Friday, December 14, 2007

Discoveries Made

Discoveries Made About the Exxon Valdez to Share With the Class

Prior to researching my final paper, in which I wrote about the Exxon Valdez case, I was ready to pile on Exxon Corporation as so many others have done. After all, the captain was drunk at the time of the accident, right? Wrong. Not only was he not drunk, he was acquitted of the charge. This was just one of several very interesting discoveries I made. Surprisingly, the evidence was there that the company did plenty of things well. However, the one thing that it did most badly on – besides not having a clear and consistent crisis plan but relying instead on the plan of one of their partners – was that the company never fully appreciated the value and power of fast, accurate and efficient PR. They did not contact and reach out to the media when the accident happened. When the media caught wind of it, Exxon allowed the media to frame the accident, which placed the corporation in the position of being reactive from beginning to end.
Thoughts on Technology in Harming Others and Invading Another’s Privacy

After I read this chapter, I scanned it again to see if it addressed any issues about the prevalence of photographs being taken by cell phones. While some general issues were raised about the Web and photographs in general, there was nothing mentioned about cell photographs. I’m surprised there’s not more legal discussion about this.

As the textbook points out, people cannot expect to have the same kind of privacy protection in a public place. Yet what recourse might someone have whose image is taken without permission by someone with a cell phone and that person’s image is placed out on the Internet in a few moments for thousands to view. Even if the victimized person has a good case against the photographer, the damage is already done and irretrievable.I think this raises some interesting question about how we can help our future clients avoid trouble with hit-and-run cell phone photographers who have made it a reality that there are very few truly private places left anymore.

Thoughts on Corporate Speech

Thoughts on Corporate Speech

I understand the distinction between corporate speech and commercial speech – the former being related to issues of social and political polices and receiving full First Amendment protection, and the latter being related to company business and subject to government regulation. However, it seems that the laws about corporate speech are somewhat flawed and perhaps that category of speech may need a bit of regulating too.

I agree with the 1978 Supreme Court recognition that corporations contribute to public policy debates and that we have a right to hear what they have to say. However, what they contribute is always going to be that side of the debate and that information only that best benefits them. While there is nothing wrong with championing those ideas that benefit you the most, I fear that other equally viable ideas are not going to be heard as clearly or as thoroughly and – most importantly – as often because corporations are always going to have the financial resources to buy a bigger microphone for that debate than many other groups, organizations or can afford. This point is mentioned in our text, and I agree with the notion that corporations are going to drown out a lot of dissenting voices.

I also understand that the purpose of the Federal Election Act of 1971 is to prevent corporations from buying candidates, which is a good thing. It does not allow for money to go to the candidates but rather to the campaign in the form of soft money. This is the point that is confusing to me. It seems that this really doesn’t change things and that the end result is still the same. It’s like arriving at the same destination but just using a different car to do it.

Pure Baloney at Whole Foods

Pure Baloney at Whole Foods

I’m in complete agreement with writer Alyce Lomax’s assessment of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and his sham blogging under a fake name. Like Lomax, I, too, am fond of the company. My understanding is that it has long enjoyed the reputation of being one of the best company’s to work for, and as a long time patron of its largest store – the one in Plano at Park and Preston – I noticed that there were many long term employees.

I also noticed that, generally, there are three basic types of customers who patronize that store: 1.) People who are ill and seeking quality foods and vitamin supplements to help their condition and who, because of their circumstances, value the truth and nothing but the truth. 2.) People whom I fondly refer to as the “nuts and berries types” who eschew some of the more traditional practices of food production – such as the spraying or other methods of application of chemicals to food crops and the adding of hormones and other unsafe and / or inhumane practices of the beef and poultry industry. These are people who want to leave a small footprint on the environment and are people with a social conscience, which they have perceived Whole Foods as having too. 3.) Affluent people who want the best and are wiling to pay a high price for it and are accustomed to being treated well and treated with respect.

These are not the kind of folks who seem prone to take unethical, deceitful behavior lightly. Mackey’ behavior is an insult to them and to their respective core values and beliefs. As someone who is supposed to be a good leader, he demonstrated a real lack of understanding of his audiences and a real lack of respect.

