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Ethics and PR: When your client’s values are not your own

By Uncategorized

The question of ethics and PR was raised on Twitter, in response to this article about Alex Bogusky leaving the advertising business. My friend John asked:


It is a tough call. It almost always means walking away from money. Sometimes it means quitting or being fired from a job.

Unfortunately, when you work in public relations, these issues do arise; it comes with the territory, particularly if you are in the business of reputation management and practice crisis communication and issues management, as we do at my employer, Standing Partnership. However, there is a difference between representing the client with a bad reputation, rising to the challenge of ferreting out and sharing the stories of the good they do or how, when things go horribly awry, what they’re doing to make it right.

I have faced the mismatched values situation more than once. I have left jobs (not immediately, but can point to events that occurred that marked the day I started to look for a new job). I have also recommended clients be fired or made the decision to let a client go based on a lack of values alignment. These issues can present themselves in a variety of ways.

  • Lack of openness. I worked with a client once that would NOT own up to activities we knew were happening. There were lies of omission and then, when directly questioned, flat out lies. That was a situation where I had to recommend that we fire the client and the firm agreed (and were glad we did once certain facts came to light).
  • Lack of financial respect. This is one ethical area that people don’t always discuss but I have a real issue with clients who don’t respect us or our work enough to pay on time. Chronic delayed payers disrespect our team by making it difficult for us to manage our finances. Also, on the corporate side, I was the contact for a number of vendors who weren’t getting paid on time, or at all. It was not just awkward, it was awful, and led to my lack of respect for the way the business was being run.
  • Breaking the law. In the early days of e-mail marketing, blasting an e-mail list with content was pretty commonplace. When the CAN-SPAM act was passed, marketers were very careful about opt-in regulations. Unfortunately, I had a boss who just didn’t respect that law and when I objected to blasting a borrowed list, was told to “just do it.” It took awhile to find something new, but I started looking right away.
  • Family comes first. I wrote about a situation I had that caused me for a few moments to skew my own value system, racing to work when I should have been caring for a sick child. When it was evident that my company’s values when it came to my role as a parent were out of whack, I knew it was time to move on to another work environment. (P.S. I was interviewed by Parents magazine on this topic for an article that will appear in the September issue.)
  • Moral, religious or personal objection. Sometimes, what a client does to earn revenue just rubs you the wrong way. Sometimes it’s against your personal moral code or (rarely, I suspect) your religion. I’m lucky that I work for a firm where if we have a client I’d rather not represent (I’m not a huge gambling fan, so it’s possible if we had casino work that I would opt out, for example) then that is A-OK with the firm. In fact, they’d rather have the client’s team be comprised of members who can really get behind what it is they’re selling. This may not be true at every firm; and if most of the firm’s work becomes work you object to, it’s time to move on.

Have your ethics and values been called into action on the job? How have you handled it?

Seven Reasons to Keep it Real in Social Media

By Social Media

There is an element to the culture of the social web that is so evident to those that have been a part of it for more than a few years. That element is authenticity. It’s important to understand it and as a business realize that your brand is better represented by human beings than fictional characters. In fact, that is what has differentiated the social web and propelled it to stardom . . . real stories and real people telling them.

The practice of fake blogging, for instance, is so reviled that it has earned its own pejorative: astroturfing. It’s such a big deal that three years ago the Washington Post reported about European laws that make it a crime to falsely represent oneself online.

And still, companies new to blogging or social media engagement, innocent of knowledge of the intricacies of engaging in the online space, stray far too close to the line in false representation. The ways I most frequently see this happening are with the development of fictional characters — which isn’t a crime — it’s just not effective. In addition, these fictional characters or the business itself is established with a profile on Facebook as if it were a person, rather than creating a page for the business.

In case your company is considering the creation of a character or fictionalizing the representation of your business, consider these seven reasons to keep it real in social media:

  1. Authenticity is respected, now more than ever. Nothing earns respect faster than someone who steps forward and owns up quickly, particularly in the case of a mistake or an issue.
  2. Lack of authenticity can damage your company’s reputation. Is it forgivable? Yes. Better yet, don’t fake it in the first place.
  3. People connect with other people. People, as much as some of them may wish to do so, cannot connect on a human level with a cartoon dog, a ball of yarn or a dancing baby. While these things are cute, a true two-way relationship cannot be achieved.
  4. Fictional characters don’t translate in real life. How’s your logo or your cartoon dog going to show up at a Tweetup?
  5. If resources are limited (and really, where aren’t they?) then focus the time and effort of your people to personally engage in social media on behalf of your business. That engagement is more valuable than the time they might spend behind the scenes engaging behind the front of a cute graphic.
  6. Social media engagement is largely about fostering two-way communication. This is much easier if both sides of that communication can see and hear one another, and human faces are involved on both ends.
  7. If you’ve been engaging as real, human beings and heaven forbid, you end up in a crisis situation, you will have already created and maintained real relationships with your community in a first-name, face-recognition basis and so what happened to BP on Twitter cannot happen to you.

Keep it real, people.

You Say You Want a Google Profile

By Social Media

My friend Joe saw a mention of my Google Profile on Twitter.

Google profile tweet

In case you’re thinking what Joe was thinking, here’s the scoop. A Google Profile allows the user to create a custom page that neatly organizes and displays that person’s social media profiles, accounts, images, websites and external links in one handy place. Since people are constantly Googling one another (oh yes you are!) the best part about the Google Profile is that you, the user, get to customize what people see there.

I know, right? It’s excellent, especially if you’re a content producer like me.

I think the Google Profile is extremely important for business people — CEOs, executives, job hunters and others looking to maintain a clear and professional online reputation.

My profile lives here: It has my bio, headshot, links to all the places I am online, my blogs and articles about me that I want you to read.

Make your own. It’s free!

Five Things to Do on LinkedIn Before You Leave the Office Today

By Communications

MJ Linkedin
You have an hour or so till the end of your day. There are several projects you could start . . . but why not use the hour and devote it to something you’ve been meaning to get a handle on for years: Your LinkedIn network.

Here are five really worthwhile actions you can take right now, today, before you leave the office.

  1. Upload your email addresses from Outlook or by exporting your contacts and importing them to LinkedIn for a quick, simple way to find out who in your network is already using LinkedIn.
  2. Take a self-portrait or have someone else take a photo of you and post it to your profile. It doesn’t need to be a fancy headshot but the image there should be you, your face should be visible and recognizable and recent (no fair posting that gorgeous photo from your early 20s.)
  3. Edit the title field in your profile to include keywords that represent what it is you do — Vice President or Manager doesn’t really tell me that you’re a logistics expert, or a manufacturing specialist. What else do you do? Are you a trainer, a speaker or maybe even a blogger? Get it in there!
  4. Recommend someone you’ve worked with. It doesn’t have to be long, or gushing — just do it. Share how pleased you were with the work and in doing so, make someone’s day.
  5. Ask someone else for a recommendation. Have you just finished a project or provided a good lead or referral to a contact? It’s time to ask for their endorsement.

Start chipping away at tasks like these and soon, you will be reaping the value of a robust LinkedIn presence.