April 17, 2014

It’s vital that we don’t cut corners when it comes to ethics

– By Eamonn Moore.

There’s a great history of public figures being caught making unguarded comments by the press and media, but such cases appear to be rife this spring/summer.

First there was Bigotgate. Then there was Snookergate. Then Lord Triesman was shown the red card after apparently making some unguarded comments about Spain and Russia bribing officials at this summer’s World Cup. And now Sarah Ferguson has been caught allegedly offering to sell access to her ex husband Prince Andrew. What’s next?

In my previous blog post, I looked at how Gordon Brown’s PR should be handled post-Bigotgate, but did not tackle the ethics of the situation – something that I now feel I should address, especially after the thought provoking discussion on ethics in this week’s #CommsChat.

The whole issue of ethics and the media has always been and will always be a hot potato. Do we have a right to know everything that public figures say (even if it’s said ‘behind closed doors’) or is everyone entitled to their privacy? Should we perhaps only be alerted to conversations that are of genuine national interest, and if so, what constitutes ‘national interest’?

Personally, I feel that there are circumstances when it is genuinely important that the contents of a private conversation are aired – Watergate perhaps being the best example of this. However, in cases such as the one involving Lord Triesman, the desire to have a sensationalist headline (and increased sales) seem to have been received by some as a neglect of ethical standards by the newspaper in question. Whether his allegations are correct or not, you could argue that Lord Triesman has a strong case to say that he has been the victim of entrapment. Furthermore, surely potentially irreversibly damaging England’s 2018 World Cup bid is not in the ‘national interest’? Gary Lineker certainly didn’t think it was.

Working in public relations, I am acutely aware of the importance of ethical and responsible media reporting. We rely on the media to do our jobs, and they rely on us, so I see it as our duty to help uphold, support and encourage the highest ethical standards. Indeed, if the media fall short of such standards, it often impacts on the world of public relations (and vice versa).

Various recent public mudslinging matches between PRs & PRs, and PRs & the media have shown us that it cuts both ways. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being critical of something (or someone), provided that you go about it in a considered manner, choosing to value ethics over link-bait opportunities, and always aiming to offer constructive criticism by suggesting possible areas of improvement, rather than just celebrating perceived misfortune. It seems to me that events of late have left the PR world feeling somewhat tarnished.

The world of communication is developing apace along with technology, but if we’re not careful, we risk losing sight of the basics, especially when it comes to ethics. As PRs, it is our duty to both protect and enhance our industry’s reputation from within by being positively and proactively ethical at all times (even when we’re being critical of something). If we don’t fulfil this duty, the whole industry’s reputation could well be left in tatters, and none of us want that, do we?

The launch of #CommsChat on Twitter – fancy it?

#CommsChat, a weekly Twitter-based chat about anything and everything to do with communications, is inspired by chats like #JournChat, #PRstudchat and #BlogChat, which focus on specific subjects / participants.

These chats are typically based / moderated out of the USA, which means that the times are often challenging for people based in Europe.

#CommsChat has been developed with these things in mind, and will hopefully be shaped even more by you after reading this post.

The top line framework of #CommsChat

  • A weekly chat on Monday nights at 8pm UK time (1 hour duration)
  • Wide-ranging topics connected to communications, including: traditional and social media, PR, blogging, marketing, journalism and lots more
  • Special guests will be invited to take part most weeks based on the subject matter

Help shape #CommsChat

The rest of #CommsChat and its make-up will be determined by you over the next few weeks.

  • What would you like to see?
  • Any thoughts on subjects / topics?
  • Is there a format from another chat you’ve taken part in that you really like?

All this feedback will help us collectively create an engaged community and host sessions that add value to everyone taking part.

Put a date in your diary

The first #CommsChat is scheduled for 24 May 2010 at 8pm (UK time).

Although based out of the UK, it is open to anyone from everywhere – comms professionals, bloggers, journalists, students – basically anyone with an interest in / passion for communications.

Over the next few weeks we’ll provide you with more information about how it will work.

But the primary objective is simple: encourage like-minded people to get together for an hour each week to share their tips, hints and lessons relating to the world of communications.

It should be a lot of fun…and we look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Thanks

Adam Vincenzini and Emily Cagle

Staying connected / useful links:

Honouring journalistic excellence

Fountain pen

The Workworld Media Awards 2009 is an independent scheme, which has highlighted excellence in journalism for 23 years.

The awards honour written and broadcast journalism, covering the fields of work, management, business and economics.

There are eight categories available:

  • Reporter of the year
  • Feature journalist award
  • Columnist of the year
  • Broadcast programme award
  • Broadcast news reporter of the year
  • Journalist to watch
  • Online journalist award
  • Lifetime achievement award.

Last year, awards went to journalists from the BBC, The Economist, the Daily Mail, Hazards, Human Resources and The Observer, while the Lifetime Achievement Award went to Polly Toynbee, columnist from The Guardian.

Journalists can nominate themselves, or be nominated by someone else. All entries must be submitted by 6pm on Friday 6th November 2009.

More information and an entry form, visit the Workworld Media Awards 2009.

Great expectations: getting real about sponsorship

Blank billboard

Today, MarketingDonut.co.uk have kindly published my guest post on maintaining realistic expectations when sponsoring a cause, event or initiative.

Here’s an excerpt:

At this point, you might start seeking coverage in your own industry’s ‘trade publications’, but here’s a warning:

In most cases, the media simply don’t view sponsorships themselves as newsworthy.

Visit “Expose yourself properly: No story means no PR” now to read the full post.

PR: Practically (Ir)Relevant?

Newspapers

According to holdthefrontpage.co.uk, journalists consider less than 10% of the PR material they receive to be relevant to them:

Most PR material ‘irrelevant’ say journalists

Two thirds of journalists want to receive less material from the commercial PR sector according to the preliminary results of an online survey.

[...] Early results have shown that half the respondents consider less than 10pc of the content delivered to them by the commercial PR sector is relevant and that two-thirds of them want to receive less such material.

When I read the report, my first thought was that the findings themselves are a little weak in the PR stakes – a great headline but not much content. There’s little information in the report about a) the number of respondents and b) how broadly representative that sample is of journalists in general. So, ironically, the piece may be guilty of exactly what makes so much PR just hot air: a lack of credible numbers to back it up.

Of course, it’s now relatively easy to set oneself up as a PR professional, buy access to a media database and start churning out releases in all directions. Spam exists in every industry – why should PR be any different? They say spam accounts for some 90-95% of all emails sent, so it’s not really surprising that journalists are being targeted.

The real issue is this: are experienced PR professionals who should know better putting out hardly relevant and barely interesting information en masse? Well yes, some are. Do they make up the majority? Actually, I think not.

Remember, a PR person’s job is to get coverage. Very few, if any, of us are being paid simply to spew out information. It has to find a voice in a media that is then heard by the client’s target audience. Spam won’t achieve that, so I find it hard to believe it’s a practice that’s dominating mainstream PR activity.

Of course, I can see why a journalist on the receiving end of hundreds of time-wasting emails and calls per day would think differently.