Cindy Brugge

A Public Relations Student

Month: March, 2014

Public Relations at the NSA

At his March 11th Senate confirmation, new NSA Chief Michael Rogers said that the biggest problem that the National Security Agency faces this year is not its controversial issues with personal data storage. Rather, his only intended reform is to better incorporate public relations. 

The NSA has begun operating in those promises, by working to promote positive public relations during the past weeks. Already the organization has dispersed press kits to promote positive media coverage

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Other than what I’ve heard on the news, I’m not all that emotionally involved in the actions of the NSA. I tend to be pretty unaware or simply not affected by fears of the NSA. I definitely should be more concerned, but I don’t suffer from anxiety from the government’s actions. Therefore, I had a conversation with my dad on his thoughts about the NSA and quickly I understood. His voice and blood pressure quickly rose, as he spiraled into a rant about their recent actions. 

His speech included phrases like “the NSA is in a delusionary state” and “their actions prove that anybody can abuse the system. He showed deep distress for the constitutional rights of Americans and how the NSA has violated them.

“They need to get a grip,” he continued, as he discussed the need for an oversight committee. “If they could have oversight that isn’t controlled by a puppet master, then maybe there would be some change.”

What I found is that my father knows much more about the NSA than I do, while I no much more about public relations. Yet, our opinions on the NSA’s new communication attempts were completely aligned.

“It shows that they’ve been caught with their pants down and they are trying to minimize the damage,” he said.

I could not have agreed more fully. I think that it is an obvious attempt to simply redirect the conversation away from their failures, rather than actually making the changes America wants. 

These actions give a bad name to public relations. Corrupt organizations use public relations to cover up bad decisions, instead of correcting their mistakes. The NSA doesn’t plan to make any changes, other than public relations. I will be interested to see if the media focus shifts, during the next few months. If so, we will know that public relations does really work.

 

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White House PR: Obama Appears on “Between Two Ferns”

As we approach the end of March 2014, the time has come where insurance will no longer be a luxury – but a requirement. For many Americans, especially young ones,  this option seems somewhat unattainable. However, after March 31st, it will become illegal to live without health insurance.  While quite a few will knowingly fly against the rules and continue onward, insurance free, many others are not aware of the realities of this law or the resources that the government has created for their use. For this reason, President Barack Obama made an appearance on Funny or Die’s show, “Between Two Ferns” hosted by Zach Galifinackis.

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This talk show regularly interviews major celebrities; however, this was, fortunately, the first time that the leader of the free world made an appearance. The pair made an uncomfortable team, as they both played the straight face with cynical comments intended to be comical. Instead of reading as funny, the effect was discomforting and awkward. Then, Obama went on his spiel about healthcare, but almost seemed to be drilling his points down as fast as possible. Personally, I found the entire thing a tad off-putting.

Most of the time that we see a celebrity on a talk show, they have been sent there by a public relations representative to promote a product. Musicians laugh and chat about their new album, while talking about funny experiences they’ve had in the DMV or pet strore. That’s why Brad Pitt even makes time for talk show hosts. He’s there because he agreed to promote his new movie when he signed the contract. Apparently, the White House had the same intentions.

Obama can talk all day about the new healthcare bill on C-SPAN, but if he wants anyone under the age of 55 to hear about it, then he needs to try a different approach. average American in a medium that they will actually receive it. By sending him to Funny or Die, the White House was more likely to reach the average young adult male in a medium that they will actually receive it.

In fact a poll by YouGov showed that 25 percent of people ages 18-29 have seen Obama’s “Between Two Ferns” video. There were mixed reactions about whether or not he should have appeared on the video. 26 percent of that age range said in the poll that it was a waste of the government’s time that they should devote elsewhere, while about one third said that it an “effective way to promote the healthcare website to young Americans. 

Again, I didn’t find it entirely enjoyable, but it did make me curious about the website and the healthcare realities I will be facing once I graduate college and I can no longer depend on my parent’s healthcare. (Yay! Can’t wait for that day…. ) I visited the website, looked at my options and, if I needed to purchase insurance, I feel more comfortable making a educated decision.

All in all, I’d say that “Between Two Ferns” was a win for healthcare but not for Obama. I’d like to see him a little more friendly and funny, more like the way he acted on Ellen this week – still promoting a White House agenda, but smiling while he went about it.

