Ethics and the Ice Bucket Challenge

I’m eager to see how folks with serious interest in ethics will analyze the Ice Bucket campaign. And I’m hoping the discussion includes more than the knee-jerk reactions we typically see in social media. Let me start the discussion here.

The campaign raised money and created a higher awareness for ALS, both positive outcomes. From a marketing perspective, it’s a textbook case that demonstrates the value of narcissism in motivating behavior. Social-media lesson confirmed: It’s all about us, baby! Immodest, but not unethical.

As a fairly devout utilitarian and long-time ethics instructor, I give the campaign high marks. It brought a ton of dough to the charity, and that will help people afflicted with ALS. But ALS must understand that we’ll be watching how it spends the windfall.

Was anyone harmed in the process? Not really. One might argue that other charities suffered, since the philanthropic pie has only so many slices. But all charities are free to compete for those dollars and always have been. Like it or not, nonprofits in the USA operate on the free-market model.

In other cases, the Ice Bucket campaign created a platform for organizations to promote their own organizations’ objectives. But is it wrong for institutions to benefit by piggybacking on this viral phenomenon? Were I still a PR practitioner, I’d have bought a truckload of ice and searched for the most creative way to douse all my clients. And, of course, I’d have made damn sure the news media came to feed on this low-hanging fruit.

This article in Forbes, which focuses on the legitimacy of charitable tax deductions for Ice Bucket, highlights an important tenet of ethics that’s often overlooked: intent.  Was the donors’ primary intent to support ALS victims, or were they more concerned with promoting their own egos or organizations?

Don’t take the Forbes article too seriously. Even the author admits that the IRS isn’t about to audit folks who claim deductions for their ice-bucket donations. It would be bad PR. Really bad.

One last thought: If you’re thinking of asking your clients or employers to take the ALS shower next week, forget about it. Doing so now will only show that you’re a social-media laggard. And by next week, the attention economy will have shifted its focus to the next goofy thing.

Career Destination 2020

Most PR guys don’t have the luxury of recalibrating their careers at age 60. Most have been put out to pasture — victims of our youth-driven culture. I’m fortunate to have some control over my career exit, thanks to academic tenure and a union contract. So I’ve made some decisions.

1) I will retire from teaching in 2020, at the end of my 28th year — barring unforeseen variables such as untimely death or another Bush-like presidency that crashes my investments. It breaks my heart to think about leaving this incredible… wait, wait. That’s total bullshit. I can’t freakin’ can’t wait to retire, and with the right incentive I’ll exit long before 2020. Send Powerball tickets. Continue reading

That ‘secret search’ is in the headlines. Again.

When a certain Midwestern state university conducted a presidential search in relative secrecy last year, it rightfully drew criticism from news media and public records advocates everywhere (my summary here). And though none of these media outlets challenged the secret search in court, the university suffered great losses in the court of public opinion.

It was a PR disaster. But on the bright side, it’s one that a new president can use to guide future decisions. Continue reading

NFL’s Snyder fumbles the perfect opportunity

77531-nfl-washington-redskins-helmet-balloonDisagree if you’d like, but using the NFL team name “Redskins” is akin to using the N-word. It’s a racial epithet used only to disparage. It’s not a label that civil and thinking people ever apply to Native Americans.

But Washington team owner Dan Snyder sees it differently. In fact, he even used another N-word to make this point last year: “We will NEVER change the name of the team.” Continue reading

A final word on the Kent State ‘secret search’

As a hardcore utilitarian, I can’t complain much about Kent State’s decision to conduct its presidential search in secret. After all, utilitarians focus on consequences and outcomes — the greatest good for the greatest number. When this “secret search” ended, the outcome was a good one. We like this new president and wish her good fortune.

Nevertheless, I was compelled to criticize the process because it violated the university’s own policies on transparency and likely violated the Ohio open-records laws. The end does not justify the means. Continue reading

Kent State J-faculty joins protest over ‘secret search’

I’m pleased to join my colleagues in a high-profile protest against the secret presidential search conducted at Kent State over the past year. This full page ad will run in tomorrow’s Daily Kent Stater. My original post on the topic appeared April 1.

There’s a simple PR lesson in this case: The business of public institutions is public. Next to the ad I’ve posted links to some local news coverage from earlier today.

(Click to enlarge the visual.)

StaterAd2Akron Beacon Journal April 21

Daily Kent Stater Editorial

Poynter Institute story

A conference that was too good to tweet #YouToo2014

YouTooLogo2Yesterday I attended the 7th Annual YouToo Social Media Conference at Kent State — right down the hall from my office. The organizers, as always, did A+ work in attracting great presenters who focused on important and timely topics. I won’t offer individual shout-outs here, as I would surely leave someone out. I will offer a special thanks to our two keynoters, Andrea Weckerle and Danny Brown. Continue reading

The Secret Society of Kent State


Update 4/13/14: Latest news story reveals a tale that’s turning downright Nixonian, including shredding of documents that belong in the public domain. I’m embarrassed that so few within the KSU community are going public with their outrage and just as troubled that I must.

          *          *          *          *          *          *

At Kent State, we kinda wish the last few weeks were an April Fool’s Day joke. Four times since March 12, our university has been in the headlines, each time owing to the administration’s failure to comply with public-records law.

Why all the secrecy? That’s what reporters from the Akron Beacon Journal have been asking for months. After all, Kent State is state-supported institution, which means we’re not exempt from sunshine laws. Like it or not, our business is the public’s business. Continue reading