. Viewers who were not familiar with the topic were not given any variation of a back story. Also troubling was the absence of Leach’s side of the story. The broadcasters painted a horrible picture of the coach and the comments questioning the coach’s character should have been counterbalanced by Adam Jones’ behavior. Regardless of whether Leach deserved it or not, he should have been given the chance to tell his version of how things went down.
The team of broadcasters made a major ethical mistake when they read portions of affidavits released by Tech covering the incident. First of all, you should not pick and choose quotes to fit the angle that you are trying to sell. You need to tell the whole story and attribute quotes under the correct context in which they were given. The announcers also made it sound as if all of Jones’ teammates were on his side, when it had already been released that this was not the case. This show was full of accusations and judgments that did not give the audience a chance to form its own opinion.
ESPN came out and said that they believed that their broadcast was balanced and fair. You could say that the announcers acted in a utilitarian-like manner; they did whatever they had to in order to paint the picture that they wanted. Broadcasters are trusted with the responsibility of representing their network on live television, and on that day ESPN put the wrong team in charge.