A New PR Firm to Bring Ukraine’s Perspective to the World

A spectator to the crisis overwhelming Ukraine, America has seen the bare minimum of the reality many Ukrainians are facing. In the midst of the fallout from anti-government protests and tremendous pressure to submit to Russian forces, Ukraine is in desperate need of a voice to share its point of view with the world. In comparison with Russia, a major country with extensive communication resources, Ukraine sits at an extreme disadvantage. Aware of this issue, a group of public relations professionals from at least ten different Ukrainian communications firms joined forces Wednesday to open the Ukraine Crisis Media Center in the Hotel Ukraine. 

Public relations help like this is crucial for a country undergoing this much turmoil. It is especially difficult when going up against a hegemonic power, like Russia. With excessive public attention from the Sochi Olympics and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s activity on the international affairs stage, Russia encounters little difficulty reaching the media

Ukraine on the other hand is not properly equipped to deliver their perspective to the world. For this reason, Ukrainian public relations experts have volunteered to “help Ukraine amplify its voice in the global dialogue around the recent developments,” the Center said in its May 5th release

Only open for two days, the Center has been successful in distributing information to the public, regarding the current status of the crisis. Through the combined resources of the experts on their team, the group has been able to offer news releases through their website and up to date news coverage via Twitter and YouTube.

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While many public relations professionals are expected to take action during a business crisis, sometimes their involvement in public affairs is unexpected. However, public relations is a major part of forming public opinion. For that reason, it’s entirely important for every member of a crisis to have a voice, if they have any hope of shifting the outcome in their favor. This is the task set before Ukraine.

Although the Center was formed to offset the strong Russian narrative overwhelming the international view, it is not sponsored by the Ukrainian government. In fact, all professional services have been donated; many of the involved professionals agree that participation is their means of serving during a difficult time for their country.

The Center’s primary expense is rent, which is covered by the International Renaissance Foundation, an organization created to foster democratic ideals in Ukraine. The IRC has financed this project to bolster investigative journalism and the open information to the public.

 

With this support, the public will hopefully see an influx of news information from Ukrainian sources and a shift in the understanding of the Ukrainian perspective.

 

Companies Violate Ethics and Fail Publicly through Sexist Ads

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Would an ad like this be successful today? Hopefully, not. We’ve come pretty far, since the 1950’s when most advertisements remained highly sexist. However, after browsing the Internet today, I am reminded that we have been fooled. Although the world touts equality for both sexes, sexism heavily infiltrates advertising today. It’s scattered across television, computers and print. Everywhere we turn, men and women are simplified to the simplest stereotypes and used to sell products. Although both sexes have had their share of sexist advertisements, I’ve focused on female misrepresentation and divided this year’s advertising sexism into three categories:

1. Advertisements that blatantly use sexual situations to sell a product to men.

In these ads, breast-bouncing, skin-baring babes help sell sex, more than the product that they are advertising. Some of 2014’s classless contenders are the Axe advertisement that reduced women to helpless creatures completely controlled by their sexual desires and the Carl’s Jr. ad that revealed a half-naked model biting into a large, juicy sandwich (which likely contains more calories than she eats in a week).

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These companies are known for their tendency to go overboard with inappropriate sexual content. In fact, Carl’s Jr. had an advertisement banned this year, in which a scantily clad model eats a large hotdog (or rather, licks it.) Watch at your own risk.

These commercials represent an entire genre of current-day advertising that uses women to sexualize a product and sell it to men in an almost parody-like fashion; a perfect example is this Perrier commercial. What on earth does this woman pouring sparkling water on herself have to do with Perrier? It’s ridiculous.

2. Advertisements that sell products to women, by placing women in stereotypical female roles.

True Car is a website that helps users decide on the right price for a vehicle. Its 2013 advertisement showed a series of women being interviewed about the website and was heavily criticized for feeding the stereotype that women aren’t knowledgeable about cars and need a man to help them with their car-buying purchase. One direct quote about purchasing a car was, “Now, I don’t need to bring a dude with me.” This reliance on past perceptions of female roles has penetrated advertisements for decades and continues to show up today.

