Monday, July 29, 2013

Global Call for Ethical PR Professionals Grows

My major summer project has been the development of a new course to be offered this fall called Advertising and PR Ethics and Law. We have long required our Advertising and Public Relations majors to take an Ethics in the Professions course in our Philosophy Department, but increasingly I felt a course tailored to the advertising and public relations professions was needed. Offered as a special topics course this fall, I hope to make it a permanent required course in a curriculum update over the next year.

The call for more education in PR ethics, as well as more action on the part of PR practitioners serving as ethical counsel to management in their organizations, has existed for years. I have had students in my PR Cases and Management course read Shanon Bowen's "A State of Neglect: Public Relations as 'Corporate Conscience' or Ethical Counsel" since it was first published in the Journal of Public Relations Research in 2008. Sadly, the article points out that many PR professionals do not seek or adopt the role of ethical advisor, even though public relations--as a profession that should seek mutual relationships between organizations and their varied publics--would be well-suited for this role. 

However, some recent articles have shown that practitioners are more often seeking to offer ethical counsel as part of their role. Reams of other research get into that variables that explain why or why not a PR professional wears the mantel of organizational conscience.

But, coincidental to my class development of an ethics course this summer there has been movement among professionals--not just academics--to stress the inherent ethical role of PR professionals. This is not just that PR professionals should practice PR ethically, but as PR professionals they should step up and guide the ethics of the WHOLE organization they serve, whether in-house or on behalf of clients.

One major global effort is the Melbourne Mandate, an effort of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management. Based on meetings held in Melbourne, Australia, this group of representatives of various public relations associations jointly assert that PR professionals can't simply "watch events occur and then convey messages to stakeholders." I heard a presentation about the development of the Global Alliance and this ethical push at a conference this summer in England and was impressed by the scale of the effort.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-based Council of Public Relations Firms launched a new initiative this summer called "Ethics as Culture."  Similar to the Melbourne Mandate, the Council's efforts seeks to get professionals to move beyond a "reflex of compliance" to a more intentional effort to build a culture of integrity in organizations they represent. A new section of their website offers training guides and workbooks for individuals or entire PR firms to use.

I am happy to see these developments. Public relations as a profession gets painted with a broad brush for the ethical misdeeds often committed by those who are not PR professionals. Rather than taking blame--either deserved or not--for ethical misdeeds, it is high time that PR professionals take the initiative to ensure ethical behavior among all professions represented in the organizations we serve.

Monday, July 22, 2013

'Breakfast on the Farm' Cultivates Good PR

My wife and I attended a "Breakfast on the Farm" event on a recent Saturday. It sounded interesting, and yes, there was free breakfast included.

A program of the Michigan State University Extension, Breakfast on the Farm was started in 2009 and since has treated thousands to free breakfast and tours of a working farm in many locations around Michigan.

I was impressed with the organization of the event from a public relations standpoint. Visitors are herded (pun intended) to the breakfast tent first. While standing in line they can read a variety of informational signs about agriculture in Michigan. Once in the breakfast tent, visitors receive a brochure with a map highlighting by number the various educational stops on a self-tour of the host farm. Farmers--not just the host family but those from all over the county--man the different points on the tour to answer questions.

We learned a lot. We learned about the various farming methods and processes. We learned that agriculture is a significant part of the state's economy. We learned that not all farmers live on a family farm, but many drive to work on a farm just like those who work in factories and offices. We also learned that there is a lot of knowledge, technology, regulation, and planning that goes into farming.

In short, it was a fun and educational morning. It's also a good example of public relations in the agriculture sector, particularly as an experiential event and putting a face on farming.

Breakfast was good too.