Tag Archives: ethics

I’ll soon be a PR graduate, I’ll soon be unethical?!

The most pressing issue in communication management for the next few years is strengthening the role of the communication function in supporting top management decision making, according to one in three (32.6%) communication professionals asked by the European Communication Monitor 2013 (p.  84). Although the situation has improved compared to previous years, this number is still too high. It feels even higher if we acknowledge that a big proportion of survey respondents were in high positions on their career ladder. Almost half of them held the position of communication managers or were CEOs of a communication agency and a further quarter was unit leaders or responsible for a single communication discipline. Consequently, a high proportion of those who would have the relevant experience and skills and thus unequivocal legacy to get heard by top management when it comes to decision-making, still get neglected.

And those who are in lower position cannot even dream about having their professional voices heard. The job adverts for junior roles speak for themselves. This advert only talks about writing and social media skills, while this requires content-writing and media relations skills, media-monitoring and evaluation. Then here is this one with admin and writing work in prospect (see image below). No word about any skills or activities that would suggest juniors will have influence on decision-making in any way (neither through just having the chance to present their views).

Job advert

On the one hand, it is fair enough. A freshly graduated PR person is unlikely to have the knowledge and experience of making decision in serious business issues. On the other hand, however, entry-level practitioners are the ones carrying out the technical duties, namely they produce most of the content released to the public domain, as Broom and Smith’s (1979) and Dozier and Broom’s (1995) research has already shown and this raises ethical issues.

They argue that practitioners can be divided into two major groups: the communication manager with the possibility to being involved into decision-making (to different extent according to certain sub-groups) and the communication technician writing press releases and organising events. The more experience a practitioner has the more likely to get promoted from technician to manager.

However, Broom and Smith (1979) argue it is only the role of communication manager that is fully ethical. This is the role that potentially invites the practitioner into the decision-making sphere and gives them the chance to veto a decision that they think might be unethical – in opposition to technicians.

Technicians, the one I am about to become shortly, cannot be fully ethical when they are pushing messages out to the world. They don’t have a true insight into the background, validity or ethics of those messages and they would risk their job by standing up against them anyway. At least, so the theory goes.

So what?

For me as PR postgraduate student wanting to enter the beautiful world of PR (agencies) in just 7 months it is a real concern. This is also why it is essential to research the PR agencies I want to work for thoroughly. As much as it is possible, I need to make sure in advance I only start to work for an agency which does not aspire to do ethical PR – but which actually DOES it. So I’ll (close to) never have to deal with unethical messages.

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It all starts with a man who is bald

I have to be honest with you. I don’t like bald men. Where I am coming from (Hungary), bald men are associated with having sports cars, finger-wide gold necklaces, blond Barbie girlfriends and they are all empty-headed jerks. This is utterly prejudicial but frequently true.

So when Colin Byrne, CEO of Weber Shandwick, made his way onto the podium at the University of Westminster to lecture budding PR students (including me) on how diversity and challenging the status quo is/should be/will be in the heart of PR, my self whispered an *ouch!* inside reflecting on the shining boldness.

In 3 minutes I was drinking his words, I wanted to be him and I wanted to touch him in the hope of getting some PR genius-ity landed on my hands. Okay, maybe I didn’t want to touch him, but you get how I felt. He is everything what you would not expect from a bald man. He is cool. He makes PR cool. He makes baldness cool. He makes me cool studying PR. Maybe I go bald.

Seriously, I needed this. Previously I studied Film & Media with Journalism at the University of Stirling and I had brilliant teachers who planted in me the seeds of praising the Fourth Estate. I won’t bore you too much what that is; in a nutshell journalists operate as watchdogs over the powerful/rich to prevent them exploiting their position. It’s the journalists’ responsibility to get rid of bullshit and let people know about the truth. And so, in many of my journalist lecturers’ interpretation PR equals bullshit. PR has the power to manipulate and influence, so journalists have to guard society from those mean PR practitioners. This is of course a very bald account of the idea and it’s arguable (A LOT). Anyway, based on this sentiment which was deeply planted in me in Stirling, I was struggling to justify to myself morally why on earth I am attending a postgraduate course in PR.

Colin Byrne answered my question. PR is not necessarily about writing press releases, emailing and making calls to journalists in the hope of being able to suck up to them effectively enough to get your message across (or it shouldn’t be). It can also be about being creative, going insane in your head, brainstorming like you are completely out of your mind and so challenge the status quo. Instead of sitting down in front of your screen and type a release, go and place 2000 sunflowers in the City and put lights on the London Eye reflecting the mood of the nation. And that’s not arguable: that’s baldly cool.


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