Another culprit of this mistake is D.C. Metro, which displayed large posters of two women talking. In the photo, one woman acknowledges some safety fact about the trains and the other woman asks, “Can’t we just talk about shoes?” These two women are in business attire and could easily be in an office setting, but (obviously) their natural inclination is to chat about accessories. This breaks down the quality of female conversation from intellectual material to superficial chitchat. It hardly painted the company in a positive light and received some negative backlash.

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As a major supporter of Google, it broke my heart to see the Gmail ad Google released this year, which explained the benefits of Gmail’s new sorting system that divides mail into categories, such as “Promotions” and “Social.” In this ad, the female account owner received emails in each of her categories and every single message represented a different stereotype. From emails about knitting club to e-receipts from shoe shopping to comments about going on a date, the message sent from this advertisement gave no hint that this female might have a job, have any original hobbies or even live in the 21st century. From such a forward-thinking company, I would expect more from Google to promote female empowerment.

3. The rest of advertisements – in which companies use Photoshop to create sub-human, perfected creatures to sell products.

The frustration with computer-edited photographs has been a long-standing problem for many within the feminist community. We all know that even the most beautiful models are retouched to look “flawless” for the camera. However, in many ways it plays up an unreachable perception for many people.

Sorry Julia, but no one looks like this naturally.

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This was the exact point of the Body Evolution video released last year. Many advertisements are simply the art of a computer touch-up brush and no reflection of actual reality. In fact, the picture above might have been further edited, if the editors weren’t instructed to keep the structural integrity of Julia Roberts’ face to keep her recognizable to the public.

When computers change the look of a person to such an extreme measure, we have to ask – is this even ethical? Furthermore, is it ethical to use women as walking sex billboards? What about promoting a stereotypical role that inaccurately presents a present-day female lifestyle? Is advertising today ethical?

On a sexist scale, probably not. Multiple traditional ethical theories stand in the way of supporting the treatment of women in today’s advertising industry. This post will refer to three theories: feminism, utilitarianism and distributive justice.

Feminism is an obvious supporter of ending sexism in advertising. Ultimately, this framework calls for “justice for women” in all areas of society. Feminists have, for many years, fought the media for their portrayal of women and sexism, in general.

Likewise, utilitarianism would likely support the absolution of sexist advertising. This ethical theory encourages companies to consider the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Females make up 51% of the U.S. population. Additionally, many men disagree with sexist advertising. For this reason, if companies are considering utilitarianism, they should think twice before releasing a sexist ad. In reality, this is also valid because sometimes the repercussions of unethical advertisements lead to the ad being taken down and a decline in public opinion. If a majority of the public will be offended, then it’s probably best not to release it.

Distributive justice further supports this opinion, as this framework looks out for the needs of every member of society and protects the minority. Through the lens of distributive justice, a fair member should consider everyone and if ANYONE would be bothered then, again, it’s probably best not to release it.

Well in the real world we know that we can’t always keep everyone happy. Yet, that is no reason to abandon ethics all together. Some advertising executives would say that ethics doesn’t matter, that we should focus on sales. However, this simply isn’t logical. Why? Women make up 85 percent of consumer purchases. Representing women effectively could lead to higher sales and better public opinion of company.

Dove has found a way to respectfully represent women, by being a longtime supporter of making normal woman feel beautiful. Dove has used this attitude as their primary ad campaign for many years. This year, they released a new commercial that brought tears to my eyes. They brought women in to a portrait artist, without either party seeing the other. Both facing in opposite directions, the artist drew the woman only by asking her questions about her features and drawing the details that she told him. Next, the same situation was repeated, except someone else told the artist what the woman looked like. When comparing the two portraits, it was obvious. Many women see themselves much less attractive than they actually are. “We spend a lot of time as women analyzing and trying to fix the things that aren’t quite right and we should spend more time appreciating the things we do like,” one woman in the ad said. Dove aims to bring in normal women and use them to remind the general public that beauty is in all of us – not just the size 0 models. The commercial ends with these words – “You are more beautiful than you think.

This attitude does so much more for a company than just slapping an attractive woman up on an advertisement, with a bottle of Dove moisturizer in the bottom corner. It turns Dove into a trusty friend, whom you can trust to open up to and be honest with.

We need more of this type of advertising. Ads should empower both sexes and not isolate one group negatively to increase sales quotas. 80% of Americans have said that they feel better when they purchase from companies that align themselves with a good cause, according to an advertising ethics speech by Chris Moore, of advertising company Oglivy & Mather. Companies, such as Dove, are seeing the truth in that statement. By staying true to ethical advertising, it can boost sales and might help employees sleep better at night.

