Reflection on an Election — and a PR Ethics Failure

election-logoI’ve been studying public relations 44 years now. Never have I witnessed anything like last week’s election. My candidate lost, but that’s happened before and likely will again. Each time the republic has survived, even though each time I worried it would not.

I’ve accepted the election outcome but remain troubled by the role communication strategists played. Truth was sacrificed in this election, and while that’s hardly news in American politics, we can’t accept lying as standard operating procedure. It’s wrong.

But what bothers me far more than the lies is that human respect and decency were also cast aside. That’s worse than wrong. It’s tragic. And we can’t forget that professional communicators created many of those messages and strategies that agitated and divided us. Messages from the Trump campaign were particularly disturbing, often featuring racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and sexist themes. Voters saw the evidence each day in the news, but mostly we shook our heads at what a circus the campaign had become. No moment was more insulting than the one depicted here, but we probably can’t blame a PR person for the mocking of a disabled person. It was just Trump being Trump.

mocking-donnie
I worry a great deal about the loss of civility in our culture and our campaigns, but I also worry for the future of the public relations profession. How many PR types working these campaigns took the same academic courses as my students? Did they ever set foot in an Ethics class or stop to consider the morality of their actions? Do they place no value on human decency and regard for others?

I’m not writing from a partisan perspective today. It’s a little late for that. I’m writing as an educator who believes the primary job of ethical communicators is to foster dialog and create understanding. We won’t accomplish this by fueling hatred and intolerance.

A friend reminded me yesterday that we live in a postmodern world where objective realities and objective truths no longer exist – or so the theory goes. And that certainly makes our job as communicators tougher than ever. We can do one thing: The next time someone proposes an unethical strategy and you’re in the room, show a little courage. Tell them it’s a line you just won’t cross.

To my students: If you want to chat about these issues one-on-one, drop me an email or reach out to your favorite faculty members. We’re all wrestling with the same concerns. Because we all believe in the ethical foundations of our profession. You also can post at the  MA-JMC Facebook page.

We won’t change the world, but we can start a conversation.

How do you picture public relations?

To engage online audiences you need great visuals. We all know this. So why is so much online content so visually mediocre – and sometimes just plain bad? And why are so many online marketers still using stock photos that convey clichéd images?

It was this story by BuzzFeed’s Nathan Pyle that led to my question. Yeah, universities Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 10.17.10 AMtend to use a lot of stock photos — photos that present a fantasy world where the student body is diverse and beautiful. (It’s all pretty much bullshit, but it sails through the approval channels.) Continue reading

A Facebook manifesto for my 2nd decade in the space

Are you easily offended? If so, you probably don’t belong on Facebook.

Almost nothing offends me, but even MY patience with the social network is wearing thin. Nevertheless, I’ve remained a committed Facebook user since August 2005, taking the Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 1.34.46 PMgood with the bad. Why? Because 4-5 times each week, I stumble into intelligent conversations, connecting with people I like and respect. I also love that Facebook is a time machine that connects me people I knew 10, 20, and even 40 years ago – people I still care about, including some 350 former students. Continue reading

A semi-rant about my ‘cushy’ gig

At least once a month a friend or colleague reminds me that I’ve got it made. I have the cushiest teaching gig around, they say. I work from home 95% of the time. I do that work at my convenience and from a table overlooking a lake. I don’t punch a clock or observe a dress code.

If you think that’s cushy, you don’t have a clue what I do every day. So give me five minutes and we’ll fix that. Continue reading

Little things that change lives

It was January 1968, and I’d just taken my usual seat in the school auditorium. In 15 or 20 minutes the hall monitor would call Bus #75 and I’d be on my way home.

A familiar face – my civics and homeroom teacher – popped through a side door and pointed two fingers of his right hand, one at me and one at my buddy Mike.

“You two, come with me.” Mr. Harris said. He wasn’t the kind of guy you questioned, and certainly not one you ever defied. We followed. Continue reading

Another lesson on secrecy from Kent State

When you earn front-page coverage 4 times for one story — and all within a 2-week period — it’s usually bad news. Such is the case with Kent State, and I can’t let it pass without comment.

The story that keeps on giving.

The story that keeps on giving.

It began with this story on March 10. Internally, KSU announced plans to hire East Coast marketing firm 160over90 to help redirect the university’s brand. The cost, just north of $100K, is small change in the scheme of things. Continue reading

Kent State president faces first big leadership/PR challenge

Beverly Warren

Beverly Warren

Update, March 13, 2015. KSU Board of Trustees voted, in executive session this past Wednesday, to extend benefits to dependents of domestic partners, retroactive to January. Hat tip to Bev Warren for doing the right thing. Raspberries to the administrators who fought for discrimination and the status quo for the last 6 months. 

Kent State’s Beverly Warren faces the first major leadership challenge of her 8-month presidency this Wednesday. But you probably haven’t heard about it. Continue reading