He betrayed several principles of PR. He did not show good stewardship, truth or transparency, which is ironic for a store that is known for carefully and completely listing all the ingredients found in it’s products. The company has long enjoyed a good, solid reputation and is perceived as a company that is socially conscious. Mackey jeopardized all of that by playing the kind of unseemly, cheap trick that one would find in a carnival show. Shame on him.

Is Something Fishy About the Recommendation to Eat More Tuna?

Is Something Fishy About the Recommendation to Eat More Tuna?

The New York Times story by Marian Burros outlines the actions of a children’s health coalition, the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, that went against government warnings that eating more than 12 ounces of fish a week can be harmful to women of child-bearing age because of the mercury contamination risks associated with it. The coalition accepted money from the National Fisheries Institute. Other organizations and individuals see that as a conflict of interest, and they are right.

This type of behavior can hurt the credibility of an organization and make their findings appear suspect. Personally, I think it is unethical and is also somewhat exploitive of pregnant women – that sector of the consumer population most effected – and very likely bewildered – by these conflicting findings.

The coalition should never have accepted the financial gift. There is another name for this type of conduct and it’s called graft, which is how far too many organizations in Mexico and Russia conduct business.

I should think that the coalition cares a great deal about it is perceived, and if so, then the ethical thing to do would be to return the money and work hard to restore what I would think would be a tarnished reputation.

PRSA Code of Ethics - Utilitarian or Communitarian?

PRSA Code of Ethics – Utilitarian or Communitarian?

In the preamble of the of the PRSA Code of Ethic is the statement, “ Ethical practice is the most important obligation of a PRSA member,” which implies that a member should always do the right thing of all audiences even when no one is looking. This is a strong communitarian value and is tied to the principle of truth. If everyone behaves ethically at all times, it increases the chances that everyone’s needs will be meet or at the very least, they will be heard and will have the opportunity to for a reasonable compromise.

The advocacy section in the statement of professional values refers to “acting as responsible advocates for those we represent.” One can be an advocate for one’s client and one’s clients only, which can often times involved coerciveness toward other involved parties, and under those circumstance would definitely be considered utilitarian and would not be representative of the principle of good stewardship. However, the statement makes clear that advocacy is also about being responsible, which, if adhered to faithfully, should never involve any type of coerciveness. Additionally, an “informed public” that the statement refers to is the ideal state in two-way communication.

Adhering “to the highest standards of accuracy and truth” are always a communitarian value.

The statements about expertise – advancing the profession through continued professional development, research and education – generally describe goals that seem, on the surface, to be utilitarian and seem to primarily benefit those within the PR profession. However, those goals can have secondary benefits to others besides PR professionals and have certain aspects associated to the principle of stewardship and taking actions that have long term benefit.

Independence from those they represent has communitarian implications in that it sets the standard for PR professionals to be more than just utilitarian “yes men.”

The statement about loyalty is the one that seems to be the most contradictory and difficult to achieve and balance and can run counter to transparency and to the principle of truth. Being loyal in the corporate world is often associated with being closed-mouth. Being “faithful to those we represent” is utilitarian, yet “honoring our obligation to serve is communitarian and also implies a connection to the principle of justice.

Fairness in dealing with all parties and in respecting “all opinions” and supporting “the right of free speech” are strong communitarian values.

Another clause that seems to be contradictory and run counter to the openness and transparency that PRSA promotes is in the statement of professional values – specifically the clause about safeguarding confidentiality. Though one can easily understand why a business client would want certain aspects of its operations kept in confidence, this, too, is a difficult task to balance and has a utilitarian element to it.

More Mamet on the State of the Nation

More Mamet on the State of the Nation

Some of the assertions made in the play, Glengarry Glen Ross, about marketing ethics made me more curious about David Mamet, and I found a 1997 interview of him by Salon magazine that contains some interesting quotes. Here is the URL

I’ve cut and pasted some of the quotes from the interview that I thought are pertinent to some of the discussions we’ve had about the American market place, planned obsolescence and such. He makes a very interesting, thought-provoking comment that one of his characters even views love as a “commercial endeavor.”

Mamet makes some interesting comments on consumerism as a value in America and observes that we haven’t been very conscious about why we do it. Some of the observartions he makes about technology are also rather interesting and tie back into our discussions about Steve Jobs and Apple marketing overpriced, glorified phones that none of us really need.

