Category Archives: Ethics

Will SOPA curtail creativity?

by Megan Reichenbach

The Stop Online Piracy Act (also known as the Protect IP Act in the Senate) is a new initiative copyright owners are taking to “isolate and shut down websites or online services found with infringing content.”

Should we be worried?

SOPA’s primary goals seem to be legitimate, giving those artists the money they deserve for work that is being displayed online by others. The problem is that this bill has been reworked and now includes a requirement for pre-screening all user-contributed content.

In essence, we are looking at a future of broad Internet censorship . . . aka, changing the entire nature of what the Internet has become. Some even believe this act to be the “Great Firewall of America.”

The beginning

In late October 2011, the House of Representatives introduced a bill that would extend our federal government’s ability to stop foreign sites from using pirated content developed by U.S. businesses. This includes websites that steal music, videos and software from U.S. corporations.

As I noted, the initial purpose of the bill seemed reasonable. Many people illegally download music, films and television series rather than paying the 99 cents to download from iTunes. In reality, such stinginess is leaving those music producers and filmmakers with empty pockets.

It’s estimated that Hollywood studios and record labels are losing up to a $135 billion a year from piracy alone.

But, eradicating domain names all together may “disrupt the way the Internet is designed to work today and put too much of a burden on search engines and Internet service providers in blocking suspected sites.”

The SOPA buzz

It’s no secret that SOPA has been the ongoing gossip in the cyber world. The bill suggests that those individuals and companies that publish about or link to others’ works may be accused of piracy.

This would include all of us who retweet, post or even write about another person’s publication. According to an infographic on, “sites you visit may be blocked, email providers may be forced to censor certain links you send or receive” and “the links and content you share on social networks will be carefully monitored and possibly censored.”

I just have one question . . . where are my privacy rights?

A threat to our future?

SOPA also threatens the future of job searching and innovation through online techniques. Sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook have recently been job searchers’ platforms for getting their names into the industry market.

Unlike traditional resume builders, LinkedIn, a professional social media site, allows individuals to offer links to personal sites such as Twitter and Facebook accounts, upload professional résumés and add photos to your profile.

Are we all going to have to resort back to the simple résumés built on Microsoft Word? This limit on creativity could be the catalyst for never getting that dream job.

Those of us searching for a job in this ever-so-difficult market need to have the ability to put our names out there in ways that show off our individuality. The sites Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have given us that opportunity.

In retaliation to the serious risk the bill is imposing, AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga sent a letter to the U.S. Congress voicing their concerns.

These companies respect the goal of enforcing additional tactics to combat illegitimate copyright and counterfeit sites. But, they urge the legislators to “preserv[e] the innovation and dynamism that [have] made the Internet such an important driver of economic growth and job creation.”

Instead of tweeting about Kourtney Kardashian’s recent pregnancy announcement or who will play in the national college football championship, maybe we should all be concerned with the direction the Internet is going. Are all of our posts, tweets and blog postings going to be accused of counterfeit?


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Honesty in PR: #admitwhenYoumakemistakes

by Sarah Shea, editor

Nearly every conversation about public relations ethics comes back to one crucial idea. For insider trading scandals—honesty is crucial. For crisis communications—honesty is crucial. And for reputation management? Honesty.

The Penn State scandal came with several opportunities for honesty in communication. While the university itself arguably took a little too long to disseminate information, the entire crisis presented opportunities for PR.

In situations like this, social media often rears its head. Reactions to Joe Paterno’s dismissal went viral. Avid tweeters quickly tweeted their responses when the news broke.

For the average user, hastily typed tweets are inconsequential and soon forgotten. But for celebrities, a single thoughtless tweet can spur harsh commentary from the cyber world.

Just minutes after Paterno’s firing was announced on Nov. 9, Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk), tweeted, “How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.”

Clearly, Kutcher hadn’t gotten the full story explaining why Paterno was fired. The tweet, which has since been deleted, immediately erupted when it showed up on the timelines of more than 8.2 million of Kutcher’s followers.

His Twitter handle, aplusk, was completely managed by the actor himself at the time. I was astounded by Kutcher’s response to his follwers’ outrage. He was bombarded by a multitude of hateful replies, including:

“Who is more ignorant? @Aplusk, or the EIGHT MILLION idiots who follow him?”

“@aplusk with 8 million followers, you MAY want to reserve your opinions until you know the whole story.”
“@aplusk superrrrFAIL.”

