Thursday, May 28, 2009


Ethics - They still apply

News travels fast. With the number of people online, your voice and message has a global reach the minute you hit send/post. The benefit of this is a 24/7 society that feeds on the immediate availability of news. But with anything, the risk has the ability to outweigh the reward. Case in point - NBA PR "fail"

What have we learned in the PR world recently?
- We've seen Dominos' image tarnish in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.
Respectfully, here is their response.
- The KFC mess via Oprah.
- And my personal favorite, KFC attempts to prank El Pollo Loco. Ouch, KFC has had a rough 2009 thus far!

With all these, we learned that word spreads fast. Especially when it's negative. But let's focus in on the recent PR stunt that the Golden State Warriors' PR head pulled.

Raymond Ridder, a 10+ year PR veteran, decides that public opinion about his employer (GS Warriors) isn't very positive. Forget the fact that they only won 29 games this year, but that's another issue for another time. So, what should a PR pro do? Let's go to the source of this negative opinion and try to "spin" the community's thoughts. That's ethical, right? After all, it's up to the brand (again, the Warriors) to shape public opinion. It's the job of the PR department to shape how our community (in this case NBA fans) is talking about us. We determine the message, we determine the response. That's how PR works, isn't it?

I understand that PR has changed over the years. Heck, it's changed drastically since I graduated five years ago. But I'm pretty sure this was Rule #1 in that 'Ethics 101' course I took. You know that class you dreaded because it talked about all those boring case studies. *Professor Menke, I really don't think the ethics course you taught was boring. I actually enjoyed it.

What this guy did (I won't refer to him as a PR pro anymore) is basically take all the work us honest and ethical PR folks are doing to clear our industry, threw it to the ground and spit on it. It's people like this Ridder character, and his actions, that cause our industry to be referred to as "flacks". Mr. Ridder, if you prefer to be called a "flack," by all means, we can arrange for that.

You've heard of Intel, right? Pretty big company. Let's take a look at their social media guidelines. Skip over the first section, although it is important, and go to 'Rules of Engagement."

#1 - be transparent. You failed there.
#2 - be judicious. He said he did it on his own, so maybe it didn't violate company policy.
#3 - write what you know. Ummm...I'd say you failed here too.
#4 - perception is reality. Ah, here we go. I like this rule. Well, you had no chance at following this basic guideline, err rule.

I think you get where I am going here. How can a so-called leader of an organization blatantly try to mislead and lie to its community and expect any sort of trust and support from said community? Posting anonymously and trying to "guide the conversation in the 'right' direction" is basically like telling your audience that you think they're stupid. That's what it comes down to.

If the PR industry has any chance of finally getting rid of the "flack" label that is associated with it, actions like this MUST stop. It's scary how often basic ethics are often overlooked in an effort to advance an organization's message. PR folks, you need to realize that the public will eventually call your bluff. Quit trying to be sneaky. Your audience will call you out. What Mr. Ridder should have done is engage his community, acknowledge the concerns and find methods to cure those concerns. Instead, the Golden State Warriors have a bigger issue than their losing record to solve.

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