Would the forefathers of ethics be proud of public relations today?

As a public relations professional, I find myself occasionally put in ethical dilemmas, where the “right” thing to do doesn’t line up with what seems necessary in a situation. For these questionable situations, the Public Relations Society of America created a code of ethics for us to rely on. The code is broken into six values of ethical conduct. However, are these values in line with traditional ethical frameworks? Would our friends Aristotle and Kant agree with our public relations practices today? This post digs into each value and analyzes it from a traditional ethical framework to see if our ethics forefathers would support our practices today.

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Advocacy: As public relations practitioners, we agree to serve our client responsibly while considering public interest.

Aristotle would have agreed most comfortably with this value, through the lens of virtue ethics. Aristotle built virtue ethics around the philosophy of the golden mean, which claims that ethical actions are the middle ground of two extremes. Advocacy uses balance to keep a practitioner ethical. We must recognize the needs and desires of both of our audiences to decide upon our actions. We must always operate to serve both parties, rather than only acting to benefit the client. 

Honesty: Accuracy is paramount in public relations. We must be honest first and foremost, when communicating with the client and the public.

This value makes it clear: there is no excuse for dishonesty. The truth is our only option. Immanuel Kant, founder of deontology, would likely be on the same page. He believed we should do the right thing simply because it is right. PRSA values honesty and expects its members to abide by this value. However, the reasoning might have been slightly different than Kant. Our first priority is to speak truthfully because lies devalue our credibility. We recognize that lies portray a person negatively and make for bad relations with the media, which isn’t an option in our field. He might not agree with the motive but he would agree with our resolve to abstain from this major no-no.

Expertise: Public relations professionals must work to acquire and utilize specialized understanding. Through continued education and professional development, we must build credibility amongst our profession.

Acting in line with this value helps boost the community of PR professionals and, therefore, promotes communitarian ethics. We work as a group to advance the quality of the public relations profession. By pushing ourselves to create a better name for public relations, we deny our selfish desires to do what is easy in order to do what is best for the industry.  This value also motivates many people to help PR newbies. This cooperation is fundamental to PR ethics and communitarianism.

Independence: We are not the property of those we represent. Because we are held accountable for our actions, we must provide objective counsel to our clients.

The theory of egoism encourages one to act if it best serves his own long-term interest. This framework easily fits to this value. As PR practitioners, we are masters of our own fate. We should not operate in any way we do not feel comfortable because it will be our heads on the chopping block if we act unethically. It is very important that egoism considers long-term interest. Although it might seem that acting unethically is in my best interest at the moment, in the long-term it could be very detrimental. For example, if a client wants me to plagiarize someone else’s work. As a young low-level employee, I might feel uncomfortable speaking against my boss and might worry about losing my job. However, if it is uncovered that I plagiarized, I can face criminal charges and my industry will lose respect for me as a practitioner.

Ultimately, you are a free consultant. You choose your own fate. Act independently when considering ethical dilemmas.

Loyalty: Without forgetting our responsibility to serve the public interest, we remain loyal to those we represent.

Jeremy Bentham believed that we best course of action is the one that brings the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. His theory of utilitarianism sometimes overlooks the minority but sincerely aims to protect the public. In our profession, it’s important to consider this framework. We should primarily be servants to the public interest. Bentham would recognize that we should also be loyal to our clients because if we don’t serve them, then we could lose our jobs. It’s important to consider both and if stuck in a bad situation, turn to utilitarianism and ask, “Which option brings the greatest good to the greatest number?”

Fairness: This one is very specific, so here’s the direct quote from the Code of Ethics. “We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.”

Distributive justice is a framework that aims to consider the minority, which is also the goal of fairness. PRSA takes great care to mention all groups of people that we should protect and treat fairly. By considering EVERYONE, we can be sure that no one is being mistreated by our actions.

The PRSA has been thorough in their code of ethics. They have left no stone unturned and no framework unnoticed. If they were willing to look for our best, our ethics forefathers could find something to be proud of. As public relations practitioners, we can act confidently knowing that we have the support of the great ethical men who came before us, if we are willing to implement these values into our decisions.