And how did Kutcher respond? He replied, tweeted and retweeted nearly immediately. He did the honest thing — admitted fault. Even for the harshest of tweets, Kutcher replied “agreed” and “had no idea.”

He followed up and fully exposed his blunder, tweeting, “Heard Joe was fired, fully recant previous tweet! Didn’t have full story. #admitwhenYoumakemistakes.”

Even his brutal honesty couldn’t undo the crisis. So Kutcher moved forward. In a Nov. 10 blog post, he wrote a detailed account of his side of the story.

The actor said, “I quickly retracted and deleted my previous post; however, that didn’t seem enough to satisfy people’s outrage at my misinformed post. I am truly sorry. And moreover [I] am going to take action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Through this post, Kutcher formally announced that his production company, Katalyst Media, would now manage his account.

Though Kutcher’s response has been widely criticized, I’d argue for him — and not just because he’s my middle school heartthrob.

I’d say most humans can relate to the pain of speaking before they think. Whether it comes out in a brash remark, a misinformed opinion or a tweet at large, most of us have experienced some sort of regret over a few cursory words.

For me, Kutcher’s Twitter blunder seems honest. It seems human.

Furthermore, the ability to admit mistakes gives even one of the most followed faces of Twitter a friendly touch.


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National Competitors: Behind the scenes or over the line?

by Megan Reichenbach, editor

We all have those products that are a go-to while doing our usual weekly grocery run. For me, I immediately pick up the Kashi cereal over Special K, Diet Coke rather than Diet Pepsi and Tide cleaning products over the generic Publix brand.

We all develop a loyalty to preferred brands, leaving those companies to thrive because we are immediately drawn away from their competitors.

But, this does not mean that those competitors impacted by our purchases are not finding ways for loyal buyers to divert from their usual purchases. Brands such as Coca-Cola and PC Windows 7 have been blatantly attacked in national television commercials through media manipulation and comparison advertising.

Media manipulation is defined as “an aspect of public relations in which partisans create an image or argument that favors their particular interests.”

Comparison advertising is a “promotional technique in which the advertiser claims the superiority of its product over competing products by direct or indirect comparison.”

Companies have been using manipulation and comparison advertising in recent television commercials in order to divert attention from a competitor’s brand to their own.

Santa Claus: the legendary Coca-Cola icon

The Coca-Cola and PepsiCo rivalry is still one of the oldest, most publicized product rivalries in America. In the summer of 2011, PepsiCo took the competition to the next level by stealing Coca-Cola’s most iconic symbol, Santa Claus, in its “Summer Time is Pepsi Time” commercials.

“The commercial stars a short-sleeved Santa who does the unthinkable and deliberately picks Pepsi-Cola over Coke – because he’s on ‘vacation’,” Fiona Roberts said in a July 2011 MailOnline article.

Usually competition shown on television is behind the lines, but this commercial specifically got me thinking . . . Is this blatant strategy even ethical?

According to the Businessihub article, “Comparative advertising: Ethical mode of increasing the brand image,” comparative advertising has been begging the question of whether this marketing strategy is ethical.

The PepsiCo commercial clearly overshadows Coca-Cola’s ownership of the Santa Claus icon, giving it a more enjoyable connotation by partnering the concept of Santa drinking Pepsi with the idea of summer vacation. Can PepsiCo really overshadow the entire idea of the Santa Claus icon that Coca-Cola began in the first place? According to a Businessihub post, “overshadowing a brand to increase the market penetration for one brand is considered as an unethical process by many.”

After watching the “Summertime is Pepsi Time” commercial for the first time, I was shocked by PepsiCo’s use of such blatant competitive attacks. According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, “the intent and connotation of the ad should be to inform and never to discredit or unfairly attack competitors, competing products or services.”

In the 2011 commercial, PepsiCo failed to inform consumers of its product, and instead created its main focus around Santa choosing the Pepsi product over Coca-Cola.

Steve Job’s invention of Apple – PC’s worst nightmare

On its website, Apple describes the act of buying a PC Windows 7 as a purchase downgrade because obtaining an Apple product has the potential to “upgrade your entire computer experience.”

While browsing the Apple site, you constantly run into claims that the Apple computers are a far better choice than a PC: “It has features you won’t find on a PC. So from the outside in, a Mac is designed to be a better computer.”

In a series of the “Get a Mac” television commercials starring actor Justin Long (seen in films such as Jeepers Creepers, Dodgeball and Live Free or Die Hard), the Mac computer is repeatedly suggested to be a far better choice of a computer.