Are your films a reflection of the way you look at life? Is all of life a con game of some sort?
No, I don't think that all of life is, but I certainly think that all of commerce is. In the United States, it's our pleasure and joy to consider life as a commercial enterprise. That's our national character.
When do we get out of that mode?
I think that's part of our national problem, how to extricate ourselves sufficiently to be able to take a look at the life we lead and perhaps have a better time.
You said in your recent book of essays, "Make Believe Town," that Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy" was your favorite American novel and that the story shows how violence takes precedence over love in America. Could you explain that a bit?
If you look at "An American Tragedy," which I've always considered the great American novel, the reason it's specifically an American tragedy is that the problem with the hero is that he sees love as basically a commercial endeavor. He wants to trade up. He finds this perfectly nice girl who wants to sleep with him and who loves him and whom he's very fond of and then he finds someone he likes better. And the only way he can get rid of the first girl is to kill her. That's the American tragedy.
How has that changed over time?
I don't think it has. It's still a problem of the national character. I don't think any country has it better than any other country. For example, in Scandinavia, they have to eat very, very salty fish. One wouldn't want to live like that either. But in America, our problem is we're a consumer culture and there's nothing we won't do if someone tells us -- or we intuit -- that it's going to make money, or it's going to make us happy through consumerism. That's our American problem. It's the American equivalent of the salty fish. We're constantly buying crap we don't need and devoting ourselves to endeavors which, perhaps on reflection, with a little bit of distance, would reveal themselves to be contrary to our own best interests.
How do films feed into this?
We have our own film tradition which has created some extraordinary works of film, some masterpieces. Nonetheless, the American tradition of film overall is that it's a commercial medium. That's not necessarily bad. The films of William Wyler came out of that and the films of Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick happened in spite of that. Nonetheless, we don't have a tradition of film as art. As the media gets more and more powerful, film as mass entertainment, which is to say solely as marketing of the consumer product, that tradition gets much, much stronger. The job of mass entertainment is exactly the opposite of the job of art. The job of the artist gets more difficult. On the other hand, maybe that's always been the case.
Why is the job of the artist the exact opposite of mass entertainment?
I like mass entertainment. I've written mass entertainment. But it's the opposite of art because the job of mass entertainment is to cajole, seduce and flatter consumers to let them know that what they thought was right is right, and that their tastes and their immediate gratification are of the utmost concern of the purveyor. The job of the artist, on the other hand, is to say, wait a second, to the contrary, everything that we have thought is wrong. Let's reexamine it.

Somewhere, you wrote about the mass media, including the computer industry, conspiring to pervert our need for community. That the dream of having all this information at our fingertips to make us godlike is really doing the opposite and making us forget our humanity. Could you elaborate on that?
It's not really that they're conspiring to, but they might as well be. If you sit down in front of the television with 700 channels, there's probably something on those channels that's going to interest you. It's a very good way to get stupid very quickly.
There's nothing you get from television? The information is just a delusion?
I absolutely think so. If there's any information, it's purely accidental. Furthermore, I don't think there is any information to be gotten from television. I think it's an illusion. It's an interesting narcotic.
Even documentaries or historical programs?
No, it's television.
What about the Internet and the promise of all this information becoming available?
I don't know anything about it, but I'm sure it's worse.
I also wanted to ask you about pornography and why it seems to be on the rise in mainstream films.
That's true. It's on the rise because it doesn't work. It's like the defense department. If you have this fiction of wanting to become the principal power of world domination, no amount of arms is going to work. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, believing that arms are going to make you safe. It's like buying a car to make you beautiful. It doesn't work. So next year, you buy another car and hope that's going to work. It doesn't.
What's the connection between those examples and pornography?
The relationship is that it might seem provocative and fulfilling to see a moment of pornography in a feature film, but it's not. And because it's not, we have to have two moments of pornography. Because that's not fulfilling, we have to have another moment. It's really the compulsion to repeat, to come back to that thing that didn't work previously, because we're addicted to it. A good example is cigarettes. One keeps smoking because it seems like a good idea, but as soon as you light up, you say, "Oh my God, what have I done?"
That's what you mean when you say audiences need to see gratuitous sex in films?
I don't think they need to see it; I think they're habituated to it. Most of the time sex scenes in movies are like the plastic frogman in breakfast cereals. They're put in to fool the audience that what they're getting is a better product.
Some producers think they need to have sex scenes.
That's why they call them producers. It's a fairly ironic name.