According to a PCWorld Article, “the commercials pinned a nerdy-looking, suit-wearing John Hodgman as a PC against a younger and supposedly cooler Justin Long as a Mac.” Through the use of a celebrity endorsement the commercial is using comparison advertising. The Apple industry is clearly implying that Mac users are essentially “cooler” than those who use a PC.

The “Get a Mac” commercials raise the ethical question of whether the stereotypes depicted are even true. According to a CNN news article, a survey by Hunch suggests that Mac users can be seen as “elitists or more pretentious.” I find it to be a far-fetched claim that using a specific brand of a computer can actually change you as a person; a computer is a computer, right?

Are these ads offending PC users, giving them the reputation that they are less tech-savvy just because they invested in a PC rather than a Mac computer? It seems as though the Apple industry is manipulating its market to “think” just that.

We all can agree that commercials such as these have used media manipulation and comparison advertising to successfully reach their consumer market. But, when is that ethical line crossed and when will the attacked brands retaliate?


Filed under Ethics, The Industry, Trends

CSR: More than meets the eye

by Hope Peterson

I usually pick out cereal according to which brightly colored, sugar-packed, questionably nutritious snack looks the most appetizing. Like many others, I don’t normally make my decisions based on what kind of corporate social responsibility (CSR) the brand I am contemplating has engaged in.

Is this because we, as consumers, don’t care about CSR? Or is it because CSR is already combined with public relations in consumers’ minds — a part of the total packaging we perceive?

According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development CSR is defined by a business’s “continual commitment . . . to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.”

Wouldn’t that make CSR crucial to all public relations firms that need relationships to build communication?

In a Holmes Report article, Paul Holmes suggests that CSR is actually an integral part of public relations, that you can’t have one with out the other. This proves how important CSR is, even though it might not be recognized by consumers.

Holmes said, “An organization can’t have good PR without good CSR.” He explained if a company does not have good relationships, then its foundation won’t be solid or reliable. And to build those relationships with consumers, companies have to behave responsibly and ethically to gain trust.

This symbiotic relationship explains why companies that are not interested in “saving the trees” still valueCSR in their everyday business operations and, similarly, in their goals and mission statements. According to the Holmes Report, capitalists are even interested in CSR because it leads to happy employees, loyal customers and less strict regulators; CSR benefits the money-driven as well as the environment-lovers.

And the reason for these dual beneficiaries of CSR could be because CSR and public relations are often synonymous. Ogilvy Public Relations World Wide ( said CSR is the “ongoing process of aligning corporate behavior with stakeholder expectations.”

Ogilvy developed an eight-step process for CSR that even further supports the theory that CSR and PR are woven together.

The first two steps are conducted through the planning process and include “identification” and “prioritization/classification.” These steps involve research and gathering data pertaining to the issue or the company.

The next two steps are “monitoring” and “preparation,” both dealing with preparing specifically for the issue researched in the previous steps.

The next steps are “action to influence” and “issue/crisis response.” These two steps involve taking action to solve the problem at hand.

The last two steps are “evaluation” and “reclassification.” These steps force professionals to look over their work and make sure that the issue was handled correctly so that future situations will be solved more efficiently.

When choosing a public relations strategy, professionals often follow a similar multi-step process: researching the situation, forming a plan related to the specific target audience, using their research to carry out a plan through structured tactics and finally evaluating the plan’s success.

CSR is much more than just the pink cups companies use to promote breast cancer or the recycling symbol they place on bags; it is the continual relationships the companies are building.

For example, Nike has implemented its CSR plan, the Environmental Apparel Design Tool, that aims to decrease the use of scarce natural resources. Nike engages in multiple small campaigns, initiatives and ads to promote its overall mission but, ultimately, its goal is to build relationships with customers who value its same environmental interests. Nike uses CSR to gain consumers and build target audiences for its campaigns.

Although CSR is often only equated with environmental promotions, would effective public relations be possible without a successful CSR plan? The relationship building public relations relies on might be lost without a little undercover help from CSR.


Filed under Ethics, The Industry

HILEAF at its best

by Emily Diab

Throughout my academic career, I’ve been constantly harassed by the phantoms of my own mind in creating the most creative, and sometimes downright stupid acronyms, in hopes that my college mind could cram just one more list for just one more exam. We’ve all done it. And it works! But we usually forget about the silly series of letters a few weeks later, and the ever-so-important test question never comes up again.

As the end of my long road of intense study habits draws near, I still remember one of those creative (this time NOT downright stupid) acronyms. With the help of my just as study-crazed classmates and our teaching-crazed professors, we have somehow managed to engrave the six letters of this special acronym in our minds.

Honesty, Independence, Loyalty, Expertise, Advocacy, Fairness.

If you have ever taken a public relations course, dated a public relations nerd like me or have been surrounded by a building full of communications freaks like my classmates, you’ve heard of HILEAF. And if there was ever an acronym that I can’t forget if I tried, HILEAF is it – and a good one to hang on to at that.

Because HILEAF has stuck with me as a special charm to my world of accessories, I want to share a little dry, tough-love advice on how to understand HILEAF, why to follow it and how it will get you where you want to go.


We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public. –PRSA Code of Ethics

We all learned this one early in life, when you stole the cookie from the cookie jar, lied to mommy about it and then pouted in the corner for time-out, all with chocolate spread around your mouth. You lied. You got caught. Don’t do it again. Real world punishment is much worse than staring at a blank wall.


We provide objective counsel to those we represent. We are accountable for our actions. –PRSA Code of Ethics

They drill it into our brains on every syllabus I’ve seen since I’ve entered the University system. We read it, sometimes ignore it and hope to get through the class without the need to copy and paste. I wish luck to the people who still think that it’s possible to get through life depending on other’s work. Don’t copy. Don’t paste. Don’t depend on others to carry you through. Do your own work. What happens when you show up for work on the first day in the real world and the keyboard is missing Control+C?


We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest. –PRSA Code of Ethics

Just like man’s best friend, we have learned to stay true to the ones we love. Or in the work world, we will stay true to the ones who pay us. Represent wisely. Serve the public. Be an honorable delegate. It will pay off, literally and figuratively. Just as we need cash to stay alive, we need a good friend or coworker to have our backs. But you must have their backs first.


We acquire and responsibly use specialized knowledge and experience. We advance the profession through continued professional development, research and education. We build mutual understanding, credibility and relationships among a wide array of institutions and audiences. –PRSA Code of Ethics

It’s a scary world out there. People are better than you and are fighting for the same life you dream for. Achieve excellence every single day. Stand out among the best. Do everything you can to be specialized in every subject you can handle. Maintain expert status and the scary world of professionalism will be a little bit lighter.


We serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent. We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate. –PRSA Code of Ethics

A business thrives on support from its employees and partners. Intelligence and common sense make a great pair when representing your company. Luckily, your intelligence probably got you the job, but now its time to turn on the common sense. Represent wisely. Don’t be stupid. Think about what you’re doing at all times, and keep your job fresh on your mind.


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. –PRSA Code of Ethics

Life’s not fair. But we should be doing everything we can to make it that way. Pay it forward and do what youshould, not just what you have to. Remember the Golden Rule and apply it at all times, even if you don’t feel like it. Suck it up and make your environment the best place it can be. After all, you’re working there too.


Filed under Ethics, The Industry

Social media v. Casey Anthony

By Jaclyn McNeil

Casey Anthony was found #notguilty of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, in the trial that became this summer’s most watched reality TV show. The verdict was tweeted, retweeted, facebooked and blogged, mostly with outrage and disbelief. The media and public had already reached a verdict in the case long before the trial even began: guilty.

The social media world was captivated by the case and trial. Twitter accounts were created to give live feed of the trial throughout the day including OSCaseyAnthony, managed by the Orlando Sentinel, and NinthCircuitFL, managed by the 9th Judicial Circuit Court.

News coverage of the case by reporters Greta Van Susteran, Nancy Grace, Bill O’Reilly, Shep Smith and Geraldo Rivera aired around the clock with almost all bias toward the guilt of the accused, Casey Anthony. The lack of evidence did not seem to sway the media or the public’s opinion. Although the trial is over, the social media trial of Casey is not. TIME magazine  has coined the trial as “The Social Media Trial of the Century.” The day the verdict was announced 325,283 Twitter posts about the case were made with “not guilty” appearing 20,000 times.

In the courthouse of Twitter and Facebook Casey Anthony is guilty. And that is what makes this case and trial so unique: the public has followed the case and trial through media outlets and announced their verdict in a public platform through social media.

Eric Dunning, a communication and justice theory instructor for the Department of Communication Studies at The University of Alabama, believes that social media has revolutionized the way people respond to criminal cases.

“The media creates a virtual town square, and the general public becomes an extension of the media as citizen journalists on social media,” said Dunning.

Social media allows people to gain rapid information and rapid response. The public’s disbelief of the verdict was likely a result of the misleading information from the media.

“The media made the prosecution seem better than it was, so naturally viewers were shocked by the result,” said Dunning. “Shows stir up controversy; the media needs a convenient villian and a great storyline.”

So what is the next step for Casey Anthony? Crisis management public relations expert Glenn Selig, founder of the PR firm The Publicity Agency, represented lead defense attorney Jose Baez. In an article for PR NewsChannel Selig comments on the Casey Anthony case, the potential money that may be made and defending clients to the public.

“If big money comes from anywhere, it will be from the entertainment world–movies and books–where payment is commonplace. And the less of the story that is told now, the more valuable a book or movie deal will be,” said Selig.

If the public finds out that Casey Anthony is making money off of an interview, what is the potential backlash a network may receive? Is it worth the risk?

One thing can be certain: book deals and interviews will be made and there are many candidates. Juror number 6 has hired PR firm French/West/Vaughn. According to the New York Times a network executive said the fee to talk to juror number 6 was $50,000.

“That could be a book by itself and you could make the argument that because they arrived at the verdict they did, their story is now worth more than it would have been had they found her guilty,” said Selig.

The public is fascinated by this case, and a book deal or interview with juror members would attract a lot of attention. The public backlash may be minimal for jurors since they have no direct association with the Anthony family.

However, as Selig points out, “Whoever is looking to make money on this needs to be very careful because just talking about capitalizing on the death of a child feels dirty.”

Casey will likely make some sort of formal appearance or book deal in spite of Selig’s warning. When she gets out of jail she will probably be shunned by most of the public and will run into the arms of the media. We have made Casey Anthony a celebrity, whether we like it or not.

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LeBron James: Time for a Little Humility

by Megan Cotton

Last November in my blog I asked “Can LeBron Take The Heat?,” a response to the Nike “What Should I Do?” video meant to repair LeBron James’ broken image after his move to Miami and the much hated ESPN special, “The Decision.” In my opinion the commercial did its job, using pop culture and witty scenarios to ask basketball fans (excluding Cleveland fans, of course) to forgive him for his move and just let him play the game.

Who didn’t do his job, however, was James. After more than disappointing play in almost every 4th quarter of the NBA Finals, James couldn’t conjure up humility for a post-game interview when he said, “All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point.”

Yes, you can say he was disappointed and caught up in the heat of the moment but suggesting that everyone who doesn’t cheer for you has “personal problems” is a step too far. For a player this highly scrutinized, with a history of showing bad sportsmanship, it was all the critics needed to attack him.

So what should James’ next PR move be exactly? His sponsors, like Nike, have been quiet so far, but this season’s disappointment seems to be a bit more than a well-made, witty commercial can fix.

In a blog posted on CNBC, “LeBron James’ Marketing Might Never Recover,” writer Darren Rovell, suggested that even if James wins one (or several) NBA Championships his image may be too far gone to save.

“The only repair can come through championships—LeBron finally getting it done, Tiger beating Jack. But that doesn’t mean that Tiger or LeBron will get back to where they once were,” said Rovell. “Winning a title is important for LeBron James. But the right person getting through to him as to why he’s in this position to begin with, and for him to accept what they have to say, might be even more important.”

That’s really what it comes down to: people don’t want to see “the bad guy” win. They want humility and a heartwarming story wrapped up with that championship. Right now James is too far gone for people to want a moving story about him featured on ESPN but as a PR professional you have to believe that very few images are actually beyond repair.

In a previous Platform blog about Michael Vick’s rehabilitated image, Libby Page laid out a process professionals can use to transform public perspective. Vick showed genuine remorse, got involved in community service and let his work at practice and during games speak for his new ethics.

James should follow a similar path. He should show the public he’s sorry for his post-game comments and that he is disappointed in his 4th quarter play. He should get involved in his new community and show that he cares about Miami. After that, he should focus on basketball and work hard to achieve what he left Cleveland for, to win a championship.

By not feeding the media with negative comments and lackluster play, he won’t give critics anything to talk about. So, maybe forgiveness can come with time and with James learning humility and keeping his over-confident attitude reserved for games … including the 4th quarter.

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